What do Republicans believe?
Well, let’s average the positions of governors and senators in the 2016 presidential debates. What might be common ground—we ask—among Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, or Scott Walker and Rick Scott? And how about Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum?
There is an austere core message linking these folks, economically and rhetorically. It also sets them apart from their more moderate forbearers. If you don’t believe the Republican Party has taken a hard rightward turn, check out much more moderate Party platforms from the Eisenhower years.
Where, then, does one locate the origins of—say—Ted Cruz’s grinding rhetoric? Well, its source is the European industrial crises of the 1840’s, when its rhetorical laissez-faire defender from 18 decades ago was Frenchman Frederic Bastiat. It is Bastiat who stands out as the darling of the current laissez-faire resurgence among Cruz and others.
Thus, harsh Republican rhetoric has origins in the 19th Century European experience, and not in America’s experience, until much more recently. To grasp context, the Industrial Revolution had its beginnings in Europe, a half-century before the 1840’s crises. The proletariat—to use Marx’s term—rebelled against oppression at the hands of bourgeoisie owners of dark satanic mills. Indeed, these riots and counter-riots were the stuff of Tiny Tim, mainly victimized by the infamous Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Classic.
In the United States, the Industrial Revolution arrived late—almost three quarters of a century later than Europe. Neither did America’s industrial revolution much-provoke European style conflict, perhaps because the factory system—here—did not typically subject American families to poverty as dire as was common across the Atlantic.
John D. Rockefeller and other so-called Robber Barons, however, did import laissez-faire policies and rhetoric in the 1880’s. Then, America’s rightward shift was followed, a half-century later, by a counter-revolution. The Progressive Era created remarkable leaps in social outcomes. For instance, in 1913 Americans ratified the 16th amendment to the Constitution, creating the progressive income tax. One century later, however, progressive taxation remains a source of profound derision among Republicans.
French political economist Frederic Bastiat died in 1850, just two years following his elitist commentaries on the particularly dark winter—for workers—of 1848. According to him, it is laissez-faire principles that “get things done” and not government, which prevents things from getting done. Bastiat’s world view certainly aligns with Ted Cruz and other Republican standard-bearers.
More later, on how Republicans favor business as the singular engine of development, and dis on government—they assert—as a waster, a bungler and an obstructer of human advancement.
Until then, check out Capitalism in Crisis on the Web.
From Boulder, Colorado, this is Jim Sawyer for Capitalism in Crisis.