The Birth of a Corporate Economy
Politics and economics have always been intertwined. The failures of laissez-faire capitalism and the separation of powers doctrine have insured that corporations remain largely untouched by legislation, research, funding, policy making, and enforcement systems related to toxic substances.
During the 18th century, principles of laissez-faire capitalism gained popularity in Europe and the newly formed United States. Adam Smith, who often is credited as the father of this economic philosophy, believed that the operation of free market forces would automatically be directed toward the public good without any governmental oversight.
In order for laissez-faire capitalism to succeed, a nation's economic system must consist of numerous, small-sized businesses operating in vigorous competition with each other. Failure of individual businesses is to be expected as a necessary part of competition, thereby ensuring that only the best businesses survive.
America's economy initially consisted of the type of businesses envisioned by Smith, and many proponents of laissez-faire capitalism existed. The advent of the Industrial Revolution forever changed the financial structure of the country, however. Instead of laissez-faire capitalism and free markets, a corporate economy emerged. Unlike Smith's conception, a corporate economy is based upon a select number of large businesses operating in conjunction with each other to manipulate economic markets and ensure self-preservation.
Over the years, various laws have been adopted to prevent monopolies, predatory pricing, and supply manipulation; however, the size and influence of corporations have continued to grow. While true monopolies may be rare, oligopolies are not uncommon.
Monopoly - domination of market by a single company
Oligopoly - domination of market by a few (limited) number of companies
Separation of Powers
The doctrine of separation of powers, which is institutionalized in the U.S. Constitution, is intended to promote cooperation and limit abuse of the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial). To accomplish this, a system of checks and balances has been adopted to ensure power is decentralized.
But, the U.S. Constitution does not provide checks and balances for corporations, which have become a de facto Fourth branch of government. To ensure the economic growth of our country, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches cater to corporate wishes. Regulations regarding toxic substances are either not adopted or are so watered down as to be meaningless. Should a law be codified that ends up being financially troublesome for corporations, the law will quickly be amended or repealed.
Not all corporations ignore environmental or health & safety issues. Being "green" or safety conscious can benefit corporations by lessening insurance and litigation costs, increasing worker loyalty, and providing an ethical public image. Still, the corporate economy thrives by focusing primarily on profits. True safety for workers, consumers, and the environment cannot exist without some system-wide check on corporate operations.