This week Oxford University Press releases a new paperback edition of Lethal but Legal Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health with a new Afterword by the author. An excerpt is below.
New York City, October 2034.
I wrote Lethal but Legal more than 20 years ago because I was worried about humanity’s survival. Growing epidemics of chronic diseases and injuries, escalating environmental damage, increasing concentration of corporate power and wealth, and declining democracy and government protection of health were converging towards a dangerous tipping point. After the book’s release, I had many conversations about these fears with readers, researchers, activists, health professionals and students. What struck me most was that although most agreed that the rise of the corporate consumption complex and its relentless marketing of hyperconsumption threatened public health and democracy, even those persuaded by the book’s arguments were pessimistic that another future was possible. Corporations were too powerful, they said, opposition too weak. Acquiescence was more popular than resistance and any possibility of a real alternative seemed hopelessly naïve.
In a column in the Huffington Post, Ralph Nader, author of Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) and other corporate exposes, includes Lethal but Legal Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health, a new book by published by Oxford University Press and written by CHW founder Nicholas Freudenberg, as one of 10 Books to Provoke Conversation in the New Year. He writes that “Freudenberg gives readers an absorbing aggregation of corporate crimes and abuses that destroy or damage every day the health, safety and economic well-being of the people. Then he aggregates the past civic/political victories over market fundamentalism and its corporate outlaws for framing future reform initiatives.”
The ten are:
1. Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons by David Bollier (New Society Publishers)
David Bollier is a leading writer and advocate for all those real-life commons — what we own, from the public lands, public airwaves, online information and local civic assets. He calls the commons a “parallel economy and social order that…. affirms that another world is possible. And more: we can build it ourselves, now.”
2. All the President’s Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (Nation Books)
All the President’s Bankers is about the hidden alliances between big bankers and the government leaders they have controlled for the past 100 years. A gripping history that reflects the words of the famed Louis B. Brandeis (later to become Supreme Court Justice Brandeis) who wrote: “We must break the Money Trust or the Money Trust will break us.” Prins was a former Goldman Sachs director. She knows this world.
3. How Can You Represent Those People? Edited by Abbe Smith and Monroe H. Freedman (Palgrave Macmillan)
How many times have criminal defense attorneys been asked this question when they represent unpopular, unsavory, or horrific accused defendants? Fifteen criminal defense lawyers write short but educational replies in both personal and professional terms. You’ll learn a lot about our legal system.
4. The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer and How to Win It by Clifton Leaf (Simon & Schuster)
The Truth in Small Doses is a detailed, sober myth-busting report. Leaf concludes the “war on cancer” is a failure due to a dysfunctional “cancer culture” – “a groupthink that pushes tens of thousands of physicians and scientists toward the goal of finding the tiniest improvements in treatment rather than genuine breakthroughs; that fosters isolated and redundant problem-solving instead of cooperation; and rewards academic achievement and publication above all else.” He shows why “the public’s immense investment in research has been badly misspent.”
5. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky (Nation Books)
The American Way of Poverty is a worthy successor to Michael Harrington’s The Other America which came out in 1962 and helped spark a war on poverty. Abramsky puts many faces of poverty into a broader context which sparks reader indignation that statistics alone can’t provoke.
6. The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Influence on American Business by Duff McDonald (Simon and Shuster)
The Firm portrays a finishing school for the plutocracy both as an early recruiter of future power brokers in business and government and as a “prestigious” provider of dated business management advice often of dubious value.
7. Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fateful Times by Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth with Project Censored (Seven Stories Press)
Censored 2014 is an annual open window to censorship of the big and routine kind. It is always a must read. This volume describes the top censored stories with media analysis of 2012-2013. What a shocking commentary on the so-called free press!
8. Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health by Nicholas Freudenberg (Oxford University Press)
Aggregation is a key strategy for justice movements. Author Freudenberg gives readers an absorbing aggregation of corporate crimes and abuses that destroy or damage every day the health, safety and economic well-being of the people. Then he aggregates the past civic/political victories over market fundamentalism and its corporate outlaws for framing future reform initiatives.
9. Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s by Michael Stewart Foley (Hill and Wang)
Decades are stereotyped and often exaggerated. Foley counters the conventional take that there was a sharp and sudden letdown in civic activism after the sixties. Maybe the impression was conveyed by the media’s lessened coverage. Good antidote for those still demoralized by decennial mythologies.
10. The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System by Jerry Mander (Counterpoint)
The Capitalism Papers is a fundamental critique of the intrinsic problems of the capitalist system that the author believes are inherent to its structure and unreformable. A former celebrated advertising executive, Mander goes deeper into the perverse incentives of corporate capitalism than almost anyone writing today. And man, can he write. Too bad top Wall Streeters won’t debate him.
Years ago books mattered more in provoking change. It is up to readers today not to be overwhelmed by information overload, to be selective and make books matter again.
Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health
By Nicholas Freudenberg published by Oxford University Press in February 2014 with new paperback edition with an afterword by the author released in March 2016.
“In his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles. It sounds creepy; it is creepy. .. Freudenberg details how six industries — food and beverage, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, pharmaceutical and automotive — use pretty much the same playbook to defend the sales of health-threatening products. This playbook, largely developed by the tobacco industry, disregards human health and poses greater threats to our existence than any communicable disease you can name.” – Mark Bittman, contributing op-ed writer,New York Times
“A superb, magnificently written, courageous, and compelling exposé of how corporations enrich themselves at the expense of public health—and how we can organize to counter corporate power and achieve a healthier and more sustainable food environment. This should be required reading for anyone who cares about promoting health, protecting democratic institutions, and achieving a more equitable and just society.” –Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University; author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.
In this century, it is estimated that one billion people will die prematurely because of tobacco use, according to “Lethal but Legal,” a smart new book about corporate irresponsibility by Nicholas Freudenberg, a professor of public health at City University of New York. Put that one billion in perspective. That’s more than five times as many people as died in all wars of the 20th century. Freudenberg notes that smoking grew in part because of deliberate manipulation of the manipulation of the public by tobacco companies. For example, tobacco executives realized that they could expand their profits if more women smoked, so they engineered a feminist-sounding campaign to get females hooked: “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!”– Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times
“A reservoir of constructive indignation that can arouse all Americans who adhere to basic human values.” ―Ralph Nader
“Freudenberg is optimistic that, despite the enormity of the challenges facing us as we confront the power of the multinational companies, a tipping point will be reached when the many thousands of pro-health organisations around the world come together and create the political power—and therefore the political will—necessary for success. Lethal But Legal buoyed my optimism.” Robert Beaglehole, The Lancet
“A real eye-opener. Freudenberg lays out the labyrinth of connections between corporate misbehavior and the health of the world, then gives a roadmap to fix it. I love this book.” –Cheryl G. Healton, Director, NYU Global Institute of Public Health; former President and CEO, American Legacy Foundation
“After documenting how multinational corporations manipulate us into hyperconsumption, this book goes on to identify the strategies we can, together, use to liberate ourselves.” –Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology, University of Nottingham
Lethal but Legal examines how corporations have shaped ― and plagued― public health over the last century, first in industrialized countries and now in developing regions. It is both a current history of corporations’ antagonism towards health and an analysis of the emerging movements that are challenging these industries’ dangerous practices. The reforms outlined here aim to strike a healthier balance between large companies’ right to make a profit and governments’ responsibility to protect their populations. While other books have addressed parts of this story, Lethal but Legal is the first to connect the dots between unhealthy products, business-dominated politics, and the growing burdens of disease and health care costs. By identifying the common causes of all these problems, then situating them in the context of other health challenges that societies have overcome in the past, this book provides readers with the insights they need to take practical and effective action to restore consumers’ right to health. Nicholas Freudenberg, DrPH, is Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the City University of New York School of Public Health and founder and director of Corporations and Health Watch, an international network of activists and researchers that monitors the business practices of the alcohol, automobile, firearms, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and tobacco industries.