There always have been a limited number of ways for companies to sell more goods or services. The most obvious are to develop new products or to sell in new territories or to new markets, the latter being the point of global trade. Just as significant is to the creation of new needs for an existing product or service—new reasons to buy the same product from the company or industry, as when a pharmaceutical company finds a new use for an existing prescription drug. Sometimes, the economy or society itself creates the new need. A few old examples should suffice: In the 19th century, once states required many professionals to pass rigorous examinations that tested knowledge of standardized but highly specialized information, there was a new need to educate lawyers, physicians and other professionals which led to the rapid expansion of universities. During the same century, the consolidation of regional companies into national corporations created a new need for advertising. The rise of the fast food industry in the 20th expanded the market for throwaway plates, bowls and utensils enormously.
Most lobbying of legislatures and the administrative offices of the executive branch of state and federal governments is intended to make sure government either helps to create a new market or doesn’t do anything to shrink an existing market. An example of the former is to enter into an agreement with foreign countries that lowers tariffs on the products a company sells. An example of the later is to ban the use of a certain material, say lead in paint or gasoline. These governmental decisions result in companies and industries gaining or losing business. Almost since the founding of the United States, companies, especially larger ones, have made sure that elected officials understand that.
Unfortunately, all too often, our elected officials listen and respond with laws, regulations and policies that reward a few, typically contributors, at the expense of the many.
And all too often in the Trump Administration, the actions that create a new market for their cronies and contributors involve directly hurting children. We can see this most obviously in the recent policy to break up families that are seeking refugee status in the United States from countries south of the border, sending parents to one center and children to another. It is now well-documented that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has depended heavily on private organizations to process, house and feed the tens of thousands of refugee men, women and children nabbed at border crossings. Estimates of how much it costs to house each child range from $600-$900 a day, most of which goes into the hands of private companies that have courted Trump and Pence for years. Considering the accommodations, the profit margins must be phenomenal.
This week’s brouhaha over the United Nation’s World Health Assembly statement on breastfeeding is a virtual repeat of the decision to imprison everyone who tries to enter the country and take their children from them. Trump attempted to bully the UN and the rest of the world to help companies selling infant formula. But that policy hurts children. Virtually every expert agrees that breastfeeding an infant produces healthier and smarter babies who have fewer health problems later on and tend to live longer. But of course every baby who is breastfed is one less family buying infant formula, which, while a good substitute when breast-feeding is impossible or harmful to the mother, should for most mothers be a distant second choice to breastfeeding. We may not see the horrible photos of traumatized children and parents, but policies and advertising that steer mothers away from breastfeeding are nonetheless harmful to large numbers of children.
When the UN wanted to issue a strong statement recommending that mothers breastfeed, Trump officials went bat-shit crazy, pushing their weight around and threatening trade sanctions and withdrawal of military aid if any nation dare support a resolution at the United Nations. America officials wanted to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.” The administration’s threats made Ecuador back down from introducing the resolution.
To quote the New York Times, “Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.” The reason the administration didn’t like full-hearted support for breast feeding was obvious to everyone from the beginning. The Trump Administration wanted to avoid narrowing the market opportunities for Abbot, Nestles and other makers of infant formula.
Unlike the fiasco at the border, the latest attempt to ignore science and put the interests of business first even though it directly hurts thousands of children, has a somewhat happy ending. One nation proved fearless enough to agree to introduce the resolution in its strongest version. For some reason, this nation didn’t fear retaliation from Trump. For some reason, Trump feared pissing off this nation and refused to threaten it in any way.
That country was Russia.
Yes, Russia became the hero of the moment, defending both science and the right of families all over the world to get accurate information and the best nutrition for their children.
Meanwhile, America continues to lose the respect of the rest of the world.
Especially appalling—and depressing—is that direct harm to children is the end result of so many efforts by the Trump Administration to create business opportunities for its cronies. Trump doesn’t seem to care if he creates a generation of PTSD sufferers by ripping children from their families. He doesn’t seem to care if millions of babies around the world could get inferior nutrition, which will shorten their lives. Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos don’t care that all the studies show that well-funded public schools produce better educated students than do private schools or charter schools. In all three cases, the Trump Administration believes the best interests of industry far outweigh the health or educational needs of children.