A Master Morality
March 15, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, 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 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 cannot
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
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
- 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 Wal-Mart employee (correction: "associate")
cares about the loss of a thousand dollars. (See my "Flunking
- 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
- 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
Robin-Hoodism" (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 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," and David
Compensation Keeps Rising.")
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 Robin-Hoodism" 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
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
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 increased 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
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.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website The
Crisis Papers Archive