Election 2012: Pity the Billionaire
Author Thomas Frank is perhaps best known for his trenchant analysis of how Republicans seem to vote against their own economic self-interest, in his 2004 screed What’s the Matter with Kansas.
This year Frank released another shot of brilliance, Pity the Billionaire, which explores the even more bizarre scenario wherein the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression—the cause of which is widely accepted to have been rapacious bankers run amok after years of deregulation—led not to a re-energized Left, but instead to a resurgence of the radical Right clamoring that government is the problem. In the final pages, Frank spells out what is at stake in the 2012 election:
But the scenario that should concern us most is what will happen when the new, more ideologically concentrated Right gets their hands on the rest of the machinery of government. They are the same old wrecking crew as their predecessors, naturally, but now there is a swaggering, an in your face brazenness to their sabotage. We got a taste of their vision when they reconquered the House of Representatives in 2010—in the name of a nation outraged by economic disaster, remember—and immediately cracked down on the Securities and Exchange Commission, the regulatory agency charged with preventing fraud on Wall Street. They brought the Obama administration’s one big populist innovation—the brand new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—under a sustained artillery barrage, proposing ingenious way to cripple the new body or strip away its funding. And during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, they came close to bringing on the colossal train wreck that they have always said we deserved.
Given a chance actually to run the government of the most complex economy on earth like a small business, they will slam the brakes on spending and level the regulatory state. Dare we even guess at the consequences? At the levels of desperation the nation will hit when they withdraw federal spending from an economy already starving for demand? At the orgy of deceit into which Wall Street will immediately descend?
This, though, is for certain. As the nation clambers down through the sulfurous fumes into the pit called utopia, the thinking of the market-minded will continue to evolve. Before long they will have discovered that certain once-uncontroversial arms of the state must be amputated immediately. One fine day in the near future, it will dawn on them that the FDIC, for example, just delivers bailouts under another name; that the lazy man down the street should no more get his money back when his bank fails than when the housing market fell apart. What are interstate highways and national parks, they will ask, but wasteful subsidies for leeches who ought to be paying their way? What is disaster relief but a power grab by the losers who can’t get themselves out of the path of a hurricane?* And though public schools have been under assault for decades on charges of rampant secularism, the time is not far off when the freeloading by poor kids will be the factor that galls our leaders most.
Social Security, of course, will be one of the first institutions to go on the chopping block, as the essential injustice of protecting the weak dawns on them. Why should society pay for the retirement of someone who hasn’t been responsible and collected Krugerrands? The older generation had a rendezvous with destiny, their hero FDR used to say, and soon it will occur to America’s class war populists that every slow-moving moocher and senior-parasite needs to make a rendezvous—which is to say, that appointment with the human resources guy at the local big-box store.
Every problem that the editorialists fret about today will get worse, of course: inequality, global warming, financial bubbles. But on America will go, chasing a dream that is more vivid than life itself, on into the seething Arcadia of all against all.