Slavery, Communism, and the GOP Tax Bill

Slavery, Communism, and the GOP Tax Bill

It's not elitist, Republican policy that's destroying the economy and taking wealth from the hands of the poor while creating the illusion of a meritocracy. Nope, it’s them over there.

And now, the Republican tax bill is in effect.  You probably won’t see anything happen right away.  In fact, things may start to look better for a little while.  No matter, dark times are upon us.

I want to first talk about slavery as it was in the US from the foundation up until about 150 years ago.  It’s easy to point out the evils of how the slaves were treated — families broken up and sold, people whipped and beaten into submission, young girls systematically raped by their masters only to have their children sold off, people treated like cattle, abuses of humiliation and degradation beyond our wildest imagination.

But what is it about a slave that makes them a slave?

From a purely economic perspective, it’s a system of labor in which the laborer is denied the most basic, most fundamental of all human rights: the right to leave.  That is the right, if you are treated unfairly, to seek out a better life elsewhere.  Everything else stems from that.  As an employer, if you know that your laborers can’t seek out greener pastures no matter what you do, that they’re stuck with you for life, that invites a host of exploitation abuse, well beyond simply denying someone their wages.

What’s easy to forget, though, are the ramifications the slave trade had on the poor, white southerner — the non-slave.  Think of this: you’re a wealthy plantation owner or other business owner.  As with most businesses, one of your biggest expenses is labor.  You’re not going to hire a worker and pay them a wage when you can just buy a laborer for life.  The disgusting evils of slavery notwithstanding, the purely economic impact is that you can minimize costs by owning people.  What did this mean for the wage-earning poor, white southerner?  Simple: scarcity of work, poor quality temporary and contract work, and of course the low wages that come with these realities.  How can a paid worker hope to compete in a job market with people who aren’t paid at all?  If you look at these things from a strictly economic perspective, the poor, white southerner had nothing to gain from upholding slavery and everything to gain by abolition: it was a system that grossly manipulated the labor market in favor of wealthy elites.  Why then would the poor, white southerner agree to fight in the American Civil War to uphold slavery?

Fast forward about half a century and let us examine communism.

On the surface, communism seems like an economic construct defined by extreme socialism: tax the rich and distribute the wealth evenly so that everyone has the same amount.  But it’s much more than that.  In order for extreme socialism to work, communism controls production as well as prices.  Even in a perfect communist system, there isn’t enough market fluidity to maintain a stable system, and there’s absolutely no incentive to innovate (I can make $10 per hour mopping floors, or I can invent some new thing that will make the world a better place, bust my butt and work myself into the ground for the same $10.  Where’s the mop?).  Without innovation, the economy stagnates, and since wealth is distributed evenly, everyone is equally poor.  Granted, people will want to leave and look for better opportunity elsewhere, so in order to maintain the labor pool, you have to get permission from the government to relocate within the country, and if you try to leave the country outright, you’re a defector, and defectors are shot on sight.

It’s easy to look at the failures of communism and see how it was a fundamentally flawed idea, but it’s also easy to forget why it exists in the first place.

Communism was, at its very core, an overreaction to the abuses of what Karl Marx referred to as the bourgeoisie, wealthy elites exerting a disproportionate amount of control over a capitalist system and leveraging that control to the point of abuse and exploitation of the labor class.  We can denigrate communism all day long but if we don’t address the fundamental reasons why it exists, the problem will only get worse.

For decades, the GOP has been selling this idea of ‘trickle down economics’ whereby the tax burden is shifted away from wealthy elites and onto the lower and middle classes.  The idea is when the rich have more money they’ll create jobs which will boost the economy.  This concept is married to the idea of a smaller government and deregulation.  In theory, free market and private enterprise are better suited to handle the needs of a people than some overreaching government.  It’s a seductive idea, to be sure, when one looks at the abuses of some excessively controlling governments we’ve had throughout history, the prime example being communism.  The problem is that free market and private enterprise are how we ended up with slavery to begin with.  In absentee of government regulation, especially when wealthy elites have commandeered policy to actively hurt the cause of labor, there is no check on the abuses of the bourgeoisie.

We see its effects all around us in lower wages, higher cost of living, and reduced influence for the labor class.  The proletariat.  Today, the career is basically non-existent, having given way to contract work.  The so-called ‘gig economy’ is grossly disfavorable to the worker while the employer reaps the benefit of on-demand labor with little to no cost.  Just as from slave to the poor, white southerner, the exploitation trickles up.  I’m a teacher with a dedicated degree and a professional license; my last job had a clause requiring me to pay liquidated damages if I quit with less than sixty days’ notice.

The truth is that trickle-down economics doesn’t work for the labor class for the same reason why smaller government doesn’t work.  These GOP mainstays serve only to keep wealth and power in the hands of elites.  For the reasons why they don’t work, look no further than slavery.  A system controlled by any party is bound to benefit that party at the expense of others; it’s human nature.  In the old South, wealth and political control was in the hands of elites, and we all know the impact that had on labor.  When you have a smaller government with little regulation, wealth doesn’t trickle down, but rather political power is taken away from labor, which creates a cesspool of exploitation.  The goal is to create the ideal state of poverty where the proletariat has to work too hard to have time for politics while having just enough to avert an uprising.  And yesterday, the pièce de résistance, the GOP tax bill which promises to exacerbate the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few elites, took effect.

It may be surprising that poor whites still vote for the GOP.  After all, poor people of any color have nothing to gain from these policies and everything to gain from a more socialistic approach to taxation.  So why, then, would so many people continue to vote Republican when the party has made it abundantly clear that they favor the rich at the expense of the very people voting for them?

For the same reason why the poor, white southerner fought in the civil war: nationalistic pride.  It’s hard to imagine where this idea of southern pride came from, given that at the time the United States was barely half a century old.  Wealthy, elite plantation owners, rather than own up the fact that it was their own greed in upholding slavery that was keeping the poor in poverty, managed to sell the poor, white southerner on this idea of southern pride, meaning that the government was trying to intrude and dictate how we do things.  Because it wasn’t the elite plantation owner upholding an oppressive system, it was those damn Yankees.  It was them uppity Negros.  It was the Jews who sold us out.  It was the Tutsis.  It’s all those Mexicans and their bad hombres.  Muslims.  It’s those Chinese over there; they’re the problem.

It’s not elitist, Republican policy that’s destroying the economy and taking wealth from the hands of the poor while creating the illusion of a meritocracy.  Nope, it’s them over there.

From Ancient Egypt, there’s a record of a pharaoh enacting horrible, abusive policies to (gloriously) massacre a group of generational immigrants who’d been blamed for economic woes along with a host of plagues and other problems, only to have them escape via a route along the Red Sea.

The song remains the same.

Michael Patrick Lewis is a teacher, proletariat, and bestselling author of Edge Of God, and Preferred Rewards.  You can also find him on Twitter @fakeMikeLewis.

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