The recent announcement of the $100 million fine slapped on agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) for price fixing put corporate crime — one of the important but under-reported issues of our time — at the top of the news hour and in the morning newspaper headlines.
If past history is any guide, however, the announcement will not spur a series of investigative reports into the cost of corporate crime — which, according to all academic and government studies, dwarfs the cost of street crime.
It is unlikely to spark discussion in the Congressional races over the price we pay as consumers and citizens for the exercise of oligopolistic and monopolistic power by a relative handful of big corporations.
And it will probably not spur the major presidential candidates to take on the issue of corporate power — especially since both candidates have benefited from the campaign finance largess of ADM and its long time head Dwayne Andreas. Indeed, Bob Dole is a close personal friend of Andreas, who sold Elizabeth Dole property in Florida at a huge discount in 1983.
Despite the shortcomings of most of the media in reporting on corporate crime, there is one place you can turn for consistent hard-hitting reporting and penetrating analysis on the abuse of corporate power: the monthly magazine Multinational Monitor.
Consider the issue of antitrust and competition policy. The Reagan-Bush administrations eviscerated antitrust enforcement, turning the Justice Department enforcement division into a propagandist for the value of corporate combinations. The merger boom of the 1980s helped a group of Wall Street investment bankers and their lawyers get rich, but it left the rest of the country with a legacy of corporate bailouts, lost jobs, increased prices and diminished citizen influence over politics. A handful of Wall Street insiders were sent to jail, but it is the rest of us who are truly paying the price.
Now comes President George Ronald Clinton. Quietly, the 1990s have witnessed a merger boom even greater than that of the decade past. In every area that Congress and the administration deregulate, a merger frenzy follows. This is happening or about to happen in telecommunications, healthcare, banking and electricity, among others.
To this new round of merger mania, the Clinton antitrust enforcement agencies apply only the meekest of regulatory scrutiny.
But, as Multinational Monitor has shown, the costs are already starting to be felt. Mergers among pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceutical benefit management companies (which buy drugs for HMOs) are driving up the cost of drugs. Banking mergers are leading to the closure of branches in poor neighborhoods and higher charges for service. Mergers among big cable interests are closing off avenues for the dissemination of alternative viewpoints — even Rupert Murdoch is now finding cable outlets closed to him.
The same dichotomy between the mainstream political discourse and the aggressive reporting in Multinational Monitor is apparent in other corporate power issues. A single news item may momentarily pierce through the gray film of political debate in the establishment media and among the major party candidates -say, the recent report by a NAFTA commission that real wages are now declining in all three NAFTA countries, the United States, Canada and Mexico — but the news bite is not to be placed in a broader context, and is quickly forgotten.
The Monitor, in contract, began devoting attention to the free trade issue long before NAFTA and GATT entered the popular lexicon. With its detailed coverage of the business influence on trade negotiations, its penetrating analysis of the effects of free trade on everything from job loss to food safety to energy conservation and its careful examination of existing free trade agreement experience, the Monitor has built a powerful case that “free trade” as defined by global corporations is socially unsustainable, irrespective of palliatives like the NAFTA side
Every month, the Monitor challenges the terms of conventional political debate, as it focuses on the shenanigans and misdeeds of multinational corporations, as well as of international lending institutions (the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.) and government officials and agencies.
But because of its unique new analysis style, the Monitor does not merely spout platitudes. It delves into hard facts, documents and substantiates its claims and directly reports and confronts the views of those it criticizes. There is no empty dogma in the Monitor.
If you would like to have access to a full menu of reporting on powerful corporations, you can subscribe by sending a check for $25 to Multinational Monitor, P. 0. Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036.