Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- September 20, 2004


 Ernest Partridge

Adapted for inclusion in Chapter Nine of Conscience of a Progressive.

For more than two hundred years, the American republic has grown and flourished – politically free and economically prosperous – as its component institutions and social classes, investors, managers, workers and government, have worked cooperatively to the advantage of all.  True, there has been class conflict and struggle along the way, but our laws and institutions have resolved them peacefully.  Now an emerging class of wealthy and powerful elites, the “oligarchs,” are dismantling this splendid political structure. 

The new oligarchs insist that without investments issuing from their great wealth, the nation's economy would collapse.   This is, at best, a half truth.   Granted, without investment, the workers would not have the tools (the “capital”) with which to produce goods or provide services.  However, and conversely, without the anticipation of a return on investment – the production of goods and services by the workers – there would be no investments and hence no “tools” to produce the nation’s wealth.  In a flourishing private economy each class -- investor and worker -- is wholly dependent upon its partner-class.   Each flourish together, unless one class cripples the other, in which case they fail together.

This is an elementary fact, taught in any Econ. 101 class.  Yet the emergent class of American oligarchs that have taken control of our government, our media, and quite possibly the means of counting ballots as well, seem to believe that they can impoverish the producers of wealth and the next generations, and not suffer for it themselves.  History has shown conclusively that they are wrong; but unless they are thwarted in the coming election, history will repeat itself to the profound sorrow of all of us.

In the last two decades, the dominating investors and managers of our corporate economy have transformed themselves from economic symbionts to economic parasites.  The concepts are adopted from biology.

Symbiosis is an association of two species (symbionts) for mutual advantage.  The honeybee and the blossom is one example.  Another is the association between sea otters and sea kelp.  The otters feed on the kelp predators such as sea urchins, and the kelp provide the otters with protection from orcas, sharks and other predators.

In contrast, a parasite is an organism that takes its nourishment from another “host” organism, and by so doing weakens the host, and in extreme cases, kills it.  When it kills the host, it kills itself as well, but only after it has scattered its eggs to other unfortunate hosts.  The canine heart worm is a case in point.  The blood fluke of “snail fever” (schistosomiasis) is another.

With the rise of so-called “conservatism” (in fact, a radicalism), the investing class has transformed itself from an economic symbiont – prospering conjointly with its worker-producer-partner – into an economic parasite – impoverishing its “host,” the workers, and thus, eventually, itself.  Like the heart-worm devouring the source and sustenance of its very life, the oligarchs are squeezing the productivity and the disposable income from the workers, which is to say, the well-springs of the oligarch’s wealth.  And when the economy collapses, as it must if present trends continue (i.e., massive federal deficits, outsourcing, unemployment, income loss, impoverishment of education and research), the economic parasites will surely be crushed along with the rest of us.

As our national wealth flows from the poor and middle classes to the hyper-wealthy, we are moving toward a new feudalism; a very small class of opulently wealthy families living off the labor of the impoverished masses.

Why can’t a new feudalism, despite its manifest injustice, be sustainable?  After all, it succeeded for centuries in medieval Europe, and into the nineteenth century in Russia.

It can not succeed for several reasons, including foremost the reason that it failed in Romanov Russia.  Feudalism is incompatible with industrial society – especially with an “information economy.”

In a modern economy, wealth issues out of cash-flow.  The industrialist grows wealthy with both the production and the sale of his product.  And the product will only sell if there are buyers.  I repeat: a product will only sell if there are buyers.  (Are you taking notes, Republicans?  There will be a quiz at the end of this lecture).  As the middle class and the poor lose their disposable income, there are fewer sales.  And then what?  To find out, read the history of the crash of 1929 and of the great depression that followed.

Economic indicators reveal that the median annual family income in the United States has dropped by $1,500 (in "constant dollars").  And that’s not all.  Insurance and medical costs are rising, along with gasoline prices, and the costs of higher education.  The interest rates and thus mortgage costs are bound to follow.  Aggregate national consumer debt will soon be “maxed out.” The prospect of job loss looms.  Throughout the realm, families are deciding that the new car purchase will have to be put off another year or two.  The vacation will have to be cancelled.  The auto, travel and entertainment industries decline and lay-off workers.  Down, down, down, goes the spiral.

