By Ralph Nader
Imagine a private meeting between President Barack Obama and 25 mega barons of U.S. business at the White House Indian Treaty Room.
President Obama: “Gentlemen and Lady, I’ve invited you here today to give you a preview of an address I will deliver in a month before the national convention of the National Association for Community Economies in Kansas City, Kansas. Before I do that, let’s have some frank talk:
Earlier this year, Warren Buffett wrote an opinion article in The New York Times where he chided Congress for coddling wealthy people and urged higher taxes on under taxed people like him.
I think you’ve been coddled in many ways without having to deliver for our economy and its workers as you move more and more of your operations overseas. Let’s face this reality. Your companies, born in the U.S.A., rose to their large profits on the backs of American workers, were saved, when in trouble, by Washington with bailouts from American taxpayers, and rescued by the U.S. Marines or our naval fleets when you needed them in foreign lands.
So what has been your response to the American people? Gratitude? No, it’s been ‘we’re outta here folks with your jobs and industries to communist or fascist regimes abroad.’ Regimes that know how to keep their 80 cents an hour workers in their miserable place.
From now on, you will be measured by a standard of patriotism. Just like real people. Your predecessors worked for decades, starting with the Supreme Court in 1886, to get judicial activists to treat your corporations as ‘persons’ for purposes of almost all our constitutional rights. So start acting like real Americans.
For example, patriotism involves degrees of sacrifice. Given your resources and power, you fit Alfred North Whitehead’s dicta that ‘duty arises from our potential control over the course of events.’ As CEOs any modest sacrifices are mostly borne by your companies. Here’s my list.
1. Your non-financial companies are sitting on two trillion dollars of idle cash reserves. Send $200 billion back to their owners-the shareholders – in dividends. This will increase needed consumer demand so needed in our serious recession. Some of you already provide a fair amount of dividends. Others like those of you from the Silicon Valley companies return zero from hoards of cash which belongs to the shareholders after all.
2. Your idle reserves can be put to work in an infrastructure or public works bank. Put in $300 billion, as an investment in repairing and upgrading America, and I’ll press Congress to match it. This will release trillions in capital for better schools, airports, clinics, libraries, public transit, roads, bridges, parks, broadband and other vital public services for you and your fellow Americans. Good jobs that can’t be exported.
3. The Internal Revenue Code allows you to deduct up to five percent of your adjusted gross income for charitable purposes. Almost forty years ago major companies in Minneapolis met this level of giving. Few of you ever exceed one percent. You are making large profits in a recession. Loosen up billions in your donations to groups-both charitable and justice-seeking-all over the country. You will enhance your country at its neediest points and create more jobs of compassion and justice, especially for our heavily unemployed youths.
4. Stop demanding from Congress, if you are a prime defense company, more and more expensive weapons systems that are not needed twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union or are massively redundant for our legitimate defense needs. This will help refocus Congress on budget priorities here at home. Listen up, Lockheed Martin.
5. Stop whining about modest instruments of law and order that you call regulatory burdens. You know most regulations are obsolete, weak to begin with and under-enforced. Regulations stimulate innovation which creates jobs. Think seat belts, air bags and power plant scrubbers. Regulation saves lives, (some may be your own workers or family members) and prevent injuries and diseases. Regulation stops corporate abuses. A little maturity here, please.
6. Reverse our dangerous reliance on foreign countries for critical materials. Did you know that there is not one manufacturer making penicillin in our country? Or that the always subsidized U.S. drug companies have moved production of eighty percent of the active ingredients in our pharmaceuticals to FDA-uninspected labs in China and India. This is a matter of national security. (Is it patriotic for U.S. companies to take taxpayer subsidies for research and development and then move the manufacturing- as with solar panels- to China?)
7. Stop your companies from fleeing to tax havens to escape U.S. taxes while your presence here receives the benefits of public services and our armed forces. Many of your largest companies pay little or no federal income taxes and even receive tax refunds and subsidies from the Treasury. Your tax lawyer-lobbyists have made it possible for people to say that one janitor in your company paid more to Uncle Sam than his or her profitable company paid.
8. Finally I believe at your annual shareholder meetings you should stand up and, in the name of your U.S. corporation – e.g. on behalf of Ford, Dow Chemical, Chevron, Merck or Citibank, ‘pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ It will focus your intention to stand up for America and its beleaguered workers, while we all strive for full employment.
I’ve done so much for you – extending your tax breaks, bailed you out in many direct and indirect ways, expanded loan guarantees, assured you huge government contracts, leases, and health care customers, scrapped some proposed regulations and did not ask for increased law enforcement budgets for prosecuting corporate crime and fraud. I’ve done so much for you that my liberal/progressive base is very upset.
Now as President, I will raise the yardsticks of corporate patriotism before that forthcoming gathering of community businesses who never threaten to abandon the U.S.A.
You have a month to make public whatever patriotic announcements you may arrange for yourself or between yourselves. Do it for your country.
I know you have questions. Let’s move to the reception and we’ll discuss them over refreshments.”