Prophets Of Profit

Merchants of Death Matter

Bharat Dogra

The most important Issue of the present-day world is that earth’s life-nurturing conditions are badly threatened. At a time when maximum efforts need to be made for protecting these life-nurturing conditions within a framework of justice, peace and democracy, unfortunately a lot of power has got concentrated in some giant multinational companies and several multi-billionaires whose fortunes have been steadily growing at a fast pace, even more so in times when most people of the world have faced increasing economic difficulties, as can be seen most clearly during the recent pandemic crisis.

The enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of several multinational companies and multi-billionaires, together with the high influence wielded by them with national governments as well as international organisations, not to mention media and academia, has enabled them to exercise ahuge impact on policy makers as well as public opinion makers. Unfortunately, with a few notable and admirable exceptions, most of them have used this power in highly undesirable ways to increase existing dangers as well as create new ones. This has happened because they are not looking at increasing welfare, they are striving mainly for maximising their profits and what can be even more harmful, they are making efforts for controlling entire sectors because once they are able to create such control then maximising profit will not be any problem at all for a long time. In the process of controlling entire sectors, they are, together with their political backers in dominant host countries, also acquiring immense political power in the sense it will be increasingly difficult for most national governments to challenge their control and influence, and policies may increasingly have to revolve around the lines promoted by them.

Here one looks at the increasing influence and power of these big business interests in a few sectors.

Weapons—The weapons industry is increasingly characterised by very high profits, also fraud and corruption, and lack of transparency. Big weapon manufacturing companies are increasingly arrogant about their influence on policy makers.

While the arms industry has been most heavily concentrated in the USA for quite some time, its expansion—and particularly that of the top five companies—was unprecedented soon after 9/11. Harry Stonecipher, then Vice-President of Boeing, told the Wall Street Journal in 2001, “The purse is now wide open…Any member of Congress who doesn’t vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November.” Indeed just the increase in the USA military budget between fiscal year 2002 and 2003 in the USA was greater than the total military budget of any other country.

The capacity of biggest weapon companies to produce huge stocks of highly destructive weapons has been increasing like never before, linked to government contracts. The top five companies in the USA had Pentagon contracts amounting to 286 billion dollars in 2019and 2020, and 2100 billion dollars during 2001-20. Once such huge stocks of ever-new weapons are being manufactured, to keep the machines rolling, there will be a not-so-openly expressed desire to find opportunities to keep testing these weapons, and using them.

While a no-war situation is the most desirable for humanity and for the entire world, imagine what these giant weapon companies would do in such a world. Hence they are inclined to prefer a word with some wars to a world without wars. However as the budgets and profits of these mega companies have increased rapidly, these probably now desire more wars and longer wars. When deadly wars break out, their stocks go up, and so do their profits.

There is increasing presence among policy makers of lobbyists from these weapons companies to keep getting more and more contracts for them. These increasing contracts can be justified by exaggerating threats and by war-mongering, preparing the background for real wars. The budget of lobbyists is also in billions of dollars, many politicians depend on their contributions to win the next elections.

Hence a very dangerous situation is being created in which big weapon companies and other military contractors become a major influencing factor towards creating more aggressive policies which result ultimately in more wars.

Space—There has been a fast trend towards high concentration of satellites ownership and control by a few giant corporations, based manly in the USA. There is increasing risk of space pollution and risk of collisions in space. However the biggest threat comes from the increasing militarisation of space led by the USA but with China and Russia not too far behind, and several other countries active too.

Food and Farming—A few big multinational companies have been gaining increasing control over the seeds sector, with patents, so that they can extract profits even from farmers of those places where the seeds originally belonged. The seed robber can become the seed owner under the new legal dispensation. These companies are frequently also the main promoters of GM crops which have been exposed for their many sided health and environmental risks. These companies tend to tailor their seeds often in ways that high hazard agro-chemicals must be used if these seeds are grown, increasing profits for them and risks for people. The giant multinational companies are displacing small farmers and family farmers, while gaining very big control over food and feed production and trade, including food processing that emphasises junk food sales on a mass scale.

Energy—Fossil fuels continue to be explored and exploited at rates and in ways that cannot be justified at all in terms of the requirements of checking GHG emissions. Increasingly high risk technologies such as fracking are used, while several virgin areas, such as those opened up by large-scale ice melting in the Arctic and the Antarctic, are likely to be exploited for oil and natural gas.

Communications—On the one hand there is increasing resort to more and more hazardous technology in the nameof speeding up and improving communications which may prove very costly in terms of adverse impacts on human health. On the other hand so many ways of spreading disinformation and controlling information are being found, using high technology, that people may be condemned to live in a world of increasing falsehoods –all controlled by big information and communication giants.

Health—Many big pharmaceutical companies became notorious for overcharging for life-saving medicines and providing false information about important medicines or hiding some information which should have been shared. More recent trends have been for imposing very widely used products as essential products while concealing or underplaying their associated side-effects and hazards. Using pandemics as a means of quickly earning vast profits and gaining control over several aspects ofthe life of people is yet another emerging trend which needs to be watched and understood carefully.

[The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, A Day in 2071 and Man over Machine.]

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Vol 56, No. 51, Jun 16 - 22, 2024