Chapter 1: How to Boil a Frog
What?! How does boiling a frog relate to this book about how capitalism is killing us?
The “boiling frog” concept is a metaphor for the difficulty humans have to see or react sufficiently when a threat gradually arises. It relates to the thought (now largely disproven) that a frog, if placed in a pot of boiling water, will immediately jump out if it is able. However, if the frog is placed in a pot of cold water where the temperature is turned up gradually, it will happily cook itself to death. Although the temperature gets warmer, because the change is so gradual the frog doesn’t notice it. So the frog gets used to the rising temperature to the point that it doesn’t know that the surrounding hot water is killing it.
In fact, there were studies done in the late 1800's that suggested this gradual water temperature change in a frog’s environment to be true. William Sedgwick wrote in 1882 that if the temperature was gradually raised at .0002 degrees centigrade per second, the frog would remain in the water and die in 2.5 hours. Although more current studies have largely disproven this phenomenon, the concept continues to hang around to this day and is an accurate metaphor for what happens (or doesn’t happen) when change is gradual.
When a change happens that is sudden, we are able to react to it (like the bombing of Pearl Harbor). But when a change is so gradual that we don’t notice the evolution from day to day, we often (unfortunately), accept the change over time. Mass shootings with automatic weapons have become an example of how a horrific event can (over time) become an unfortunate norm within the minds of millions of our fellow citizens, especially when large special interests (like the NRA), help to tamp down any change or reaction from politicians (politicians who have the responsibility to protect us from enemies, foreign, and domestic). Through their donations and their threats to support other candidates, the NRA is able to convince Republicans and many Democrats to stymie any gun control legislation every time one of these mass killings occurs.
Other historical examples of this phenomenon:
-In Nazi Germany in the 1920's and 1930's, many of those in power in the Nazi Party cautioned against instituting changes in government suddenly; many of the laws (especially of those against Jewish people) were instituted gradually. Over a period of years, many in Germany came to accept the horrible and restrictive way of life that eventually was forced upon Jewish families.
-Abusive domestic relationships can be another example of when things can get worse gradually, but the recipient of the abuse doesn’t take action, hoping for improvement (which sadly never comes). Over time, the recipient can start to accept the behavior of the abuser as “the norm” and learn to live with the abuse, while people around the recipient can only shake their head and wonder why.
-Hitler’s bombastic rhetoric in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's was thought of by most Germans initially as “wacko.” But over time, they accepted his harsh words, hatred, and lies as the norm. (Does that ring a bell with what we are dealing with in 2020?)
-Today (2020) in the US, we Americans have a President who is self-absorbed, breaks laws, and lies every day. In any other previous administration, we (Republicans, Democrats, Independents) would have found this behavior unacceptable and would have initiated immediate impeachment proceedings. After three years of Trump’s constant lying, we seem to have become inured to his behavior.
-Every year our planet gets a little bit warmer, but like the frog we are accepting it. Regular flooding in low-lying areas, more intense storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, more beach erosion, etc. If (in the 1950's for example), we had a year of storms and temperatures like we seem to have regularly now, we would have been up in arms if we knew we had the ability to do something about it. Now, we shrug our collective shoulders; we seem to be getting used to it.
It’s the same with capitalism. The problem is that, in our country, capitalism is gradually but constantly growing, getting stronger, always looking for ways to become more powerful, corporations more profitable, their executives wealthier, finding new ways to avoid taxes, etc. And the larger the corporation gets, the worse it becomes. Like an addict to drugs, large corporations become addicted to their own wealth and power and constantly seek ways to become even wealthier and more powerful. Do you keep hearing the phrase “we need to lower our taxes and have fewer regulations”? It’s the drumbeat that (for years) has been pounded into the heads of politicians and right-wing conservatives by corporations and their lobbyists with an agenda.
Large corporations are judged by their stockholders, their board members, and Wall Street as to how much larger and more profitable they are this year over last year; how their stock price is performing (is it better than last year?); how large are their dividends. Corporations today are never measured by the quality of their products; how much better the quality of service is to their clients; employee satisfaction; or if they are good stewards of the environment. No, these measurements don’t matter to large corporations. Size, profitability, reducing headcount by looking for cheaper offshore workers, giving executives fatter paychecks and bigger stock options when they succeed in reducing headcount are the elements that matter most to them. These elements have become the corporation’s own measure of success.
