Reaganomics: trickling on America since 1980.
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In case you don’t remember it, the Laffer Curve was the pseudoscientific schema on which Reaganomics — once famously derided as “voodoo economics” by George H.W. Bush before he became Reagan’s running mate — was putatively predicated. Entirely without evidence, it charted a sort of bell curve on which a specific level of taxation was held to be optimal, and from it “trickle-down” economics professed to infer that taxes on corporations and their leading executives should be reduced; this would spur investment and economic growth, we were told, and the resulting wealth would percolate down through the economy to enrich us all.
By now, we see that this didn’t happen. Then again, no one with a voice in the matter ever expected it to. The very rich, finding themselves in possession of more money after taxes, did exactly what skeptics said they would: They didn’t invest it in expanding their businesses and hiring, nor did they spend it and return it to circulation through the businesses they patronized. They pocketed it.
When David Stockman confessed that trickle-down theory was really a “Trojan horse” designed to lower tax rates — particularly on the capital gains that constitute much of the income received by the wealthiest class — he told only part of the truth. To be sure, the rich were happy to become still richer; that this has been the real effect of post-Reagan tax policies has long been clear, as chart after graph after infographic has shown us a rapidly widening gap between the top tenth of a percent and the rest of us. And that is bad enough, for it represents a net drain on national wealth that leaves most of the country fighting over economic table scraps while the plutocrats feast from a groaning table of delicacies.
But the real, and far darker, purpose of Reaganomics is clear only to those who examine it with a skeptical gimlet: It is to “frittle” away every function of government that tends to aid the working and middle classes in their negotiations with their far richer employers. “Frittle” is a portmanteau combining “fritter” and “whittle,” and it denotes a strategy by which the friends of the economic aristocracy deliberately waste government funds on elective wars and similar frivolities, expressly for the purpose of “starving the beast.”
What the aristocracy really wants to reassert is not freedom from taxation, although it is a pleasant bonus, but the deference it once commanded from the plebs and the complaisance of officeholders beholden for their positions to its largesse.
That which we on the left see as the slow and occasionally vacillating but fundamentally steady march of social progress toward a more egalitarian and democratic society, the aristocracy would prefer to perceive as a temporary and reversible aberration. Thus, when in the 1960s and ’70s an underclass too long ignored and marginalized allied itself with minorities too long oppressed, won the support of the youth of the mainstream, and began to make heard in Washington its demands for relief and a measure of economic justice, the elite vowed a crushing counterrevolution.
Facing a government suddenly willing to side with labor against management, with residents in polluted towns against the companies that had tainted them, the elite also vowed to shrink that government until it was “small enough to drag it into my bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” This was never, of course, to be a war against the military or law-enforcement or other aspects of government that were of unambiguous aid and profit to industry; the “enemy” was twofold: any social service which, by offering economic relief, would tend to make the working classes less dependent on the goodwill of big business, and any agency that regulated industry and thereby raised the cost of doing business. Thus, today we see a sustained and long-planned assault on Social Security, Medicare and mandated employment benefits, accompanied by first the depletion and co-option and then the outright attempted abolition of such agencies as the EPA and FDA.
We could be wrong, but I think they are. Political naivete, economic ignorance and inordinate trust in authority are on the wane and will not be easily restored, nor will we again defer to the imagined superiority of the aristocrat.