End Game

"The games are at an end, and nobody feels like playing. Yet the show goes on."

-- Ruby Cohn, in Twentieth Century
Interpretations of Endgame

"From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud, all of us know it,
laborers and capitalists alike, and all of us are consenting parties to it."

-- Henry Adams

"No one that ever lived thought so crooked as we."

-- Clow, in Samuel Beckett's Endgame


Private Profits, Public Costs

Despite the fact that the majority of the world's people and species are not benefiting from the cancerous growth the world's economy, despite the fact that the earth itself is struggling to absorb our pollution, the game goes on. "The game" is the privatization of profits to benefit a tiny minority of people, and the externalization of costs onto the majority of people and species and onto the earth herself. What are the mechanisms -- the economic, political, and social processes -- that keep the game going?

The modern global economy is supported and driven by destructive and unjust subsidies. It's not incidental. Every industrial sector now depends on externalizing costs and privatizing profits. The U.S. economy costs at least five times more than it's worth: total annual U.S. corporate profits are about $500 billion, while the direct costs come to more than $2.5 trillion. (See table below).

The financial, environmental, and health costs of unsustainable economic activities are being externalized onto workers, communities, and other species. The profits and other benefits are being privatized by a shrinking minority of people at "the top." At $40 billion, Bill Gates was worth more than the 40 percent (110 million) of Americans at the bottom of the economy. (By April 1999, Gates' worth was estimated to be $100 billion). For statistics on the concentration of wealth, click here.

The transnational corporations which are the modern economy's main actors now operate beyond the control of those who bear the impacts of corporate operations. Communities no longer have the ability to make crucial decisions about economic investment, consumption, and resource allocation. Democracy has become corrupted by money in politics. Most public spending becomes corporate profit. Power without accountability is tyranny.

End Game is a public education program of the Public Information Network. Through articles, slideshows, and guided discussions, End Game examines the socioeconomic mechanisms by which ecology, democracy, and community are destroyed. End Game exposes the interlocks between corporations and government, and explores the intersections of our global environmental, social, and economic crises. Contact us for more information, or to arrange a presentation or facilitated discussion in your community. One of the courses offered at the new Urban Action School in Seattle, "Investigating Corporate Power," facilitates discussion and action on the specific mechanisms of corporate power, including:

  subsidies from local and national governments

  limited liability law

  the demise of the corporate charter as a tool for controlling corporations

  corporate control of resources, productive capacity, and political processes

  externalization of costs onto workers, communities, and the environment

Corporate Subsidies

Most studies of corporate welfare, which are based upon tax breaks and other federal budget line items, say that subsidies to corporations cost Americans about $100 billion per year.

But these direct taxpayer expenses touch only the tip of the iceberg. The great majority of corporate subsidies ignore the less easily tracked costs of health and safety problems for workers and consumers, toxic waste clean-up and other pollution costs, and white collar crime (and most white collar crime is not employees stealing from their bosses, but rather corporations stealing from their communities).

David Korten has pointed (in his book The Post-Corporate World) out that all U.S. corporate profits are about $500 billion per year, yet a conservative estimate of the externalized costs of industry runs to about $2.5 trillion per year. Thus corporate profits are dwarfed by externalized costs by a factor of 1 to 5 -- not a very efficient economic system, even from the point of view of providing goods and services.

The $2.5 trillion dollar estimate of corporate subsidies is itemized in corporate accountant Ralph Estes' book Tyranny of the Bottom Line (Berrett-Koehler, 1996, pp. 177-178). Estes shows annual costs in $ billions, adjusted to 1991 dollars:


Costs to workers, customers, communities, and the nation

in $ billions

Costs to workers




Workplace injuries and accidents


Deaths from workplace cancer


Other workplace illness and disease


Other workplace costs (sexual harassment, abuse, etc.)


Subtotal of costs to workers: over


Costs to customers


Cost of price-fixing conspiracies, monopolies, deceptive advertising


Cost of unsafe vehicles


Cost of cigarettes


Other product injuries


Health/injury costs of personal, health, & food products


Subtotal of costs to customers: over


Costs to communities


Stationary source air pollution:


Health costs


Architectural damage


Household soiling


Vegetation damage from acid rain


Mobile source air pollution:


Health costs


Crop losses


Corrosion and other material damage


Additional impairment in property values


Water pollution:


Impairment of recreational activities (fishing, boating, swimming,
and water fowl hunting)


Loss to commercial fisheries


Damage to health (morbidity and mortality)


Damage to fixtures and appliances


Aesthetic cost


Hazardous waste:


Cleaning up existing sites


Cost of waste generated currently


Noise pollution


Aesthetic pollution


Subtotal of costs to communities: over


Costs to the nation


Defense contract overcharges


Other corporate crime:


Income tax fraud


Violation of federal regulations


Bribery, extortion, and kickbacks


Other crime costs not estimated


Subtotal of costs to the nation: over


Total (1991 dollars)



That's a quantified version, carefully compiled by corporate accountant Ralph Estes, now director of The Stakeholder Alliance (http://www.stakeholderalliance.org)

Here's a story, all metaphor and no numbers.

There is a box full of fish. Thousands of people are catching fish and putting them into the box. Above the box sits a man with a gun. Around the box stand more men, some with guns and some with speeches about the virtues of hard work, and some with magic tricks that catch your eye and capture your heart. The rich man who controls the box is nowhere to be seen, but all around the box, as far as you can see, are hungry people. They are looking for food, digging in the dirt, and arguing with each other, and stealing what they can from bits and pieces of food which are scattered about here and there. But most of the people do not have enough to eat. They know that the box is full of salmon, but they also know that the box belongs to the man who isn't around, and they know what guns can do. The people are starving, some more slowly than others. Despite all appearances, the people aren't starving because of the soldiers who guard the box, but because their belief in property is stronger than their desire for food. The fish in the box are rotting, and there are hardly any fish left to breed in the streams. Some kinds of fish haven't been seen at all in many years. No one can remember when the box appeared. It seems to be natural. Once in a while someone asks his neighbor where the box came from, but the neighbor just stares, as if he'd been asked where the sky came from. Does it matter? In direct proportion to how hungry you are. Some people starve without ever feeling hungry. Some use their dying strength to put another fish in the box.

Bigger Is Better: The Great American Economy

O.J. Simpson trial: $200 million.

"Security" industry: $40 billion per year.

Gambling: $50 billion per year.

Divorce: $20 billion per year.

Prozac sales: $3 billion per year.

Dieting and weight loss: $32 billion per year.

Car crashes: $57 billion per year.

Crime accounts for 7 % of the gross domestic product.

Sources: U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 21, 1996; and Ronald Colman, How Do We Measure Progress?, Shambhala Sun, November 1999.


"Was there ever domination that did not appear natural to those who possess it?"

-- John Stuart Mill

"When I give food to the poor, the call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."

-- Dom Helder Camara

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country... Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

-- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, November 21, 1864

"The combination of economic and political power in the same hands is a sure recipe for tyranny."

-- free trade apologists Milton and Rose Friedman, in their book Free to Choose

For a history of the rise of the corporation, and more quotes and statistics:

Primer on Corporate Power

Back To PIN Home Page