Greed ain’t good: An honest reckoning is long overdue
by Guest Columnist DAVID KYLER, co-founder and director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast.
“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
“Wall Street” (1987)
In the 35 years since the fictional character Gordon Gekko proclaimed that greed is good in the movie “Wall Street,” the tycoon’s assertion, further empowered by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, has taken a treacherous toll on America and, in various ways, the world beyond.
The most recent, controversial example is the preventable railroad accident in eastern Ohio, spilling hazardous materials that killed wildlife and will likely cause diverse public health risks for years to come. According to news coverage, the cost of installing braking devices – that could have stopped hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals from contaminating the city of East Palestine and its inhabitants – was deemed unjustified by Norfolk Southern Railway executives. Equally troubling, the railway industry used its political clout to get the federal government to weaken federal rules so that trains with fewer than 70 cars carrying hazardous material are not required to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes. Furthermore, they reduced crew size and inspection standards that boosted rail industry profits by taking risky shortcuts.
The biased calculations used in these sinister trade-offs, made to serve corporate goals, are ubiquitous and increasingly driven by the outsized influence of well-paid professional lobbyists, who often produce grossly unethical hidden consequences. Corporate profits are boosted by a combination of degraded safety precautions and inadequate accountability when the public, and/or workers, are injured – unfairly shifting private costs and suffering onto unwary third parties.
Similar regressive outcomes have occurred through relaxed environmental enforcement. In June 2022, the US Supreme Court ruled that EPA cannot limit state-level carbon emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act. This constraining rollback, serving short-term motives of the power industry at the public’s expense, is brazen circumvention of urgently needed policy goals adopted by Congress. Moreover, the ruling defied well-established scientific findings that such emissions are the main cause of climate change, an unparalleled threat to human health and vital life-support systems. In recent decades other threats to the public accumulated in an array of lower-court decisions failing to penalize violations of state and federal regulations, weakening natural-resource safeguards and environmental justice.
By prioritizing short-term property income and investment interests over the common good, bolstered by government funding favoring intertwined fossil-fuel and financial institutions, the injustices of U.S. policies are only outdone by certain states, including Georgia, that reward industry investors at the citizen’s expense, even for mismanaged projects.
As the earth hurdles toward ever-worsening climate hazards and economic injustice, we can no longer tolerate the indiscriminate promotion of all development under “greed-is-good” policy, as if it inherently benefits society. Until more objective and holistic assessment standards are applied in using public resources and regulatory authority to support business activities, government programs will continue generating inequitable and environmentally harmful outcomes.
For example, while Georgia wins unbridled praise for securing major investments in the manufacture of batteries, solar panels, and electric vehicles, officials remain stubbornly regressive in the state’s energy policy by severely restraining the implementation of rooftop solar infrastructure. Energy experts advise that the widespread use of rooftop solar and on-site battery storage will not only reduce consumer energy costs, but it will help ensure a more stable and resilient power grid as demand grows and extreme weather threats worsen.
Concurrently, Georgia’s energy policymakers have expanded the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel that emits heat-trapping gases when burned and is linked to an array of methane leaks that dangerously compound global overheating. Furthermore, unlike most states, Georgia has failed to adopt a clean-energy transition plan or scheduled targets for reducing carbon emissions.
Likewise, Georgia officials have imposed grossly excessive cost overruns, incurred in Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear plant expansion, on residential customers, who have suffered a rate increase near 30 percent since 2010, while industrial rates grew by only 0.3 percent. These Vogtle costs are some $20 billion over budget, and still increasing by millions weekly. In effect, residential energy customers are subsidizing Georgia’s industrial development – and Georgia Power’s profit margin – without public approval, and probably without the understanding of those who are most financially abused because of it.
Meanwhile, economic development proponents have received unqualified support for producing clean-energy equipment, while Georgia markets for it are either stymied by state policies (solar panels) or encumbered by products (electric vehicles) that will be recharged primarily with power produced by burning fossil fuels.
To initiate remedies for these blatant contradictions and inequities, rigorous standards must be adopted and consistently applied, including the following recommended criteria:
- Public costs for subsidizing economic development projects, including tax exemptions, low-cost leases, and below-market land/energy, must not be imposed on taxpayers and energy customers without their formal agreement through detailed, specific voter referendums.
- Government support for ‘job creation’ in the clean-energy sector must require both enhanced working conditions and employee benefits as well as energy policies that are consistent with the goal of reducing heat-trapping gases that cause disruptive climate damages. States like Georgia, without such policies, should not be eligible for federal support, including grants and/or tax credits provided through the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.
- Any state receiving clean-energy development incentives must be required to adopt a transition plan and routinely report corresponding implementation efforts. States without such plans or sufficient progress in executing them, must not be eligible for receiving federal support.
- The environmental impacts of clean-energy projects must be thoroughly analyzed, publicly reviewed, and reliably evaluated, consistent with applicable state and federal laws. The potential benefits of clean-energy projects do not justify regulatory exemptions or lax enforcement. Impacts of these projects on water, air quality, surrounding land uses, and other factors must be responsibly assessed and all reasonable alternatives must be rigorously but expediently evaluated.
The common good, essential to our future, can only be realized by responsibly controlling greed.
Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The SR team strives to uplift and amplify the diverse perspectives in our community, and we want to hear from you! Email Editor Derek Prall to discuss the specifics.
