from the world's big
Corporate responsibility? Don’t make me laugh.
America's #1 problem? It's gone from "We the people" to "We the shareholders". Can capitalism be better than this?
ANAND GIRIDHARADAS: Corporate social responsibility or CSR is everywhere—and which company now doesn't have CSR? All the major banks that screwed America in the financial crisis, and the world, that sold out our economy and tried to make a killing selling toxic mortgage products and didn't come clean to the American people or regulators about what was going on, paid billions of dollars in fines for fraud. Almost all those banks, like most American companies, have CSR departments and they'll go and they'll do some, you know, they'll have shovels, they'll do something with shovels. They'll do something with some poor country. They'll go to some community and they'll even teach like a financial literacy class, like, "Don't fall prey to financial fraud—of the kind that we perpetrated." This whole idea that you can sell kids poisonous drinks that give them diabetes while making a playground; that you can build the Dakota pipeline or invest in the Dakota pipeline while sponsoring a climate change gathering with your CSR; that you can push for a health care system that only gives people benefits if they work 30 hours a week, thus tempting many employers to only employ people 29 hours a week and then say you're in the business of empowering workers or being the best first job in America or whatever.
The reality is, many, many companies are trying to fight on both sides of a war. In their main operation, in their lobbying activities, they are pushing for an America that is merciless. And then, understanding the need to brand themselves, understanding the need to soothe a little bit of the public anger in this age of rage, they give a little back. They throw some scraps at us. And what is so sad is that all too often it works.
"Conscious capitalism." That's a good one. Again it's this idea that we can make capitalism more conscious, more humane, simply by wishing it were so. Whereas, in fact, the problem with our brand of market capitalism in American in 2018 is that it's a capitalism purely driven by the needs of shareholders, and that investors needs have come to so predominate, that the needs of communities, the needs of workers, of employees of those companies and various other stakeholders are completely marginalized. And until we change that structure, simply calling for capitalism to be more conscious doesn't really work. I mean, conscious capitalism was supposed to describe Whole Foods, for example, until it got taken over by a private equity firm.
Then you get a word like innovation. We talk about innovation. Innovation is treated as its own good, just, "More innovation! Everybody's got to innovate!"
Well, innovation means make things new, and here's the problem: we've done a tremendous amount of innovation in America over the last generation. What we didn't get a lot of out of that innovation was progress, if progress is defined as 'most people's lives getting better'. In fact, in the era of innovation, we've also seen the odds of social mobility, of out-earning your parents, for example, fall from 90 percent to 50 percent. A crap shoot, right? So yes, great, we have a lot of new stuff, a lot of "new shit has come to light," as they said in that movie. But the reality is that hasn't gotten people paid more, that hasn't made people's lives more stable, that hasn't helped people afford housing, that hasn't helped people educate their kids better. So we've got a lot of innovation but it's not the same as progress, and progress is the more important of the two.
The private sector is useful for many, many things, and it will always be the lion's share of our economy. I'm happy—having been to countries where there are government-run airlines that are not very good, I'm happy that we have private air travel in this country. I think it's in general—I mean look, it's not the best but I'm happy to have that be something that's done privately. I'm very happy the government didn't make my iPhone!
I think we have a heritage in this country of private enterprise and private endeavor that is, at its best, creative, that builds things, that makes life better for people. And none of what I argue is to suggest that that should go away. What I argue is that our private enterprise at its best has always sat on a foundation of certain institutions that we share in common. It's hard to imagine building a company like Apple without thinking about public schools in America. All the Apple employees who went to them, all the people who went to them and invented technologies that were used in what Apple builds, all the people who were educated by teachers who themselves went to public school, whether or not those people went to public school. It is hard to think about any worthy private thing in American life that has been built without a heavy reliance on the institutions we share in common.
And so we owe a responsibility to tend to that garden and to make sure that those things are healthy. And in recent years that relationship has simply got out of whack. Private endeavor has continued, flourished—profits are soaring, innovation is soaring, but it has stopped working for most people. And I say in the book: a successful society is a progress machine. Into one side goes the inputs of innovation and fortuitous developments, and on the other side comes out shared progress. And that machine is just broken down. And we just need to fix that machine so that when good things happen to us people's lives get better. It's that simple.
- Most companies are trying to fight on both sides of a war, says Anand Giridharadas. They want to make a merciless profit and also get good PR. The result? Irresponsible company practices covered up by disingenuous 'corporate social responsibility' initiatives.
- "'Conscious capitalism.' That's a good one," he says. "The problem with our brand of market capitalism in American in 2018 is that it's a capitalism purely driven by the needs of shareholders." Shareholders are now America's ruling class. Citizens? The lowest priority.
- We're obsessed with innovation, but what we should be focused on is progress. The difference? Innovation just makes things new. Progress makes people's lives better. "Great, we have a lot of new stuff," Giridharadas says. "... in the era of innovation we've also seen the odds of social mobility—of out-earning your parents, for example—fall from 90 percent to 50 percent."
- Public good and private greed are out of whack. The solution? Don't tear down private enterprise, just make sure public infrastructure like schools and health care are well supported, and that wages rise in a meaningful way.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>