Grover Norquist infamously said he wanted to shrink the size of government till it could be drowned in a bathtub. That is, remember, the American government, the revolutionary democratic republic set up by George Washinton, Thomas Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and company. Not an enemy government, but the government that protects and serves the interests of a free, democratic people.
In 2001, George W. Bush faithfully carried out the first phase of that war on American democracy: following the extremist ideology which holds that all taxation is tyrannical theft —the American revolutionaries resisted taxation without representation, not taxation itself—, Bush looted the treasury and gave a projeced $1.7 trillion surplus to the riches of the rich.
The result of this was the demand for more money. In 2003, the cuts were expanded, and the federal government was plunged into a long-term debt crisis the likes of which it had never seen. With no surplus in good times, the government was then fiscally unprepared for the desperate needs of hard times, when the entire banking sector, and the countries biggest industrial corporations, were suddenly at risk of total collapse.
The Republican solution? Once again, to give unprecedented sums of taxpayer wealth to the richest of the rich. Between his tax cuts, his unfunded wars and the TARP bailout, George W. Bush oversaw the single most massive deliberate transfer of wealth in the history of humanity. And every time, it was free money for those who don’t need it.
Nevermind that this runs totally contrary to the Darwinian market theory the Republicans constantly profess to uphold: that private business is best able to fend for itself, more efficient than government, and knows better what to do with money. If there is a way to get hundreds of billions of dollars in free taxpayer money, we’ll take that too.
The hypocrisy is obvious, and shabby and should be recognized. But what is more important is the manner in which this whole transfer of wealth derailed the US economy. If we are honest, we can stop expressing surprise about the Great Recession, stop pretending the jobs recovery has been slower than expected, and stop pretending any of this has to do with Barack Obama.
The policies George W. Bush enacted were designed to undermine the American economy. Not designed with the explicit intent of ruining the American economy, but yes with the explicit intent of undermining the fundamental role reserved for the middle class, as the beating heart of our economy. And so, by extension, the economy had to come crashing down.
When the “supply side” of the economic equation —because this view of supply and demand is a nostalgic way to get back into the us vs. them feudal way of thinking so beloved by certain segments of the antidemocratic movement— is given money for nothing, history has consistently shown they will give nothing in return.
Why would they spend their money creating jobs for ordinary people, risking their holdings in real-world investments, when doing so is not a condition of getting the money and they can invest in wealth-to-wealth investment schemes? The pervasive financial deregulation that took place between 1998 and 2008, provided this opportunity: give your money to bankers who will invest in their own banking “instruments”, which will instantly inflate your wealth, so you can tell other bankers to give you more money.
With that formula firmly in place, it was possible to turn the entire financial system into a giant gambling den, in which investors were no longer looking at whether their investments were secure because they were creating real market value through real enterprises actually providing some good or service, and requiring human beings to work, and to be well paid for it.
Now, you could “make a market” unique to one single financial product, and that product could be a bundle of mortgages that will never appreciate in real value beyond a certain number, no matter how many times they are resold. No jobs were being created, unless the grand illusion that this was not fiction were to hold and the mysterious flow of unfounded capital were to new mega-enterprises, and no one notice.
But of course, it was more convenient to keep that kind of unfounded capital swirling around in a vortex of unfounded capital generating systems, also known as complex “financial instruments” based on “derivatives”, or investment products based oh other investment products, where the relationship in pricing need not make sense if subjected to common arithmetic.
More convenient, because in that universe, it was more difficult to show the house of cards for a house of cards. So the house of cards incentivized, indeed required, a shift away from investments that improve the real quality of the economic landscape, away from the generation of good, stable jobs that pay well, and better and better over time, and allow the middle class to accumulate wealth.
The middle class accumulating wealth was anathema to the engineers of the Bush-era ultra-Reaganomics —an upgraded, scorched-earth rendition of what George W.’s father called “voodoo economics—, because an expanding middle class would necessarily accumulate wealth and power that was supposed to go only to specific segments of the so-called supply side.
