Two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, are traveling together through the Roman countryside on their way to the capital, talking and taking in the mild Italian spring. They see many things as they travel along the Via Apia— great Roman edifices and aqueducts, passing groups of Roman soldiers patrolling the roads, couriers carrying messages to and from distant cities, and rolling expanses of Italian land, fertile and inviting… yet seemingly empty of Romans. Derelict homes dot the landscape, punctuated by the occasional massive mansion surrounded by far less lavish, barracks-style buildings, housing for the slave gangs captured in wars with Spain, Africa and other nations. The slaves mill about the estates, planting and picking, but few Roman citizens are to be found. At most, Tiberius and Gaius glimpse an occasional Roman supervisor, a servant of some senator or patrician who has taken up residence and ownership of the vast Roman countryside. A dark quiet falls upon their chariot ride towards Rome.The middle class has been the backbone of the American Republic, but here too something seems to be going very, very wrong:
When Tiberius and Gaius reach the capital, they find the missing Romans. Hundreds upon hundreds of Romans—landless, purposeless and unemployed. As they make their way through the city, the brothers see their fellow citizens hanging around taverns and bars, drinking and gambling, waiting dejectedly in the government-provided breadlines, or picking fights with Roman soldiers in the streets. The once productive and self-sufficient farmers or workers in small local communities are now displaced and draining the resources and vitality out of the cities and country.
The Financial Times, the day before Christmas, released a fairly stunning analysis of globalization by John Gapper. As Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit says, read the whole thing. In summary, the piece notes that the winners of Globalization are the top 10% of income earners in the West, and the poor in China and India. The loser are the White Western middle and working class, and the sub-Saharan poor.Economists (and libertarians) are quick to point out the benefits of free trade - that the rising tide raises all boats. But as a libertarian who studied economics (among other things), the assumption is always that the costs to the economic losers will be redistributed in some form, so that those boats float upwards on the rising tide as well. That new industries will offer better opportunities to the economic losers of globalization, so that the children of the middle class will remain middle class.
First, the fairly stunning admission of the global transfer of wealth to elites in the West and elsewhere, and to a lesser extent Chinese and Indian peasants at the expense of the White middle and working class.
The pressures of inequality have been building in industrialised societies for two or more decades but the combination of the 2008-09 financial crisis and the inflated fortunes of the elite have reinforced them. The economic democracy of the mid-20th century is giving way to a distribution of wealth more like Edwardian or Victorian times....
“Straightforwardly, it’s about capital and labour,” says Tony Atkinson, centenary professor at the London School of Economics. “We are seeing all sorts of change that have benefited capital. That tends to equalise global wages, which means reducing them in rich countries.”
The tensions are exacerbated by inequality between generations. Postwar baby boomers enjoyed greater prosperity than their parents – steadily rising incomes, strong welfare states and defined benefit pensions.
Those born in the 1970s and 1980s have fewer benefits, face stagnating incomes in mid-career and must borrow more to buy expensive houses.
This makes extraordinary reading. And it pretty well makes a compelling argument for economic protectionism and strong nationalism. That all production of anything that is high-margin should be done inside the nation, at prevailing wages, by people of the nation, not outside it. That fundamentally the elites have failed to look out for anyone but themselves and so are owed nothing. And that nationalism is the only cure for what ails the West.
We're simply not seeing that. And so while the libertarian theory is a shiny pretty one indeed, the cold hard reality of 30 years of theory shows the truth of the old adage: in theory, there's no difference between theory and practice; in practice, this is not true.
Now add in both political parties eager to introduce another 25 Million (nearly a net new 10%) to the citizenship lists, bidding labor costs down even more. I think that most of the reason for the very low regard that the nation holds the government, political parties, and the intellectual class is explained by this one issue. The middle class sees themselves being inexorably squeezed, and the prospects for their children evaporating.
We've see this sort of thing happen before in history, and it gets quite ugly, quite quickly. The difference between the Roman days is that there were not 100 million firearms held by the Roman yeomanry. The next decade will be interesting, as a series of economic shocks (mostly caused by horrible public policy) radicalizes the middle class in a way that is has not been for 150 years. Then the political divisions were drawn along geographic lines; this time it will be across class lines. Then, the northern states outnumbered the southern states by a factor of at least two to one; today, that ration will be reversed as the "Elite" and its lumpen proletariat dependents will be in the distinct minority.
Then, the political division destroyed the Whig party, with a radicalized Republican party coalescing from the debris of the old organization. The Tea Party has already started this with the Republicans of today (the Tea Party is if nothing else the party of the middle class), and we can expect a similar fracturing in the Democratic Party. Many of the hard left there despise the banksters (with good reason, it must be said), and the idea of Wall Street sucking the life blood from the middle class grates. Once the GOP wins majority power in Washington for a short while, we will see the shattering of the Democrats.
How this ends is impossible to say. But the idea that Hillary Clinton - the legacy of a political machine that drove globalization link no other - is the inevitable nominee seems to miss the grand sweep of the history of our day. But the nation is primed for this preference cascade.
The Roman Republic descended into mob violence and the rule of strong men like Lucius Cornelius Sulla. He (surprisingly) died in his bed, but his self-composed epitaph gives you all the flavor of that period:
No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.We live in interesting times, my friends.