The outcome should have been comically obvious to any fan of Science Fiction: the monster turned against its creator.
A Mad Scientist villain sets his plan in motion. (It’s always something dramatic, isn’t it?) Some giant robot, mind control device, or army of genetically modified tomatoes. Then something goes horribly wrong, the villain loses control, and the created threat wreaks havoc, turning on its own creator. Then everyone waits for the intrepid hero to save the day. That’s the point-form storyline of a whole Sci-Fi subcategory.
It is also a description of a political vicious cycle repeated throughout recorded history. Would-be political leaders make grandiose promises, to be paid by either a wealthy promisor, or by future activities of the State; the promisor rides the resulting public goodwill to the hallowed halls of power.
Next, the Mad Scientist, (or would-be leader) targets his enemies. The more skilled populists select a foe against which the rabble can rally its energies, “…let us lay aside our differences to face this common threat”. This done, two things are accomplished. First, the politician benefits from a superficial unity that can persist so long as the threat seems credible. Second, it creates a useful foil when the incoming government faces criticism: “It’s not my fault! Blame “x”! (The previous administration … economy … opposition … terrorism … Cold War … Global Warming … r ich people … immigrants … any bugaboo will do, so long as the plebes believe it.)
Eventually, rhetoric runs out. The trick is finishing your term before you have to pay the piper. In Rome, the soldiers eventually came home … and had to be paid. Urban citizens wanted their Corn dole … and would get disgruntled without it. Workers today might want their indexed pensions, job security, yearly raise, or benefits packages.
When the employer is a private company, it’s a business negotiation. The company might accept affordable demands, or they might take plan B — limiting production, closing offices, moving shop, or bankruptcy. When the employer is a government, it is a political decision. Plan B doesn’t happen, because you are not actually constrained by affordability. Politicians theoretically have unlimited promise-making ability, so long as they can leverage the right groups against each other, and legislate enough taxes. No surprise, these promises tend to give their allies various unfair advantages.
With some financial sleight-of-hand, they can even push payment well beyond their administration’s term. Indexed pension for life? No problem! Payouts for unused sick days when you retire? Absolutely! Building something big? How about an Aqueduct, an Academy or a bridge? Just remember who loves ya … re-elect ME!
But in rewarding the lifestyle of the Prodigal, we shouldn’t be surprised when they squander their inheritance, and come looking for more. If there’s more to offer, that’s a manageable problem. If there isn’t, you can briefly blame The Enemy. (Remember our bugaboo?) “If HE didn’t squander your money on the pork HIS team likes (but we hate) we’d still have lots of money for your pork projects. Don’t blame me, yell at THEM. THEY won’t let me give you free stuff.”
Eventually, even that ruse wears thin, and the greasy politician is forced to prioritize among his political friends and promises. “I can’t give you that payout, I spent the money on (Energy … Child Care … Health Care … Awareness … Environment … LGBT… Accessibility compliance … Drones … whatever). Suddenly, the rivalry isn’t against people of some other political stripe, but among Greasy’s own supporters.
The friends who had once mobilized against Greasy’s rivals, (keeping him in power), turn ugly when their plums are threatened. The friends can range from politically-sanctioned gangs of thugs (which some countries have), Teamsters angered by right-to-work legislation (ask Steven Crowder), public-sector unions politically friendly until the well runs dry, (as seen in Public-sector Strikes), or minor interest groups hanging off the government teats. Whether a roar, or a whimper, the outrage differs only in ferocity.
Dalton McGuinty — outgoing Premier of Ontario — has something in common with Rahm Emanuel. They have both used Obama’s David Axlerod as a political consultant. Oh, and they’ve both had teachers’ strikes.
Dalton once bragged, “Teacher pay has gone up about 24%. But if you were a first-time schoolteacher on our watch you started at about $42,000. Your pay today is at about $75,000. That’s been an 80% increase in pay during the course of 8 years out of the McGuinty government.” (Read that twice, if you have to.)
Then the money ran out. Did he cancel his Billion-dollar scandal-ridden programs? Nope. He said “no” to teachers. The principal group he had carefully played for 8 years of being Provincial leader, he turned his back on. He didn’t need them anymore.
Surprise! They turned on him, too! (Well, not really. It’s about as surprising as the family dingo attacking little Junior). This situation isn’t resolved yet, but rest assured: however it plays out, both sides will claim to be working “For the Children”. Shame on us if we believe them.
People don’t generally like the solution we actually need. It will take smaller government and greater self-reliance. It will take rejecting corruption within your own party and not just the other guys. But mostly, it will take refusing to be bought with your own tax dollars.
That last point has been a tough sell in any generation.
Image: Courtesy of Eugene Pivovarov; public domain.