The Owner-Serf Society
The so-called "ownership society" introduced as a Bush campaign theme in recent weeks remains "sketchy" and vague in the public mind. Soccerdad recently addressed this issue from a historical point of view going back to John Locke. That is an apt perspective.
With all the lies, and war crimes, and incompetence, and even traitorous conduct of the Bush Administration, it's easy to overlook that Bush's so-called "ownership society" actually is code for a radical revision of tax policy that could create a feudal-like system in which corporations and the super-wealthy enjoy "ownership" while the wage earning classes pay for it all.
John Cassidy writes in the current issue of the New Yorker that behind the seemingly bland and empty "ownership society" rhetoric there is in the works an audacious, thoroughly reactionary revision of governmental fiscal policies. Here's a brief excerpt:
Most people already know that Bush’s tax cuts favored the rich, but the size of the giveaway was startling. Based on figures contained in a recent study from the Congressional Budget Office, it now appears that about two-thirds of the benefits went to households in the top fifth of the income distribution, and about one third went to households in the top one-hundredth of the distribution. To put it another way, families earning $1.2 million a year-that is, the richest one per cent in the country-received a tax break of roughly $78,500. Families earning $57,000 a year-middle-income families-got a tax cut of about $1,100.
Even these numbers, though, do not convey the full ambition of the Republicans’ agenda, which potentially involves a historic restructuring of the American system of government. Roughly two-thirds of taxable income is paid to workers in the form of wages and benefits. The other third goes to reward capital, or accumulated savings, in the form of corporate profits, dividends, and interest payments. If Bush’s economic agenda was fully enacted, the vast bulk of these payments wouldn’t be taxed at all, and labor would end up shouldering practically the entire burden of financing the federal government.
In a new book, “Neoconomy: George Bush’s Revolutionary Gamble with America’s Future,” Daniel Altman, a former economics reporter for the Times and The Economist, describes what such a system might look like. “The fortunate and growing minority who managed to receive all their income from stocks, bonds and other securities would pay nothing-not a dime-for America’s cancer research, its international diplomacy, its military deterrent, the maintenance of the interstate highway system, the space program or almost anything else the federal government did. . . . Broadly speaking, that fortunate minority would be free-riders.”
To use Cassidy's phrase, the Bush plan is a radical return "to the Victorian world of rentiers and laborers" or the conditions of abject serfdom that eventually led continental Europe into the chaos of the Revolutions of 1848 and the rise of Socialism.
If, like me, you've found yourself musing bitterly over how much the world map of 2004 looks exactly like the world map of 1904, despite a century of total war and tens of millions wasted lives, consider the possibility that George W. Bush intends to take us backwards even further -- more than two centuries back to the apex of Richelieu's ancien regime.
As Mark Twain is said to have remarked, "history rhymes, it doesn't repeat." Still, if Bush has his way, as with the world at large, we will look 'a lot like France a few years before the revolution.'