Martin begins with a description of the Tea Party demonstrations that took place on tax day, April 15, 2010. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to issue demands that were designed to assist the wealthy in becoming wealthier.
Martin describes the media response to these demonstrations as misguided in concluding that this was something new in American politics. Rather, it was merely a culmination of a long campaign.
In fact, Martin tells us that the movement name had been used earlier in a different context.
This was not just a one-off event. It was hoped to be the kickoff to a powerful national movement.
This description of the Chicago event could have served to describe a meeting in support of the Civil Rights Movement, and makes Martin’s point that the wealthy had adopted the lessons learned from the social movements of the non-wealthy and applied them to their own goals.
The wealthy can anticipate many threats to their wealth, and their wealth provides with many options to protect it. Why would they feel compelled to organize themselves into a movement?
Martin suggests that the wealthy have a primal fear of democracy. Since they are wildly outnumbered, the non-wealthy could move against them and confiscate their wealth if they chose to. The passage of the sixteenth amendment allowing the federal government to levy an income tax came to be viewed as a "revolutionary" development, and the imposition of a progressive income tax was certainly considered a form of confiscation.
A trigger was needed to arouse the rich to the extent that they would band together in common purpose. The trigger that activated movements was a common threat that would apply to all of them. Martin refers to those as "policy threats."
Such an example would be a threat to raise the estate tax rate or to lower the wealth threshold for the tax. Policy threats incite action because they potentially involve a large number of people, and the perceived enemy is easily recognizable as a specific politician, a specific political party, or the entire government itself.
Martin’s analysis found that the mobilization of the rich always involved a threat to increase their taxes. Such threats excite fear not only in those directly affected but also in those who fear they might be affected either now or in the future. It was often easy for the rich to find numerous allies with more modest incomes. The threat of changes to the estate tax, for example, was always troubling to small business people and even home owners in high property value regions.
Martin identifies five distinct rich people’s movements.
1936-1957: campaign for constitutional amendment limiting tax level
1951-1964: campaign to repeal federal income taxes
1978-1989: campaign for tax limitation/balanced budget amendment
1993-2001: campaign to repeal the estate tax
One might look at these movement goals and think that the efforts were failures, but the net result was that much of their economic philosophy has been absorbed as gospel by the current version of the Republican Party.
There is little hope that the income tax can be repealed, but other strategies have worked to limit taxation and subdue government growth. Consider the movement for a balanced budget amendment. Who could be against balanced budgets? But with the impossibility of raising taxes to cover a shortfall, such an amendment or policy would lead to ever smaller government, and ever smaller need for tax revenue. It is a long term, but ever so effective way to protect the wealth of rich people.
The extreme radical right has also served the purpose of re-centering the political dialogue in our nation. The threat of extreme proposals and threats of constitutional conventions have led to numerous compromises that have effectively moved politics to the right. This has been supported by a media assessment that the "moderates" are those who are half way between the crazies on the right and the most radical on the left. However, there is no equivalent on the left to the radical right.
Martin describes the twentieth century activism by rich people as a single movement with several distinct upsurges in activity as opportunity for progress presented itself. The lesson rich peoples’ activists learned from the past century was that it was not efficient to bide one’s time and wait for allies to appear or propitious moments to arrive. The lesson they learned was that the most effective strategy for them was to take over a political party.
There will be pressure coming from several directions to increase government spending. If for no other reason, the aging of the population will demand it. This will ensure continued political conflict for the foreseeable future.
Martin closes with this conclusion: