In the days of the Roman Empire, the (citizen) masses were pacified with basic food aid (the bread dole) and regular entertainment in the form of chariot races and, on special occasions, gladiatorial combat. This helped to maintain the status quo and kept people from getting worked up over income inequality and ruinously expensive foreign wars (which enriched the generals but burdened the economy with the cost of veterans' benefits).
In the U.S., we provide our poorest citizens with basic food aid, but that is being cut at the same time that unemployment is up and food is becoming more expensive. With an NFL lockout threatening the 2011 season and talk of an NBA lockout in the same year, we are also seeing a reduction in our circuses. The wealthy elite may want to rethink whether this is a good time for that. I can't help but wonder whether so many people would have showed up to protest at the Capitol if Scott Walker had introduced his budget-repair bill in January, during the NFL playoffs.