Kennedy on Corporations and our WaterwaysOctober 18, 2011
Dean Najuoks, Yadkin Riverkeeper: What would you say corporations need to protect our waterways?
Kennedy: Corporations are great institutions. They drive American prosperity and encourage Americans to accumulate wealth; then, spend and risk it, which creates jobs. Business activity has made this country great, but corporations should not be running our political process. They are economic entities.
Corporations don’t want the same thing for America that Americans want. Corporations don’t want Democracy or free market capitalism. They want profits. The best way for them to get profits is often to use our campaign finance system, which is just a system of legalized bribery, to get their hooks into a public official; then to use that official to dismantle the marketplace to give them a competitive edge or monopoly control that allows them to privatize common resources and steal our air, water, beaches, wildlife, fisheries and public lands – those assets that are not normally susceptible to private ownership, but by their nature, are the property of the entire community.
Every American has a right to clean air and clean water, but these corporations, using political clout, are able to escape the discipline of the free market and our laws and privatize resources. I have three sons who have asthma. They can’t breathe during bad air days when there are particulates and ozone in the air. Those pollutants come from coal-burning power plants. So those corporations are getting rich by making my children sick and by stealing the air from their lungs. According to the National Academy of Sciences, every fresh water fish is contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury that is coming from coal plants. These utilities have been able to steal to privatize every freshwater fish in our country and many ocean fish so they can make a larger profit. They are poisoning the rest of us. And that’s illegal. Everyone knows their behavior is illegal, but corporations get away with it because they are able to corrupt American Democracy and commoditize our natural resources
Free market capitalism is the greatest economic engine that has ever been devised. I love free market capitalism. True free market capitalism is the answer to our worst environmental problems. A true free market encourages efficiency, which means the elimination of waste; and pollution is waste. A true free market would encourage us to properly value our natural resources. It’s the undervaluation of those resources that causes us to use them wastefully.
In a true free market you can’t make yourself rich without making your neighbors and surrounding community richer. What polluters do is make themselves rich is by making others poor. They raise standards of living for themselves by lowering quality of life for everybody else and escaping the discipline of the free market. You show me a polluter, and I’ll show you a subsidy. I’ll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and forcing the public to pay their production cost. That’s what all pollution is. Pollution is someone who is escaping the free market.
Waterkeepers are free marketeers. We catch the cheaters and polluters; and force them to internalize their costs the same way they internalize their profits. When someone is cheating the free market it distorts the whole marketplace, then none of us receive the advantages of the efficiency and profits that free market capitalism promises our country.
I love the free market. The free market is the most powerful economic engine ever created, but it has to be harnessed to a social purpose or it devolves into an oligarchy. It creates the same kind of plutocracy and military-dominated/wealth-dominated societies that are destructive of Democracy and human dignity. These kinds of societies cause war and death; and are the kind of societies that our ancestors came here to escape.
The way that we treat the environment, the respect that we have for the dignity of our children, and the rights of our Democracy are all intertwined and are part of this larger battle that pits Democracy against the large corporations and the big polluters who look out across our purple mountains majesty and green landscapes of America and only see money for themselves.
Waterkeepers are on the front line of the battle for the environment and for all of the things that make this nation an exemplary nation. That’s what we’re fighting for. This is much bigger than local rivers or streams. This is a battle to see if we can make Democracy work and if we can make it serve all of the people.