Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
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The Gadfly Bytes -- March 15, 2005


A MASTER MORALITY

Ernest Partridge

Revised and expanded as Chapter Four of Conscience of a Progressive.

 

  [The Master] regards himself as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of; he passes the judgment: ‘What is injurious to me is injurious in itself;’ he knows that it is he himself only who confers honor on things; he is a creator of values. He honors whatever he recognizes in himself: such morality is self-glorification. “

Friedrich Nietzsche
Beyond Good and Evil



George Bush has said that he wants to run the government like a business. He has achieved his objective, for although Bush was allegedly “elected” as President of all the people, Bush, Inc. is in effect, less a government than it is a vast holding company. The firm’s executive officers are Bush, Cheney, and the Bush Cabinet. The Board of Directors are the Republican Party and the GOP Congressional leadership. The stockholders are the contributors to the Republican campaigns. The “accounts receivable” to the firm are the federal tax revenues from 280 million American citizens, who receive, in return, poor if any government services. Finally, the product of Bush, Inc., is regulatory relief, legislation, and government contracts, all designed to benefit the stockholders.

In almost all instances the dividends to the stockholders are generated and “the product” is delivered at the expense of those who produce the national wealth – the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

The American public is persuaded to tolerate this racket by a mass-media owned and controlled by the Bush, Inc. stockholders. As ultimate insurance, the officers and directors of the firm can not be voted out of office, because the public’s votes are counted and compiled by unauditable machines manufactured and secretly coded by stockholders of the firm. The corporate media, of course, refuses to investigate and publicize this outrage, and dismisses all citizens who raise this issue as “conspiracy theorists.”

To appreciate the force of this analogy, one need only contemplate a broad range of policies proposed by the Bush Administration, and the legislation enacted by his Republican allies in the Congress: one discovers that these policies and legislative acts are all designed to further enhance the wealth and power of the “stockholders” – elites who “own” the Republican party, and hence the White House and the Congress.

In sum, Bush, Inc., is an enterprise operating of, by and for the privileged stockholders; as such, it is an embodiment of what Friedrich Nietzsche called a “master morality.”

Abundant evidence supports the bold assertion that all policies and legislation of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress are designed to benefit the wealthy elites:

  • In the Bush Administration’s proposed federal budget, funding of the military is increased and the useless missile defense program is maintained, while programs benefiting the poor and the middle class are cut across the board – programs such as health care, childcare, Head Start, nutrition programs, food stamps, foster care, Pell grants (college assistance), “No Child Left Behind,” police and fire departments, environmental protection, veterans programs, etc.
     

  • The tax burden is shifting inexorably from the wealthy to the poor and the middle class. Specifically:

    (a) The effective abolition of the estate tax (in Bush Newspeak, “the death tax”) works to the almost exclusive advantage of the very wealthy. The resulting loss of revenue means that the shifting tax burden must be placed upon the poor and middle class or, due to the deficit, future generations.

    (b) The Bush tax legislation features cuts in taxes on income from investments (dividends, capital gains), with raises in taxes on income from labor and sales of essential goods.

    (c) Further abominations are contemplated, including a national sales tax, a national consumption tax, and a “flat tax” – all of which are regressive, and all of which disregard the elementary economic fact that a constant sum of money is “worth” far less to the wealthy than to the poor. Example: Bill Gates cares less about the loss of one billion dollars of his net worth in the Stock Market, than a Wall-Mart employee (correction: “Associate”) cares about the loss of a thousand dollars.  (See my "Flunking Econ 101").
     

  • Bush’s “reform” of Social Security is, in effect, a massive “corporate welfare” scheme that would transfer billions of citizen dollars from the pockets of ordinary citizens into the accounts of stock brokers – all this to the net disadvantage of those same ordinary citizens. Similar schemes have been tried in Chile and Great Britain, where the public is now clamoring for a return to the old government-managed system. The case against Bush’s Social Security con is complicated and extensive – the sort of thing that only a CPA could love. Paul Krugman offers the most lucid and layman-friendly arguments against. His opposition to the Bush scheme is supported by virtually every economist who is not on the payroll of Bush, Inc. or of its “stockholders” in the securities industry.
     

