In recent essays for Salon I have argued that progressives and mainstream pundits are making a profound mistake by treating Tea Party radicalism as an outburst of irrationality by moronic “low information” yokels, rather than understanding it as a calculated (if not necessarily successful) strategy by the regional elite of the South and its allies in other regions. In an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “The Tea Party and the GOP Crackup,” William Galston presents data that reinforces this conclusion:
When I have described the well-considered, coherent political and economic strategies of the conservative white South, as I have done here, here and here, I am sometimes been accused of being a “conspiracy theorist.” But one need not believe that white-hooded Dragons and Wizards are secretly coordinating the actions of Southern conservative politicians from a bunker underneath Stone Mountain in Georgia to believe that a number of contemporary policies — from race-to-the-bottom economic policies to voter disfranchisement and attempts to decentralize or privatize federal social insurance entitlements — serve the interests of those who promote them, who tend to be white Southern conservatives.
To judge from the commentary inspired by the shutdown, most progressives and centrists, and even many non-Tea Party conservatives, do not understand the radical force that has captured the Republican Party and paralyzed the federal government. Having grown up in what is rapidly becoming a Tea Party heartland–Texas–I think I do understand it. Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right.
The growing influence on the American right of Ayn Rand, the libertarian right’s answer to Scientology’s novelist-philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, is a wonder to behold. When she died in 1982, Alissa Rosenbaum — the original name of the Russian-born novelist — was the leader of a marginal cult, the Objectivists, who had long been cast out of the mainstream American right. But the rise of Tea Party conservatism, fueled by white racial panic and zero-sum distributional conflicts in the Great Recession, has turned this minor, once-forgotten figure into an icon for a new generation of nerds who imagine themselves Nietzschean Ubermenschen oppressed by the totalitarian tyranny of the post office and the Social Security administration.
If you need any further evidence of the stark ideological divide that separates progressives from conservatives, you can find it by contrasting President Barack Obama’s speech on the economy with the response of the House Republicans.
In the Middle Ages, people looked to the Church for certainty. In today’s complex, market-based economies, they look to the field of economics, at least for answers to questions concerning the economy. And unlike some disciplines, which acknowledge that there’s a huge gap between the scholarly knowledge and policy advice, economists have been anything but shy about asserting their authority.
In two previous columns, I argued that left and right alike are confused by a failure to distinguish productive businesses that sell innovative goods and services from “rentier” interests — landlords, lenders, copyright holders and others — which use their natural or artificial monopoly power to extract excessive tolls, fees and other recurrent payments from the rest of society, including productive businesses. The fees or rents extracted by these interests constitute a kind of “private taxation” which — rather than public taxation — is the greatest threat facing America’s productive economy.
In a previous column detailing the true “makers” and “takers” in America, I argued that the greatest threat to American capitalism today comes not from public taxation supporting public programs, but from “private taxation” in the form of excessive private “rents” that subsidize private sector parasites or “rentiers” (like landlords, lenders and providers of health insurance and healthcare). These excessive private taxes or rents are costs on productive enterprise that can be as crippling as excessive public taxation.
You don’t have to be a Tea Party conservative to believe that the economy is threatened when there are too many “takers” and not enough “makers.” The “takers” who threaten the dynamism and fairness of industrial capitalism the most in the 21st century are not the welfare-dependent poor — the villains of Tea Party propaganda — but the rent-extracting, unproductive rich.