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Peter Passell
Editor, The Milken Institute Review; Senior Fellow
California and Capital Markets and Europe and Finance and Global Economy and Labor and Public Policy and U.S. Economy
Peter Passell is editor of The Milken Institute Review, the Institute's economic quarterly. A senior fellow, Passell joined the Institute after eight years as economics columnist for the news department of The New York Times. He previously served on the Times' editorial board and was an assistant professor at Columbia...
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Let them eat Twinkies
By: Peter Passell
September 22, 2011
   
   
Where is Benjamin Disraeli when you need him? Disraeli, for those of you who slept too late to catch the Modern European History class on Victorian reformers, was a dyed-in-the-wool defender of the old landed aristocracy. But his strategy for maintaining their influence in an increasingly class-conscious Britain was to meet reformers halfway. Hence the origins (or at least the popularization) of the term "Tory radicalism."

So why bring this up now? The similarities between mid-19th century Britain and early 21st century America are modest -- among other things, Britain was growing rapidly. But both are periods in which large numbers of people who are neither rich nor very poor are (rightly) frightened by rapid economic change and the explosive accumulation of new wealth. Disraeli responded with a blitz of social reforms ranging from public health measures to the protection of peaceful picketing. By contrast, way too many affluent Americans have rationalized their distaste for regulation, social spending and taxes (on them, anyway) as the tough love needed to get the economy up and running.

Will the rich eventually pay for their myopia? Hard to say. This isn't 1789 or 1917 -- nobody is sharpening the guillotine blades. But, by the same token, it's hard to imagine it's going to be much fun for anybody in a society in which high unemployment is tolerated in the name of price stability, hurricane victims are treated as pawns in budget games and hospital emergency rooms are the first resort of the uninsured.