I was at a meeting the other day with a bunch of really rich dudes, and for the first time in my experience in such a venue, the talk moved to politics. Incredibly, the majority were Obama guys, a testament, I think, to the essentially conservative stance that the Democratic candidate has managed to establish in the last few months, particularly on economic issues, where he has been restrained, if not actually taciturn.
One of the senior raptors at the table disagreed, however, and somewhat loudly, too. “If you’re in business and you care about your business,” he said, pounding the table with an invisible shoe, “you have to vote for McCain. You’d be stupid not to.” Nobody likes a public fight over muffins and berries first thing in the morning, so the topic moved to more pleasant matters.
But I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Our economy delivered a surplus by the time Bill Clinton left office in 2001. Today, after eight years of W, the deficit has ballooned, the average income of middle class people has stagnated while the number of billionaires (until recently) has blossomed, and continued, radical deregulation has delivered us into the economic slime pit. And yet a lot of people in business have knees that jerk right when Presidential politics pops up.
Here’s what I think: history shows us that Democrats are probably as good (or bad) for business as Republicans. There is no question, however, that Republicans are way better for rich people. Democrats, on the other hand, sometimes do things that do not directly benefit rich people. At that point, rich people tend to conflate the two questions, which are:
- Who is better for business?
- Who is better for me?
At this point, they come to the conclusion that what is good for THEM is, ipso facto, good for business, transforming the famous statement made by Charles Wilson, the head of General Motors (GM), in 1952, that “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” into the much more personal “What’s good for me is good for business which is good for the country.”
At some times, this might be true. At others, it may be possible that what is good for rich people might not, in fact, be altogether good for the country. Or maybe it is. Don’t rich people need the majority of their fellow-countrymen to be solvent? To have money to invest in their hairbrained securities racket? Don’t rich people feel the negative impact of a collapse in the financial or real estate sectors? Don’t they need a functional populace to which they can trickle down?
Answering such questions for themselves might involve taking the long view, and sometimes coming to decisions that aren’t directly in their self-interest. At this point an image of a camel attempting to fit through the eye of a needle intrudes.