Face to face with the ‘vile maxim’

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Several years ago, by chance I found myself sitting at the same table with a veteran development contractor from the Northeast Avalon. It was early morning at a St. John’s mall where myself and a co-worker had gone for breakfast.

After the usual good morning greetings, the conversation began. “How’s everything?” I asked. “Good,” he replied, “very good.”

He spoke with enthusiasm of his business dealings and on the bidding of expensive contracts, a $400,000 bid here, a $250,000 bid there, a $100,000 somewhere else, and so on. He emphasized the importance of land acquisition and development and the benefits it could provide to the community. Curious of this individual’s particular view of the world, I posed a simple question. “What about the intrinsic value of the land,” I asked, “that is, the value of the land in and of itself?”

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“Well,” I said, “just look around, look at our environment — the forest and meadows, the lakes and ponds and the myriad of life it supports, including our own. It took thousands of years since the last ice age for all of this to come about. Isn’t it this natural kind of development which gives the land its true value?” 

He paused briefly. “Where did you come from my son?” he asked. “Land has no value as it is! What good is it unless it can be developed?”


Giving land value

“Let me explain,” he said. “In order for land to have value, it must first be cleared. Once cleared, something of value can then be placed upon it — some kind of building or structure. Once this is accomplished it can be assessed, once assessed, it can be taxed, once taxed, it then has value. There is no other way. This is the way it is and rightly so!”

Of course, it would be easy to simply dismiss the developer’s view of the world as the musings of a narrow-minded capitalist — one man’s opinion, so to speak. But is it? 

With the direction in which the world now seems certainly headed, with its environmental degradation and resulting global warming, who among us would deny that this particularly capitalistic view of the world has come to represent one of the dominant features of our economic and political systems?

Addressing this phenomenon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Christopher Hedges reminds us that unchained or “unfettered capitalism” will, in its relentless pursuit of profits, seek to commodify everything within its reach. This includes the natural world, human beings and biological life itself.

Everything will have a price tag attached to it and be bought and sold in the marketplace according to its assigned value. It is this “commodification” combined with private ownership, “privatization,” which now constitutes one of the primary driving forces behind corporate capitalism with its “vile maxim.”


Profit comes first

First coined by the 16th-century Scottish economist Adam Smith in describing the human misery wrought by the insatiable greed of English merchants, the vile maxim is a term now used to describe corporate capitalism’s cold and calculated agenda of  maximizing profit regardless of the social and economic impact it has on others.

Add to this an unprecedented modern-day corporate assault on a complex and fragile global ecosystem, and catastrophe is unavoidable.

There are plenty of examples: the massive out-sourcing of North American jobs to underpaid Third World sweatshops, the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2010 oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are just a few.

Interestingly enough, this highly destructive corporate agenda, this “vile maxim” has now become a worldwide phenomenon known simply as “globalization.”

Globalization is, unfortunately, being pursued quite vigorously under the guise of various so-called free trade agreements, all in order to satisfy the interests of a relatively small, closely linked concentration of wealthy powerful conglomerates and financial institutions within the corporate business world.  As can be expected, these corporations work in close association with the governments they control through massive political contributions, intense lobbying and their mass media ownership and manipulation.

We know them simply as the “one per cent,” although, in reality their actual numbers are but a fraction of this percentage.

It is, for example, the sophistication, secrecy and exploitation employed by this group which we see played out before us today in the form of the hugely expensive, socially parasitic and environmentally destructive Muskrat Falls project, a perfect example of the vile maxim in action.

Indeed, few are immune from the one per cent and those who serve their interests.

Even the hills in the small town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s are alive with the sound of giant jackhammers signalling their presence.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for this, so called, development.

Outside of the obvious environmental impact and skyrocketing real estate prices, there exists, however, some costs which cannot be measured in dollars and cents and often remain hidden.

One particularly striking example which comes to mind occurred a few years back at Round Pond, near Neary’s Pond in Portugal Cove, when an individual, whom, having grown up in the area, returned from Alberta for a family visit.

Anxious to show his 12-year-old son the beauty of the surrounding countryside, the pair soon set off down an age-old path to a family member’s cabin near the pond.  Upon returning, they were suddenly approached by two men, one of whom was restraining a large German shepherd dog.

The animal barked incessantly, baring its teeth, while lunging at the former resident and his son. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” asked the man with the dog. “This is private property.” Shocked at the turn of events, the former resident simply explained that he was showing his son where he had grown up and that the trail to the pond had provided public access to community residents for countless generation.

“This is where people have come for hundreds of years to go swimming, fishing and berrypicking,” he explained. 

“Well, not anymore,” said the man with the dog. “Not anymore.”

The former resident later recalled the tension during the confrontation as being so intense that he could actually picture himself, had the animal been released, rolling on the ground, having to do battle with the beast in order to protect his young son.

Only later was it discovered that the area in question was stripped to the waterline of its forest and vegetation in order to accommodate three large luxury homes, this, despite municipal regulations stipulating a 40-foot buffer zone for all waterfront development.

