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Article: People or Corporations? Restoring the Common Good

Excerpt from People or Corporations? Restoring the Common Good by Barry Bennett, The Humanist, January-February 2012.

When Maine governor Paul LePage ordered the removal of a mural depicting the state's labor history from the Department of Labor headquarters because it was "not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals," he perfectly (if unknowingly) captured our economic system's loss of purpose.

There's a reason it's the department of labor, not the department of business. The point of capitalism used to be to create prosperous lives for the American people—most of whom labor. But today it has no point beyond the health of corporations—the means have become the end.

This shift began at least thirty-five years ago. As rising economic powers threatened U.S. economic hegemony, corporations reacted by moving offshore and slashing wages and benefits.

Financial analysts hailed this harsh but profitable response: the massive layoffs were "long overdue" and showed a willingness to make "tough decisions." Meanwhile, the analysts noted, increases in the unemployment rate caused "euphoria" in the bond market, whereas a brief fall in unemployment to a fifteen-year low was proof that the U.S. economy was "too strong" and "way out of line."

The destruction of people's lives was a collateral effect; what mattered was that profits were preserved.

Corporations and the common good weren't always at odds. The first corporations were individually chartered by the states to serve a particular public purpose—building a bridge, say, or a turnpike.

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