This past weekend, I went to see the movie Troy. My expectations for a Hollywood version of The Iliad were not high and so I was not disappointed. What did disappoint me, and has disappointed me for the past three years is that I have to watch ridiculous commercials before I get to watch a movie I paid for! I am not talking about the movie trailers for upcoming releases; I am talking about the commercials that are now being played before most movies.
Commercialism has become so prevalent in our society that we don’t even see it slowly encroaching on our lives. Having to watch a commercial used to be the cost of getting free access to a television show or sporting event, but now most of us pay for our television and at the same time we get to pay to watch commercials. What a great deal!
There was a time when people drank water straight from the tap, but now you can pay to get water in a bottle. Why? Is there so much pollution in the world that our water supply is tainted? Well, the Bush administration did raise the level of allowable arsenic in our water supply, but bottled water was around before that happened. Suddenly people are paying $2.00 for something that most people can get for free just about anywhere in the United States.
This is the price we are paying, and will continue to pay, as we allow commercialism to seep into our culture. Our government used to protect us from blatant commercialization, but as budgets shrink for most governmental organizations more and more of the services once provided by the government are now being taken over by business. There are people who believe this take over is a positive trend and will save us money over time. The idea that business can do the government’s job better than the government is just wrong.
The $10 billion contract to provide Homeland Security for the United States was just given to Accenture; a company incorporated in …Bermuda! Bermuda, the nation famous for shorts? Bermuda, the nation well known for its cocktails and beaches? Bermuda, home of tax-dodging American companies! My tax dollars, your tax dollars, are going to support a company who avoids taxes by incorporating itself in Bermuda. This company is also going to provide Homeland Security better than the government could? What happens if shareholders want to increase profits? Will Accenture downsize their Florida office? Maybe they will shut down Homeland Security in Montana.
Halliburton’s business dealings in Iraq are another example of, “Big business can do it better” thinking. Halliburton was charging the Army between $2.64 – $3.06 for a gallon of gasoline that the Defense Department’s Energy Support Center was supplying for $1.32. The American tax payer picks up the overcharge. According to the Wall Street Journal Halliburton billed the US for 42,042 meals a day in July of 2003, but served only 14,053. Halliburton was billing the US tax-payer $85.98 for a sheet of plywood that cost $14.06 in the US. What were they doing, flying each sheet of plywood to Iraq in a first-class seat?
Commercialism has slowly been seeping into our schools for a number of years. First it was soda machines, then it was cafeteria service provided by McDonalds and now it is field trips. Petco offers field trips to their stores. They pay the transportation costs and the students get a fabulous learning experience in how to become a consumer for Petco. The kids all get a free coupon for a goldfish and have a great time poking around the store. The message Petco has purchased for the price of transportation and a few goldfish is priceless. Petco gets a captive audience of children and the stamp of approval from the school.
Next time you go to your local high school look around at the signs, most of them are probably provided by a major corporation. These images become so much a part of our daily life that we don’t even notice. Companies call you at home, spam your computer, advertise anywhere they can and slowly slip into your subconscious. These companies have done the same thing with our government. Do we really want a government run on the principle of profit?
There is a growing movement across our nation to cut taxes and streamline government. The layers of fat are easy targets for tax cutters, but those layers of fat are never touched by a reduction in funding. These tax reduction efforts often end up costing us in other arenas. Maybe we lose access to libraries. Maybe we have cutbacks in police and fire departments. Maybe we can’t replace pot holes in our streets. Eventually all of these “savings” end up costing us more as a society. If you don’t read books or have enough money to buy books, cutting library hours won’t hurt you. If you never need the police or fire departments, what difference will it make to you if there are cutbacks? A pot hole in your street is easy to drive around for a while, but eventually that pot hole enlarges and other pot holes appear. In essence our entire society is becoming marked with pot holes that cannot be filled. We want to have all the services, but we don’t want to pay for them. Industry has slipped into a government void and is slowly making itself more and more necessary for our everyday living. As we become more reliant on business to fill our needs we open up the possibility to being victims of profit margins. Big business is not going to monitor itself and cut into profit. Remember the promises California heard about competition and energy prices? What happened to them can happen to us on a national scale.
The lines between business and government have become so blurred that it is difficult to see where one ends and one begins. I want government in control of industry and not the other way around. We need leaders who are not married to big business serving our country, and we need a new separation, a separation of industry and government.