Paul Krugman nails an essential element of our ongoing political debate in his NYT column today “Plutocrats against Democracy.” It is a concise illustration, with some comparative global examples, of one way of understanding U.S. history: a continuous struggle, from the time of religious theocracy and slavery through the Gilded Age — and the Great Depression and New Deal that followed — between the many and the few.
It’s always good when leaders tell the truth, especially if that wasn’t their intention. So we should be grateful to Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, for blurting out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.
So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.
Read the whole thing here. Look no further if you want to understand why economic warrior Charlie Baker is making his case at a local country club in the final key weeks of the campaign.
Greed lies, in large part, at the base of this Republican argument, which feeds on ignorance. Societies with relatively generous social welfare policies, where economic power is comparatively widely distributed and popular interests are well represented, like democracies from western Europe to the developed states of Asia, are in general more prosperous and freer than those in which financial resources are concentrated and the people are weak, like totalitarian countries from Russia, China and North Korea, to the Middle East and Africa. We should move toward the former, as we did more or less from the Depression until the election of a Republican Congress and Ronald Reagan, and away from the latter. Republicans preach the opposite: their goal, as befits conservatives, is to take us back to the past. As Obama observed of Romney two years ago: “Governor, when it comes to your foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.” Charlie Baker has learned how to sugar-coat his message, but subscribes to the same regressive ideology.
Thus the importance of teachers, the essential task of door-to-door canvassers, in the last critical weeks before the election. We should make progress, not go back. Go Coakley!