Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- March, 2003


Ernest Partridge

An open letter to the Chief Executive Officers of the Fortune 500 companies,
and of the major commercial media.

Dear CEO,

Congratulations! You have won, decisively and overwhelmingly.

Your favored politicians and political party are now in control of all three branches of the United States government. Your political and economic ideologies, preached virtually without rebuttal in your media, have been enacted by law, executive order and judicial decree. And those ideologies are destined to be solidified as federal judges who endorse these ideologies come to dominate the federal judiciary.

As a result of your victory, the Congress of the United States now follows the dictates of its corporate “sponsors,” and is thus no longer responsive to the wishes and interests of its constituents. The Federal regulatory agencies – the EPA, the FCC, the SEC, the FDA, etc. – have become the captives, and virtual subsidiaries, of the industries that they were intended to regulate. 

Thanks to “your” Administration and Congress, and the unchallenged political message of “your” media, the fortunate wealthy few, like yourself, are the beneficiaries of “tax reform” legislation which accelerates the flow of national wealth from the vast majority of our population which produces that wealth, to those of you who own and control that wealth. That same tax policy is producing enormous deficits in the federal budget and an increase in the national debt that will likely bankrupt the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, and burden our children and grandchildren essentially forever. But, of course, none of that directly affects you and yours.

All in all, you have received from the incumbent Administration and Congress, an overwhelmingly favorable return on your investment in campaign funds.

However, I must wonder if you have carefully assessed the larger return on this investment – the full consequences of your complete political victory.

If you do, I suspect that you may discover that yours has been a pyrrhic victory. You might, on reflection, decide that you do not really want the prize that you have won. You may in fact have reaped a whirlwind so dreadful that you may wish, while there is still time, to make corrections or even, dare I say, reparations.

One might urge you to reassess your “victory” and your continuing course of political action on grounds of morality, of religion, or of political tradition. Instead, I would ask you to assess the current political condition in the United States from the perspective of that central principle of the dominant economic theory: the principle of self-interest.

From the perspective of self-interest alone, I would submit that all that you have won may be much less than meets the eye, and that this accomplishment might even contains the seeds of its own destruction, and of your ruin.

The Economy: At the Democratic convention of 2000, Senator Joseph Lieberman, the finest Republican mind in the Democratic Party, quoted Harry Truman: “to live like a Republican, vote like a Democrat.” This is more than a partisan slogan, it is history. Mark Hulbert reports, in CBS Market Watch that “since 1901, the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s average annual gain, after inflation, has been nearly twice as high when a Democrat has occupied the White House.”

But if the history of the last century is unconvincing, just think back to the past decade. While it’s true that the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have given you a huge personal tax windfall, would you really prefer the Bush tax rate and the present stock market, to the tax rate and the stock market performance during the Clinton years? If you were invested in the DOW during the two years of the Bush Administration, you would have lost 30% of your portfolio value. If the NASDAQ, you would have lost three-fourth of the value. Are you better off now, even with that tax break? Are you likely to be in the foreseeable future?

It is simply amazing how, despite the historical record and personal experience, otherwise savvy capitalists persist in the belief that they will prosper more under Republican administrations.

The Social Contract: The greater economic success of Democratic administrations should be no mystery. To put it bluntly, Democrats believe in feeding the golden goose and cashing in on the eggs, while the Republicans seem to prefer to cook the goose. The much-maligned “liberals” are more inclined to recognize and nourish “the social contract,” thus regarding the fruits of a flourishing economy as the just reward to all from the cooperative labor and investment of all. Democrats are more likely to recognize that economic prosperity emerges from a foundation of civic peace, just institutions, an educated work force, and from this a communal sense that society and the economy are “ours” together, not “theirs” – the property of the privileged few. To maintain this just order, an institution must be established to act in behalf, not of private interest, but of the public in general. And in a just society, that institution acts with the consent of the public – of, by, and for the people. It is, of course, called “government.” This is an authentically “conservative” idea. And if you doubt it, read the Declaration of Independence and Preamble to our Constitution. (See my “On Civic Friendship"). 

Where the Democrats see society as a cooperative enterprise, the Republicans see society as an aggregation of self-interested “utility maximizers” who, in the pursuit of their private interests will magically produce without planning, management or foresight (through Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”), the optimum distribution of wealth and functioning of social institutions. To all questions of economic justice, there is a single answer: “let the free market decide."   No need for government to rectify, through “intrusive regulation,” the inequities or injustices in society. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher famously remarked, “there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and families.”

Through your efforts and political contributions, it is the Thatcherite “minimalist government” of, by and for the “investors” in that government, that has triumphed in the present administration. 

But this is also a political-economic system that is strangling the institutions that have maintained the social tranquility and educated the work force that are essential to the success of your enterprise. And yours is a system that is depriving your workers and their fellow citizens of the retirement that they believed that they had earned in good faith, of the health care that they feel that they deserve, and the support and education of their children and their posterity.

And so, we arrive at this paradox: your “victory” is unraveling the fabric of the society upon which your corporate enterprise rests – the society that enabled you to acquire the financial resources and the media control with which you accomplished your political victory. This is a victory in which the rule of law is violated, our Constitutional rights are suspended, the franchise is mocked as the President is selected by his political allies on the Supreme Court, all the while the very few rich get richer and the rest of the population gets poorer and the essential social institutions are starved of financial sustenance. And the cost of this extravagance is billed to our posterity, effectively forever.

Do you really believe that if these trends continue, the public will forever stand for this? Do you believe that such an economic policy can long endure before it precipitates its own collapse and leads to depression?

