FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from







The "Vile Maxim" Versus the Common Good:
Different Approaches to November

by Paul Street
July 14, 2004

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


It's a presidential election year, so it's time to observe United States lefties engage in their quadrennial ritual of ripping each other apart over the question of how to best respond in the good-conscience names of social justice and democracy to the all-too-narrow "choices" presented by the polyarchic, business-dominated U.S. electoral system. It's time to watch our connection to common core peace, democracy, and equality agendas fray as the election obsession sucks up scarce progressive resources. Meanwhile, it's interesting and instructive to observe the cool, calculating, and self-interested election angle of the great monied interests. Structurally generated super-citizenship has a way of calming its holder's political nerves in "America, the best democracy that money can buy."

According to a recent story in the candid corporate magazine Business Week, "most of the financial industry is throwing its muscle, and money, behind President George W. Bush. Seven financial firms, led by Merrill Lynch & Co., are among the 10 companies whose executives have ponied up the most campaign cash for him" (Mike McNamee, "Whose Afraid of President Kerry," Business Week, June 28, 2004, pp. 126-127). This is because certain key segments of the investor class have some concerns about a possible Kerry victory: a JFK Administration might appoint regulators who would "give the green light for re-importing the drugs that it sells for lower prices in Canada and elsewhere, undercutting U.S. profits." And "Kerry's appointees could pressure drug makers and pharmacy benefits managers to ratchet down prices." Wouldn't that be terrible?

Also, "auto makers could face tougher emissions standards that would make cars more expensive" (horrors). Certain "defense" contractors will be frustrated by Kerry's "skepticism" towards such "big-ticket procurement projects" as "missile defense systems," which happen to be insanely dangerous for humanity and are described by Business Week as just another investment commodity. "Oil and coal drillers" could "expect fewer tax breaks" under Kerry (another tragedy that might at least slow U.S.-led environmental suicide) and Business Week thinks that "Kerry could also upset markets with his trade policy" (not likely), which has "has veered left toward 'fair trade' protectionism."

But, the magazine reports, the people who own the country are not especially worried over the prospect of a Kerry White House. "After all," Business Week observes, "stocks have historically fared much better under Democratic Presidents than Republicans. Since 1929, stocks have returned an average of 9.5% a year, after inflation, with a Democrat in the White House, vs. just 2.3% under Republicans." Moreover, the plutocratic winner-take-all electoral system of congressional incumbency protection, whereby politicians choose the voters, in a great democratic inversion (covered in supposedly shocked terms in a recent Business Week cover story titled "Does Your Vote Matter?"), will keep the most reactionary of the two business parties in control of the House of Representatives for some time to come. This will make it impossible for Kerry to rollback Bush's tax cuts for the already super-wealthy.

"Gridlock can be good," Business Week learned from Tom Gallagher, "a Washington-based political economist" with a corporate research outfit called "ISI Group Inc." Gallagher is thinking, no doubt, of the fantastic profits that super-privileged Americans enjoyed during the roaring 90s, as wages stagnated and extreme poverty rose (even in the face of rising labor demand) under the political reign of a Democratic White House and Republican Congress (see Robert Pollin's excellent critique of Clintonomics in his book The Contours of Descent [2003])

According to Business Week, "a Kerry win would likely mean a return to divided government -- and that often suits investors just fine." Governmental division works against "bold policy moves" - you know, stuff like national health care plans, sweeping alternative energy programs, the rebuilding of public transportation systems, and numerous other things that large numbers of Americans need and want in the industrialized world's most unequal and wealth-top-heavy society.

Yes, gridlock is more than okay with the economic royalty. The money lords love it when the people and "their" government are divided and weak. Capital rules by pushing certain projects and policies through but just as significantly by preventing other projects and policies from being enacted or even gaining consideration. It's as much about what it stops and prevents as about what it starts and enacts.

At the same time, Business Week observes, certain investors could expect to do very well under Kerry, including hospital chains, (who will "have less trouble collecting big bills" under Kerry's catastrophic medical insurance plan), "homeland security" contractors, and insurance companies. The leaders of the last group "will breathe a sigh of relief if Bush's plans to expand tax-free savings accounts -- low-cost competition for pricey annuities -- fade away."

Whatever, in a presidential election that is "too close to call," Lehman Brothers analysts are offering their clients both a "Bush portfolio" and a "Kerry portfolio." The first is "larded with stocks of oil drillers, automakers, mutual fund advisers, and high -priced retailers. The second is "heavy in homebuilders, life insurers, Fannie and Freddie, and midrange retailers."

But of course, that's just another version of the old big money game of betting on both horses, reflected in campaign finance data showing that wealthy interests give to both Democrats and Republicans. When all basic moral and political considerations are thoroughly drenched in what Marx and Engels famously termed the "icy waters of egotistical calculation" (the chilling ethical core of capitalism), then its all about playing the situation to your best capitalist advantage.

Latest investor poll, for what it's worth: the Bush portfolio has been lagging its Kerry competition by 8.7 percent since April.

It's all about self-aggrandizement in the sickening "greed-is good" world of the rapacious "monied incorporations" that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison tried to warn us about.

Whether we are Green, Naderite, left-Democrat, Marxist, anarchist or whatever, (and whether we like or hate Michael Moore's movie), we would do well to remember the continuing difference between progressives and the "economic elite." Left and left-leaning Americans often argue terribly with each other about elections, movies, and other matters. But at least we are debating how to most effectively advance the common good. For the Masters, whose "vile maxim" (Adam Smith noted) is "all for ourselves and nothing for other people," the very notion of the common good is at best naive and at worst depraved.

Paul Street's book Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004) will be available this September ( Street can be reached

Other Recent Articles by Paul Street

* We Need a New Media Relationship
* “Failed States” at Home and Abroad
* Be “Part of Something”: Sign Up With The American Empire Project
* Congratulations, Mr. Bush: You Have Not Presided Over the Final Collapse of Capitalism
* "Slaves Had Jobs Too"
* Brown v. Board Fifty Years Out: Still Separate and Unequal
* Let Them Eat "Cakewalk"
* England, America, Empire, and Inequality
* Niall Ferguson Speaks on the Need for Imperial Ruthlessness
* Richard A. Clarke, Rwanda, and “Narcissistic Compassion”
* Honest Mistakes? The New York Times on "The Failure to Find Iraqi Weapons"
* Urban Race Relations: "Everything Changed" After 9/11?
* Forbidden Connections: Class, Cowardice, and War
* The "Repair" of "Broken Societies" Begins at Home
* Deep Poverty, Deep Deception: Facts That Matter Beneath The Imperial Helicopters