Biden, Sanders, Trump: Who Best Delivers on the Common Good?

Philip Kotler
4 min readNov 11, 2020

Biden, Sanders and Trump: Who Best Delivers on the Common Good?

Philip Kotler

Every election ends in a call for fresh thinking and planning. Joe Biden has clearly described his views on the nation’s major issues, which are largely centrist. Bernie Sanders has described his views, which are largely progressive. Moreover, Trump’s views are well known and primarily conservative and nationalistic.

Let us add that each of the three political leaders has a strong following. This alone makes it difficult for a new leader, here Joe Biden, to get much done. Whatever stance he takes on a particular issue, two groups will strongly oppose him.

What are the key issues? At least eleven issues will bring about passioned debate regarding the solution.

· Health care

· Coronavirus

· Student debt

· Climate change

· Immigration

· Mass incarceration

· Gun control

· Abortion

· Homelessness

· Money in politics

· Wealth inequality and workers’ rights

A citizen will largely view each issue in terms of how it will affect the person and his/her family and friends. Further, how will it affect one’s income and future prospects and the opinions of others? Much depends on the person’s voting history and party affiliation and personal income.

The situation is different for persons who lead an organization. How would the issue affect my company or my nonprofit organization? Understandably, an organization’s leader has a much larger responsibility than a single citizen. The leader of an organization has to consider what is good for the organization and its many workers and supporters.

The situation is quite different for political leaders. They are members of a political party that defines pretty much what stands they can safely take. Political leaders have the least freedom to choose their own stand on an issue. They will vote the party line or vote within one of the major strands in the party’s makeup.

The reason that we have so few wise political leaders is because so few political leaders ask what is good for society. Political leaders will know what is good for their donors and constituents. They rarely consider what is best for the nation. It is a rare political leader who asks what is best for the common good.

The problem might be that the “common good” is ambiguous. However, it should not be ambiguous. Every major political decision will help make certain people happy and other people unhappy. For example, according to Pew Research, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (64%) say protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress. If a political leader favors supporting climate change, he will make 64% of the voters happy and make many of the other voters unhappy. According to a Hill-Harris poll, 68% of Americans favor mandatory facemask wearing in public indoor spaces. If a political leader favors mandatory facemask wearing in public indoor spaces, he will make 68% of Americans happy and a minority of voters unhappy.

The logic of the common good is straight forward if you have reliable data on how many persons support or oppose a specific decision. Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher who developed “the common good” standard, said that you have to look at the mathematical difference between number of people made happy than unhappy. It does not matter who the people are. All people are equal in a democracy. It is one vote per person. The common good standard is consistent with running a democracy. It considers what makes more voters happy than unhappy. The common good standard implements what the majority of the public wants.

When a particular issue arises in Congress, each political leader needs to make the best case for how their position improves the common good. By Congress deciding which position best improves the common good, Congress creates more happiness in the country than unhappiness.

The common good standard helps explains the successful of social movements in our history. We voted against slavery; we voted for women’s rights; we voted for worker’s rights; we voted for consumer rights; we voted for environmental rights. Our history shows a definite movement to recognize and expand the rights and wellbeing of people.

Returning to Biden, Sanders, and Trump, both Biden and Sanders will largely agree on issues that expand the common good. Sanders will even go further than Biden would. Trump, on the other hand, tends to take positions that favor his interests or that of his followers, not the common good.



Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)