We Give Corporations Permission to Squeeze the Life Out of Us: The Villager and The Snake

Barely ten years after the last financial crisis, when the elite banks were deemed too big to fail, the Dodd-Frank regulations to curb avarice and self-dealing are being rolled back. It’s just too difficult for banks to comply with safe and ethical business practices. Isn’t the whole point of banks safety and ethics?

Aesop tells of a farmer who was as charitable as he was unwise. Walking his land one winter day, he came upon a snake stretched out on the snow, petrified, frozen, paralyzed and immobilized. With no more than a quarter hour to live, the villager picked up the snake and brought him to his home. There, without considering the rent he would pay for his good deed, the farmer laid the snake out in front of the fire. Warmed him. Resuscitated him.  

The numb animal had hardly felt the warmth, when his spirit returned on a wave of anger. He lifted his head. Let out a quick whistle. Coiled himself and then tried to launch at his benefactor, his savior and father.

Ingrate! The farmer said. This is what I get? You will die.

At these words, filled with righteous rage, he takes his axe and cuts the beast. Makes three snakes with two blows, the trunk, the tail and the head. The reptile, hopping about, tries to pull himself together. But he can’t manage it.

It’s good to be charitable. But toward whom? —That’s the question. As for ingrates, they all die miserable.

Banks are only one example of the many corporations that have way too much power now. So, instead of letting them die out in the cold, if some misstep endangers their profit margin, we play savior and father, we bring them inside by the fire and warm them up with favorable regulations. Unfortunately, no matter how righteous our rage, we are unwilling or unable to wield the axe. Instead we keep saving and protecting corporate interests, even as the companies coil themselves around us.

Preferential corporate treatment has even got its hands on motherhood and apple pie. A couple of weeks ago, the current administration obstructed a World Health Organization breastfeeding resolution. Despite widespread scientific evidence confirming that breastfeeding is best for infant health, the Trump administration supported the position of the $70 billion dollar infant formula industry. The industry, based primarily in the US and Europe, but whose growth comes from the less wealthy countries, vigorously opposed any restrictions on advertising and marketing. Campaigns that discourage women, mostly in poor countries, from breastfeeding at all, encouraging them to buy formula they can barely afford instead.

Is it just too hard for infant formula manufacturers not to prey on vulnerable consumers?

Banking and infant formula are just two examples of snake-industries we keep supporting. And when I say “we”, I mean via the government-elect and our consumer choices. The antiquated coal and oil interests take precedence over environmental protection. Agri-business subsidies override health. The list goes on.

There are too many other examples.

I can’t do better than to quote from Barack Obama’s recent address in South Africa on the occasion of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday: “…progress is going to depend on an inclusive market-based system — one that offers education for every child; that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker — that breaks up monopolies to encourage competition in small and medium-sized businesses; and has laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business; that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich but they’re giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal health care and retirement security …”

Thank you, Obama.

Corporations have grown so ubiquitous and powerful that we think the constriction we feel around our chests has always been there. Our hearth is always warm and the snakebites induce amnesia, so we keep putting on fresh logs and wondering why we can’t breathe.

Axe government protections of corporate privilege. Axe consumer support for corporate snakes. Who’s your daddy now?


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