  • The Federal regulatory agencies were established to protect ordinary citizens from exploitation by private corporations. These agencies include the Food and Drug Administration, The Federal Communications Commission, The Securities and Exchange Commission, The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Environmental Protection Agency. Pre-regulatory abuses by private interests are not merely hypothetical, for history provides abundant examples: food contamination, useless or harmful drugs, stock swindles, pollution of water and air, and much, much more. Ronald Reagan brought in the era of “deregulation,” – in effect, the firing of the “night watchman” -- and with it the loss of these protections of the public, to the great advantage of the corporations. (For much more about this, see “Mr. Delay Goes to Washington”).
     

  • The libertarian-right detests government regulation and its interference with “free market transactions” (“capitalist acts between consenting adults” Robert Nozick). Instead of government regulation, the libertarian argues, civil law will protect the private citizen from corporate irresponsibility. The threat of lawsuits, we are assured, will deter the pharmaceutical company from marketing harmful drugs, the packing company from selling tainted meat, and the factory from polluting the water and the air. There are many compelling reasons to reject the “tort law” solution to corporate abuse, as I have argued elsewhere at some length.  Of more immediate interest is the fact that Bush, Inc. would deprive the ordinary citizen of both regulatory and tort protection. For in addition to deregulation, the Republican congress has severely curtailed the ability of citizens to file class action suits against corporations, and it has “capped” the amount of punitive damages that might be assessed against corporations.
     

  • The new bankruptcy law, now virtually certain to pass in the Congress, will no longer protect middle class families from financial ruin due to severe illness, job loss, or family breakup. The equity in the family house is no longer protected. This legislation is Bush, Inc.’s service rendered to the banking and credit card industries in return for their payment of more than fifty millions in campaign donations. These draconian punishments of hard-pressed ordinary citizens do not apply to the wealthy, however. Corrupt bankrupt corporations such as Enron can shelter their assets against claims by cheated employees and investors, and bankrupted tycoons can keep their mansions.
     

  • All the major environmental organizations agree: this administration has the worst environmental record in history. Despite the Orwellian names for the Bush programs – “Clear Skies,” “Healthy Forests,” etc. – the environment is taking a beating on all fronts, as air quality deteriorates, the eutrophic “dead” zone returns to Lake Erie, and the national forests are being assaulted with renewed vigor by the lumber barons. A pack of corporate foxes has been put in charge of the federal environmental hen-houses. Lawyers from anti-environmental organizations, such as Interior Secretary Gail Norton, and industry lobbyists, such as now-deputy Secretary of the Interior, Steven Griles. The degradation of the natural environment adversely affects every citizen. The ill-gained windfall profits from relaxation of environmental regulation and enforcement, benefits the privileged few.


The results of these and many more instances of “reverse RobinHoodism” (taking from the poor and giving to the rich), are clearly manifested in the wealth distribution in the United States. Thirty years ago, one percent of the U. S. households owned about twenty percent of the national wealth, and a typical CEO of a large corporation earned forty times as much as the average worker. Today, that one percent owns about half of the national wealth, and that same typical CEO is paid five hundred times as much as his worker. To put that number in perspective, this means that the CEO earns, in half a day, the annual salary of his median worker. As a result of the Bush policies, that trend can only accelerate. (See Collins, Hartman and Sklar,  "Divided Decade: Economic Disparity at the Century's Turn."

But what of the agenda of the religious right? Opposition to gay marriage, anti-abortion, public display of the Ten Commandments, etc. Surely these issues do not follow the pattern of benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor?

Not directly. But “reverse RobinHoodism” is a factor nonetheless. It is doubtful that the typical corporate “stockholder” in Bush, Inc. cares very much about these “family values” issues. However, what Karl Rove and his team of political strategists do care about is the fact that the religious right delivered 40% of Bush’s 2000 vote total. Thus it is essential that Bush, Inc. keep the evangelicals on the reservation. That being so, enthusiastic support for “family values” was a sure thing – until the recent election, that is. It is noteworthy that Bush has recently lost interest in the promised “anti-gay-marriage amendment.”


Moral considerations aside, the success of Bush, Inc. is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Here is a system that deliberately and systematically extracts wealth from the vast majority of citizens that produce that wealth, as it simultaneously withdraws public services from those citizens. And yet, those citizens tolerate this abuse, and in some cases even enthusiastically support their abusers. How is this possible?

The answer lies, at its foundation, with the fact that Bush, Inc. controls the media and thus the message heard and seen by a credulous public. The message is propped up by a horde of “experts” issuing forth from right-wing “think tanks.” With this advantage, the regime surrounds itself with a bodyguard of myths. Among them:

  • The “trickle-down” theory of economics: a nation’s prosperity is based upon the private investment of wealthy individuals. The best way to serve the poor and the middle class is to provide jobs, and jobs are created from investments. “I never was given a job by a poor man,” as Senator Phil Gramm put it. Hence still more wealth must be directed to the wealthy.
     