When Henry Ford raised the wages of his workers, his competitors asked what on earth he was thinking.  “If I don’t pay my workers more,” he replied, “who will buy my cars?” Bushenomics amounts to “reverse Henry-Fordism:” keep wages low, suppress unions and collective bargaining, hire “temps” to avoid paying health and retirement benefits, cut back on employment and send jobs overseas, and watch the mean family income drop.  Give the super-rich huge tax cuts, and give the CEO a salary and perks such that he earns in four hours what his median worker earns in a year. 

Do all that, but then don’t be surprised that when the cash flow from “below” dries up, there will be no more market for the corporate products.  Then the corporate “parasites” will discover that when they starve the host, they starve themselves as well.

Another reason why parasitic neo-feudalism won’t work: modern economies require an educated work force.   As the libertarians constantly remind us, the brain, not the muscle, drives modern technology which, like the shark, must constantly move forward to survive.   Technology is science put to work (and we are well aware of what the Busheviks think of science).  However, that necessarily educated public acquires an inclination to think independently and critically, and thus to demand a voice in government and a fair share of the national wealth that they are creating.  Such a public is unwilling to be the “host” that feeds the oligarchic parasites.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Bush regime has little regard for education?  Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind” program is unfunded, thus leaving the children behind.  Rising tuition costs (up 34% since Bush took office) are closing the college doors to middle-class children.  No matter, says Karl Rove: "As people do better, they start voting like Republicans...  unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing."

Count on it: a nation that believes that there is such a thing as “too much education” is a nation in decline.  Or as Alfred North Whitehead put it: “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute: that nation that does not value trained intelligence is doomed.”

When the classical education of the Romans was overtaken by the dogma and superstition of the conquering barbarians, the western world fell into several centuries of dark ages.  Bush’s “faith-based” denigration of science and trained intelligence will not cast the world into a new dark age – just the United States.  Science and humanistic learning will flourish in Europe and the Pacific Rim, enhanced, no doubt, by a diaspora of expatriate American intelligencia.  Then the United States will be “left behind.”

Finally, parasitic neo-feudalism won’t work, because a flourishing modern economy presupposes civil order, and a “consent of the governed” – a sense amongst the populace at large that the government is “their government,” and that they are significant participants in the economy, the product of which is fairly distributed amongst the population.

The oligarchs who now control our government and our media have succeeded in large part by convincing the general public that “government is not the solution, government is the problem” (Ronald Reagan), and that the key to prosperity is liberate “free enterprise” from the “constraints” of government regulation.  Too few of us appreciate that laws and regulations were put in place to protect the public from the abuses of concentrated corporate power and wealth.  Thus we have established, through “our government,” the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission – the latter designed to prevent a repeat of the “crash of 1929.” (See “Mr.  DeLay Goes to Washington”).

The oligarchs, through their wholly-owned subsidiary, the mainstream media, have sold the American public on the idea that government and regulation are “the problem.”  As they now begin to have their unregulated way, the rest of us are about to be reminded, through brutal practical experience, that when at one time government was truly of, by and for the people, it was a “solution,” as it served to protect that people from the abuses of power, privilege and wealth.

If parasitic neo-feudalism continues and expands through the second term of Bushista rule, it may devastate us, but it must eventually fail.  For unlike the pre-revolutionary Russian serfs, who never knew a better life, the American people know what it is like to live in a free and prosperous country.  There is a limit to how much more loss of freedom and declining standard of living they will tolerate.  The oligarchs are bound to exceed that tolerance, and then they will be overthrown.

This is compellingly obvious: not only in theory, but also from the historical record.  So why can’t these oligarchs and their media toadies see this?

I answer with a familiar parable: A spinster finds an injured serpent, takes it home, and nurses it back to health, whereupon the serpent strikes with a fatal bite.  In her final moment of consciousness, the woman asks: “how could you do this to me, after I saved your life?”

The serpent replied: “I am a serpent – this is what I do.”

Surely a significant portion of the oligarchy and the media must be aware that they are devouring the “host” that feeds and sustains their wealth, and that they are leading our country, and surely themselves with it, to devastation and ruin.

So why do they persist?  Because their lust for power and their greed is unconstrained – because, given the opportunity, “this is what they do.”

The founders of our republic knew this full well, which is why they set up a structure of checks and balances, and a rule of law, to protect us from such abuses of wealth and power.

Heretofore, as our commonwealth moved dangerously from a regime of mutual advantage (symbiosis) toward a parasitism of wealth and privilege, these abuses were “pushed back” by the checks and balances of our tri-partite government, by the law and the courts, by a free and diverse press, and by the ballot box. 

No more.  The oligarchs now control it all.

And so they shall unless we the people take back our government and our country.


Copyright 2004, by Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .