Summary: Our government’s debt grows, imperiling not just its solvency but our very self-confidence in ourselves, and in our political regime. Can we reform before the end? Read this essay to learn the answer. And rejoice!
Read and learn from the money paragraph of “Why Democracies Fail”, often attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler (Lord Woodhouselee, 1747–1813), a Scottish attorney:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.
This is one of the legion of fake quotes circulated by conservatives (details here), part of their great project to enmesh American minds in a web of lies. This one is especially daft. America’s long-term deficits are driven almost entirely by our massive military spending (ie, foreign wars and belligerent foreign policy) plus tax cuts (mostly for the rich). Secondary factors are subsidies to large corporations (eg, agribusiness subsidies, give-away of mining rights on public lands, bank bailouts).
None of these are voting “themselves largesse from the public”.
This fable combines these false elements with nonsense: seeing America as a democracy dominated by public opinion, in which our ruling elites slavishly follow the people’s whims — no matter how foolish. In fact they conduct key aspects of US policy in defiance of public opinion. Some notable examples: our foreign wars (conducted long after public support faded), open borders (ie, massive immigration), plus the unpopular cuts to Social Security and Medicare proposed by our great and wise.
The deficit dominates the thinking of our ruling elites. Their lackies in Washington and on Wall Street supposedly fear the debt above all other things — but not so much that they advocate raising taxes back towards their levels during America’s great post-WWII boom years. For details see
- Hidden truths about American health care (the largest part of government liabilities)
- We are ignorant because we enjoy being lied to. Today we look at lies about the US debt.
- We are weak because we enjoy being lied to (we prefer pleasant fiction to harsh facts)
The deficit is a fake issue in a larger sense. One searches in vain for a plutocrat-dominated political regime that died through imprudent domestic spending. The spectre of bankruptcy only serves as a wedge to force cutbacks in wasteful spending (ie, on the 99%). As our plutocrats’ hold grows firmer, this fear will no longer serve a useful purpose — and the time will come to save the Republic. For details see Our fears are unwarranted. America is in fact well-governed.
But the other well-known fake Tytler quote looks prophetic. It’s taken from a speech on 18 March 1943 by Henning Webb Prentis, Jr. (President of the Armstrong Cork Company). Most of it is the usual plutocratic fantasy history. One paragraph in particular is false as history, but might become an excellent summary of American history (source here):
The historical cycle seems to be from
- bondage to spiritual faith;
- from spiritual faith to courage;
- from courage to liberty;
- from liberty to abundance;
- from abundance to selfishness;
- from selfishness to apathy;
- from apathy to dependency; and
- from dependency back to bondage once more.
The American people appear to have evolved through this series into stages 5 and 6. Our forefathers must weep at the prospect. It need not be so, if we will otherwise.
Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Dr. Franklin “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it” replied the Doctor.
— entry of 18 September 1787 in the Papers of Dr. James McHenry on the Federal Convention of 1887 (signer the Constitution, our 3rd Secretary of War, & namesake of Fort McHenry)
For More Information: a look at America’s past
- Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008 — Great men of the past comment on our situation
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?, 29 August 2008
- An important thing to remember as we start a New Year, 29 December 2008 — A great speech from Morpheus to Zion, from we too can learn
- A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009 — By Judge Learned Hand