The Moment of Truth — May 2, 1998

No One Ever Went Broke Engaging in a Little Harmless Death-Dealing

Hi. I’m mejeffdorchen. Welcome to the moment of truth. The one moment in the broadcast day when your radio peels off the hideous prosthetic latex face it has been forced to wear by its capitalist overlords and shouts triumphantly: “This is how I was always meant to be!”

Companies that make products in Indonesia have a competitive edge! That competitive edge is called the Suharto regime, which imprisons and sometimes executes union organizers without the costly inconvenience of even a show trial. Such prudent measures keep wages low, so companies with factories in Indonesia have less overhead than companies in, say, France. Low overhead looks good on the annual report and makes the stockholders happy.

So why did the US government pass a law making it illegal to fund the Suharto regime? Doesn’t it want to make businesses happy? Yes, but unfortunately, kidnapping and murder are human rights violations, and businesses aren’t the only people who have feelings about human rights violations. Businesses might think human rights violations are great, because they make for an attractive annual report, but human rights groups don’t like them. God knows why. I mean, who cares if a bunch of weird-talking foreigners get murdered and kidnapped? Is it worth making such a fuss if it threatens the big juicy Dow-Jones average? Look, I don’t know. All I know is, for some reason, the US government says it’s against the law to give or loan funds to the Suharto government because of the way it treats its people. Sad but true.

But the United States gives money to the International Monetary Fund, a really kooky organization. One of the things that kooky IMF does is loans money to the Suharto regime. It probably does a lot of other questionable things, too. But it keeps a lot of its activities a little secret, makes it a little bit difficult for us to follow our tax dollars out into the world of global investment. That’s why, when it asked for an 18 billion dollar increase to cover its bailout of failing Asian economies, the Chairman of the House Banking Oversight Subcommittee, Congressman Spencer Bacchus, Republican of Alabama, called the US Director of the IMF to appear before the subcommittee to answer a few questions.

The US Director of the IMF is Karin Lassiker, and she got asked a lot of questions. One big one was asked by Congressman Bernie Sanders, Independent, of Vermont. He wanted to know why Lassiker didn’t vote against loaning the Suharto regime millions of dollars even though such a loan was a violation of US law. Well it turns out that out of thousands of decisions that the IMF has made, she has only voted on twelve of them. So Sanders had another question: Why do we even bother passing all these laws if you don’t vote?

To put it another way: why, even when the nearly impossible happens and a half-way decent law gets passed in spite of the opposition of the most powerful lobby in the universe, the business lobby — why doesn’t that law affect the business community? Why can the IMF just send money to kidnappers and murders, when if I wanted a loan to kidnap or murder Karin Lassiker I’d probably be thrown in jail just for asking? What’s up?

The desires of people have always been a low priority when it comes to global economic decisions. The desires of communities are the next to be ignored. Cities and towns are next, then states, then nations. Finally, the opinions that most count in global economic decisions are the opinions of those who control the biggest corporations and banks in the world. And somehow, I don’t know how, maybe it’s a coincidence, but all of these people seem to be the kind of people whose respect for human dignity is way below average. Accident or design? I don’t know.

All I know is, organizations like the IMF, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and treaties like Nafta and Gatt, are all mechanisms to help this inhumane minority get what it wants, which is all the money and resources it can get its inhumane little hands on. There are only a few things standing in its way. The most powerful one, unfortunately, is the governments of the nations of the world. I say unfortunately because they are notoriously sucky at doing anything worthwhile. The other thing keeping the Earth from being turned into a desert slave planet by the Fortune 1000 is the will of the people, which is usually the only thing that ever pushes governments to do anything useful, anyway. So really, the only thing protecting us from global corporate totalitarianism is us. And we’re doing an okay job.

But now along with the IMF, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, Nafta and Gatt, the inhumane minority is putting together a set of laws called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Countries would have to sign this agreement if they wanted transnational corporations to do business with them, or that would be the implicit threat, at any rate. Then these countries could be sued for keeping a transnational corporation from making all the profit it possibly could in order to optimize its return to its investors.

Here’s an example of how it might work. The Fred Corporation makes a delicious candy that contains a sweet-tasting poison that makes children’s heads explode. This poison, called harmlecythin, is banned in the Republic of Fruitopia. Under the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, Fred Corporation could sue the Republic of Fruitopia for having a law that interferes with its investors’ profit-making. The Republic of Fruitopia would then either have to pay a fine, or repeal the law, thereby exposing its children to the deadly sweetmeats, having to watch with hands tied while the heads of its children exploded in splattering bursts of brain, blood, bone and hair.

If only the Republic of Fruitopia had stood its ground and told the Fred Corporation where to stick its Multilateral Agreement on Investment. But unfortunately it fell under the spell of extreme capitalism, as so many governments have these days. The people of Fruitopia even organized a boycott of the deadly candy, but the Fred Corporation threatened further legal action against the Republic of Fruitopia unless the government immediately suppressed the public outcry. The tanks rolled out, the people were squished, and the angels wept bitterly. All for a lousy buck.

Next week, what the people can do to thwart the menace of global corporate totalitarianism. Until then, this has been the Moment of Truth with mejeffdorchen. Tune in every Saturday 11 am to noon for National Beer Presents This is Hell with your host Chuck Mertz right here on WNUR 89.3 fm Chicago’s Sound Experiment.