One aspect of our re-ignited American Civil War is getting a lot of air-play. It is so-called “class war.”
That’s the tag-line ordered up by Roger Ailes. The notion: that any talk of returning to 1990s tax rates – way back when the U.S. was healthy. wealthy, vibrantly entrepreneurial and world-competitive, generating millionaires at the fastest pace in human history – is somehow akin to Robespierre chopping heads in the French Revolution’s reign of terror.
That parallel is actually rather thought-provoking! Indeed, can you hang with me for a few minutes? After setting the stage with some American history, I want to get back to the way things got out of hand during that earlier 1793 class war in France. There are some really interesting aspects I’ll bet you never knew.
But in fact, “class war” has always been with us. If you ever actually sit down to read what people wrote in times past – for example Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations, or even the Bible – then you know struggle and resentment between social castes was the normal state of human affairs for 6000 years, or much longer. Seriously, randomly choose (or “roll-up”) a decade and locale from across the last few millenia! Tell me who oppressed freedom and competitive markets in that time and place. I’ll wait.
I find myself just wallowing in so many of David’s essays. I love the range of his writing, the scope of his history, the richness of his prose.
And the points he makes aren’t anything to ignore. Here he ranged from Adam Smith to FDR to the French Revolution.
All to remind people what happens when oligarchs refuse to pay their fair share. And how revolutionary our own Founding Fathers were with their attempts to level wealth inequalities.
The point is that we never had the kind of violent class war that erupted in France, because our elites were smart enough to avoid it!
We have done this in the past whenever the wealthy class began to overturn our economy. The late 18the-early 19th century. The Gilded Age. The Roaring Twenties.
Will we do so after the Awful Oughts?
It is the context of the positive sum game. (Look it up!) The notion that we can get all the benefits of an enterprise-market system — using the allure of wealth to reward innovators and vigorous competition — while somehow preventing the toxic side effect of wealth… the poison called oligarchy. The same poison that ruined markets and freedom in every culture other than ours, in every other era than ours.
Every time we have worked to reduce the same sort of oligarchy that destroyed France. When we succeeded before, we often entered a time of significant economic growth.
The French Revolution occurred partially because the rich oligarchs refused to pay for the wars France had fought, much like today’s oligarchs refuse to pay for the current 10 year war.
Yet we can fix all of this with a little bit of tweaking – go back to the same tax rates as we had in the 90s, when we had the greatest economic growth of a generation; have everybody pay the same percentage of income for Social Security; re-instate Glass-Steagall.
And I do agree with Brin’s last words:
So don’t fret, Boomers. Your children will rescue America. Not with violent class war… what are we, French? But with the kind of tweaking we saw from Washington and Lincoln and Carnegie and Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. (Three of them Republicans.) The kind that restores that flattened diamond… while continuing the miracle of competitive markets and freedom.