The Multinational Monitor


B O O K   R E V I E W

An Introductory Course In Corporate America

The Big Business Reader
edited by Mark Green
The Pilgrim Press, New York, 1984
reviewed by Ethan Buckler

American business elite are willing to do just about anything to earn a short term profit-that is the message of this revised and expanded edition of The Big Business Reader, a collection of fifty essays chronicaling the problems with twentieth century corporations. The government, consumers, and company employees are portrayed in the book as often lacking the requisite resources to counter corporate abuses.

The book serves as an introduction to topics like corporate responsibility for environmental pollution, corporate political action committees, defective products, and employee ownership.

Some of the stories in the book are already legion; for instance, one chapter describes Ford Motor Company's Pinto debacle. The Pinto was designed with the gas tank placed behind the rear axle, so that in rear end collisions, the gas tanks could be ruptured, resulting in fires and explosions. Ford knew of this before marketing the car, but chose not to correct the problem since it was racing to put out the Pinto to compete with the Volkswagen "Beetle." The problem could have been mitigated by installing a five dollar plastic safety shield that would prevent the gas tank from rupturing. But Ford calculated the cost of installing the safety shield and concluded that it would be greater than any damages it would have to pay victims and their families if the Pinto's gas tank caused harm.

Another chapter takes readers to Eastern Kentucky where, on March 14, 1976, fifteen people were killed when a single spark ignited a build-up of explosive gas in a coal mine. The workers had not been aware of the gas build-up because inspection logs had been falsified. Two days later, eleven more miners were killed in the same mine. The mine is described in this chapter as being dirty, poorly maintained, and dangerous. Ceilings were poorly supported and there were no emergency facilities of any kind. High pay had kept the workers from complaining about conditions, and the remote location shielded the company from publicity. It's no wonder that America has the highest mining death rate in the world, one concludes; company officials simply aren't willing to pay for the safety of their mines.

Following disasters like these, the reader questions why companies can get away with such practices, and why the government is so reluctant to regulate corporations more closely. The answer, according to the Reader, is simple: political action committees. PACs donate money to the campaigns of politicians who vote the contributor's line, and as a result, the PACs have tremendous clout. One case in point is the powerful PACs formed by gun companies, which support candidates who oppose legislation intended to restrict use of handguns.

In addition to saying what's wrong with corporate America, The Big Business Reader also presents basic alternatives to business as usual. One chapter, for example, covers employee ownership, pointing out how this can ensure that decisions are made not only with an eye toward profit, but also toward improving the working environment.

The Reader also includes several essays on how the U.S. can better prioritize its capital spending, with emphasis on long term research and stimulation of strategic industries.

The Big Business Reader exposes problems and proposes solutions. The book may not appeal to those in corporate suites, but should be a valuable basic tool for those who want to keep tabs on corporate chiefs and their actions.

Ethan Buckler is a freelance writer based in Louisville, Kentucky.

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