Between 2001 and 2008, median household incomes fell by $2,000, across the United States. That means Bush’s pro-wealth policies left most people significantly worse off. Tis was visible throughout his presidency, and led directly to the collapse of the housing boom, of consumer spending, and to the unprecedented rash of bankruptcies we have seen since late 2007.
And that has come with the Republicans’ careful re-engineering of bankruptcy law, which made it harder for individuals to escape deep, impossible-to-pay debt, and easier for corporations to do so. This could almost be viewed as a prudent intervention in economic policy, designed to make sure the financial system would not totally unravel in the coming, and foreseeable maelstrom of fiscal decay.
So Grover Norquist proposed radical tax cuts to put an end to the American revolution, and George W. Bush carried out the assault. And they did so by calling their actions patriotic, just as any extremist destroys the human aspirations of a revolution if given the chance—Napoleon, Mao, Castro, to name a few.
In 2010, the Republicans did what they’ve done so well since the birth of voodoo economics—they used economic hardship spawned by their own policies to persuade voters to turn on the Democrats. Blaming Obama and Pelosi for a protracted process of recovery —which in fact was moving along better than could be expected, considering the basic supports for economic prosperity had been demolished in the preceding 8 years and the crisis— and took control of the House, pledging to continue their dismantling of the American revolutionary system.
It’s important to take that view of things because the vibrant middle class is. An outgrowth of the logic of the American revolution, which dictated that the people should be more important than the powerful and real human liberty should be more important than the whims of the superrich. The Norquist-Bush assault on all things government is an assault on the principle that the government is really of the people, by the people and for the people.
The Norquist-Bush axis of nakedly ideological capitalism holds that government is for the supply side, which they define according to feudal prejudice: only the top 1% is really fit to lead, and so they must provide the levers of economic growth and prosperity, and they while benefit from them more than anyone else. Any schoolchild studying basic arithmetic can see that over time, that will concentrate wealth and undermine democracy, but they hold to the lie anyway.
In fact, among the first responses to the resulting shortfall in government revenues is the aggressive, even depraved, slashing of funds for public education. Why, after all, should children of the non-wealthy be educated if they cannot drive economic growth and prosperity? Again, the common logic is that of feudalism and aristocracy, not of democracy.
Now, good American patriots, who have sacrificed for their country and who believe firmly in their own virtue and sanctity, but who nevertheless support this economic wrecking machine, will tell you they have no intention of destroying American democracy, t hat they love it and are shocked by what has taken place. And that is probably true.
But one doesn’t have to be plotting the destruction of a democratic system rooted in a vibrant middle class and the right to universal education to participate in it. One only has to side with the logic of feudalism over the logic of democracy. One only has to view the aristocrat as more worthy and disparage the common folk who aspire to take on a share of his power.
Now, enter Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan is the budget-cutting zealot who is perfectly suited for the slash education funding segment of the process. He views “bloated” education budgets, Social Security and Medicare as evil socialist schemes that will corrupt and ultimately destroy purely capitalist democracy.
His policy proposals suggest he is one of two things: either a shockingly corrupt rainmaker for megaconglomerates, willing to sell out his country to enrich billionaires and multinationals, or a conservative confused by the logic of his own economic philosophy, who believes that by taking money away from the middle class, you can make the middle class stronger.
He now proposes drastic, even inhuman cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, public education, and all of the levers of government at give ordinary people a chance at some dignity in our intensely competitive society. And if we are charitable, we can say he does so because he misunderstands the nature of our system: it’s capitalism in service of democracy, not laissez-faire non-government in service of capitalist wealth hoarders.
Paul Ryan may not understand his role in this process but he clearly playing a defined and crucial role in the dismantling of the American middle class, and so of our democracy. We can rely on him not to see this and not to fight back when his own party proposes changes to the electoral map that take power from the voters and give it to his party or its backers.
But if he were the man of the people, the people’s accountant, as he wants us to believe, he might look into the long-term economic value of public sector investments. He has refused to do so, saying only that cuts are more constructive than investment, in fact promoting the patently absurd “cut-to-grow” policy meant to undermine any serious economist who points out that all of this was foreseeable, and was foreseen and is the direct result of flagrantly irresponsible and undemocratic economic policies.