October 10, 2012

The poor don't vote themselves welfare, just the middle class and rich

The so-called “Tytler Calumny” is the claim by the rich, and conservatives of various stripes, that a democracy will cease being a democracy when it becomes a social democracy of some sort and that the poor then start voting themselves welfare benefits.

My friend Leo Lincourt claims that blogger David Brin has, in this post, if not demolished this, at least severely damaged it. And, I beg to differ, at least in a tangent, if not a degree.

I’ll agree that Brin has refuted the alleged historical background of the quote:
First off, although named for a 19th Century Englishman Alexander Tytler, there is no actual evidence that Tytler actually said it! This aphorism is also often attributed falsely to historian Arnold Toynbee or Lord Thomas Macauley, or even Alexis de Tocqueville, although recent scholarship appears to follow a trail leading to a 1943 speech by one Henning Webb Prentis, Jr., President of the Armstrong Cork Company.
But, that’s not the big deal. The big deal is that the sentiment runs rampant in today’s conservative America.

You see, beyond the poor of all races and ethnicities hitting the polls at lower rates than the middle class or the rich, they don’t have the numbers that other socioeconomic groups do.

Or, I should say, socioeconomic group, in the singular. Almost everybody in America wants to identify as “middle class.”

And, from not wanting Medicare benefits adjusted (and it, unlike Social Security, does have issues financially) through wanting more college age to their kids, and on to wanting that mortgage deduction tax break, the middle class is ready to vote itself plenty of “benefits.”

And, so, it’s not the “sad cynicism of someone who considers himself above the hoi polloi,” contra Brin. It’s the sadder hard-heartedness of people who consider themselves above the poor while being hypocritical about burying their own faces in the hog trough.

Therefore, Brin would be wrong here, too:
In sharp contrast -- and reiterating because it bears repeating -- middle class folk understand debt, better than anybody.  They walk its minefields every single day.
That may be true of private debt, but … when survey after survey shows middle-class America vastly underestimating the amount spent on middle-class entitlements, while vastly overestimating that spent on “welfare” and on foreign aid (seen as “Third World welfare”), while perhaps also underestimating defense spending, and being clueless about middle-class tax breaks, it’s simply not true about middle-class understanding of government budgets and deficits.

So, this later part of that same paragraph is also wrong:
Railing against government, then suckling at its teat.  The middle class -- the citizens who make democracy work -- don't have that luxury.  That delusion.
Among conservatives, at least, the middle class engage in that same delusion. And, yes, while to a lesser degree than the rich, they’re sucking at teats, too.

Now, the rich don’t have the numbers of the middle class. Instead, the rich, and richer corporations, have the money to buy the muscle of lobbying and the muscle of campaign contributions. In exchange, the rich get plenty of “benefits.”

So, Brin may have refuted that Alexander Tytler wrote this. Did he refute the idea? No. Because he fell into the rich/conservatives trap of assuming it ultimately applies to the poor.

Beyond that, technically, and more than technically, we don’t have a democracy, we have a republic. So comparing the US to ancient Athens is weak at best and fatuous at worst.

Beyond that, like another republic, Rome in its later days, under the trappings of republicanism we have more and more oligarchy. Brin, if he’s as progressive as he tries to appear, knows that, or should.

He also stereotypes Bill Clinton as some white knight standing against corporate raiders. This is the same Bill Clinton who, with his minions such as Larry Summers, pushed for repeal of Glass-Steagall. Puhleeze.

Therefore, it’s NOT cynical to hold that a modern democracy without adequate economic regulations and checks, will run the risk of decay.

Specific to this, in the case of the rich, is my argument to end the charitable tax deduction.

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