[Ip-health] America in Decline, Noam Chomsky - snip on deficit, BigPharma and politics

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Sat Aug 6 02:18:58 PDT 2011


Snip:
/
Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as 
economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care 
system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial 
societies', which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes 
that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such 
options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian. 
Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible 
options, such as a small financial transactions tax./

America in Decline
Friday 5 August 2011
by: Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

(Photo: The U.S. Army / Flickr)

"It is a common theme" that the United States, which "only a few years 
ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power 
and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its 
final decay," Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science 
Quarterly.

The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a 
number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has 
proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the 
remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War '90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, 
is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The 
comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and 
bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary 
democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. 
Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in 
office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and 
privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

Corporate power's ascendancy over politics and society -- by now mostly 
financial -- has reached the point that both political organizations, 
which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the 
right of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under 
current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant 
government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched 
decline in state and local spending -- though even that limited 
initiative probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit. 
Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the 
population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 
percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll. 
Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 
percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore 
the opposite.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public 
would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, "Clearly 
both the administration and the Republican-led House (of 
Representatives) are out of step with the public's values and priorities 
in regard to the budget."

The survey illustrates the deep divide: "The biggest difference in 
spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while 
the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public 
also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution 
control than did either the administration or the House."

The final "compromise" -- more accurately, capitulation to the far right 
-- is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower 
growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, 
which are enjoying record profits.

*Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as 
economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care 
system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial 
societies', which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes 
that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such 
options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian. 
Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible 
options, such as a small financial transactions tax.*

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street. The House 
Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the Securities and 
Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial fraud. The 
Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

Congress wields other weapons in its battle against future generations. 
Faced with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American 
Electric Power, a major utility, shelved "the nation's most prominent 
effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power 
plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible 
for global warming," The New York Times reported.

The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent 
innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political 
economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called 
"the Golden Age" of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were financialization (the shift of investor 
preference from industrial production to so-called FIRE: finance, 
insurance, real estate) and the offshoring of production. The 
ideological triumph of "free market doctrines," highly selective as 
always, administered further blows, as they were translated into 
deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to 
short-term profit, and other such policy decisions.

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, 
accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a 
fraction of 1 percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major 
corporations, hedge fund managers and the like, while for the large 
majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

In parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties 
even deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy 
has been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning 
congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas 
Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

"The major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers 
like Walmart, Best Buy or Target," Ferguson writes. "Uniquely among 
legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post 
prices for key slots in the lawmaking process." The legislators who 
contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result, according to Ferguson, is that debates "rely heavily on the 
endless repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested 
for their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the 
leadership relies on for resources." The country be damned.

Before the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new 
post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic 
power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the 
crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in 
purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their 
general impact may be negative: "The successes probably add little or 
nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters 
transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers."

By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial 
institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward -- as 
long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.

(Noam Chomsky's most recent book is ''9-11: Tenth Anniversary.'' Chomsky 
is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

© 2011 Noam Chomsky

Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.



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