Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Repeating history

Wall Street is doing great. Corporate profits are up. Executive pay is up (and you know how much money THEY make already). General Electric pays no corporate taxes. I pay more in taxes than GE--amazing, isn't it? And taxes overall are the lowest they've been in over 50 years. Just look at Minnesota: the government is shutting down over raising millionaire's taxes.

Nevertheless, the Republicans in Congress would rather see the country default than increase ANY revenue. You'd think the insanity of the GOP would be fomenting outrage. A case can be made that they would rather drive us all over the cliff just to be sure that Obama is not re-elected. Oddly, far from being outraged at the complete political disfunction in DC, no one seems to care.

The Supreme Court of the US has done everything it can to empower corporations, let corporations buy politics, and prevent the Little People (that would be us) from using the courts for protection. Politicians are union-busting with a vengeance, as though firemen, teachers, and nurses are living too high on the hog. Companies like BMW are replacing union workers with low-paid non-union workers in search of the Holy Profit. Poorly paid workers are literally dying on the job. And the GOP is doing everything it can to slash consumer protections and financial regulations. How would you like some E. coli in your sandwich? while reckless Wall Street sends us into another crisis?

Welcome to USA, Inc. Government by the people, for the people, not so much.

But is this the first time this has happened? Several blogs have noticed this piece by Paul Glastris, Playing Chicken with History , which points out numerous examples of the disasters that befall when the rich evade their taxes.
The Han dynasty in China fell in the third century AD after aristocratic families with government connections became increasingly able to shield their ever-larger land holdings from taxation, which helped precipitate the bloody Yellow Turban peasant revolt. …
So we're less the Roman Emperor than the Han Dynasty. There are numerous other examples, too, most of which end poorly for the rich.
This same practice of exempting the wealthy from taxation and selling them government offices while transferring the tax burden onto the poor reached its apogee in ancien regime France and ended with the guillotine.

By contrast, in England during the same period, the nobility and gentry didn’t conspire with the crown to exempt themselves from taxation. Instead, thanks to a number of factors—greater social solidarity, a keener sense of foreign threats, reforms that made the government itself less corrupt, and the principle of taxation only with the consent of Parliament—the wealthy of England willingly accepted higher taxes on themselves.
Britain reached the peak of her Empire at this time, so the increased taxation went to the common good. He concludes,
Higher taxes on the rich won’t stifle America’s economy either. Nor, I think, would most wealthy Americans object to paying more if they truly understood that the fate of the country is on the line. Unfortunately, the GOP may now be too ideologically rigid to see the real interests of its own wealthy constituents. History shows that the rich sometimes make suicidal decisions. The challenge of American democracy right now is to somehow keep ours from doing so.
Alas, I do not see that American Democracy is in any position to meet that challenge. The Tea Party apepars to have left rationality for the rankest ideology and are busy dragging the Republicans with them. Even conservatives like David Brooks and David Frum are sounding the alarm.

As EJ Dionne writes,
[T]he debate is shadowed by worries that if a willful faction does not get what it wants, it might bring the nation to default.

This is, well, crazy. It makes sense only if politicians believe — or have convinced themselves — that they are fighting over matters of principle so profound that any means to defeat their opponents is defensible...

Whether they intend it or not, their name suggests they believe that the current elected government in Washington is as illegitimate as was a distant, unelected monarchy. It implies something fundamentally wrong with taxes themselves or, at the least, that current levels of taxation (the lowest in decades) are dangerously oppressive. And it hints that methods outside the normal political channels are justified in confronting such oppression.
Is there a way out of this? I used to think that people couldn't be so stupid as to buy this crass, cynical ploy but alas, now it appears inevitable. American exceptionalism is dying at the hands of the proudly ignorant and ill-educated, and pure corporate greed.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Spot on, IT. I wish it were not so, but I thank you for serving as the voice crying in the wilderness....

JCF said...

Britain reached the peak of her Empire at this time, so the increased taxation went to the common good.

Um, the Indians (et all colonialized) might not agree.

American exceptionalism is dying

Was the USA ever really "exceptional"? [Besides Yanks being exceptionally likely to think so, perhaps ;-p]

I don't know whether to fear more that the US will default . . . or that, because Obama caves, we don't. :-0

Counterlight said...

Another example you could give is the end of the Venetian Republic. The Venetian nobility surrendered to Napoleon rather than see their mainland estates destroyed by the French army.

I'm feeling despair these days. I'd like to see Obama call their bluff, but I don't think that will happen. I'm even beginning to resign myself to President Bachman and another gratuitous war somewhere.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'm even beginning to resign myself to President Bachman and another gratuitous war somewhere.

Well, Counterlight, I was just going to scold you for even THINKING such a thing...but I just got a notification from WaPo that Obama has offered up Social Security to the Republican knives.

We're doomed.

it's margaret said...

Linking... thank you IT.