Polluters' Gain, Citizens' Pain
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We know that corporations often make profits because they parasitize the commons-- stealing assets, like clear water, clear air, uncompensated or treated worker injuries, use of educated workers or use of roads that far exceeds the average human's use.
If those corporations paid for those abuses-- paid to the commons-- then we might not have the budget problems we have and we might have a lot less problems with the environment or workers or other ways that corporate parasitization exploits our commons.
Corporations might even find that some of their business was no longer profitable, or they'd come up with ways that did not expose them to the costs of compensating the commons.
So here's my proposal. Make it a viable business to find and report cases of corporate parasitization of the commons. Set a law that makes it illegal to parasitize the commons. Don't provide specifics, like adding X amount of toxic sludge to a creek. Simply make it a law that there is zero tolerance for any exploitation of the commons. And then, offer bounty hunters rewards for exposing parasitization abuses. Of course this will include whistleblowers-- people who are inside the corporations who have an opportunity to see wrong. The rewards for exposing corporate parasites should be large enough so a person can blow the whistle without worrying about losing his or her job.
Of course, corporations will fight every charge at first, with an army of lawyers. But, if the laws are well written, without gaping loopholes, it should be possible to make legitimate accusations hold.
I envision a business where environmentalists, using the law, can not only stop companies from polluting, but also fund their organizations' activities for years to come. Whistleblowers will be able to stop execs from exploiting the commons. Ideally, the law will make it a crime to knowingly continue to exploit the commons once it has been made clear, by various means, that the action or policy is indeed commons exploitation.
My guess is that companies and individuals in the US exploit the commons to the tune of at least a trillion dollars a year, probably more. Some will be wealthy and some will simply be lazy or just not care that they are dumping poison into the environment, or poaching electricity, or simply littering.
If bounty hunters and whistleblowers report just ten percent of the abuses each year, the government will get $100 billion or more, and I propose that the bounty hunters get 10% of the fine.
Of course, once the abuse is identified, the corporations will have to pay fines annually until they come up with alternative approaches. That will bring in additional revenues to local, state and federal governments. I'd love to see this applied to fracking. And I'd like to see extra fines and jail terms for companies and executives that lie about what they are doing.
I can imagine some of the more red, conservative states refusing to participate. But the law should include federal penalties as well, with states and localities sharing in the benefits if they share in the policing and prosecution of corporate parasites in their areas.
I imagine that companies and the US Chamber of Commerce will howl bloody murder, saying that this will cost jobs. On the contrary, it will create jobs for bounty hunters, lawyers, inspectors, people who follow up to see if compliance orders are being met. And if some companies go out of business, so be it. We have too many corporate parasites and the world will be better off either curing them of their parasitic behaviors or ending them by putting them out of business.
As with most legislation, this would probably be set to apply at first, and with tougher rules, for bigger corporations, say with more than 50 or 100 employees. But ultimately, even company and individual should be accountable for what they take from the commons.