The State of the World: (3) The Businessman in Politics

ROTTERDAM – In lieu of the first American presidential debate, I decided to write this next piece about the businessman and his political career. Mind you, this is not specifically about Donald J. Trump, although it in a way very much is, since he embodies everything that is modern business and simultaneously everything that’s wrong with it.

Trump isn’t the first and shall not be the last businessperson to claim they can run a country ‘like they run their corporation’. After all, isn’t that what many conservative right-wing ideologues say is wrong with government? That it’s not as efficient and productive as many businesses? After all, business is the backbone of every economy. It is the main organisational principle of our economy and for many to suggest that there are purposes for which this business mentality is not suited, is capitalist blasphemy.

Any laissez-fair defender is a devout believer in business. He (let me say ‘he’ since I do believe the majority of these people are men) is ‘pro-business’ and paints anyone who disagrees with him as being ‘anti-wealth’, or being actively against innovation and having a traditionalist mentality (which is ironic coming from an ideology that in many ways wants to roll back on social progress which after all has been bankrolled by business sometimes).

The business of politics is inherently individualist for behind material success must be someone who owns said property. Even though a lot of earthly wealth travels around this globe not from person to person but from personhood to personhood – corporation to corporation, never seeing the light of day. The ownership ties of these select (multinational) corporations, however, find their way to a small number of immensely rich and powerful individuals. Those are the winners of modernity, and the likes of Trump wish to associate themselves with this wealth.

Donald, after all, has a ‘winning mentality’. He said so last night. This winning mentality makes him smart when he evades taxes. The kind of winning Trump is referring to makes other people lose, and that’s exactly why he believes he is a successful businessman: for him to matter, he must not only win but other people have to lose.

And you can get far with that mentality in business. When you buy one phone over the other, one corporation loses and the other one wins and in this micro cosmos we are continuously told we are the referees in this game, which therefore make it ‘fair’ somehow. You decide who is successful for you choose what you consume.

In reality that is of course not the case. Most consumer choice is an illusion and if it isn’t it is a choice that is being tugged at from all sides. Before you even get to the sales counter your preferences have been bought and sold a hundred times over. Anyway, this competition supposedly fosters growth and innovation, a social Darwinist approach to business. Laissez-fair accordingly states that in a transparent and open market business is a meritocracy. You are as rich as you are good at what you do.

But markets are never transparent and they are never open. They run on information asymmetry and stifling the competition out of this commonplace market. And that gives rise to people like Trump, who built their wealth on exactly that: screwing over the people he makes these ‘good deals’ with (read: good for him).

Now let’s apply that to politics, shall we. The business of politics does not have a winning mentality. There is nothing about public affairs that can be ‘won’ in that sense. There’s a reason we consider education or health human rights not human services to be provided to those who deserved it. Civil progress can only take place if there is no winner-takes-all mentality. Doesn’t the American constitution say something about it being ‘for the people’, and does that not include all people, not just those with the winning mentality?

Civilisation is build on some notion that we are more than a band of apes of savage hunters and gatherers roaming the plains. That the rule of the strongest is off-set by the rule of the civil. Yet we seem so awed by the prospect of reintroducing precisely that mentality back into our public realm because we think that our civilisation got fat and lazy and that it needs to get off its ass. The paradox here is that a lot of the people who think this way and are hesitant to put it in these precise terms, are also people to whom this could be applied to personally.

And whether we consider ‘us’ to be winners and those born outside our national borders to be ‘losers’, or whether we consider implicitly or otherwise, those with a different skin colour or different ethnicity to be the losers to our winnings, the idea itself registers to me as being uncivilised in and of itself.

 

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