Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Government: Is Plunder All There Is?

As I slowly read through Thomas Penn's book on Britain's Henry VII, Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England, I can't help comparing it to today's America. Henry VII was implacable about nosing out conspiracies and collusions with foreign powers. He was brutal about extracting revenue from the merchants of London and the powerful aristocrats.

Basically, King Henry would sicc his finance guys on some unsuspecting rich guy on some pretext or other and order the rich guy to pay up. Plus, he would force his target du jour to post a bond to guarantee future good behavior, and the bond would be big enough that the target would have to raise money from his friends, so the friends were put at risk too. Sound familiar?

What did Henry VII do with all this money? As far as I can make out he used it to build more palaces and hunting retreats, more gorgeous jewel-encrusted clothing, and more displays of regal magnificence.

Which shows how small-minded the little kingie was.

As you know, my line on government is that it taxes the people to reward its supporters. But Henry only spent money on himself. No wonder the Brits couldn't wait for the guy to die.

There is not a whisper in Winter King about economic growth. All Henry thinks about is extraction: loot and plunder. But there was one thing in his favor. He didn't go to war. Sure, he played international power politics with the Frenchies and the Castilians and the Hapsburgs, and was always trying to line up a nice dynastic marriage for himself. But he couldn't bring himself to throw the dice and go to war; he wanted to spend all that lovely revenue on himself.

Fast forward to today. If you listen to our Democratic friends they are talking about nothing except lovely loot and plunder for their supporters: Medicare For All. Free College. Student Debt forgiveness. But they also want to go to war -- on climate change with a Green New Deal. Not a word about growing the economy to create jobs, jobs, jobs.

In my reading, the first evidence of government thinking about the benefit to itself from  economic growth is this statement by a notable just before the Glorious Revolution that I read in 1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steven Pincus. Observing the early effect of manufacturing in England, Carew Reynell wrote in 1685:
Though we are a nation already pretty substantial... yet it is easy for us to be ten times richer.
Imagine you are a politician and have the strategic vision to see what "ten times richer" means to you in respect of tax revenues and rewarding your supporters and strutting your stuff on the world stage. You would think that the thoroughly modern Millies of Big Government would be all over the economic growth gambit because of the glorious potential to increase the pot of loot and plunder. But in fact they don't. They just talk about new spending programs and increasing taxes on the rich; they don't talk about making the pot bigger.

Is this a problem with today's voters? It is clear that there is a major divide between the political parties in America. Obviously President Trump with his Make America Great Again slogan is playing the Reynell notion, that with economic growth we can all be richer. The Democrats are playing the Winter King dirge of Henry VII: they are going to extract revenues from their hated enemies in the white supremacist and toxic masculinity sector and then spend all the lovely loot on a war on climate change, plus free health care and college for all.

OK. You already saw what was coming. How does this play out with our reductive Three Peoples theory? Obviously the People of the Subordinate Self are interested in whatever loot gets tossed their way: Yay! free health care! Obviously the People of the Responsible Self respond to Make America Great Again; they just want to go to work, obey the law and save some money for a rainy day.

What about our pals, the People of the Creative Self? Obviously, they want something on which to exercise their creative talents. What better than working on the science and the policy analysis and the activism and the generalship of the climate wars?

So what the 2020 election will lay out for us is where the American people stand on all this. Do they want to get a share of the loot and plunder? Do they want to participate in the growth and the jobs, jobs, jobs?  Or do they look forward to looking down from the commanding heights of climate activism and generalship?

Do you know what? I have absolutely no idea how it will turn out. But it is pretty obvious how the two political parties are lining up for the tournament to come.

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