Vested Interests as a Barrier to Societal Change
by C.A. L'Hirondelle, July 1st 2012

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job
depends on not understanding it."
- Upton Sinclair

What is a vested interest? When people derive their income, job, status or power from something, they have an interest in that situation continuing. Even if the situation causes obvious harm to people or the environment, they work to keep the status quo for economic reasons.

This causes a conflict of interest between what is good for the individual in the short term and what is good for humanity and the planet in the long term.

Vested interest structures impede and suppress innovations that would benefit society as a whole. The most practical solution is to implement a guaranteed livable income which would immediately reduce the impact and number of vested interests, and would free humanity to evolve and save the environment before it is too late.

The entrenched and entwined layers of vested interests that prevent social and economic evolution should not be under-estimated —almost everyone is 'vested' whether they like it or not, making it a topic difficult to examine because of the high level of fear people have of losing their jobs.

Here are some examples of vested interests (in no particular order because they are all interconnected) and their impacts:

EXAMPLE 1: Drunk Driving Laws

A straightforward example of a vested interest is the battle against drunk driving. The harm from drunk driving is severe and well documented, yet people who get their income from alcohol sales have a vested interest in maintaining current drinking habits. Even if they morally agree with laws that would save lives, economics dictate that they must worry about their livelihoods if consumption decreases. This title says it all: "Tough drunk driving laws good for public safety, but still bad for business"(25 Nov, 2011).

EXAMPLE 2: Military Industrial Complex

An example with far-reaching and devastating impacts is the military industrial complex. Peace is good for the people and the planet but bad for economy. Conversely, war makes the economy grow (military Keynesianism) as the number of direct and indirect jobs from military spending is massive. And even with high tech wars and robot soldiers, it is still about the economics of vested interests as companies will continue to vie for profits from public and/or private military and security spending.

In the light-hearted comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little the story revolves around two former cold war enemies who try to get a war going again to gain back their previous big budgets and power

EXAMPLES 3-6: Tobacco, Alcohol, Guns, Big Pharma

In the darkly satiric Thank You For Smoking, the tobacco, alcohol, and gun lobby plot how best to keep their industries (and jobs) going regardless of the harm. Then there is the pharmaceutical industry and the situation where more profit can be had from disease and ill health than it can from health promotion, good nutrition and disease prevention. (See clip from the comedy Side Effects based on the experiences of big pharma drug rep Kathleen-Slattery Moschkau.) And the cancer industry has Pinkwashing: "Samantha King, author of the book Pink Ribbons, Inc., suggests that the big players in the cancer establishment have boards of directors with representatives from the pharmaceutical, chemical and energy industries. It is thus almost impossible to separate the people who might be responsible for the perpetuation of this disease from those who are responsible for trying to find a way to cure or, even better, to prevent it." Dominion Paper, May 2012

EXAMPLE 7: Junk Food

The junk food sector is also huge and harmful to health, but if everyone made healthy home-cooked meals, millions of people would lose jobs in the upstream junk food industry (production) and downstream in the health and pharmaceutical industries. The fact that people's health is being ruined by bad food and poor nutrition is tolerated because there are millions of jobs (and obscene profits) at stake.

EXAMPLE 8-9: Made to Break

The documentary OBJECTIFIED touches on how product design can be stymied because of market pressures. In the book Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, Giles Slade writes: "Planned obsolescence is the catch-all phrase used to describe the assortment of techniques used to artificially limit the durability of a manufactured good in order to stimulate repetitive consumption. To achieve shorter product lives and sell more goods, manufacturers in the 1930s began to base their choice of materials on scientific tests by newly formed research and development departments. These tests determined when each of the products specific components would fail."

EXAMPLE 10: Energy Policies

Energy policies are also severely impacted by vested interests. The titles of the documentaries Who Killed The Electric Car and Who Killed The Electric Street Car (1993) say it all. Non-renewable incumbent industries are threatened by emergent renewable energy industries."And that deep threat to vested interests is why the revolution moves erratically in specific national contexts: emergent and incumbent industries are battling with unprecedented ferocity." Andrew DeWit, Asia-Pacific Journal (See also the US Streetcar Swindle and the Modern Ideas blog )

EXAMPLE 11: The War On Drugs

And of course there is The War On Drugs, with so many vested interests, it's impossible to guess at the number of jobs (and careers) that rely on its continuation. The Union: The business behind getting high - The New Jim Crow - Prison Industrial Complex
Funny or Die - Tragic comedy of the drug war - Saving Private Perez - comedy

EXAMPLE 12: Poverty and Charity Industries

The poverty industry (or poverty industrial complex) includes all the jobs and careers that rely on the continuation of poverty and poverty-related problems:
- welfare bureaucracies
- policing the poor
- charity think tanks
- help-the-poor charities (Downtown eastside example, UK charities example)
- non-profits trying to fix poverty related problems (with a one-on-one service model)
- job-training and workfare schemes
- health/pharma jobs from mental and physical health ruined due to poverty
- jobs due to poverty related child-apprehensions

"There are job creation projects on the back of marginalized people. How many businesses are built on health, crime, courts, hospitals, mental illness, jails and hundreds of thousands employed due to poverty? You keep them poor, and these other people have work." -Mary C, from the Women's Economic Justice Report interviews (Victoria BC) 2006

See the books: The Tyranny of Kindness by Theresa Funiciello; Community and Its Counterfeits by John McKnight; and We Are The Poors by Ashwin Desai.

EXAMPLES: Social Control and Compliance

The vested interest sectors of religion, media, advertising, and education are in a different category as they are not just about protecting jobs and incomes, their main purpose is to 'manufacture consent' and compliance. While there can be positive individuals and aspects within these sectors, their primary systemic role is to uphold dominant social norms and world views and they do this by influencing people especially when they are young. These sectors are too complex to go into here and there is already ample analysis on these topics elsewhere.

(This is not a definative list of all vested interests; there are many more that are not listed here, gambling and the financial sector for example.)


It is as if we are locked into some global self-imposed Stanford University Prison Experiment. There are so many vested interests weighing us down, it is a wonder there are still many sparks of life in art, music, writing and comedy that break through the immobilizing gloom.

The most logical way to address the harm from vested interests that are seriously impeding our ability to make positive social, economic and environmental change is by implementing a universal livable income.

Vested Interests as a Barrier to Change is a supplementary of: Time To Change The World