Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Majority of the Public Wants Politicians Who Will Root Out Corporate Corruption

Here is a story that makes me unusually optimistic, at least about the wisdom of the people at large. Reuters reported on a new poll,  
With less than two months to go before the U.S. presidential election, a new survey found 61 percent of Americans say a candidate's commitment to rooting out corporate wrongdoing will be key in deciding who gets their vote.

Along with keen interest in knowing each candidate's plans to fix the struggling economy, voters want government to do more to fight corporate misconduct - which they say helped cause the financial crisis.

'In these difficult economic times, Americans are mad as hell about corporate wrongdoing and are going to do something about it in the November elections and beyond,' said Jordan Thomas, a partner at law firm Labaton Sucharow, which commissioned the survey and which represents corporate whistleblowers.

A telephone poll of 1,015 people conducted from August 16-19 found that 64 percent of Americans said corporate misconduct helped bring about the current economic crisis.

And 81 percent of respondents said the government has not done enough to stop corporate wrongdoing.

77 percent of respondents saying they believe politicians favor corporate interests over constituent interests.

Some 63 percent of Americans believe government should make more money available to regulators and law enforcement to eliminate corporate wrongdoing.

This is really amazing in its contrast to the usual received wisdom in all its cynicism.

We on Health Care Renewal have been railing about misbehavior and outright criminal behavior by major health care organizations and their leaders for a long time.  In 2008, the global financial collapse shocked us into awareness that the problems in health care actually parallel perhaps worse problems in finance.  Yet while numerous legal settlements documented the continuing epidemic of bad behavior in health care, the relatively small penalties they entailed, generally limited to corporate fines that could be viewed as costs of doing business, and to toothless corporate integrity agreements seemed to do little to deter future bad behavior.  Again, since 2008 there were parallels in the world of finance.   As Oscar winning producer of Inside Job Charles Ferguson complained, no one went to jail for financial misbehavior either.

In health care, the anechoic effect dampened public discussion of bad leadership, including criminally bad leadership as a major cause of health care dysfunction.  While we have been calling for more serious efforts to deter bad behavior at least since 2008 (look here), our position seemed very lonely.  It took until last week for arguably the most prestigious US medical journal to run an article suggesting that leaders of health care corporations that commit fraud ought to go to jail (look here).

Yet it may be that the general public has been paying attention to this issue even if policy makers and political leaders have not.  The brief Rueters article did not make it clear whether these poll results only apply to wrongdoing by financial corporations and their leaders, or to all corporations and their leaders. Even if it were the former, the results were certainly striking, suggesting a majority of Americans now identify corporate corruption, and its influence on politics as a major, maybe the major problem for this country. That might lead to some interesting election outcomes, especially since very few US politicians seem to have taken any sort of stand against corporate corruption, at least to my knowledge.

If there is so much public awareness of the problem of bad corporate leadership, corporate misdeeds, and corporate corruption of politics, I can only hope that it will translate into awareness of these problems as they affect health care. As I wrote in 2009, not long after Pfizer's mere $2.3 billion settlement,...   "Until the people responsible for the bad behavior experience negative consequences from that behavior, they will continue to perform, direct, and condone bad behavior. We will not achieve real health care reform in the US until we effectively deter unethical, self-serving behavior by leaders of health care organizations."  We can start realistically anticipating real health care reform once we get some politicians in office who are committed to "rooting out corporate wrongdoing." 

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