Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- September 2008

In a Financial Crisis, Who Do You Call? The Democrats!

Ernest Partridge, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers


Now is the time for all good Democrats to come to the aid of the capitalists.

However, if the Democrats are to be of any help, first of all the capitalists must come to the aid of the Democrats.

There’s an election coming up in just six weeks. What is the fat-cat, Wall Street tycoon to do about it?  He and his well situated buddies can direct bundles of cash to various campaigns, they can order cadres of lobbyists to lean on candidates, and they can issue orders to the corporate media to slant their (so-called) “news coverage" this way or that. They can, for all practical purposes, decide the outcome of the election.

So what do they do? Heretofore, the answer was pre-ordained: Boost the Republicans and slam the Democrats. Rig the elections. Override the law (e.g., Bush v. Gore). And then, as a consequence, the lobbyists will write the laws for a compliant Congress, taxes for the wealthy will be slashed, regulations will be dropped. And the bill will be charged to future generations. In short, capitalist heaven on earth.

As any economist worth his tenure will tell you, this is the road to ruin. And it appears that we have followed that road to its destination – just short of a presidential election.

“Take care what you wish for: you just might get it!”

So what is the electoral choice before our hypothetical tycoon?  On the one hand, a brilliant, Harvard cum laude lawyer, teamed with a seasoned legislator, nominated by a Democratic Party that has drifted somewhat to the right of what used to be called “moderate Republicanism.” On the other hand, an aging befuddled warrior and a self-confessed economic and computer illiterate, ranked at the bottom of his graduating class, running with a clueless fundamentalist fanatic with a pretty face.

Faced with this choice, many of the filthy-rich GOP movers and shakers, creatures of habit as they are, will no doubt dance with the dude that brung ‘em. But to those few who have been jolted by the financial shocks of the past week into a willingness to pause and reflect for a moment, this essay is for you. (See also, my Dear CEO:  Is This Really What You Want?)

The Democrats must save capitalism, again.

What happens when you let a bunch of kids into a candy store, unsupervised by any grown-ups? Of course, you end up with some unhappy youngsters with full-blown belly-aches. Then it's past time to bring back the adults and plenty of Pepto-Bismol.

Analogously, in the novel “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding described what happens when a rabble of young undisciplined egoists are tossed together. Also Thomas Hobbes in his classical treatise, The Leviathan (1651). It’s called, “the state of nature,” wherein life, according to Hobbes, is “solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short.”

In economics, it's called “market fundamentalism,” whereby wealth flows from the producers of wealth (the workers and the middle class, i.e., the “whiners”) and from the social and physical infrastructure, to the owners and controllers of wealth until, with the economic foundation in ruins, the system collapses. Unconstrained capitalism, like communism, contains within itself, the seeds of its own destruction.  As Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it:  "The fall of Wall Street is for market fundamentalism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for communism -- it tells the world that this way of economic organization turns out not to be sustainable."

It happened to the Soviet Union in 1991. Now it’s our turn.

The remedy? Government and the rule of law, or as the late biologist, Garrett Hardin put it, “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon.” (Hobbes’ solution was a dictatorship, but his successors, Locke and Jefferson, devised a more benign solution: rule of law and government by consent of the governed).

The last major economic belly-ache took place some eighty years ago, and was called “The Great Depression.” The people of the United States responded by throwing the perps out of office, and bringing in the reformers: FDR and the Democrats, of course.

So our question to the hypothetical tycoon: Who is best suited to get you (and us) out of this mess that you’ve created? The folks who gave you the keys to the candy store, or the grown-ups that came to your rescue with remedies that proved effective in the past?

Sarah Palin and the Revenge of the Christoban.

The traditional Republican poobahs are facing a revolt of their proletariat, and it ain’t pretty.

Our hypothetical corporate oligarchs are not, by and large, Jesus freaks. Many are non-Christians (Jews, agnostics, or unaffiliated), or if Christian, of traditional denominations such as Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc. The oligarchs tend to be graduates of prestigious universities, and scientifically literate. In fact, many corporate executives are trained scientists and engineers, and, in any case, the success of their enterprises depends directly on the application of leading-edge scientific research and development – notably, the computer, chemical, energy and pharmaceutical industries.

However, these corporate executive and scientific elites do not comprise a politically significant number of voters. So they have cleverly enlisted “the religious right” as foot-soldiers in their political campaigns by promising to outlaw abortion and gay marriage and to put God and creationism in the public schools.

But now the oligarchic political generals, after failing over the past decade to deliver these goods, have been overthrown by the “soldiers” who have taken over the Party, and have, in effect, ordered the GOP presidential candidate to put one of their own on the ticket.

And just how extreme is Sarah Palin? A Wasilla neighbor,
Phil Munger, is not reassuring:

"She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the [Wasilla school] board. I bumped into her after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God [a church]. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism - your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.' I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."

Mr. Munger also asked Mrs. Palin if she believed in the End of Days, the doomsday scenario when the Messiah will return. "She looked in my eyes and said, 'Yes, I think I will see Jesus come back to earth in my lifetime'."

