Three Middle-Class-Killing Industries for 2016

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

Capitalist enterprises have little incentive to work for ordinary people, and instead they do whatever is necessary to enrich the owners of their corporate stock. Choosing the leading job-killing industry is a difficult task with so many candidates. But technology, pharmaceuticals, and the "sharing economy" are clearly in the running.

The companies in the spotlight are specialists in the disdainful business practices that permeate their industries.

1. Big Pharma: Spotlight on Pfizer

Blowing Off Taxes: Pfizer had nearly half of its sales in the U.S. over the past three years, yet claimed losses in the U.S. along with $50 billion in foreign profits. Despite paying an effective tax rate of just 7.5 percent in 2014, and despite being one of the nine pharmaceutical companies among the top 30 Fortune 500 firms in offshore tax hoarding, Pfizer CEO Ian Read complained that U.S. taxes had his company fighting "with one hand tied behind our back." So now his company is preparing to avoid even more taxes by merging with Allergan in what the Wall Street Journal calls the "largest so-called inversion ever."

Taking from Taxpayers: Even more incredibly, Pfizer's tax avoidance occurs in an industry that receives most of its basic research funding from the taxpayers, and which spends almost $20 on marketing for every dollar spent on R&D.

Spending on Itself: From 2001 to 2015 Pfizer spent an astounding 117 percent (!) of its income on investor-enriching stock buybacks and dividends, while slashing its post-recession employee base from 110,000 to 78,000.

Taking from Consumers: To support its self-serving buyback obsession, Pfizer, along with other pharmaceutical companies, charges up to $10,000 per month for cancer drugs, an amount approximately 600 times the cost of production, and up to ten times higher than just 15 years ago. Thanks to a business-friendly Supreme Court, their massive profits are made without competition from generic drugmakers.

2. Technology: Spotlight on Apple

Today's tech and telecom companies build products that require less American workers, less middle-income workers, and less workers overall. Just 25 years ago GM, Ford, and Chrysler generated a combined $36 billion in revenue while employing over a million workers. Today Apple, Facebook, and Google generate over a trillion dollars in revenue with just 137,000 workers. Apple makes over a half-million dollars per employee; Facebook and Google are both over $300,000.

Like Big Pharma, Big Tech depends on the public for its research money, while doing its utmost to avoid taxes. Apple has up to $181 billion in offshore profits, a number that CEO Tim Cook called "total political crap" before claiming that he’d "love to bring it home" if it wouldn't cost so much in taxes. But Apple's tax avoidance schemes are legendary.

The insidious rise of "philanthrocapitalism" has allowed tech titans like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to reduce their taxes -- thus depriving society of infrastructure and education funds -- while they assume the right to make high-level decisions about GMO agriculture, charter schools, and Internet usage. Much of this lost tax money actually goes to partner corporations that do the bidding of their billionaire benefactors.

3. Sharing: Spotlight on Uber

Free-market enthusiasts look to the sharing economy (or "gig" economy, or "day labor" economy) for salvation, with companies like Uber and Airbnb and TaskRabbit enabling the dreams of Millennials, who, according to Time's Rana Foroohar, "want to be their own boss...any Uber driver will tell you that having totally flexible hours is the best part of the gig." But at the same time, Uber workers have no pensions, no health care, and no worker rights protection. Thus, says Foroohar, "the company also captures all the fear of the broken social compact in America."

Uber, with a market valuation of $50 billion, has 4,000 employees along with 160,000 drivers who are not considered by the company to be employees. This is not a horizontal sharing process, but rather a hierarchical control structure, with tens of thousands of American workers denied the traditional employee support system.

In the case of Airbnb, capitalism extends its sticky tentacles into the pleasant-sounding "home-sharing" mix, as commercial real estate operators have moved in, evading long-established local housing laws to squeeze out lower-income tenants in favor of high-paying night-by-night customers.

As The Nation puts it, "The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population."

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This has been reposted from Common Dreams.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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