Friday, June 06, 2003

Kinsley Accuses Pres of Welching on Contract

The Social Contract, that is. The one worked out and revised through-out most of the last century, stretching back to at least Teddy Roosevelt; you know, the one that made Capitalism safe for Democracy, and the other way around, too. That contract

....Democracy presumes and enshrines equality. Capitalism not only presumes but requires and produces inequality. How can you have a society based on equality and inequality at the same time? The classic answer is that democracy and capitalism should reign in their own separate "spheres" (philosopher Michael Walzer's term). As citizens, we are all equal. As players in the economy, we enjoy differing rewards depending on our efforts, talents, or luck.

But how do you prevent power in one from leeching into the other? In various ways, we try to police the border. Capitalism is protected from democracy, to some extent, by provisions of the Constitution that guard individuals against tyranny of the majority—for example, by forbidding the government to take your property without due process of law. Protecting democracy from capitalism is the noble intention, at least, of campaign finance laws that get enacted every couple of decades.

Separation of the spheres also depends on an unspoken deal, a nonaggression pact, between democracy's political majority and capitalism's affluent minority. The majority acknowledge that capitalism benefits all of us, even if some benefit a lot more than others. The majority also take comfort in the belief that everyone has at least a shot at scoring big. The affluent minority, meanwhile, acknowledge that their good fortune is at least in part the luck of the draw. They recognize that domestic tranquility, protection from foreign enemies, and other government functions are worth more to people with more at stake. And they retain a tiny yet prudent fear of what beast might be awakened if the fortunate folks get too greedy about protecting and enlarging their good fortune.

That was the deal. Under George W. Bush, though, the deal is breaking down. With Republicans in control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, the winners of the economic sphere are ratting on their side of the bargain and colonizing the sphere next door.

The rest is just as good.

Some of you are too young to remember just how reluctant a liberal Michael Kinsley often seemed in the eighties. When as gentle and fair-minded a soul as Michael starts using words like "class war," and "the tyranny of the rich," it's made a lot more difficult for those self-consciouisly mild-mannered conservatives, like David Brooks, Christopher Caldwell, and David Frumm, who want to be seen as gentle and fair-minded but never hesitate to use "class warfare" to describe anyone who dares point out the rush of income into the hands of fewer and fewer, to get away with it.