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Recommended: Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II

7:00 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Wage Slavery plus debt peonage — these are the fates awaiting the ‘better off’ members of the 99%, Alan Simpson’s “lesser people.” The ‘worst off’ shall continue to find themselves existing on city streets, squatting in vacant land and buildings, suffering one of the many prisons which pockmark the body politic or dying from untreated illnesses. These fates — wage slavery, debt peonage and social outcast — should not be considered accidents of history. They have obvious systemic causes. The economist Michael Hudson explains in the second of a four-part series:

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

What is truly astonishing about this situation is the nature of contemporary finance capital. In essence, it is functionless. It does not exist to generate capital for investment in the real economy. It does not provide safe storage for pension funds, insurance monies, personal savings, etc. It does not even provide the common investor with rational investment programs. Rather, finance capital today is just a system specific mechanism (or, better, set of mechanisms) which extracts massive quantities of wealth from the world. Profit taking — that is its sole purpose. Moreover, it is omnivorous and perpetually famished. It cannot be satiated. Its appetites thus put everyone at risk. It lacks a home, a national identity. It cares not for people, their cultures, societies and well-being. It is everywhere and nowhere.

It is, in a word, the vampire about which so many Americans fantasize.

First they came for welfare….

10:33 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In Obama’s America, each day is Halloween. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) should be afraid, very afraid! Why? Uncle Sam is bankrupt. He lives merely on the kindness of strangers. Only painful actions can remedy this situation.

Uncle Sam, you see, has long suffered from Affluenza. While the condition is often mistaken for a state of healthy well-being, the illness can be terminal. There are limits. They need to be respected. Austerity looms. The open question before Americans today: What kind of austerity will we have? The common answer amounts to this: Uncle Sam’s Affluenza would be fatal but for the remedies which a public commitment to fiscal austerity can provide.

The medicine is harsh and drastic, but necessary.

Or, so it is often claimed by a large fraction of America’s political and economic elite. Bob Urie, on the other hand, points out that:

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed — ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Urie suggests that the rich have prevailed in the democratic class struggle and now wish to deepen and intensify their exploitation of the “lesser people,” using the federal state and its fiscal situation as their hammer:

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas — by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes (sic) a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Doomed? Yes….

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity — we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for — they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe

Even the ‘gifts’ of income transfers, support for education and public transportation, Medicaid, subsidized housing, occupational training, works programs, etc. are not lacking in social benefits which directly and indirectly improve the quality of life enjoyed by every American. Every American would benefit from a fair and humane society, from a better standard of living. Such a society serves a common and public good. Who, after all, wants to watch the homeless die on the street for want of food and medical care? How might the United States compete with the emerging Asian economic powers when its education system, long the envy of the world at large, falters because of a lack of fiscal and political support? Who wants to bring children into the world when they will intimately know insecurity and want?

But the Nobel Laureate Americans just reelected wishes to create neither a fair nor humane society. He is a system politician who serves his various masters. The latter are cruel and greedy. Americans of the lesser kind along with the world at large deserve much better than Barack Obama. They truly need a man much better than him..

A conservative addresses the mess we’re in

9:19 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Paul Craig Roberts, long a conservative, wrote:

Economic policy in the United States and Europe has failed, and people are suffering.

Economic policy failed for three reasons: (1) policymakers focused on enabling offshoring corporations to move middle class jobs, and the consumer demand, tax base, GDP, and careers associated with the jobs, to foreign countries, such as China and India, where labor is inexpensive; (2) policymakers permitted financial deregulation that unleashed fraud and debt leverage on a scale previously unimaginable; (3) policymakers responded to the resulting financial crisis by imposing austerity on the population and running the printing press in order to bail out banks and prevent any losses to the banks regardless of the cost to national economies and innocent parties.

Later on, Roberts observed: “This is what economic policy in the West has become — a tool of the wealthy used to enrich themselves by spreading poverty among the rest of the population.” Roberts refers here to what James Galbraith called the Predator State. Roberts eventually concluded his article with:

For four years interest rates, when properly measured, have been negative. Americans are getting by, maintaining living standards, by consuming their capital. Even those with a cushion are eating their seed corn. The path that the US economy is on means that the number of Americans without resources to sustain them will be rising. Considering the extraordinary political incompetence of the Democratic Party, the right wing of the Republican Party, which is committed to eliminating income support programs, could find itself in power. If the right-wing Republicans implement their program, the US will be beset with political and social instability. As Gerald Celente says, “when people have have nothing left to lose, they lose it.”

