Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Comes Next?

When you read an article about the failure of the global governing class: "The Governing Elite are the Greatest Threat to the World's Middle Class," it makes you think about what the governing elite and the world's middle class are going to do about it.

I am thinking about this in the context of the difference between the world of 1800-1850 and 1850-1900.  The first half of the century in Europe was about the absorption of the middle class into the councils of political power.  The second half was what to do about the new industrial working class.

The middle class wanted to bring its influence to bear on the general rules of society, particularly as they related to trade and subsidies.  The working class wanted "stuff."  All this is unexceptional.

Before the rise of the middle class, states were organized as the patrimonial estates of their rulers, but that did not work for the middle class which wants to work not in an Authority Ranking world of patrons and clients, but in a market world of exchange and commercial wealth creation.  The working class of 1850, on the other hand, was barely subsisting, so whenever the economy went into the tank due to wars or financial crises, then the workers would start starving.

Two kinds of politics arose from the rise of the working class.  The first was a top-down provision of social benefits, giving the working class what they needed in hard times.  The other was a bottom up revolutionary movement of refusal and opposition so the workers could take what they wanted.

Our welfare state today is the precipitate of those years in the second half of the 19th century.  It assumes that people are as helpless now as the working class was then, and that government should organize and provide against the vicissitudes of life.

Obviously, the working class of today is not the struggling working class of 1850, at least, not in the developed countries.  So just as obviously, we should be detecting a disconnect between what ordinary people want and need and what the political system wants to give them.  The political system offers more and more free stuff, and people take it and say "what have you done for me lately?"

The current debt crisis is the end game of the politics that began in the 19th century, the assumption that the way to avoid social unrest was to give the working class stuff.  But eventually you run out of other peoples' money.

The question is: what do the people of the 21st century want?  President Obama is playing the revolutionary politics of the late 19th century, telling the rich and the middle class that they need to cough up to prevent the lower classes from revolting.  Is he right?  Does the failure of the Occupy movement tell us something?  Candidate Romney is going around proposing that we release the private sector to do its job of producing goods and services and creating jobs.

What does the Tea Party mean?  It seems to want a return to common-sense middle-class prudence in government finance.

As soon as the governing elite figures out what the people want, and I would guess that "the people" here means the middle-middle class of families with some colllege education but not a lot, they will be racing to give the people what they want.

What the people want, I suspect, is a society that actually delivers the social services that government presently delivers badly: health care, education, relief of the poor, and they want an economy that doesn't feel like a roller-coaster.

The challenge for conservatives is to persuade the American people that they can have all that without big government.  It probably wouldn't hurt to have all the government provision of social services obviously broken.

And that's why I think that conservatives will come to love the future former-President Obama like a brother.  He seems to have succeeded in breaking everything he touches.

Common-sense people say that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  But when President Obama and his lefty friends have broken everything in sight, well, then it is time for the great American handyman to get to work with his tool belt and his power tools.

Some time in the next ten years it will all become crystal clear, and everyone will say that the leaders of 2012 were idiots not to see it.

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