March 26, 2012


Who is Insulting the Middle Class?

A deep irony, underlying our political season, is that the U.S. middle class…the biggest victims of the first decade of this century, are also being slandered relentlessly. The ongoing campaign of propaganda that democracy can’t work and we should turn to oligarchy has many threads. May I take you on a tour of some of the nastiest and most repulsive component memes?

One of the oldest is a nostrum that under a democracy the people will inevitably drain the public treasury by demanding more spending than taxes. The theory is that citizens who get more than they pay for will vote for politicians who promise to increase spending.

This is often called the “Largesse Canard” — an outright fantasy that was first fabricated by Plato, in order to demean the Athenian democracy, and that more recently was expressed in an oft-quoted aphorism, supposedly by Alexander Tytler: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

“Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.”

Among those who have carelessly bandied this smugly cynical assertion has been sci fi author Jerry Pournelle, along with many of his more right wing colleagues. It circulates widely among the dour Rothbardians and Randites who dominate today’s warped version of the libertarian movement….

…and it is a damned lie.

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