Because these are their objectives, large corporations have learned that gradually instituting business practices that are questionably unethical (but have the ability to generate more profits) are the easiest ways to continue to grow and reward themselves. Some examples of this behavior include:
-Gradually getting rid of US employees in customer service departments and hiring offshore workers at the fraction of the cost (who often lack English language skills).
-Changing corporate websites into propaganda pages. Corporations love to talk about how great they are on their website, but try to find a phone number to call with a complaint; you can’t find one anymore. If you do find a number to call, you usually get routed to 4–5 different departments. Large corporations purposely make it difficult for you to communicate with them when you have problems. It’s more profitable for them if they are able to ignore you.
-Corporate restructuring so that corporations don’t have to continue paying pensions that were promised to workers.
-Moving offshore (on paper at least) large chunks of corporate and manufacturing operations so that corporate taxes are reduced or eliminated entirely.
-Paying money to Washington DC lobbying firms so that corporate interests are dictated to our elected officials (see Chapter 3 in this book entitled “Lobbyists”).
And remember, these changes have not all happened overnight; they happen gradually, one policy change at a time, one company at a time. We’ve become used to it, unfortunately.
So today, when you get a letter from a company that says, “In an effort to provide better customer service, we are making the following changes to your account,” it usually means that you are getting screwed.
When did this problem begin?
If you want a start date on the problems with unchecked capitalism and associated corruption, you would do well by examining the Ronald Reagan era in the mid-1980's. (Read the next chapter for more information on this.) Beginning in his first term, Reagan, with advice and guidance from his appointed staff (many of whom were former business executives), began allowing other executives from large corporations to come into the White House to “advise” on governmental policies. Over time, we began to see changes coming out of Washington: tax rates for corporations plummeted, regulations were reduced and corporations started bending rules, corrupting politicians and engaging in risky (and often unlawful) behavior.
FYI: We have had at least two monumental financial meltdowns in the last 30 years: Savings and Loan debacle of the late 1980's and The Great Recession of 2008), both caused by corporate greed and lax, unenforced corporate regulations. The economic cost to us? Over $2 trillion dollars, according to many studies.
Ever since the mid-eighties then, large corporations have learned that the way to have the government do their bidding is to “get into the tent” of politics. Get to know the elected leaders, “educate” the politicians on policies that benefit corporations, help with politicians’ campaigns, and (since 2010) donate unlimited monies to Political Action Committees (PACS) that help that particular politician and hurt other politicians that don’t agree with that corporation.
They used the now worn-out phrase: “Doing this helps creates jobs and grow the economy.” Yet has that ever been proven? Or how about the worn-out phrase: “We need to lower our taxes.” Taxes on whom? Corporate executives could care less about the taxes you and I pay. They are only interested in lowering corporate taxes or taxes on themselves! They already pay less in taxes than you or I do, and many (like Trump) pay no tax at all.
This has been going on now for over 30 years, and every year it seems as if Washington becomes less responsive to the needs of the taxpayer and the voter, yet every year policies and laws that benefit large corporations seem to get passed, just like the 2018 “tax reform measure.” This was nothing more than another giveaway to the wealthy corporate elite. That legislation (who most Republicans voted for, yet never even read) has thrown our nation deeper into debt and is representative of the new American motto: “Of Corporations, by Corporations, and for Corporations!”
Even today, die-hard Republicans talk wistfully of the Reagan era, yet that was the era in government that started the decline of the taxpayer in favor of big business. And you can thank Reagan-era policies for allowing this to start and for subsequent administrations for letting things get gradually worse.
So the next time you drive across a rusty bridge and see pieces falling off; or have your car’s suspension damaged by an un-repaired pothole; or go to an airport that for years has been in need of repair and expansion; or wonder why the US doesn’t have an active space program any longer, or why teachers can’t get even basic supplies for their classrooms; or why millions of children go to bed hungry every night; or why you have to sit in traffic for hours, now you’ll know why: It’s because the Reagan administration started the practice of allowing Big Business to set government policies, reduce corporate regulation, lower corporate taxes, and drown our nation in debt to the tune (now) of over 25 trillion dollars!
Their successful efforts to ensure that they pay less or no tax and have fewer regulations to adhere to have resulted in our country’s inability to fund projects that are important to us, the average citizen and taxpayer. Go to the moon again? Hell, we can’t even fix our crumbling bridges! But we sure as hell can spend trillions of dollars in the Middle East to build bridges and schools for them! And many of those schools, bridges, and buildings get shelled or blown up later by angry locals.
And just like that frog, we American citizens have been gradually getting “boiled alive” by the policies that favor unfettered corporate greed which end up hurting you, the taxpayer