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The political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy

October 25, 2014

Paul Krugman: Plutocrats Against Democracy

Via Mark Thoma

Plutocrats Against Democracy, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The … political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy … there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy…

This is a fantasy. … All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s… But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe. …

Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy … the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas) …

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.

But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is … Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

Paul Krugman’s article quotes Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, who blurted out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: those who are earning below a certain income defined by Leung Chun-ying would end up with, in his words “that kind of politics and policies.”

Krugman compares this attitude to Mitt Romney’s characterization of the “47 percent” of Americans as “irresponsible” (and who he feared would vote against him), and to the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” whereas the rich are “makers” and  “job creators,” in the branding terms of the Right. Whatever happened to common expressions like “the idle rich”?

It would be an interesting study to discover how many people across the political spectrum really do not believe in democracy (unconsciously or not) and why and to what extent. It is understandable that one might not “believe” because historically societies are quite programmed hierarchically, and democracy has not been logically deduced, remaining essentially a belief system (unless, ahem, my book, Unicycle: The Ethic of Nature’s Balance Revisited with Asymmetric Math and Fiction, the eBook edition, soon!).
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