Wednesday 26th October 2016                 Change text size:

And another thing: profit before people is the dark heart of unrestrained capitalism

Speakers Corner by CGP Grey

News this week that Thomas Cook has been strongly condemned for putting image and profit for people leading to the deaths of two young children should surprise no one. The very thing Thomas Cook will be rewarded for in the City, maximising profit for shareholders, is the core driver of a lack of care for its customers.

Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser said about the King report: “Booking a holiday is a matter of trust and it is our duty to do everything we can to justify the trust our customers place in us, both now and in the future.” Trust and duty. Quite. “I resign,” would have been a better and more succinct response. Company founder Thomas Cook, a devout and sober Baptist, would be spinning at high speed in his grave for the sins of those who use his name.

You can be imprisoned for six months for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water as ‘an example’. If two children in your care die from carbon monoxide poisoning because you put profit before people, no problem, carry on, have a bonus.

Epic market failure on a murderous scale

Capitalism is harming and killing people at every turn. The system and its captains needs to be brought to heel or to court for their crimes. Even Bill Gates, arguably the world’s most successful capitalist and entrepreneur, has lost faith in capitalism’s ability to address the world’s most pressing issue, climate change.

Between them fossil fuels, energy, transport, industry, agriculture, big tobacco, big pharma, aerospace and defence kill at least 17 million people a year globally. Heart disease, the leading cause of death by illness, only kills seven million.

During the most violent and bloody period of the last century World War One and World War Two killed seven million and ten million per year respectively. As we prepare for Remembrance Sunday, maybe we should spare just a moment to remember the ‘glorious dead’ of modern capitalism. Dulce and decorum est – Is it sweet and honourable to die for someone else’s internal rate of return?

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels for energy, transport, industry and agriculture kills seven million every year. Big tobacco kills six million every year. Big pharma allows three million people to die from preventable diseases every year. Our desire to drive cars kills well over one million from road traffic accidents every year. Surprisingly, the one industry that makes tools that are actually designed specifically to kill people, aerospace and defence, kills a rather modest 163,000 people a year through armed conflict – and almost everything they make is never used (which is a use of resources crime in itself).

And that’s just the body bags of modern capitalism. Many millions more have their health impaired, suffer poverty wages,  work in slave-like conditions, and suffer the endless fear of eviction from homes, workplace abuse and injury or death from poor health and safety practices. Dickensian doesn’t even describe the depths to which modern capitalists will sink.

And while global industry is happy for governments to reduce benefits for their lowest paid employees, they are equally happy to receive huge amounts of corporate welfare in tax breaks and state subsidies. Benefits that are redistributed upwards in high salaries for average executives, like Mr Fankhauser, and in shareholder dividends.

The unsustainable elephant in the room is financial services, who provides the working capital for all this death and suffering, and actively incentivises profit being put before people. This is the same industry that single-handedly created the global economic crash in 2007 and forced governments to nationalise their losses, before bouncing back to reap even greater profits, while we and our children and our children’s children pay for their mistakes – and will do again.

Thomas Cook is just the latest example of everything that is wrong with modern capitalism, where profit and image matter more than people and planet. Isn’t it about time that a lot more of these people, these feted and cosseted Captains of Industry, and the grovelling organisations and politicians that serve them, lost everything and went to prison for a very, very long time.

Shareholders with largest holdings in Thomas Cook Group Plc:

Invesco Asset Management Ltd. – 18.10%

Standard Life Investments Ltd. – 8.78%

Guang Chang Guo, MBA – 5.20%

Capital Guardian Trust Co. – 4.59%

Marathon Asset Management LLP – 4.52%

BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Ltd. – 4.21%

Orbis Investment Management Ltd. – 2.86%

Legal & General Investment Management Ltd. – 2.78%

Norges Bank Investment Management – 1.92%

Allianz Global Investors GmbH – 1.54%


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