  • The Horatio Alger myth: with initiative, determination, and admittedly a little bit of luck, anyone can “rise to the top.” Thus, by implication:
     

  • The sin of poverty: people are poor by choice – by a willing failure to seek employment and apply themselves honestly and diligently to their work.
     

  • The invisible hand: The term is from Adam Smith, who writes in The Wealth of Nations, that the individual who “intends his own gain ... is ... led by an invisible hand to promote... [the interest of] society.” (Book IV, CH. 2). Thus, since the free market “automatically” promotes the public good, there is no need for government to provide social services.
     

  • The liberal media. It is difficult to understand how anyone who critically assesses the political commentary and reporting in the mass media can conclude that it has “a liberal bias.” Yet this charge (by the media!) That the media has a “liberal bias,” is repeated so often that it is widely believed.


The strength of these myths (“the liberal media” excepted) resides in the fact that they are, to a limited and qualified degree, true – in other words, they are so-called “half-truths.” Wealth does, in fact, “trickle down” from investments of the wealthy. But it also “percolates up” from the labor and initiative of the workers. And Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no doubt beneficently at work in a free market economy. But most economists, Adam Smith among them, acknowledge in addition the existence of “the back of the invisible hand” – the fact that in many clearly identifiable cases, individuals, seeking their own gain, can bring about social disaster. (See:  “Good for Each, Bad for All").  Half-truths such as these are especially insidious, as the truthful half lends credence to the false half.

These myths persist due to an absence of an effective media voice to debunk them, just as Bush, Inc. flourishes due to an absence of a conspicuous opposition media. There can be little doubt that with a free and diverse media, and with an honest and accurate voting system, the Democrats would today control the White House and the Congress.

It is noteworthy that a similar system of “state capitalism” worked, however brutally, for 70 years in the Soviet Union until, because of advances in the technology of communication, vital information and dissenting opinion could no longer be controlled, and the Western youth culture could no longer be excluded. When the people of the Soviet Union came to appreciate that a better life was possible, the system was doomed. The Commissars could successfully deal with the threats of Romanov restoration and Western capitalism. But they were eventually brought down by blue jeans, The Beatles, and Rock and Roll.

Bush, Inc., stands on even shakier ground. The American people know what it is like to live in a free and prosperous country, and when freedom and prosperity are lost, no amount of state-controlled propaganda can cover-up this loss. While commercial broadcasting and cable TV is overwhelmingly right-wing, progressive opinions are beginning to make some inroads. In addition, some independent progressive publications are still available. And of course, there is the internet, where we find access to a wide range of domestic dissenting opinion as well as the foreign press. If, as is quite possible, the internet is privatized, sold to the likes of Rupert Murdoch or Rev. Moon, and progressive opinion is shut out, there will be an irrepressible samizdat of computer disks, CDs, and satellite and cross-border broadcasts. The technology of communications is now out of control of even the most repressive regimes.

At this moment, most Americans continue to believe the United States is still a free country, and that “it can’t happen here.” When they realize that it is happening here, either Bushism will be overthrown, or in a desperate attempt to remain in power, the Busheviks will significantly increase their repressions.

In the meantime, the greatest threat to the Bush regime is a widespread appreciation amongst our fellow citizens that there is a superior alternative to the “Master Morality” of Bush, Inc. It is “Social Democratic Morality,” expressed in a political system best described by Abraham Lincoln as a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is a government constrained by the rule of law to which all citizens, including the President and his Administration, must submit. It is a government, the policies, rules and legislation of which are designed to result in the greatest good for the greatest number in a regime of “equal justice under law.” It is a government that acknowledges and protects such public goods as a clean environment, wild places, civic pride, public safety, and free association. And it is a government that proclaims that economic prosperity is cooperative achievement of workers and investors, as well as educators, researchers, and government.

Simply put, the best alternative to the “Master Morality” of Bush, Inc. is the political morality of the founding documents of our republic; the political morality that we once believed to be exemplified in our government; the political morality that the propaganda machine of Bush, Inc., is determined to convince us that we still have.

If and when the day comes that a critical mass of our fellow citizens comes to fully appreciate what has been taken from us, that will be the day that the fate of Bushism will be sealed.

 

Copyright 2005, 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 .