The chaos set to be unleashed over the next month through the implementation of sequestration budget cuts beginning today is not an accident. For a large part of the Republican Party and the secretive billionaires that fund them, the disruptive shockwave that will be caused by investing less in historically marginalized communities is the point.
Since the 1970s—through ideas which can only be thought of as flawed and eccentric—an ideological band has championed an end to the education, health, transportation and housing programs that have made America more economically fair.
Now at the heart of the GOP, this group argues that these very economic justice initiatives have instead created a “culture of dependency” which they want to dissolve by using sequestration.
In point of fact, sequestration is just an extension of a broader strategy which they call “starve the beast.” The aim of “starve the beast”—a rather unfortunate metaphor given racial stereotypes from the worst of America’s past—is to deny the federal government capital in order to bring about its collapse. So to fully evaluate where we are and what comes next, it’s sadly necessary to spend time considering this off-beat philosophy—and the bizarre way it’s come to rule our lives.
Making and Taking
Adherents to “starve the beast”—which include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan—believe that America is divided between “makers” and “takers.”
In their world view, the “makers” are the drivers of the nation’s economic growth. But they’re being held back by the “takers”—increasingly black and brown—who’ve misused the democratic process to hijack the government and funnel money away from the “makers” through taxes. Cantor himself echoed this very point during the fight over the debt ceiling in 2011.
This may sound strange to the rest of us, but to them it’s the truth.
“Starve the beast” followers argue that the economic interests of the country and of the “makers” are one in the same. They want the government to fall back and they want the “takers” put in their place. Only then will America truly prosper, or so the thinking goes.
In order to reach this anti-democratic future, their plans call for the federal government to return to its basic core functions, similar to those at the time of nation’s birth in 1776. Sticking to the areas of defense and foreign affairs, 80 percent of the federal government would disappear.
How could this come about? Through huge tax cuts and massive debt.
“Starve the beast” adherents contend that tax cuts would deprive the government of revenue, and gradually shift resources to the “makers.” With less income over time, the government would rack up enormous debts. The combination of tax cuts and a pile of IOUs would eventually force the government to eliminate most of its activities.
This may sound like a zany economic manifesto from a fake political novel, but it’s in fact from a real one. Shockingly, that novel, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” plays a pivotal role in the argument over sequestration, and we’re playing out her quirky theories in real time.
Weird and Powerful
Ayn Rand, whose white supremacist views were woven throughout her writing, attracted a band of towering intellectuals in the 1950s and 1960s who felt increasingly out of touch with an America that was diversifying in every single way.
One of Rand’s most devoted and successful proteges was Alan Greenspan. Greenspan—part of Rand’s intellectual circle called the “Collective”—would go on to be chair of the Federal Reserve under four presidents.
Greenspan played a pivotal role in mutating Rand’s “makers vs. takers” theory into actual public policy. Leading Republican economist and former Ronald Reagan White House aide Bruce Bartlett wrote in the New York Times’ Economix blog that he traced “the origins of Republican starve-the-beast theory to testimony by Alan Greenspan before the Senate Finance Committee on July 14, 1978.”
Over the years, Rand’s outlook would attract others of another generation who didn’t know her personally but were drawn by her ideas.
Former Vice Presidential-nominee Paul Ryan says that Rand “is the reason I got involved in public service” and, according to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, “Rand is required reading for all [Ryan] interns.” As I have laid out, Ryan’s economic ideology and budget are the driving force behind the GOP’s economic agenda.
Of course Ryan was propelled to the heights of power as a result of the organization and finance machine of the secretive, billionaire Koch Brothers; themselves avid Rand devotees. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity bankrolled the tea party movement, who’s platform is grounded in “starve the beast” philosophy. Their support stoked and transformed that political movement into a unified political operation that won the House of Representatives for the GOP in 2010. And it’s that Congress that took the nation to the brink of default in 2011, demanded $1.2 trillion in unilateral cuts from the president—which they got—and insisted upon sequestration not once but twice, all in effort to take “starve the beast” to its logical conclusion.
The problem with “Starve the Beast” is that real world facts run counter to its promise of prosperity.
America has the lowest tax rates of any developed country on the planet and the rich have a greater share of national wealth than at any point in our history. But poverty is stuck at a decades-high level, black and Latino wealth is the lowest ever recorded, and America remains flat on its back after the worst economic downturn in almost a hundred years.
Contrary to the “starve the beast” philosophy, holding up the 1 percent and weakening economic opportunity for the 99 percent has enfeebled America, not strengthened it.
But “starve the beast” is not a coherent economic philosophy. Rather, it’s a revolution masked as a financial spreadsheet. Like all revolutions, its stated goal is to overturn an existing order by inducing the government to self-destruct. “Starve the beast” should just be called institutional anarchy.
The cruel reality is that those who can least afford it will bear the brunt of the impending social experiment, set to begin today. That’s why this debate has to move beyond partisanship. Because on the receiving end of all intellectual abstractions are real human beings.