We’ve just watched the Senate and the House — aided and abetted by President Obama — pay off financial interests with provisions in the new spending bill that expand the amount of campaign cash wealthy donors can give, and let banks off the hook for gambling with customer (and taxpayer) money.
What happened in Washington over the past several days sounds strikingly familiar to the First Gilded Age more than a century ago, when senators and representatives were owned by Wall Street and big business. Then, as now, those who footed the bill for political campaigns were richly rewarded with favorable laws.
One of the Robber Barons, known for figuring out the consequences of actions before most people:Bill’s guest this week, historian Steve Fraser, says what was different about the first Gilded Age was that people rose in rebellion against the powers that be. Today we do not see “that enormous resistance,” but he concludes, “people are increasingly fed up… their voices are not being heard. And I think that can only go on for so long without there being more and more outbreaks of what used to be called class struggle, class warfare.”
[T]he problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.
And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.
If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.
Ferguson time a thousand. The country will try to ignore any warning signs while getting poorer and angrier, and then one day, when the middle class is buried under parents with looted pensions and devalued houses, sons and daughters who can't go to college or find dignified work, and routine theft of their livelihood by their employers, they will start to fight back.
A lot of people will become very excited at the chance to escape from their humdrum lives. Some will join the fight, where they will be a hazard to everyone else. Some will ignore it except to complain. Some will try to make money off of it. Most will try to desperately preserve what they already have. Only the wealthier of the top 10% will succeed.
Our nation depends on our authoritarian habit of obedience (and our greed) to keep us acquiescent. The robber barons don't really believe the sheep will ever rebel so when they do the rich will grossly overreact. They think the middle class will never fight back because they kill us whenever they feel the need. They forget that this tactic only works to a point. You can kill a bunch of African-American kids, you can kill a bunch of foreigners, you can hand over the treasury to the banks, you can rape and torture, but when the middle class realizes that they are being treated as if they are--you know [leans in, whispers], one of them, then all hell will break loose.