In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, miners believed that precious metals would grow back in exhausted mines if the digs were left fallow long enough. The Republican Party, perhaps because it harbors so many mining interests, seems to have a similar notion about the American middling classes. To judge from their taxation and debt policies, the Conservatives seem to think that they can indefinitely go on extracting a disproportionate share of resources from the ordinary folks without bringing about the permanent impoverishment of the class. Or maybe they figure that the middle-income stratum is as doomed as the Atlantic cod, and they may as well harvest as much of the wasting resource as possible. The bit about the fools rushing in does not apply either to fishermen or vultures.
For all their rhetoric about limited government, moneyed interests need a large and expensive government to protect them from enemies foreign and domestic, to keep the corporations from eating their own kind, and to subsidize the scientific research indispensable to economic growth. They also need the government to provide welfare services to the working poor because absent free clinics and public housing they’d eventually have to pay higher wages out of their own profits so that the proletarians can go on producing proles. The trick is to get all these benefits at a discount instead of bearing the costs of big government through an equitable tax system. Resources must be mined from somewhere, and the only available store of wealth is in the middle—not enough meat on the poor.
You’d think that the folks in the middle would eventually catch wise to all this; but the one tax that has gone up in every year of the Bush administration is the tax on stupidity; and the people in Kansas have yet to notice what a high bracket they’re in. They probably won’t notice for a while longer, either, because there are still family savings to go through to send the kids through college and home equity to borrow against. Above all, the Republican program is protected by the vanity of the small fry, who persist in believing that they are genuinely bourgeois when they are really just working people who have been flattered into thinking they are something grander.
The interesting question to me is what the right does as we pass the peaking point.