I just had a thought. We all know that you can’t have a capitalism in which one person owns everything. Capitalism depends upon people selling things to each other. So I’ve always thought this means that inequality can only get so bad — eventually, something has to give. Traditionally, there has been an oscillation between the rich and the rest having power. The rich had power during the Guided Age and they have power now. And the rest had more power in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when the middle class has power everyone does well; when the rich have power, things get really unstable. But I’ll leave that for you to think about for extra credit.
The Reagan presidency is really when things turned around in a big way for the capitalists. In fact, they turned around so well that by the late 1990s, the economy was out of kilter. The middle class just wasn’t able to buy all the crap that the capitalists wanted to sell. The normal thing to do in this case would be to allow incomes to become more equitable. But as we all know, power concedes nothing without a demand. The rich were not going to let go of any of their power, so they had to find a way for the economy to continue on without losing any money.
But even if the rich are not smart, they have enough money to hire smart people. They came up with a great idea. It wasn’t necessary to pay workers more. The rich could just loan the workers money. This was done explicitly as well as implicitly by allowing workers to think that their houses were worth far more than they really were. This had the great byproduct of eventually leading many of those workers to lose even the houses themselves. My but the rich played that well!
The question is what we are going to do now. This gets back into the whole question of secular stagnation. It is possible that a really crummy economy with high levels of unemployment is the new normal. Now if that were all, it might be fine. I mean, as long as the rich were getting their ton of flesh, what politician is going to care? But even with almost all of the recovery going to the people who least need it, this is not a situation they are going to accept. I’m sure people are working on the issue even as you read this. There must be a way to set up a situation where the rich can get ever richer off the backs of the rest without the rest actually benefiting.
I think I have found the solution! And the truth is that I’m amazed that I didn’t think about it before. It’s so simple: slavery. That’s effectively what the financial system has turned most of America into anyway. I’m not suggesting total slavery of course. We would still need a small middle class that would support slavery in terms of enforcement. Think of it as the liberal class as discussed in Chris Hedges’ book, Death of the Liberal Class. But otherwise, it is slavery for all!
And we are already prepared for it. After all, haven’t conservatives been telling us for years that government assistance is worse than slavery? Obamacare is worse than slavery? Social Security is worse than slavery? Do you know what’s not worse than slavery? Slavery! This is simple Aristotelian logic: something as bad as slavery is better than something worse than slavery. A = A! (Note clever “Ayn Rand never understood Aristotle” reference!)
I am aware that some might think most Americans would make rather bad slaves. We might resent being slaves, even though we were already suffering a much worse fate with government programs like the mortgage interest deduction. But that’s what’s so great about slavery. As Edward Baptist explained in The Half Has Never Been Told, the rich can just torture us if we don’t constantly increase productivity — just like they did to slaves in the good ol’ days of the 19th century when America was still free. I don’t know about you, but I am very innovative when I know if I’m not, I’m going to be whipped. And what options would I have anyway? I wouldn’t want to go back to my old state of paying progressive income taxes, which is worse than slavery.
How we will get from our current state of government programs that make our lives worse than slavery and actually being the chattel of the rich, I cannot say. But it does seem the next logical step in the evolution of capitalism. I just hope they don’t make me change my name.