Louis XVI , Before the Revolution
Much was made during the Reagan Administration of the conservative scheme to “starve the beast”. Reagan and his small-government cohorts did their best to realize this conservative goal; with single-minded purpose, they skewed the federal budget into bright, deficit red. Only the Clinton Administration’s fiscal reforms slowed the conservatives’ march to “government reform”.But the stalwart conservatives got a second chance, with Bush II. Not only was the beast to be starved this time, but the national economy was to be sacked by the oligarchs who put Bush in power. By the time the reins of government were turned over to a Democrat once again, the financial pillaging had wreaked such havoc on the national economy — on the world economy — that the strongest possible voice and determination were needed to bring the budget and the economy back into stasis. This determination and strength were lacking.And so we find ourselves, in 2011, with the beast almost in extremis. The U. S. sovereign debt rating has been lowered by Standard and Poor’s and a federal budget panel has been empowered to cut services where possible. All of this would seem to be a conservative’s dream. Taxes are off the table; “entitlements” are on the chopping block.But–as always–one must be careful what one wishes for. The scenario of a starving beast and a shrinking government depends upon the cooperation of a docile middle class. As long as the middle class is employed, buying homes, sending its kids to college and planning for a better future, it is complacent. But today the conservative ideal of a decimated government looms in an economy with a ravaged job market, a bleeding housing stock, and a crushing student loan burden.The conservative scheme to starve the beast and shrink the government might have been pulled off in another time, in a universe where people didn’t want to own homes, raise children and realize dreams. In the actual universe, the universe in which we find ourselves, however, a starving beast may in the end consume the keeper who fails to feed it: those very conservatives who have plotted for its demise.It is the startled look on Eric Cantor’s face which is most revealing: you can see it when he resentfully reproaches the protestors in Zuccotti Park. Occupy Wall Street was not part of his plan. Cantor is surely wondering, what happened to the complacency of the middle class?The complacency disappeared, Eric, when the middle dropped out of the class.As always, history tells the tale. A summary of the causes for the French Revolution outlines almost exactly the current progression of events. The French monarchy squandered national treasure on war. Taxes to pay the war debt weighed most heavily on the lower classes — because the clergy and aristocracy enjoyed generous tax exemptions. Though the government was out of money, the clergy and aristocracy resisted increased levies that would have eased the crisis. And so, beleaguered and vastly more numerous than the privileged, the merchant and the lower classes revolted.Admittedly, Occupy Wall Street is not a revolution — not yet. But if the right-wing politicians in the U.S. get their way, it will be. There is a disturbing effort afoot to reduce voter registration and voter participation. Those without a driver’s license, for example, will not be able to meet the new and more rigid voter identification requirements in many states. This tomfoolery at the ballot box will in the end be self-defeating: the franchise is an escape valve. As long as people feel they have a voice and a chance to change what is unjust, then they will vote in elections and not between them–with civil unrest.So far, Occupy Wall Street is a sort of canary in the coal mine. It is the first, benign inkling of popular discontent. There is much discussion today, particularly in conservative circles, about “entitlements”; the term generally is understood to refer to those government programs which offer a measure of security and comfort to the middle class. Perhaps it is time that conservatives talk about that other entitlement: the belief by the moneyed class that it has a right to a lion’s share of the national wealth. Perhaps it is time the 1% read a little history; the French nobility also had an unassailable sense of entitlement. And look where that got them.
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia“Starve the Beast“: Forbes Magazine
Tsar Nicholas II: