from the cradle to the grave
I don't think Americans realize the extent to which our government and big business conspire to rob us at EVERY turn in our lives - from before each of us peers out of our mother's loins until we're buried six feet under the ground.
It's like taking candy from a baby.
Not only are we a captive audience, but we're targeted in the areas of our lives that are absolutely integral to human existence. There's simply no escape.
Take, for example, America's $25 billion "death care" industry, where companies clamor for their share in the bitter fruits of our personal grief.
Funerals are one of the most expensive purchases that most families ever make. Costs average $6,500, not including cemetery costs, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, the $11 billion funeral-home industry's major trade group.You would think that our government would protect its citizens from being gouged at this terrible time in their lives.
* * *
Funeral homes, which still sell the vast majority of caskets, have responded to discounters [Costco and Funeral Depot] by lowering casket prices, according to a new study by two Yale economists. "They're feeling somewhat threatened by these other channels of distribution," says co-author Fiona Scott Morton.
But to compensate funeral homes have raised prices on services such as viewings, flowers or embalming, so funeral costs effectively remain unchanged.
Though funeral homes are taking fewer profits from caskets, Scott Morton says their caskets still aren't competitively priced.
"They have enormous markups, more than 100%, which is totally unusual in retailing," Scott Morton says. "We think it's the beginning of a market change. This is an unusual industry that's been unusually shielded from the kind of competition that other industries have."
But, no. Not in America, land of the fee.
For their study, the economists compared data from states that are regulated, unregulated, and recently deregulated, as is the case with South Carolina and Tennessee, where courts struck down restrictions.In other words, in states where the funeral industry is regulated, caskets were grossly overpriced. What's up with that?
When courts eliminated restrictions . . . the reduction in casket prices at funeral homes corresponds almost exactly to an increase in service fees.
The funeral industry has successfully lobbied some states to mandate that only funeral directors may sell caskets, but the laws have been aggressively challenged by consumer groups and the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based public-interest law group.Now, you KNOW what our state legislatures are busy (NOT) doing on our behalf.
Senior attorney Clark Neily says the institute's position is that funeral homes have successfully lobbied state legislatures to enact laws that essentially ban competition in the casket market and give funeral directors a monopoly that lets them mark up caskets by as much as 600% above wholesale. [!!!]
In 2002, the institute persuaded a federal appeals court to strike down a Tennessee law that made it a crime for anyone but funeral directors to sell caskets. And in 2000, a New Hampshire casket maker sued Mississippi over state sales restrictions and won, with the court declaring in its opinion that it doesn't make sense to control who may sell "what amounts to be a glorified box."
But in a similar case filed in Oklahoma, another federal appeals court reached the opposite conclusion, allowing the regulation to stand.
While a handful of states regulate who can legally sell a casket, the Federal Trade Commission in 1994 required funeral homes to accept any casket that consumers purchase elsewhere.This means that up until 1994, if you refused to get gouged by a funeral parlor for your family member's casket, they could basically tell you to have the wake in your living room and bury them in the backyard, next to spot. Unbelievable.
And, who is the biggest beneficiary of this government-enforced racket?
[Texas-based Service Corporation International] is the largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services in North America.Apparently, bleeding us at the pumps is not enough for some Texans.
With a network of more than 1,500 funeral homes and cemeteries [spanning across 42 states, and 7 Canadian provinces - SCI] is capable of serving nearly 80% of all households in the United States.
Fiscal year 2004 total revenues exceeded $1.8 billion.
And they're not the only ones making a proverbial killing in the "death care" industry. Moneylenders are also raking in the dough.
According to a Lehman Brothers presentation for investors on the corporate website, SCI carried over $749 million of debt in 2005. They must be shoveling interest at moneylenders annually to service that debt.
But, notwithstanding that humungous debtload, the company had $450 million cash in hand year end. No doubt, the "unusual" $29 MILLION tax refund they enjoyed in 2005 helped significantly.
The uniqueness of the casket market makes it easy for funeral homes to apply big markups, which have become a key source of profits, Chevalier says. Consumers aren't savvy because they're usually grieving, inexperienced and in a hurry when planning a funeral.And of course, THAT is the best time to rob them.
You should be very, VERY angry.
THESE are the people our children are dying for in an UNJUST war - the same ones who would gouge us for their caskets.