Excellent points! While some “advances” seem to have been motivated by greed, many others have been based in seeking benefits, not just for one or a few in the short term, but rather for long term benefits for the most. This earth is the repository, the bank if you will, of our collective assets. And the complex interconnections among those assets – recognized and not – are being revealed in a bad way by the short-sighted, selfish actions of several large corporations which have denied, for over 50 years!, the disastrous long-term and wide-spread effects of their greed.. Mr. Kyler’s article says it well. For the good of society, of humanity, we need guard rails, parameters, regulations to restrain the destructive, small thinking of greed.Report
This op-ed on the clear and present dangers of the unchecked ascendency of the Goliaths-of-greed in contemporary America (and the world) is a shout-out of our failure to deal with the obviously accelerating global slide towards oblivion. How to keep from burying ourselves alive? Step 1: stop digging. Run-away greed is engendering a hellacious smorgasbord of obviously un-survivable calamities, the most menacing of all being global incineration, (aka “global warming”). “The people” (once referred to as “citizens”), are now comfortable being known as “consumers,” despite the word’s porcine connotations. Maybe we would be wise to get back to the challenges and rewards of being citizens again. The problem is government? That would be us, right? Of the people, by the people and for the people? The future seems very bleak if we don’t accept the unavoidable truth that as free people in a democracy we have no one to blame but ourselves. Urgent, decisive action is necessary if we are to save ourselves and the people and things that we love. No one is likely to make this happen but us – the citizens of the United States and potentially the great leaders of a revived sane world.Report
Georgia is not a leader in clean energy regardless of the number of industries from the “green” sector that set up shop here. Their motivation for coming to the state is due to Georgia’s lack of environmental and labor regulations. Any beneficial impact resulting from the products these of these corporations is offset by the roadblocks Georgia’s elected government has put in place to inhibit meaningful action in addressing the effects of the climate crisis and economic inequity. Dave’s analysis is right on and his four points, if enacted, lead to the greater common good.Report
Mr. Kyler pretty much nails it here.Report
Thank you for making these points that needed to be said!Report
The 30% residential electricity rate increase vs. the 0.03% industrial electricity rate increase squarely puts the burden of Georgia’s “Industry Friendly” policy on the citizenry and is not sustainable, or morally and ethically acceptable. The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) should be elected by the citizens they represent and serve, and NOT politically appointed.Report
More climate hysteria mixed with a nice dollop of anti-capitalism. Moving along.Report
The rewards of capitalism are being shared by fewer and fewer even as it’s costs are imposed on the rest of us. And massive corporate profit comes from externalizing the cost of the destruction to ecosystems and cultures that growth and our thirst for fossil fuels wreaks. To see clearly we need to drop the lens of our ideologies.Report
The column is not anti-capitalist, quite the contrary. Evidence presented about special advantages given to industries who use their inflated profits to buy political influence cleary indicates the suppression of free markets that are the hallmark of capitalism. By subsidizing industries while the corporations benefitting are scoring enormous profits, public policies are unfairly burdening consumers, citizens, and taxpayers with business costs, in reckless disruption of free markets.Report
Comments well worth saying, and said well. Until the power of the corporate oligarchy and their political cronies is reduced, the majority of the public will suffer.Report
I agree. Two things I can’t stand is greed and vanity. I don’t appreciate the above comment dismissing the importance of the article. Some people’s pews are a little too padded and it is difficult to stand up and raise things in this article. I appreciate this article. I will spare people my in depth comments but at least wanted to say something.Report
Thank you, Mr. Kyler, and thanks to the Center for a Sustainable Coast, for thinking so clearly about policy in Georgia and across the nation. I so much appreciate your ability to say what’s true and right, especially when it goes against the mammoth tide of capitalism. Yes, we have made many decisions based on greed. We still do. Sometimes I am pessimistic that the only thing that will stop the bulldozers and backhoes of capitalism is absolute climate catastrophe. Thank you for being a canary & a beacon of policy that’s possible and very much needed. I’m deeply grateful.Report
Relaxed safety and environmental regulations and enforcement may be good for business but as Mr. Kyler illustrates in his article, they are not good for us. Living in Coastal Georgia where thousands of acres of trees are destroyed daily to build mega site warehouses for more and more stuff transported through the constantly growing Port of Savannah, our roads are gridlocked by an increasing number of huge trucks creating safety hazards, noise, CO2, and traffic congestion for everyone. Georgia’s low taxes and lax regulations for industry are attracting manufacturers and the proliferation of megastructures on the coast, even if some of them are for EV batteries- this is not progress, the impact is degrading on people and the environment.
Thank you Center for a Sustainable Coast for establishing a well thought out criteria for development.Report
Good points, especially about Plant Vogtle. Georgia Power bills are going to increase substantially to pay for this expensive source of energy, 5 times more expensive than solar plus battery storage. The question now is, who is going to pay for Ga Power’s $10 billion in cost overruns for this project. Georgia Power should pay from their billions of dollars of profits – not captive customers. As Dave points out at the end of his essay, controlling corporate greed is essential. The only entity that can do that for Plant Vogtle is the Ga Public Service Commission and their track record is abysmal. It’s time to vote them out. There will be an election later this year for two of them. Visit PattyforPSC.com to learn when the election is and where to vote.Report