Liberally Yours is a weekly column featuring progressive radio host Thom Hartmann, in dialogue with TheDC’s opinion editor J. Arthur Bloom or other conservative and libertarian guests. This week, we’re proud to present an edited excerpt from Thom’s forthcoming book The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America–and What We Can Do to Stop It.
In her writings, which have become foundational for libertarian and modern Republican theology, author Ayn Rand suggested that the only purpose of government should be to promote “freedom” by preventing “oppression by force.” In her mind, having lived through the Russian Revolution, “force” was government goons with guns.
What she neglected to consider was all the “force” inherent in nature.
If you are hungry, there is the “force” of biology. If you’re homeless, you confront the “force” of wind and storms, ice and snow. If you’re sick, you confront the ravages and “force” of disease.
These were the forces that provoked the first governments. The first communities, clans, and tribes. The first nation-states.
It’s easy for libertarian elitists, such as multimillionaire TV talking heads or college kids reading Atlas Shrugged, to talk about how there should be “no government beyond police, the army, and courts.” They all have enough resources that they don’t need to deal with the forces of raw nature. And that explains why billionaires would bankroll libertarian-leaning think tanks that will, when the crash comes with its full force, tell us it was “caused” by “big government.”
However in the real world, humans must confront both nature and other humans. Which is why we create governments, and why we create economies.
But it wasn’t until 1776, when Thomas Jefferson replaced John Locke’s right to “life, liberty, and property” with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” that the idea of a large class of working people having the ability to “pursue happiness” — the middle class — was even seriously considered as a cornerstone obligation of government.
(That was also the first time in history that the word “happiness” had ever appeared in any nation’s formative documents. As Jefferson wrote in 1817 to Dr. John Manners, “The evidence of this natural right, like that of our right to life, liberty, the use of our faculties, the pursuit of happiness is not left to the feeble and sophistical investigations of reason, but is impressed on the sense of every man.”)
As Jefferson realized, with no government “interference” by setting the rules of the game of business and fair taxation, there could be no broad middle class — maybe a sliver of small businesses and artisans, but the vast majority of us would be the working poor under the yoke of elites.
The Economic Royalists know this, which gets to the root of why they set out to destroy government’s involvement in the economy.
After all, in a middle-class economy, they may have to give up some of their power, and some of the higher end of their wealth may even be “redistributed” — horror of horrors — for schools, parks, libraries, and other things that support a healthy middle-class society but are not needed by the rich, who live in a parallel, but separate, world among us.
As Jefferson laid out in an 1816 letter to Samuel Kercheval, a totally “free” market, where corporations reign supreme just like the oppressive governments of old, could transform America “until the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man.”
Although this may come as a sudden realization to many, we’ve really known it all our lives.
In fact, in the six-thousand-year history of the “civilized” world, a middle class emerging in any nation has been such a rarity as to be historically invisible.
The United States has had two great periods of what we today call a middle class. The first was from the 1700s to the mid-1800s, and was fueled by virtually free land for settlers (stolen from the Indians) and free labor (slavery in the South and indentured immigrants in the North).
The result was (as de Tocqueville pointed out) the most well-educated, politically active, middle-class “nonaristocrats” in the world.