The consequences of the successful revolt of the fundamentalist “foot soldiers” in the GOP must be chilling to the deposed “generals.”

If, either by succession or eventual election, the Chistianists’ darlin’, Sarah Palin, becomes President, we can kiss goodbye any expectation that the U.S. can or will deal with the global climate crisis or lead the world into the post-petroleum economy. Scientific education, research and development will surely languish in the United States, while the cutting edge of science and technology will inevitably move to Europe, Russia and the Pacific Rim, all of which successfully departed from the Dark Ages a half-millennium ago.

No prospect could be more dreadful to the corporate executives and investors, who have traditionally supported the Republican Party.

The solution? Throw the barbarians out of the palace. And the most immediate, effective and certain way for the Republicans to accomplish this is to relinquish the government to the Democrats, who are refreshingly free of fundamentalist hocus-pocus.

Then, after a season out of power, the Republican Party, free of the crazies, can reconstitute itself into a responsible, moderate, and secular institution: kind of like it was under Dwight Eisenhower.

Meanwhile, as a minority partner in the Obama administration, the Republicans can work with the Democrats to restore America’s former leadership in science, technology and industry by investing in education, physical infrastructure, and basic scientific research.

Facing the Decline of American Global Influence and Leadership.

As all too many regressive market absolutists have too readily forgotten, a functioning and flourishing market is, at its foundation, a moral order. It presupposes obedience to mutually accepted rules and regulations, and it is based upon trust and confidence: above all confidence that published statistical data (on employment, investment, profit and loss, etc.) is accurate.

With the Bush Administration’s abrogation of international treaties and agreements, its reckless deficit financing of an illegal war, and now the disclosure of deceptive and even illegal behavior among the leading financial institutions, that essential trust in the American financial structure and in American good faith negotiation has been severely eroded.

To put the matter bluntly: the United States of America is no longer a trusted partner in the global financial community.

If this loss of trust is not restored immediately and decisively, that global community might decide to exclude the U.S. from the “playing table.” The U.S. dollar could be replaced by the Euro as the international standard currency, and the value of the dollar could collapse. The multi-trillion dollar U.S. debts could be called in, and no further loans could be granted to the U.S. Treasury.  And that would be the end of the United States as a major global power.

The United States, with its astronomically huge foreign debts, its enormous trade deficits, its loss of manufacturing base, and its dependence upon foreign resources (especially petroleum) is no longer in a position to claim leadership in the global economy, or even to make rules in that economy.

In fact, should the rest of the world (notably Europe, Russia, Japan, India and China) finally decide it has had enough of American bullying and empire-building, the world community can, if it so decides, demolish the U.S. economy, the might of the American military notwithstanding. (See my The Vulnerable Giant)

So we ask our hypothetical stalwart Republican tycoon: Who is best qualified to avoid such a catastrophe, and to restore the trust, prestige, and leadership of the United States in the world community? A self-confessed economic ignoramus, whose one-note diplomatic repertory is “bomb, bomb, bomb”?   Or a trained lawyer, skilled in community development, and the co-author of significant legislation regarding arms-control, nuclear proliferation and climate change

Moreover, imagine if you will, the impact upon the international community, and in particular the Islamic nations, of the election of a black American President with the name of “Barack Obama.”  This would announce to the world that the United States has at last put aside its historical racism, and is now prepared to deal with its global partners with respect and without bias.

The rational and financially self-interested course of action for the corporate executive and investor is to throw out the cowboys and the buccaneers, and replace them with responsible and honorable players in international finance. It is a solution that has the distinct advantage of being radical, sudden and unequivocal. And it can be accomplished on November 4.

What the Oligarchs Must Do Before November 4.

Suppose our hypothetic tycoons are persuaded (a) that capitalism must once again be saved from itself by the restoration of government oversight and regulation, (b) that a theocracy is anathema to the functioning of a modern, industrial economy and to a solution of global environmental crises, and (c) that the Democratic candidates offer a vastly superior opportunity to restore America’s stature in the global community.

Suppose, in short, that they have decided to renounce their allegiance to the Republican Party (at least for this next election), and to cast their lot with the Obama/Biden ticket.

What, then, are they to do?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. First, and most obviously, they can announce their endorsement of the Democratic candidates.

2. They can direct financial support to the Democratic campaign.

3. If they have influence or significant investments in the corporate media, they can “unleash” that media, and direct them to practice authentic journalism.

4. They can publicize the vulnerabilities of paperless touch-screen voting machines, put pressure on law enforcement, and put the election industry on notice that hanky-panky in this election will have severe consequences.

In sum, out of simple enlightened self-interest, the corporate elites must look to the Democrats to rescue them from the morass into which the GOP has led them.

If they are smart, that’s what they will do.

But don’t count on it.

Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge


Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications

Conscience of a Progressive:  A book in progress. 

Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)

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" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".   His e-mail is: gadfly@igc.org .




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 .