“History may not repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.” I often think about this statement, which was my high school history teacher’s personal paraphrase of Mark Twain’s famous quote, when reading the news. Today’s news story that brought that quote to mind is, of course, the information of Biden’s recent announcement of limited student loan forgiveness.
My colleague, Andrew Gillen, Ph.D., and many others, have written extensively on the economic, political, and even moral problems with student loan forgiveness. Especially relevant to the Mark Twain quote is what Andrew notes in his most recent op-ed: “an estimate using the Penn Wharton Budget Model finds that the poorest 20% will receive less than 12% of all benefits from the Biden plan … This means that blanket forgiveness would be regressive, providing the rich with greater benefits than the poor.”
Wealth redistribution is nothing new in America—it’s existed here in various forms for over a century—or in politics generally—it has probably existed for as long as there has been government. However, President Biden’s specific redistribution of wealth from the working class, who have little to no student loan debt and likely won’t vote for him, to the young, better-off members of the middle class, who have high student loan debt and probably will vote for him, rhymes in a very clear way with the land redistribution schemes of the Gracchi brothers of the late period of the Roman Republic.
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus both lived in the late First Century B.C.E., and both were heavily involved in Roman politics. Elected 10 years apart, they both supported a land redistribution scheme that took land from the wealthiest Romans and gave it to poor veterans, whom the brothers believed deserved the land more. This radical reform was a naked attempt to buy votes and cost the older brother, Tiberius, his life. However, 10 years later, Gaius carried the torch and the land redistribution scheme passed.
Of course, apart from the vote-buying near an election, these two schemes are not superficially similar—Biden’s scheme redistributes from the working class to the wealthy, while the Gracchi brothers redistributed from the wealthy to the working class. However, on the deeper level, the schemes bear another key similarity: both the Gracchi brothers and Biden intentionally circumvented the constitutional process in order to enact “the will of the people”—a will of the people that could only be known and interpreted by them, of course.
Both schemes reject the Rule of Law and the standard process of reforms in favor of a quick and easy political victory. Though both Gracchi brothers were in power for a short time before being put to death by their political opponents, their actions left an indelible mark on Roman politics. Less than 100 years later, the Republic was no more, its constitutional safeguards and processes eroded by those who wished to follow in the Gracchis’ place. In its place rose the Roman Empire.
For all the Left’s bluster claiming that conservatives are fascists, it is their rule by executive fiat that stinks of authoritarianism and injustice. We must not let them set the new standard of political action—otherwise, our children may be living in the new American imperium.