One point I wish to make: I do not believe the Democratic Party is as incompetent as Roberts suggests; I do believe instead that the Democratic Party is as morally, culturally and politically bankrupt as the Republican Party, including that party’s most reactionary component. Competence is not the problem for the Democrats. The problem broadly considered can be found in the political commitments of the two parties and the structural constraints which make creating an opposition party and opposition movements so difficult. To my mind, this broadly construed problem reflects the essence of the duopoly party system: There exists no viable alternative to the status quo — it’s the duopoly parties and non plus ultra.

The Gasman came and has achieved the damage he was sent to do

1:31 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

A new Think Progress piece reports that:

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signed a disastrous state budget last night that favors the natural gas industry at the expense of the state’s children and least fortunate citizens. The $27.15 billion budget does not raise taxes, but cuts health care for more than 100,000 of the state’s poorest residents. It did this by slashing Medicaid contributions by $280 million, which will result in a $425 million loss in matching federal funds. State universities and community colleges have announced the largest tuition hikes in state history as education funding took a heavy, $863-million hit.

Yet, state Republicans and Corbett did not have to punish children and the neediest to plug a $4 billion budget deficit. Several variations of natural gas drilling taxes were proposed this year, and an extraction fee tacked onto the budget by the state Senate last week would have raised $310 million. However, Corbett threatened to veto any tax, and he strong-armed the state House into withdrawing a vote on the tax this week just hours before it was scheduled to be debated. Corbett’s obstinacy continues even though Pennsylvania is the only major gas producer that does not tax its use.

So why is Corbett very friendly to natural gas, despite its documented dangers? It may be because the governor owes part of his political career to the industry, having accepted almost $1.3 million in campaign contributions from drillers.

One might consider the slashing and burning of Pennsylvania’s budget a necessary condition for spurring job growth — new jobs — in the Keystone State. Taxes on capital and profits allegedly deter investment. Investment in plant includes jobs as an unavoidable consequence. One might consider these things if one were a Republican! Now that I have reiterated the orthodox take on this matter, I wish to point out that the Keystone Research Center reports that the Marcellus Shale jobs premium has been modest so far:

Overall, Marcellus job growth is small — accounting for less than one in 10 of the 111,400 new jobs created since February 2010, when employment bottomed out after the recession, the report finds. Even if Marcellus Shale-related industries had created no jobs in 2010, the state still would have ranked third in overall job growth among the 50 states.

“The Marcellus boom has contributed to job growth, but the size of that contribution has been significantly overstated,” Dr. Herzenberg [of the Keystone Research Center] said.

“To explain Pennsylvania’s relatively strong recent job growth requires looking at factors other than Marcellus Shale — such as the state’s investments in education, renewable energy, workforce skills, and unemployment benefits,” he added.

Bluntly put, Pennsylvania has benefited little from its Marcellus Shale industry. Tom Corbett, on the other hand, has greatly benefited from the industry.

What we can clearly see is Tom Corbett quickly proving himself to be just another instance of a Republican politician promising economic benefits to the “lesser people” while implementing economic policies that are forms of economic predation. Someday, if this political trend continues unhampered, if, that is, reactionary political economics informs policy decisions in states like Pennsylvania, then the citizens of those states will lack social rights. Poverty will be a common denominator that unites them. Labor will gain the aggressively debilitating and inhuman quality found in the kind of labor performed in sweatshops around the world. Labor will wholly coincide with its function as a commodity input in a system of production.

Like his 2011 classmates Nikki Haley (SC), John Kasich (OH), Rick Scott (FL), Rick Snyder (MI) and Scott Walker (WI), Corbett has sought to make his bones in political attack on the well-being of common Americans. They have taken their place among the scoundrels of the age.

You've got a Friend in Pennsylvania

You will find a slightly different version of this post at All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go