Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Vice fund

With Bush re-elected and an overhaul of the tax code shifting the tax burden entirely on to the shoulders of workers expected, I figured I should become a small-time capitalist and should look to derive as much of my income from dividends and interest (destined to be entirely untaxed, if the plutocrats have their way). Why the poor people in the religious states vote against their economic interests is continuing mystery in American politics, but one that foretells coming catastrophe when these people, inpoverished past their breaking point and no longer willing to live on the hatred their beloved demogogues inspire in them, finally feel betrayed by the Repbulican party and look for an instrument even more extreme to express their frustrations (they certainly aren't going to turn to the Democrats) -- this would likely be some kind of reactionary pseudo-religious nationalist party. Were this force to seize control of the world's largest military, we'll all really be in trouble then.

In the mean time, I'm exploring my investment options. According to Marx, the greater the misery the working class lives in, the greater the interest to be had in speculating on the "vices of ruined proletarians (Prostitution, drunkenness, the pawnbroker)." So it seems like the vice fund would be a safe bet. The fund touts its industries as "recession-proof," which accords with Marx's view, as a recession is sure to increase misery. The fund breaks its investments down into alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and weaponry. And the fund's Web site mounts defenses for cynically investing in these industries, spurious arguments that seem to be tongue-in-cheek: "We think it's obvious that through good economy or bad, fears of terrorism, corporate scandal, and even health fears, many people keep smoking. It's not going away. Many of this country's founding fathers were tobacco farmers. People have been smoking for centuries. While cigarette market in the United States may be limited, the worldwide cigarette market is much different." "Did you look at your retirement plan or brokerage account statements in year 2000, 2001, or 2002 and think, "I need a drink"? Apparently a lot of people did. In years 2000 through 2002 the overall stock market was poor, but alcohol stocks as a whole continued to perform." 'So called "Socially Responsible Investors" would claim that you shouldn't own stocks that have anything to do with defense or weapons. That means that all of the Aerospace and Defense Industries are to be avoided. Maybe in a perfect world these industries wouldn't need to exist, but until that perfect world does exist, we want to own these stocks."

There's truth to this, for sure. In fact, the appeal of the Vice fund is the perverse honesty that underlies it. All investment seems like exploitation at some level, so why not embrace it? Bet on human depravity and your fellow human's unhappiness and desperation. Why not stop pretending that you care about anyone other than yourself when you invest in stocks. You are not investing in the human race, you are investing in your own personal future, and to hell with the rest of society. And so what if you have to live in a maximum-security housing oasis in the midst of a poverty-stricken world filled with whorehouses, gambling dens, strip joints, rundown bars, liquor stores, and gun dealers, overrum by cheap weaponry that makes every trip outside life-endangering. You'll have yours, and that's what matters in the zero-sum society.

Of course, this kind of selfishness undergirds most suburban thinking already: hence the SUV, the vehicle that declares a willingness to kill others rather than take a chance of injury yourself. Of course, as they proliferate, everyone becomes less safe, particularly the SUV drivers. Visibility is reduced for everyone, the mass tonnage involved in accidents increases, and the likelihood of rollover becomes omnipresent.

One of the earliest cases for vice-driven capitalism came from Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, which seems especially prescient now. "Private vices, public virtues" was his basic premise, and it's nearly impossible to tell if he was being ironic about it. But his analysis does seem to hold; prosperity is a product of widespread personal misery and/or selfishness.

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