The mayor of the day, Norm Collins, blamed the developer while promising future vigilance from council, an example of too little, too late. Today, long fences, steel gates and private property signs adorn these same locations.

One recent conversation with a lifelong resident of the area, now in his 80s, assured me that this whole pond side area has been simply taken over, and is well understood to be off limits to local residents.

Today, as greedy developers strip familiar hillsides and deforest scenic pondside and oceanfront acreage in the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, it remains, more than ever, imperative that the people of this community remain vigilant, never allowing themselves to succumb to the fashion of the day — to remain silent and be simply swallowed up.

Following this same line of resistance, neither should they, nor the people of any community within this province, allow themselves to accept the dictates of our politically misguided province and country, which, through legislation and stealth, actively seek to incorporate us into the greater world itself, a world increasingly imprisoned by the unaccountable tyranny of corporate wealth and privilege.


The corporate state

This is the modern day corporatocracy, where the line between state interests and corporate commercial interests is virtually nonexistent, a system where high-ranking political leaders act as mere shills (servants), for the corporate business elite, their true constituents. 

The Williams and Dunderdale administrations in this province and the Harper government in Ottawa, stand as striking examples of this continuous abuse of power and assault on democracy. As for the future, one can only imagine the totalitarian nightmare of global domination under corporate rule with its vast media ownership, enormous private wealth and “vile maxim.”

In many ways we are already there.

Indeed, to better understand these things, one need only look to the writings of one of  the greatest minds of the modern era — Prof. Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said, and I quote: “If society is based on control by private wealth, it will reflect the values of private wealth — that the only real human property is greed and desire and the maximization of personal gain at the expense of others. Now, a small society based on those values might be ugly, but can survive, but a global society based on that principle is headed for massive destruction.”


Randy Burry writes from

Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.

Organizations: North American, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Geographic location: Portugal Cove, Gulf of Mexico, Round Pond Alberta Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • What a Load
    January 27, 2014 - 12:53

    Why those vile capitalists and their businesses. Imagine where we'd be without their kind. Okay, forget about the jobs their businesses create to employ us. We don't need the taxes raised from those jobs and businesses. And we sure don't need what those taxes paid for like hospitals, schools, roads, and so on. Contractors should be happy to build your house for free. And the farmer and fisherman would gladly go broke to feed you. Yeah, that's the better way. I wonder why nobody else jumps on this bandwagon.

  • Judy Gibson
    January 26, 2014 - 13:45

    Mr. Randy Burry's letter concerning developers and greedy corporations taking over land for 'development' and ignoring the intrinsic worth of unspoiled nature sums it all up...and every word he says is true. I have written on this subject but haven't his eloquence. Developers control our Council in St. John's, and have for three or four terms...the last Mayor to stand up to them was John Murphy. He was a businessman but not a greedy one. I have hopes that more councillors like our former deputy mayor, Shannie Duff, and Jonathan Galgay, will go into local politics and begin to stem the tide of greed that has hit our shores like a tsunami. Good luck to beautiful Portugal Cove and all the other small towns around the province, and don't put out the welcome mat for investors who are not, really, going to improve your lives, give you sustainable jobs, or leave you with views that you can enjoy with the future generations of your families. Oh yes...I had a call the other morning and when I asked the caller why he was phoning so early he said angrily, with a strong accent, "Don't tell me it's too early to call!" so I hung up. I phoned *69 but of course the call was from a call centre. He's one of the people under acute pressure to feed his family in another country (I recognized the country from his accent) and I felt sorry for him. But I feel sorrier for Newfoundlanders being shoved out of their beautiful spots by 'entrepreneurs' of many nations. Sincerely, Judy Gibson

  • Money Maddness
    January 26, 2014 - 11:28

    At MUN the most loud, obnoxious and clueless people you meet are, nine times out of ten, business majors. When ones sole interest is money, greed, the accumulation of stuff, without any purpose or higher aspirations, it makes other people and nature itself, into obstacles to be destroyed.

    • david
      January 26, 2014 - 12:52

      The university experience provides whatever value you decide. In your case, it appears to be much too expensive.

  • Tony Rockel
    January 26, 2014 - 08:41

    Yes, the Water Street fish merchant mentality is alive and well in the NL business world, and our past and current crop of politicos are evidently just fine with that.

  • Redgrave
    January 25, 2014 - 14:07

    Newfoundland businessmen are notorious for using their own people as slaves. Standing on the back of hard working men and women. In the West (although property has been swallowed up) the average working person is treated as a valued individual, and paid accordingly. My employees are my biggest assett--this attitude comes from the West, and will stay here until I'm dead.

    • david
      January 26, 2014 - 15:30

      Business Boo! Government Yay! Congratualtions. You are now a Newfie PhD.

    • Colin Burke
      January 27, 2014 - 11:25

      Why expect competent workers to be your "biggest asset" and not their own?

  • Mildred
    January 25, 2014 - 09:52

    Exquisitely well written Mr. Burry. Thank you.

  • Corporate Psycho
    January 25, 2014 - 08:08

    Stop Dannyland!