By Greg from Vermont – Daily Kos member
Quick intro: Found this Thursday while reading dailykos. It puts today’s situation in perspective with similar historical situations.
I was in France recently and while I travelled I read “Abundance, a novel of Marie Antoinette” by Sena Jeter Naslund, (Harper Perennial, 2007). It was a great read and provided great context for understanding the French revolution. This book was still fresh in my mind when I read “Capitalists, Arise: We Need to Deal With Income Inequality” by Peter Georgescu in the New York Times of August 7, 2015. This OpEd contribution has been widely discussed because of Mr. Georgescu’s opener:
“I’m scared. The billionaire hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones is scared. My friend Ken Langone, a founder of the Home Depot, is scared. So are many other chief executives. Not of Al Qaeda, or the vicious Islamic State or some other evolving radical group from the Middle East, Africa or Asia. We are afraid where income inequality will lead.”
America’s Oligarchs have good reason to be afraid, and history has more than enough examples of what happens when too few take too much at the expense of so many. The advent of the French revolution is one such example. The reign of Louis the 16th began with an overhang of debt inherited from his father and grandfather. The French monarchy had spent enormous sums in an endless cycle of wars against the Hapsburgs in the Netherlands and Spain, as well as the English. At the same time, the First Estate (the Church) and the Second Estate (the Nobility) were largely exempted from taxes, despite controlling most of the nation’s wealth. Unable to change that fact, the King resorted to selling titles to the wealthy few that could afford them, exempting even more wealth from taxation. Having spent huge sums aiding in the American Revolution, the crown simply did not have the resources to respond when a few bad harvests lead to widespread food shortages in 1788-1789. The government of the time was too slow to react, and while the need to raise taxes on the wealthy and to institute reforms was discussed, the Aristocracy proved unwilling to give up their prerogatives. In the end, they ended up giving up their heads.
America today has inherited a large debt caused by an endless cycle of wars in southwest Asia (ed. note: and the middle east) and widespread military commitments around the globe. We spend almost a trillion dollars a year on war preparations, actual war, and on the debt service for previous wars. Meanwhile our wealthiest citizens are able to avoid most of their tax obligations through a complex maze of tax preferences and exemptions. The same can be said for a number of obviously profitable Churches as well. Our modern “nobility” is fighting tooth and claw to avoid changes to the tax system, and still insists this grows the economy despite 30 years of evidence to the contrary. Mr. Georgescu claims to understand this, although his solution includes additional tax preferences to incent business leaders to start raising wages.
According to FeedingAmerica.org, In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. In 2013, 14 percent of households (17.5 million households) were food insecure. In 2013, 6 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security. Climate change in conjunction with agricultural policy is likely to raise the cost of food while reducing the availability of food. Sustained drought exacerbates this situation. At the same time, Republicans in Congress and in various statehouses are doing all they can to dismantle the system of government support intended to mitigate these food stresses. Why? To provide additional tax relief to the few thousand families who already reap most of the benefits of our economy.
It is clear that the Republicans and their sponsors understand the risks underlying what they are doing. Otherwise, why spend so much energy trying to prevent the poor from voting? You may brand me a conspiracy nut, but I think the militarization of American police forces and the widespread surveilance of all American citizens are a hedge against the inevitable backlash against plutocratic policies. So long as government repression of the populace focuses on minorities and foreigners, this strategy may work. Louis the 16th managed to put down the first bread riots by force of arms. But modern America is different in significant ways. We are the most heavily armed civilian population in world history. We now have a generation of Americans who have been raised in a culture that distains civic virtue and whose grievances are constantly stimulated for political effect and profit. These are not side effects, but central projects of the modern Republican Party.
Mr. Georgescu and his friends are right to be afraid. Unless something big changes, the trajectory we are on will lead to “social unrest” as he describes it. When a candidate like Bernie Sanders can fill a 27,000 seat arena to capacity, it starts to be clear that more than a few Americans have had enough and want that change. It is naive of America’s super rich to think they can fully control this process. The harder they try to maintain the status quo, the more likely it is that Americans will be forced to turn to extra-political means. If that happens the battle lines will not be drawn between Liberals and Conservatives, such distinctions being too abstract. It will be the poor versus the rich, and in this case, the numbers favor the poor.