And when your political victory is supplanted by popular revolt and/or economic collapse – more likely sooner rather than later – how then will your “self-interest” have been served by the policies imposed upon the rest of us by those you helped to put in office?

Campaign Finance: As we both know, the linchpin of your political success has been the campaign finance system which, along with effective control of the media, has allowed private corporations such as yours to select and elect politicians beholden almost totally to “contributors” rather than constituents. {See “A Bribe by Any Other Name”]. But the other side of the coin of bribery is extortion. Just as you might try to “purchase” favorable legislation through campaign contributions, the canny politicians play you off against your competitors. “Pay up, or else!” Of course, all of this “influence peddling” is implied, but nonetheless effective. A transaction of “this legislation in exchange for that contribution,” explicit and on the record, is a felony. And yet, I know for a fact that officials of the Chemical Manufacturers Association wrote the drafts of the Clean Air and Clean Water legislation, during the “Gingrich era” of the Congress. The environmental lobbyists did not have a seat at that table. Would the CMA have had this extraordinary access if it hadn’t contributed generously to the GOP? I report, you decide. 

A distaste for these “shakedowns” – the “bidding up” of contributions in exchange for legislative or regulative influence – has provoked many corporate managers to join the movement for campaign finance reform.    Are you among them? In the final analysis, is this corrupt system of purchased influence through campaign contributions really in your interest, and in the interest of your corporation?

False Friends. I urge you to study, carefully, the USA PATRIOT ACT, the Homeland Security Act, and the recently exposed draft legislation, “Domestic Security Enhancement Act.” Then read the critiques of this legislation by the ACLU and numerous legal scholars . While most American citizens have not suffered direct violations of their Constitutional rights, the provisions of these acts are such that only the will and self-restraint of the Bush Administration, in particular Justice Department, stands between conditions today and dictatorship.

Now look to history, and be forewarned. Nascent tyrannies have a nasty habit of consuming their own. Witness the fate of the Jacobins following the French Revolution, of the early industrialist supporters of the Nazis, and the of the “Old Bosheviks” such as Kalinin, Zinoviev, and Trotsky. Your best defense against such calamities is the rule of law and your Bill of Rights, and by implication a steadfast opposition to the aforementioned legislation. 

Are you enlisted in the struggle to protect and restore the civil liberties of all our citizens – a struggle in direct opposition to the Administration that you helped to put in power? For the sake of your own life and liberty, you would be well advised to join this struggle.

The Emerging Theocracy: Consider the “Faith-Based Initiatives” proposed by the Bush Administration, and the fondness of Bush and his supporters for religious rhetoric. Consider too how fundamentalist Christian dogma has constrained scientific research (e.g., in stem cells and contraception) and involvement in international programs of family planning and women’s health. As a result, some deep fault lines are developing between conservative Christians, liberal Christians, non-Christian faiths (notably Moslems) and secularists. 

Furthermore, the aforementioned restrictions on bio-medical research are threatening the American leadership in this field. If you are the CEO of a pharmacological enterprise, you should be very concerned about a possible “brain drain” of research scientists from the United States.

Your personal religious convictions aside, you must be aware that sectarian strife and anti-scientific religious dogmatism is very bad for business. Witness the economies of Northern Ireland and Bosnia. The Founders knew what they were doing when they ratified the First Amendment and erected a wall of separation between Church and State. I doubt that when you chose to support the Republican Party, that you bargained for a theocracy. 

A Rogue State: Consider, finally, the deep feelings of hostility throughout the world that have been generated by the Bush Administration’s violation of treaties, its refusal to cooperate in international enterprises (such as the Kyoto Treaty and the International Court), its attempts to bribe nations into alliances, and its manifest willingness to launch a “preventive war.” This hostility abroad has serious implications for America’s participation in International Markets. As you know, trust is the moral foundation of commerce. And if the international community has lost its trust in the willingness of the United States government to honor its treaties and abide by statutes of international law or the resolutions of the United Nations, what remains of the ability, of American firms to participate as trustworthy partners in international trade? The United States economy simply cannot function without foreign markets or, more fundamentally, without int importation of strategic raw materials – most importantly, petroleum. Our economy, in short, is dependent upon the good will and trust of our international trading partners, and that good will and trust have been seriously eroded by the arrogance and recklessness of the Bush Administration. Face it, the "rogue" behavior of your favored political party is an immediate and serious threat to the bottom line of your corporation.

The present state of American politics and economy, and your part in bringing it about, raises additional questions:

  • Is this what the framers of our Constitutional order had in mind when they gathered “in Congress Assembled” in 1776 to approve the Declaration of Independence, and in 1787 to ratify our Constitution? Did they really intend that the Bill of Rights be taken seriously?

  • Is this the political order for which our forbearers fought and died at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Omaha Beach?

  • If you are a professing Christian, does the economic/political order that you have helped to bring about exemplify the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount? Does it display Christian love, compassion, charity, pacifism? (See “What Would Jesus Do”), If you are of another faith, how do your “accomplishments” square with the ethical teachings of your religion?

  • In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” In two short years, those “opinions” have deteriorated dramatically. Does it bother you that your country, once admired throughout the world as a beacon of freedom and justice, has, in that time, become a “rogue nation,” detested by multitudes around the world?

But all these are questions of morality, justice, religious commitment, personal integrity, and, yes, of patriotism. And I promised to confine my argument to considerations of self-interest, didn’t I?


Ernest Partridge
“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" (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 .