Paul Krugman wrote an interesting column today in which he noted the correlation between extremes in income inequality with poor economic performance, and the dismal track record of far right wing economic practice delivering the goods it promises. When income inequality becomes too great, and what too great is is debatable, governments tend toward plutocracy where the very rich are able to “purchase” policies that protect their accumulated wealth while opening up small windows to increased wealth through which only they, and a few others, can pass.
Looking at the current American scene from a distance, as Krugman is able to do, it looks like a pretty good description of what is going on. But looking at the same scene from the inside, down at the middle and lower levels, it looks different. The so called Tea Party movement, aided and abetted by more ordinary conservatives, are not only enthusiastic supporters of policies favorable to the plutocracy, they often want to go farther. Curiously, none of them are members of the plutocratic class, nor are they ever likely to be. Moreover, many are in that indebted middle class group that is always teetering on the verge of personal economic disaster. Yet they are enthusiastic about policies destined to work against their own best interests. Why is that?
I suspect that fear has something to do with it. Fear that the nation might be in as bad a shape as they are. They know how close to edge they live day to day, and believe that the nation is nothing more than a typical domestic household writ large, very large. They believe, without examination, that we have to go begging hat in hand for loans from the Chinese. They believe that petroleum products produced domestically are consumed domestically, and that, if we really tried, we could produce all that we need. They are certain that certain other nations want to conquer us, making us subjects of an alien empire. They are, to be truthful, suspicious of a president who is not a white male. In my part of the country, they are Republicans because they are Republicans, and whatever the party is selling must be good, as opposed to tax and spend big government Democrats.
I don’t think the plutocrats get together to giggle at their good fortune, finding their best allies among those whom they are grinding underfoot. They don’t do that because they don’t think about it at all. Nor do they give much thought to the destructiveness of their favorite policies that, in the end, will erode their own domestic wealth producing opportunities. That’s because they are both short sighted and not economic citizens of this country anyway. They are global citizens quite certain that if a market dries up in one place, there will be another lucrative, amenable one not far off. The well being of the commonwealth is unimportant because they have little regard for the idea of commonwealth at all. What is important is the viability of markets in which they can make a killing over the short term.
It will be interesting to see how all of this works out.