Thursday, April 26, 2007

What You Can't Make a Profit At

I've been thinking lately of what would be on the list of things that are essential but which you can't make a profit at (or enough of a profit). Last night on Bill Moyers Journal (first show of a new series) mention was made of how 'expensive' it is to hire the personnel necessary to research and report real factual news stories as opposed to how cheap it is to hire pundit 'experts' who merely sit and pontificate about their opinions. As a result more and more newspapers, 'news' magazines like "Time", and news bureaus for TV are getting rid of their news reporters/researchers and hiring more 'experts' to give opinions. Fewer facts and more opinions: the 'modern' fourth estate. The free press that is so essential to democracy.

I recall a fellow who had just finished yet another book on our health insurance 'crisis' who pointed out how it just wasn't profitable to provide care for people with serious chronic illnesses. Since we are such a 'Christian' society I guess Jesus would have preached that those people with chronic illnesses would just have to fend for themselves. (The Gospel according to capitalism.)

Being responsible for cleaning up one's own environmental pollution is apparently not profitable either.

I've heard discussions of medications in which it was revealed that certain drugs are just not profitable enough, thus drug companies don't research improvements in those regardless of how efficacious they would be for health. I guess Jefferson should have written:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, if said rights can be profitably pursued. — That to secure these rights, Corporations are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Board of Directors.


Anonymous said...

Playing devil's advocate...

People are free to choose what they want; businesses just try to provide people with what they want.

If people were interested in fact-filled news, they would insist on it. They would watch one episode of [pundit show], and say "personalities and opinions don't help me make up my mind - facts do!" The pundit shows would dry up and blow away.

As far as the health industry is concerned, if people wanted healthy lives they would live that way. They would eat one meal of [prepared food] and say "empty calories don't help me stay healthy - nutrients do!" Those prepared foods would dry up and blow away.

Once they were sick, people would reject the big pharma business plan. They would try a round of [expensive palliative drug] and say "I'm not going to enslave myself to drug companies for life - I want basic research that seeks to solve problems, not just reward investors in big pharma!."

But people don't do that.

James A Bond said...


1)According to 'free' competitive market theory people are only truly 'free' to choose what they want if they are provided adequate information about all their alternatives and made adequately aware of those alternatives. Corporations so dominate the media that people have been trained for years to believe what they are offered primarily is really their best choice. Take a look at "Telecommunications, Mass Media and Democracy" by Robert McChesney and you will see how large corporations took over radio with Herbert Hoover's help in the early days of radio when there still was a possibility for a great many small stations and a great variety of programming. If radio and later TV were not allowed to be dominated by large corporations funding programming through advertising we would have a very different radio and TV today and I would agree that people had free choice.

Essentially similar arguments apply to the health industry. Read Jonathan Cohn's new book "Sick". We had a reasonable health insurance system when Blue Cross offered a wide variety of people hospital care; the, in the 1940s and 1950s commercial insurance carriers figured they could make a profit by offering healthy people cheaper rates and declining insurance to those who had higher expenditures. Gradually the commercial carriers drove Blue Cross to stop offering broad coverage and laid the groundwork for our current 47 million uninsured. Health insurance is something that profit-making has essentially ruined unless your attitude is "let the poor and uninsured eat cake".

People who talk about Americans having "free choice" ought to go back and look at the real free market that existed in this country in 1825, before large corporations were allowed to totally transform our economy into one with very narrowly provided information about choices. Read William Roy, "Socializing Capital" and David Korten, "When Corporations Rule the World". If you're not really willing to look at this literature then your arguments about current 'free choice' are ill-informed.

no fortunate son said...

This kind of talk about "not profitable" really annoys me. If there is a cost, so be it. We choose to pay the price because we think the benefit is worth it.

Saying we shouldn't have some policy because it is not profitable is like saying we shouldn't build bridges because of gravity.

James A Bond said...

no fotunate son,

That's good, I'll have to remember that: "Saying we shouldn't have some policy because it is not profitable is like saying we shouldn't build bridges because of gravity."