Some echoes of 1780s France in 2016 America.
According to Peter McPhee, in Liberty or Death: The French Revolution, there were 18 newspapers in France in 1745. By 1780 there were 82, by 1789 there were a lot more, plus a large number of new periodicals and magazines that reached well over half the French population by 1788. The royal government had tried to suppress a lot of them, but they’d just reappear somewhere else. My point is that there was an entirely new medium of news, information, and propaganda that came into being in the decades before the French Revolution, and their influence had spread geometrically before the events of 1789.
France also had an exceedingly complicated system by which the rentier ruling class, which amounted to about 1% of the population, extracted wealth from the bottom 99%. There were tolls and custom duties for trading goods across provincial, city, and town boundaries(Paris alone had dozens of customs stations set up on every road going into or out of the city in 1789), plus “privileges” and “rights” of the hereditary nobility and the higher levels of the Roman Catholic clergy from bishops on up. Not only that, but peasants were required to work on noble land without pay to bring in harvests and maintain roads, while only the nobility was allowed to supplement their diets by hunting.
In French cities, tradesmen and working people commonly rented rooms from their employers, and had to pay about half of their earnings just to sleep in an upper story dump. Peasants in the countryside paid at least that much of their incomes and harvests to their “betters” who shamelessly flaunted their wealth and privilege. Not only that, but the French people never knew when or how much the next hit would be, but they just kept on coming. Prices always went up, never down.
One of the things that radically changed in the 20 years leading up to the Revolution was knowledge of the American Revolution, including the soaring statements of the Declaration of Independence and the writings of Thomas Paine, not to mention those of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who were feted as heroes by the royal government. By 1789, everybody in France was familiar with this stuff.
There are some parallels to all of this in our own America. The internet and all of its offshoots have definitely revolutionized the way news and information is passed on in this country. Instead of four major networks, plus the AP and UPI and a few dozen news magazines up through the mid-1990s, we now have at least thousands of different ways to gather information and opinion. Just as in prerevolutionary France, the ruling classes are now scrambling for ways to control that information, but other than reprioritizing internet search engines and suppressing certain points of view from a couple of carriers such as Facebook and Twitter, they haven’t been all that successful. Eventually the frowned-upon points of view will just pop up again somewhere else.
The informational and opinionated cats are already out of the bag.
In America we don’t have lords, nobles, and bishops with the right to extract our wealth from us, but we do live in a rentier society every bit as top heavy as the French ancien regime. Huge corporations have bribed our politicians into giving them essentially tax exempt status, with many of them actually getting reimbursed by the federal government for the wages they pay us through such things as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, where they are reimbursed for 6-12 months for hiring someone on Food Stamps or Medicaid. Others get property tax abatements for up to 15 years for opening a new facility, and some even get to keep the sales taxes they collect for a few years, to the detriment of local governments, not to mention our infrastructure. Then local governments turn around and raise local taxes on us in order to make up for part of their losses.
Who makes up for our losses? No one.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of us get saddled with paying some income tax, fees for materials needed for the education of our children, rent or mortgage payments to wealthy corporations that commonly equate to anywhere between a third and half of our net incomes, mandatory payments to wealthy private insurance companies for the “privilege” of “access” to health care with additional costs that are often prohibitive even with insurance, mandatory private home and auto insurance, not to mention the often outrageous rates imposed on us for keeping the electricity on and for heating our homes in the winter.
The cost of local transportation has skyrocketed. Cars cost astronomically more than they did when I was a teenager. Instead of a nickle or a dime, a bus or train costs a hundred times more just to commute to and from work in the cities, and good luck to you if you live in the exurbs or the country and have to do the same. Critically, the cost of food keeps going up and up. What were once pensions and Social Security for comfortable retirements are now only myths for most of us. If you want to have a roof over your head, eat, have clothing, utilities, or entertainment, you’ve got to pay an ever-increasing percentage of your wealth to ever-increasingly wealthy people day after day, year after year.
Prices always do seem to go up, never down, don’t they? Do our incomes? For an overwhelming majority of us, when they do, they are always offset by the rise in price of some necessity or the other. This has now been the pattern for about 40 years.
Both 18th Century France and late 20th and early 21st Century America have seen at least two of the same major developments: a steadily eroding standard of living for the majority and revolutionary developments in the spread of information and awareness. In France, when the government first promised reform and then failed to deliver, it was overthrown, a development that was unthinkable just a few years before it happened. I see no reason why America should be any different. In fact, I take comfort in the knowledge that it’s not.
Thanks for reading and have a nice day.Passionate Progressive, joentokyo, Koko and 50 othersB Calm, Cleita, Blackspade, Xyzse, tonyl, Betty Karlson, KenTanker0us, glinda, xynthee, eridani, carrotguy, kath, closeupready, JEB, LaaDeeDaaVA, 3FingerBrown, PADemD, FugitiveBirdie, ctsnowman, chknltl, NV Wino, leveymg, nevereVereven, TIME TO PANIC, tk2kewl, retired liberal, canoeist52, Entrepreneur, Utopian Leftist, Katashi, mrdmk, Johnny Rash, mmonk, NothingcleverjustRay, MrMickeysMom, iggy, Haikugal, Peace Patriot, Two way street, ccinamon, RufusTFirefly, Bisbonian, jwirr, djean111, Hobbit709, Land of Enchantment, Shlabotnik, Scott Crowder, Enthusiast, Coldmountaintrail like thisNo man ought to stay poor so another man can get rich. --Newton Knight
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