"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day." Luke 16:19
According to Karl Marx, class conflict is the engine that drives history forward. That is why I am seriously considering casting my vote for Mitt Romney. We need more class warfare in this country, and Romney may be just the person to give it to us.
Here is how Marx said class conflict works: Those at the top want to make and keep more money. Their self-interest creates downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on productivity. Basically, we all work harder and make less. (Sound familiar?) People begin to lose hope of ever "making it," and people without hope are a danger to the wealthy. Like cornered animals, with nothing to lose, they fight back. They bite the hands that feed them because they believe they deserve more than the scraps that fall from the master's table.
We have lived with the economics of scraps since the Reagan administration. The idea is called "supply side" (also known as "trickle down") economics. This theory states that if we give the rich more money, they will create more jobs, and we will all prosper. But the facts contradict the theory. For the past thirty years, real wages have stagnated while costs for health care and education have skyrocketed. Reagan's policies of reduced taxation and deregulation were largely continued right up until 2008, when our collective faith in this doctrine nearly drove our economy over a cliff. Instead, we all became Keynesians. Loaning nearly a trillion dollars to the financial sector, and giving another trillion to private industry and public works, saved us from another Great Depression.
This is what happens when the rich become too rich. James Livingston recently showed that, historically, excess capital leads to market speculation, which leads to bubbles, which leads to crashes. It is predictable. But try telling that to Mitt Romney's base, which seems not to consider that we may have more to fear from big business than big government.
Which brings me back to Marx. I am not a Marxist. I think he was right about some things (gasp!) and wrong about others. For what it is worth, I find no more reason to believe in his unsubstantiated myth of a communist utopia (which has never existed) than to believe in the libertarian yarn about the perfections of a self-regulating market (which has also never existed). One thing Marx seemed to get right is that people only fight back in numbers when they have no other choice. Thus during the Great Depression, though many people did continue to adhere to the principles of laissez faire capitalism, the residents of the nation's "Hoovervilles" knew whom the enemy was. "Big government" did not crash the market, lay them off, and repossess their homes. The victims of the Great Depression gave Franklin D. Roosevelt the political capital he needed to begin to regulate the financial industry, guarantee workers' rights, and provide welfare assistance to those who had been flattened by Adam Smith's invisible hand.
Banks and big business have gotten savvier since the Great Depression. Fox News did not exist in 1929. Today it is much easier to convince people to vote against their own interests.
The only way I can make sense of the past four years is to contemplate how much we think in ideologies and unquestioned talking points. Once we commit ourselves to an ideology, it is very hard to let it go. The precipice upon which we stood in 2008 was clear evidence that the economics of scraps could not lead us to prosperity. But psychologists say that when people are confronted with facts that challenge their beliefs, they tend to minimize or ignore those facts. It is a kind of protective reflex that is hardwired into human DNA. (Naturally, I am a rare exception to this behavior.) Often, only a major crisis can make us abandon one set of beliefs and take up another. So maybe the only way to move past the economics of scraps is to make a full return to it, letting it lead us back to the precipice of 2008, and to step off into a new Great Depression.
Maybe I am being too dramatic. I do not want to make the same kinds of asinine claims about Romney that Tea Party protesters make about Obama. On the other hand, there is widespread agreement that our economy is on shaky ground; we are only a few bad choices away from total disaster. So in my very cynical moments, I become a bit more Marxist, and I think that maybe our problem is that we are not desperate enough.
Of course, I talk a big game, but I have a family. I do not want to join the ranks of the desperate. I have no desire to lose my child to pneumonia because there are no doctors near my tent in "Romneyville" (many Americans already live in tent cities). For the first time in my life, I am an "undecided voter," but indecision is easier when you live in a decidedly red state. My secret ballot will be little more than a private statement of my personal convictions (proving yet again why the electoral college makes perfect sense). If I lived in someplace like Ohio, I probably would vote for Obama out of fear for the well-being of my family. But even if Obama wins, that fear will not go away, because unless enough of my fellow Americans wake up and see the economics of scraps for the plutocratic farce that it is, we will only be putting off the inevitable.