For some time, Americans have taken greed for granted. Many have believed that greed is an inevitable outgrowth of free market capitalism. Even following Mitt Romney’s speech about the 47 percenters and revelations of his offshore tax havens, many Americans said it didn’t matter.
But greed has real world consequences.
As the top one percent have gained more and more wealth, the other 99 percent have seen their incomes stagnate or diminish. As CEOs of multinational corporations have pushed for increased productivity and offshore manufacturing, working Americans have lost their jobs and their homes. Workers in the countries that claimed the jobs have been subjected to impossible hours and terrible working conditions.
Where will it end?
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen two deadly examples of the consequences. In West, Texas, a fertilizer company stored massive amounts of explosive ammonium nitrate in the middle of town. The company owners not only failed to notify the townspeople of the danger. They failed to notify Homeland Security that they had amassed 1,350 times the amount that is supposed to trigger investigations. As a result, many of the owners’ neighbors lost their lives. Many others lost their homes.
Halfway around the world, in Bangladesh, textile workers were packed into an unsafe building in order to cut production costs on clothing intended for retail stores in the United States. When the building inevitably collapsed, more than 1,100 people lost their lives.
Certainly, these events were the result of bad decisions made by unscrupulous people. But the real culprit was unfettered greed.
We need to understand that those who chase greater and greater wealth will not change unless forced to. We need to understand that safety regulations are a legitimate responsibility of government. We need to understand that many companies are bad citizens and neighbors. And we need to remember that an employer is not doing employees a favor by allowing them to work for him. All employees have a right to safe working conditions, respectful treatment, reasonable hours and a real living wage.