Is It Time to Criminalize Killer Business Models?
The tobacco industry, the handgun industry, and, perhaps, the social media industry are all running killer business models. I’m using that term not in it’s bad boy hype vernacular sense, as in “killer app,” but in a more literal sense. There are business models whose ultimate logic of growth and success threatens the health and even the very lives of its customers.
Notwithstanding what looked like devastating findings against the practices of tobacco companies and what sounded like wounding restrictions on their ability to advertise and market a dangerous and addictive product, many of these companies not only still exist, but remain thriving enterprises.
The near epidemic violence of mass shootings, death by suicide, homicides and police killings (both those in which police kill and are themselves killed) seem not to have damaged the firearms industry. And recent Supreme Court decisions and other changes in law at the state level have further encouraged the growth of this killer business model.
There is simply too much ink spilled and evidence mounted for the proposition that social media companies are profiting by exploiting their users. I won’t rehash it here. These businesses and their products and services are creating harms that run from the undermining of civil society to weaponizing beauty and “fitness” norms that are deleterious to the mental health of millions of users.
Sports betting is the new kid on the block, the latest of the killer business models, was loosed to run rampant by a 2018 US Supreme Court decision. The New York Times just published an extensive investigative report detailing the dynamics of new growth businesses in an industry that thrives on exploiting customers and fueling harmful addictions.
We need to be having a national, hell, a global, conversation about killer business models and the limits to our tolerance of social harms. Former options trader and author of The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, has pointed out that while many banks and trading firms routinely walk away (many with only upside) from the craters of market destruction that their irresponsible instruments create, the rest of us are the ones to pay the cost.
Businesses that are killing us need to be accused of and tried for murder. A legal system that cannot do that is incapable of protecting its citizens. It’s time stop businesses that kill.