The Pfinances of a For-Profit World

The drug company, Pfizer, just settled with the U.S. government for $2.3 billion on charges of fraud. Pfizer essentially admitted that they were promoting the use of Bextra for ailments which the drug wasn’t designed to address. In the language of early America – they were peddling snake oil, “Good for what ails you!”

What’s interesting about this case is not that a pharmaceutical company was caught doing something unethical for the sake of greed, it is the notion that one company is so incredibly profitable that can afford to pay 2 billion dollars to settle a lawsuit and still survive another day to bilk others. Pfizer announced profits of $2.8 billion about this time last year. That’s not revenue, that’s pure profit, even after paying a sports-hero salary to their CEO. I repent of all my belly-aching in the last blog about the volume of money running through humanitarian aid organizations. Pfizer made in sheer profit just a little less than the US contributed in 2007 for global humanitarian aid.
Somebody please help me. I am miserable at math and never did very well at macro economics. But it seems to me that there is something terribly wrong with an economic system that allows this to happen. That a single company could earn enough profit to rival the amount of money that the richest country on planet earth provides for the world’s poor seems unfathomable. What’s more, when we penalize this company for the shear avarice, fraud and trickery which helped to produce this profit, they have enough money to consider it simply the cost of doing business.
Is it not simple common sense that power corrupts and that money is a form of power? When we allow such gross amounts of cash to be concentrated in the hands of so few, why would we not expect them to use that concentrated power to gain more, by hook or by crook?
David Batstone in his book, Saving the Corporate Soul, suggests that corporate power should be distributed beyond the scope of the company executives and the share holders – those who stand to benefit most when ethics are placed second to profit. He suggests that other stakeholders (the employees at every level, the communities in which the company exists, and the environment) ought to have some kind of serious influence on decisions. I am sure there are some companies who have done things like this. Certainly employee-owned companies have a measure of this power sharing (though employees can also be excessively motivated by greed – which is why unions are not exempt from a profiteering mindset).
Call me an economic idiot, or even a communist, but is there not enough altruism in our human nature to create a not-for-profit world … or at least something close to it? Why build a system fueled by the power of greed without also creating serious limitations on how much money and control any one individual or set of individuals can accumulate? It’s like paying drug addicts with cocaine for the work they do. There’s got to be a better way.

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