Our Legion of Powerful Slaves

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Bill Scher, in an op-ed piece entitled “How Liberals Win,” argued that liberals do better bargaining with corporations rather than fighting them outright. One example he used was FDR, who was able to gain corporate support for collective bargaining, minimum wages and maximum hours, in exchange for allowing corporations to fix prices. While there was a bery negative downside to this compromise, he observes, FDR was able to tackle that later, with the important concessions in his pocket, so to speak.

In an interesting sidebar to this story, Scher has written in Nation of Change: “My point was that most of the time liberals achieved lasting reforms when they initially swallowed come…” Oh wait. That’s a typo. Here’s the full text:

“My point was that most of the time liberals achieved lasting reforms when they initially swallowed come concessions [I think he means ‘some concerssions’] proposed by corporations, and conversely, went bust when they tried to defeat corporations outright. Imperfect deals often get improved over time, whereas failure to deal often means letting problems fester for years and years…”

Scher is very, very right. The president of a corporation can make ten times the impact with a single edict than a regulating agency can make with a whole battery of regulations. A corporate CEO can decide to reduce the corporation’s carbon footprint, and things happen all over the world. And corporate CEOs are slaves to… American consumers — that’s us! We have legions of powerful slaves!

Here’s just one example. Hunt’s Ketchup recently made a decision to make their ketchup out of tomatoes instead of high fructose corn syrup, which is the first ingredient in most other ketchups.

If we reward them for this move, if we show a groundswell of consumer preference for ketchup without high-fructose corn syrup, other corporate CEOs will read about it in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, and they’ll start advertising their products as ‘the bread without high-fructose corn syrup’ {currently not to be found in most supermarkets}.

Pepperidge Farm? Laden with it, like so many others. It’s a disgrace. Consumers exercising their collective power could reverse this in a nanosecond.

Remember we have a legion of powerful slaves. A Roman legion was made up of about 6,000 soldiers. In the Bible, ‘Legion’ just means many. “Our name is Legion!” cry the evil spirits cast out by Jesus.

If we excercise consumer preference, we could eventually wind up with a food industry that provides us with healthy, nutritious food. It’s not unheard of, after all. On my recent visit to Estonia, I observed just that: a food industry that wants to serve its customers. And is it organic? It never wasn’t.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s an obesity epidemic in the United States, and at the same time US taxpayers are subsidizing the sugar industry. The average American eats more than 150 pounds of suger and sweeteners per year, and I’m not eating one pound per year, so somebody’s eating my share and it’s going right to their cankles (fatty build-up around the ankles and back boobs (self-explanatory).

This is a the kind of absurdity that Kurt Vonnegut always enjoyed. I wish he were here to make a wry comment upon it. But he’s not here, so somebody has to say something.

We have a food industry that is making us sick and a medical industry that isn’t even trying to make us well. When people are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it is the result of more than 20 years of bad diet. Ask doctors and their staff and they’ll say they’ve been saying this to patients for years with no results. Not blaming them, that’s for sure.

The food industry employs highly-paid scientists to make salty/fat/sweet food more addictive than cocaine. Everyone says weight is a personal responsibility, but what about obesity in children six months old?

If we put the heat on corporate CEOs, they will bow to our will. They might even send a fact-finding mission to Estonia to figure out how to supply the population with healthy, nutrious food. Be sure to stay at the Schossle in Tallinn, and don’t forget to try the mushroom pie!

I say we make our legion of powerful slaves start doing business for us. Number one: no high-fructose corn syrup. Number two: no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated anything. If the word hydrogenated appears on the label, do not buy.

When I think of the things we could make our CEO slaves do for us, I think of a comparison between Martin Luther King and Frank Sinatra, both heroes of mine. MLK the greatest orator since Winston Churchill, and Frank Sinatra, the chairman of the board, who risked his young career getting in bar fights with racists and changed national attiudes with a snap of his fingers.

We all know, I hope, what Martin Luther King did for racial equality. I think we should also recognize what Frank Sinatra did. When Sammy Davis Jr. became a member of the Rat Pack, hotels all over the world had a big decision to make about their policy on racial segregation.

And with the same snap of his fingers, Frank Sinatra made racism uncool, not just for idealistic students moved by King’s rhetoric, but for tough guys who didn’t do a lot of reading, if you know what I mean. Frank snapped his fingers, and attitudes changed. I’m sure you can see how the efforts of these two men worked in confluence to change our country for the better.

So when we make our corporate CEO slaves do our bidding, we’re channeling Frank and Martin, and John and Bobby, too, of course, and while you’re at it, throw in Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. They all had a vision, imperfect as it might have been, and they made a bridge to the future and all we have to do is walk across it.