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Whither goes the Social Compact?

by Stephen Kaye
Mon Jan 9th, 2017

A friend of mine who lives in a comfortable stone house on the banks of the Thames enunciated a political philosophy worth examining.  He said, “I am happy to pay taxes as long as they keep the masses at bay.  That’s the deal I have made with my government and it seems to work.”


Pragmatism is a good test.  Was Trump’s election the revolt of the masses?  It was a revolt of sorts.  That the First Family floats in the Billionaire Class on the make is certainly paradoxical if they are supposed to represent the masses.  Some writers have called the election an anti-liberal elitist backlash, not a rising up of the masses.  Maybe it's the triumph of the Adelmans, Kochs and right-wing edges.


The masses were ignored.  Not a good idea.  What happened, exactly?  Where did these masses of the discontented spring from?   The economic literature had given a high degree of seriousness to the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, to the left-behind middle.  The statistics were in Piketty.


The discontented have given the keys to a new, untested, undisciplined and unprepared collection of leaders who have scant programs, no experience and little or no connection to the masses who elected them.  


What a Republican breather might do is give us room to re-think social programs. What can government do to address certain needs, like training entry-level workers or retraining displaced workers?  What can our educational systems do to better address the needs of citizens?  What do the discontented really want, anyway?  Does anyone know?


Maybe, by slashing programs, we will find out if we really needed them in the first place.  Maybe by removing mandates we can free up energies that revive the flagging rust belts and rural backwaters.  It is probably true that programs designed for the urban poor can be cut back to favor the rural poor.    


It is not an altogether terrible idea to shake things up: to bring in new people, to look at problems through a new lens.  It may be time for a bloated bureaucracy to go through a ringer.  Of course, that probably will not happen.  What normally happens is that another layer is added.  Budgets get increased, not trimmed. More people get hired.


What we do not see is a re-examination of the social compact to see how it can be redesigned to serve the needs of the dispossessed.   One would think we would be hearing a discussion of ends and means, of goals and policies. Something is missing.  The absence of content breeds uncertainty, angst, even terror.  What we are seeing is simply revolt against the usual, the norm, the accepted.  We are seeing government by uninformed, petulant, anti-government Republicans.  What they will do remains a big unknown.