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Market Madness
Duane Rumbaugh

Eric Schlosser

      ... journalist and investigative reporter. Mr. Schlosser’s books, Reefer Madness:  Sex, Drugs and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market and Fast Food Nation:  The Dark Side of the All-American Meal are both best-sellers.  Each explores American society, economics and culture. Mr. Schlosser has received a number of journalistic honors, including a National Magazine Award for an article on marijuana and the war on drugs for “The Atlantic Monthly,” for whom he is a correspondent. His two-part article for “Rolling Stone” magazine provided the beginnings for Fast Food Nation

Excerpts3:44 secs

“Greed is Good” is the opposite of freedom and democracy and free markets.  This destructive notion is beginning to crumble in the United States, says renowned investigative reporter Eric Schlosser, widely known for Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. In spite of what he calls a very dark time in America, Mr. Schlosser is optimistic that Americans are beginning see the devastating results of current policies, to recognize that the Radical Right has tried to destroy the former American consensus -- a belief in a strong Middle Class; that workers deserve a decent wage; that safety, health and a clean environment benefit everyone alike; that government can do much good for people, as well as doing good for corporations.

The “free market,” like Santa Claus, Mr. Schlosser reminds us, is a myth -- identifying himself as a great believer in markets being useful for efficiency -- but markets are tools, he reiterates. If you worship your tools, he says, you have a hollow, shallow religion. He believes America needs to have an honest discussion about the legitimate role of government in constraining economic activity. At the moment, he reports, government is massively supporting, underwriting and advancing the private interests of a host of concentrated industries, from agriculture and food to oil to the mass media.

There’s simply nothing inevitable about the enormous social, political and economic problems created in the past 30 years, he reports. Companies can profit by selling healthy food as well as by selling unhealthy food as they do today, he says, we can reward companies that are environmentally responsible, pay a decent wage and sell products that do not harm people rather than continuing today’s devastating practices.

Mr. Schlosser also reports on today’s prohibition-driven and thriving black market in marijuana, sex and vulnerable workers. It results, he reports, from what have been fundamental changes in American society that have taken place since the early 1970s -- what he calls a remarkable worship of the “free market” and of money and what he considers an astounding lack of compassion.

Choices have been made in every case he cites, Mr. Schlosser reminds us. Today, corporate influence has resulted in all kinds of government subsidies -- yes, there is deep hypocrisy when “free market” rhetoric and demands for government protection at the expense of the public come from the same mouths. And, he is confident, this very serious condition CAN be reversed. He sees a growing resistance and the beginnings of serious challenges within the larger culture to the exploitation and degradation that has been unchecked for decades.

Mr. Schlosser is one of a valiant few journalists filling in the gaping hole created in American society when mass media abandoned their public and democratic responsibilities in favor of profits. His goal in writing his articles and books, he says, is to let us see what is going on, to make people think.  Ideally, he hopes different people can read his books and come away with different ideas. It’s an idea whose time has come.  Again.

[This Program was recorded April 19, 2004, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Eric Schlosser tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how he became interested in the subjects that led to his books.  He describes investigative reporters’ long and noble tradition.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:40 secs

Conversation 2

Both Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness are business books, Mr. Schlosser says and explains.  The biggest industry in America’s biggest state -- California -- is agriculture, most of it dependent on human hands picking the produce, Mr. Schlosser reports. Vital immigrant labor, legal and illegal, are exploited in ways resembling the Middle Ages, he says, describing how critical these people are to all. Today’s stark economic class distinctions are very worrisome to the future of the U.S., he says. Adam Smith is much quoted, little understood, and probably irrelevant to Information Age economics, Mr. Schlosser says, then uses meatpacking, Wal-Mart and others to explain “externalities.”

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:56 sec

Conversation 3

American industry’s absolute dependence on government subsidies, profits from government and governmental infrastructure support make a joke of “free market” rhetoric, Mr. Schlosser demonstrates.  He gives additional examples from America’s thriving Black Market, from marijuana to the so-called “war on drugs” to labor. The idea of “prohibition” of all kinds is explored. The role of money in the United States’ underground economy is introduced.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:04 secs

Conversation 4

Theology, money, drugs and ethnicity converge around marijuana and pornography, Mr. Schlosser says and expands. He compares the recreational uses of anti-impotence drugs and marijuana.  Most people sent to prison for marijuana and drug crimes in the U.S. are poor, black or Latino, while young white people use drugs at the same rate, he says, and explains why. Both _Nation_ and _Madness_ look at fundamental changes in American society since the early 1970s, he says, and links worship of the Free Market and money to the lack of compassion underlying “Greed is Good.” He’s optimistic the U.S. is moving away from that obsession and calls for an honest discussion of the legitimate role of government in constraining economic activity.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:19 sec

Conversation 5

“Free Market,” like Santa Claus, is a myth, Mr. Schlosser says, describing the current reality of constant business-friendly interventions, including the oil cartel the Bush Administration never criticizes.  Declaring himself a great believer in markets under some circumstances, Mr. Schlosser reminds us that government can do good for citizens as well as corporations, pointing out hypocricies, optimistic that the U.S. is moving out of a very dark period.  Today’s centralized, industrialized food system is only 25 years old, he says, describing the enormous costs it currently imposes on the nation -- obesity, water and air pollution, diseases, antibiotic resistance -- but it’s neither inevitable nor sustainable, he insists, and expands.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:28 secs

Conversation 6

Industry concentration affecting many markets, including the media, are why his information is “news” to Americans, Mr. Schlosser says, explaining how news became bland, celebrity-driven and dangerous.  He concludes with optimism.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:16 sec


Knowing what is going on is essential in a democracy.  Reporters and journalists who have the courage as well as the skill to tell us the truth is essential to that process.  Eric Schlosser is at the forefront of his profession in doing just that. He is in the golden class of heroic journalists who have helped build a stronger America in the face of overwhelming odds. We applaud him and we thank him, hopeful that he will continue to enrich the public conversation.

Related Links:
Fast Food Nation:  The Dark Side of the All-American Meal is a Perennial book, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Reefer Madness:  Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market is a Mariner Book, published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
In very different ways, both Kevin Phillips and Robert Kennedy, Jr. show how distortions in American capitalism affect democracy and the well-being of Americans.
Former CNN reporter Bonnie Anderson says the lack of quality in American journalism is hurting American Democracy. Former President of CNN Tom Johnson says that media owners and publishers are the ones responsible for fixing what’s wrong.
Jason DeParle documented what happened to the poor when President Clinton ended “welfare as we know it.”
According to Thom Hartmann the polical dominance of large corporations accounts for much of the abuse Schlosser documents.
Many of the exploited workers Eric Schlosser writes about are immigrants from Mexico. Robert Pastor says that we can learn from the European Union how to solve our immigration problems.
David Shipler says that poverty is a cluster of problems which piecemeal approaches can’t solve.

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