Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bannon, the Tea Party, and the Big Misunderstanding

From an interesting summary of Steve Bannon's thought:
Mr. Bannon’s views reflect a transformation of conservatism over the past decade or so. You can trace this transformation in the films he has made. His 2004 documentary, “In the Face of Evil,” is an orthodox tribute to the Republican Party hero Ronald Reagan. But “Generation Zero,” half a decade later, is a strange hybrid. The financial crash has intervened. Mr. Bannon’s film features predictable interviews with think-tank supply siders and free marketers fretting about big government. But new, less orthodox voices creep in, too, from the protectionist newscaster Lou Dobbs to the investment manager Barry Ritholtz. They question whether the free market is altogether free. Mr. Ritholtz says that the outcome of the financial crisis has been “socialism for the wealthy but capitalism for everybody else.”

By 2014, Mr. Bannon’s own ideology had become centered on this distrust. He was saying such things about capitalism himself. “Think about it,” he said in a talk hosted by the Institute for Human Dignity. “Not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis.” He warned against “the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism,” by which he meant “a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people.” Capitalism, he said, ought to rest on a “Judeo-Christian” foundation.
I read lots of stuff like this when the news was all about the Tea Party. People were protesting, as they saw it,  both big government and big capitalism.

But what was their solution? Reaganism. Cut taxes, reduce regulation, or as Bannon recently put it, "Dismantle the administrative state." This, I think, is based on a misunderstanding of how the economy works. Many people seem to think that Wall Street bankers and the like only make billions because of "crony capitalism," so that attacking the government will attack the whole elite and its dominance of the country. I think that is simply wrong. Sure, some companies depend on their access to government aid, but not all. We had all sorts of inequality and plenty of very rich men in the 1890s, when the government was tiny by our standards. Tea Party people seem to want a world more like the 1950s, when the top income tax rate was 70-90%. So the way to bring down the elite is to raise taxes, not cut them, and also to empower unions.

I just don't understand the logic of hating the elite and then trying to bring them under control by cutting their taxes. To me, the only way to limit the immorality of capitalism is through the power of the state. The only way to achieve equality is by expanding the government, not cutting it. Maybe you hate the government so much that you can't see going that way. But if so, you have to resign yourself to an economy dominated by big business and billionaires.

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