Out of the guts of the internet, we find an endless stream of misattributed quotes and made-up stories that end up in chain emails that you eventually receive from your loopy uncle in Texas who’s trying to justify right-wing economics or anti-Obama conspiracy theories.
It’s just one of the headaches of the Internet Age.
But, there’s one quote in particular that’s always attributed to an obscure Scottish historian, Sir Alexander Frasier Tytler (as if that gave it great credibility), and it seemed to both make sense and prophecy the end of the American Republic.
Tytler was supposed to have said: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”
Tyltler goes on to talk about the process by which democracies fail as a result of this “voter selfishness.”
The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years,” he was rumored to have said. “These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again to bondage.”
Now, here’s the reality: Tytler never said any of these words. They can all be tracked back to right-wing American businessmen in the early decades of the twentieth century. And why would right-wing businessmen say such things? Because, in actual point of fact, the thing that corrupts democracies is not “the voters” demanding “free stuff” (to paraphrase Romney), but, instead, its businessmen buying off politicians.
It’s not the powerless who corrupt democracies, as that viral right-wing quote would suggest; it’s the powerful who corrupt democracies. And money is the source of that power.
Yes, over the last hundred years, average American people have voted themselves benefits like Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. But at the same time, they’ve also supported tax increases to pay for all of these things. Remember, the Social Security tax only applies to the first $113,000 of wages – earned income. People like Paris Hilton and Mitt Romney, when they get all their money from capital gains, dividends, and carried interest, don’t pay a penny of Social Security taxes on their millions of income. And the average top CEO in America, with an income of $13.7 million a year, over a million a month, only pays Social Security taxes on his first few days of income every year – every other day is Social Security tax-free. Quite literally, as Leona Helmsley famously said, only the “little people” pay such taxes. The safety net program for working class people is exclusively paid for by working class people.
On the other hand, when the Billionaire Class extracts benefits from the government for themselves, the generally don’t pay higher taxes. The billions in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, trillions in bailouts and bonuses for Wall Street banksters, and hundreds of billions for war profiteers are always accompanied by demands for more tax cuts at the top.
And, truth be told, billionaires aren’t even receiving these benefits by voting for them. Instead, they always get them through the simple process of buying politicians. For example, Sheldon Adelson spent $150 million in the last election. That’s more than any American spent in any election in American history. And he spent all that money to give himself the “benefits” of derailing an Obama Justice Department investigation into his casino in China and to get his taxes cut even further.
Billionaires also corrupt democracy to get their benefits through billionaire-funded think tanks, like the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council that writes legislation to benefit Corporate America, and then has Republicans state lawmakers introduce and pass laws in state after state, across the nation.
But despite this very clear reality of who is demanding largesse from our government, it’s still working people and average voters who are targeted by right-wingers and their viral emails as the selfish “takers.” That’s the reason why the Business Roundtable is saying the best way to fix insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare is to raise the retirement age to 70 and voucherize Medicare.
Of course, the average CEO for an S&P 500 company doesn’t need Social Security. But they know that by raising the retirement age, they’re shielding themselves from any tax increases that may come with raising that payroll tax cap, so even billionaires pay into Social Security, which will quickly and easily make that insurance program solvent forever.
America’s fiscal problems have nothing to do with voters. In fact, the Billionaire Class is trying to make it harder and harder for people to vote by pushing for voter suppression ID laws and restrictions on early voting.
America’s fiscal problems are a direct result of the Billionaire Class working behind the scenes of our democracy and syphoning off massive amounts of wealth for themselves while paying lower taxes than they’ve paid in a half-century. As Senator Bernie Sanders points out, a quarter of all profitable corporations in America pay zero federal taxes. And Mitt Romney and Paris Hilton’s income tax rates top out at 20 percent.
Tytler didn’t really say those words that the Billionaire Class think-tanks and email shills attribute to him. But, had he said them, he probably would have something more along the lines of this: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the billionaires discover that they can steal for themselves largess of the public treasury through buying politicians. From that time on the billionaires will always buy candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”
If we are concerned about the future of our American democratic republic, the way to preserve it isn’t to protect it from greedy Social Security recipients by pushing the retirement age back to 70. It’s to get money out of government, thus neutering the political power of the Billionaire Class. And that means reversing two core doctrines that the US Supreme Court has created out of thin air (at the request of big business and billionaires): that corporations are people, and that money is speech.
The best way to do that is through a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people, and money is property and not speech.
Go to MoveToAmend.org to join the fight for the survival of our democratic republic.