photo credit: People’s Open Graphics
Revolutions are not monolithic events; individuals participating in mass protest have various motives for their actions. While outside observers may, with the guidance of the intellectually juvenile mainstream media, perceive such an event as being based upon one or a few reasons, the real reasons behind such an uprising are often far more diverse. As Murray Rothbard said:
Because a revolution is a sudden upheaval by masses of men, one cannot treat the motives of every participant as identical, nor can one treat a revolution as somehow planned and ordered in advance. On the contrary, one of the major characteristics of a revolution is its dynamism, its rapid and accelerating movement in one of several competing directions.
It is through this perspective that the recent revolution in Egypt should be viewed. Certain themes rightly emerged from the protests in Egypt, among them the mass revolt against the tyrannical reign of the now-deposed President Mubarak. Mubarak’s decades-long emergency powers, brute force smothering of political opposition, denial of free elections, and restriction on free speech, among other reasons, constitute some of the notable demands made by those involved.
But an underlying (and now increasing) set of reasons must be highlighted, for in many ways, they were a catalyzing force for the other reasons mentioned above. These focus primarily on economic factors: unemployment, inflation, food prices, and working conditions. As the BBC notes, these were specific reasons for continuing protests earlier this week:
- Hundreds of bank employees protested outside a branch of the Bank of Alexandria in central Cairo, calling for managers to resign
- Public transport workers took part in a demonstration outside the state TV and radio building, calling for better pay
- Ambulance drivers parked 70 of their emergency vehicles along a riverside road in a pay protest
- Police also protested, massing outside the interior ministry complaining about their pay and working conditions
- Near the Great Pyramids, some 150 tourism industry workers also demanded higher wages
As the protests began several weeks ago, one participant suggested this underlying theme as a permeating motive for the widespread opposition to the Mubarak regime: “We are gathered here to demand our rights. We can’t live. Everything is expensive and there is unemployment. We want prices to go down. This government is the reason for our suffering.”
Poverty, price increases, and other negative impacts on one’s wallet are forceful motivators for demanding change. Before Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria exploded with food riots. Add to that list Jordan, Libya, and a host of other countries where impoverished people dedicate a majority of their income to food. In such an environment, even a modest spike in food prices or unemployment can be a catastrophic event.
What the world witnessed in Egypt will not remain in Egypt. Anger against the government’s management (or mismanagement) of economic affairs is a common rallying cry regardless of one’s country, and increasingly so in America. For the latest example, turn your attention to Wisconsin. Seeking to derail legislation that would eliminate most collective bargaining rights from nearly all of the state’s employees, the Democrats in Wisconsin’s Senate fled the state en masse, thus causing the Senate to lose its quorum, preventing any business from taking place. They were joined in their defiance by tens of thousands of students, teaches, and prison guards.
The irony here is seething. In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to grant collective bargaining to government workers. Put more plainly, this action allowed these “public servants” to unionize and thus collectively threaten strikes and other opposition actions if their demands are not met. Now around 30 states have similar laws for public employees.
Almost half of the state’s unionized teachers “called in sick”, forcing schools to shut down. One teacher said “I’m fighting for my home and my career,” angry that part of the legislation would require these public workers to pay half the costs of their pensions, and at least 12.6% of their health care coverage. And yet, the president of one of the unions said that the protests are “not about protecting our pay and our benefits.” Rather, she explained, they are about protecting the employees’ “right” to collectively bargain. In other words, the anger is not because of their income, but because of the potential inability to use threats and bureaucratic gymnastics to obtain yet more income.
With the massive protests, one might think that this legislation was especially drastic. And yet, the Republican Governor, Scott Walker has promised no furloughs or layoffs for employees under this proposal—one which still allows unions to represent workers, but limits requests for pay increases to the Consumer Price Index (government-calculated inflation rates) unless a public referendum approves otherwise. While many (if not most) might perceive such minor legislative tweaking as common sense (needed in far greater amounts for substantive change to occur), those affected clearly and unsurprisingly disagree. This action is only one of many needed on Wisconsin’s part to close a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
And that’s where the rub lies.
States have, for decades, become burdened under one unfunded federal mandate after another. Along the way, they’ve been making countless promises of their own, offering pensions, education, health care, food assistance, and a host of other social welfare programs. States have sought bailouts, have seen their bond ratings decline, and are quickly being forced to face an alarming fact: they have overextended themselves.
But America’s fiscal unraveling will, like withdrawals from a drug addiction, not be an enjoyable event. Cravings to satiate an unrelenting appetite for more of the addictive substance persist, and thus we witness those affected by such budget-fixing measures collectively clamoring in protest.
The addicts are restless, and do not react kindly (or logically) to those who are denying them their continued supply of drugs. As the pension, Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, U.S. Dollar, food, and other bubbles burst, these actions will increase in both size and scope. Whether states (or the federal government) attempt to take proactive measures to stem the fiscal tidal wave, or are forced to react to them after the fact, one thing is certain: those who have long benefited from such budget-busters will not be happy.
America’s dark days have been delayed due to subsidization, inflation, and a military-enforced encouragement of the global dollar standard. The decades-long façade is fraying at the edges, and few know what to do about it. What does seem certain is the inevitable consequence of over-promising, under-delivering, and then a sudden cessation of the comfortable lifestyle to which the populace has become accustomed.