Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Death of the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number America

I have recently observed a couple of things that I think say so much about the American journey from the New Deal today. The first is a PBS News Hour report on the outbreak of HIV and AIDS in the rural American town of Austin in Scott County in Southern Indiana. The second is the campaign waged by many of America’s right wing Republican governors against minorities, unions, and universities. And while these two phenomena seem like very different phenomena entirely they both have at their roots the exact same thing, they are products of the revolt of the rich against the regulations of banks and the economy and the safety nets put in place by the New Deal between the 1930s and 1970s.

In the wake of the Great Depression of 1929, a Depression that clearly showed the hollowness of laissez faire liberal rhetoric that the market was the best mechanism to bring prosperity to all, social liberalism or progressivism, a liberalism that put in place governmental mechanisms to make the inevitable booms of corporate capitalism less boomy and the inevitable busts that accompanied the inevitable booms of corporate capitalism, thanks primarily to manipulations of the market by insiders, less devastating and which used mechanisms from the insurance world to create social safety nets for those most hurt by the inevitable busts of capitalism. Between the New Deal and Richard Nixon, in other words, the United States, thanks to social or progressive liberalism, saw solid and less dangerous economic growth, the growth of the middle class, and the expansion of a safety net for those most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of economic growth, all things which benefitted or potentially benefitted everone living in the US. Then the oil crisis came leaving inflation and stagnation in its wake. It, along with other factors, the war in Vietnam and the culture war which divided America over civil rights and Vietnam, for instance, sent America into economic, political, and cultural convulsions and allowed the anti-New Deal forces the opportunity they had long been waiting for, namely the opportunity to destroy the consensus that emerged after World War II among the so-called greatest generation that social liberalism, while it may not be perfect, was the best mechanism to provide the greatest goods to the greatest number of Americans.

So what does all of this have to do with Austin, Indiana? Thanks to deindustrialisation all across the US but particularly in the “rust belt” of the American Northeast and Midwest in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, industries that once provided good paying and good benefit jobs to America’s rural and urban residents, first went South, places with right to work laws, lower wages, and hence greater profits for capitalists, and to the areas of the world with even lower low labour costs than the South, devastating places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, upstate New York, and rural Indiana in the process. Add to this a tax revolt which decreased the tax rate particularly on those most able to contribute to the coffers of governments that used tax monies to build highways, build national parks, build public hospitals, expand lower and higher public education, and to aid those in poverty, all things again that benefitted or potentially benefitted all living in America, the rich and wealthy, and you get a situation like you have in Austin, Indiana where jobs, particularly good paying jobs with excellent benefits, are few. With little in the way of economic opportunity and with a much smaller safety net, many, just as they have done throughout history, turned to other activities to make a living. In the case of Austin those other activities are the sale of illegal drugs and the sale of bodies, prostitution.

What is so interesting to me about the situation in Austin is the response of some of its citizens to this economic and political decline and what it has wrought in their community. Some in Austin, in a variation on the culture wars, blame those forced into drug deals and prostitution for their own predicaments. Many in Austin, in other words, put the blame not on the real factors causing a rise in poverty and HIV/AIDS in Austin, economic decline and a rich people’s movement which blames economic decline on high taxes, both ludicrous notions that keep hidden the real reason of reasons for economic decline, deindustrialization, globalism, and a revolt against taxes driven by a desire to increase profits and wealth. By 2011 taxes were at their lowest for Americans. Something these paragons of neo-puritanical “virtue” in Scott County miss is the obvious, in actuality Austin’s drug dealers and prostitutes who have limited incomes and therefore limited abilities to move to where the jobs are, jobs that are low paying and low benefit jobs in retail and fast food anyway, and since they don’t have access to monies government entities used to provide in order to facilitate mobility, are acting rational. They are doing what laissez faire man and woman say they should be doing, namely looking after number one, themselves. All hail the culture of narcissism.

The moral condemnation of such rational economic activity by others in the ever shrinking middle class is itself yet another example of morality in the service of the rich. Instead of blaming those really responsible for economic decline and the decline of public services, rich people who have benefitted financially from deinsustrialisation, globalisation, and the tax revolt, you blame its victims. This, of course, allows the one-percent to continue to enrich themselves while blaming governments, governments which, by the way, help enrich the one percent, for the devastation all of these forces have left in their wake.

This rhetoric of blaming the victims is also at the heart of another thing I have recently found interesting, the attack on minorities, unions, and teachers in several states in the United States. Unions, of course, were defanged in parts of the US long before the oil crisis of the 1970s. One of the New Deal things Dixiecrats, Southern White supremicist state’s rights Democrats, revolted against was giving working Americans the right to unionise, an important factor that aided the growth of unions in the World War II and post World War II period not to mention the growth of a middle class which consumed the products of corporate America and stimulated, in the process, American economic growth. Ironically, in other words, social insurance liberalism saved capitalism so its capitalists could live and fignt another day. During the Truman years Dixiecrats and their conservative Northern Republican allies managed to pass legislation which limited the right of working people to unionise particularly in the South thanks to right to work laws, right to work laws, which like the anti-abortion rhetoric of the 1970s and after, used the discourse and rhetoric of “freedom of choice” against those who finally had the freedom to choice to join an organisation which actually did benefit their lives economically and practically for with union victories came better working conditions, better working hours, and better benefits.

Though there seemed to be a consensus among most Americans that the measures put in place by the New Deal and its heirs, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and even Nixon, countercultural movements like the John Birch Society, with its rabid anti-communism which claimed that even “Ike” was a commie dupe, and America’s businessmen, who blamed the American state for regulating and paperworking them to death. In the rhetoric of this counterculture the state, all states, even those who successfully fought communism in the name of American capitalism itself, became evil tyrannical forces who coerced monies out of its citizenry. With the end of the Cold War the rhetoric of anti-communism was turned on those who the Birchers and many business leaders blamed for the expansion of the American state, liberals. Ironically, those demonising liberals were liberals themselves, laissez-faire liberals who had no problems taking wealthfare from the US government, and it was New Deal liberal Democrats who fought the Nazis and fought to contain communism. All of these facts were elided in the demonology of the right who turned Nazis, commies, those who were hated by Nazis, and liberals, those who fought both Nazism and communism, into strange bedfellows.

Thanks to the economic downturn spurred, at least in large part, by American support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War in the early 1970s, OPEC, the oil producing nations many of whom were Arab and Muslim, responded to Western support for Israel by raising oil prices, the counterculture of the post-WWII period, has increasingly gone mainstream. The Republican Party, once a Northern party, used dissatisfaction with the Democrats push from Truman to LBJ for civil rights, a push they had to be pushed screaming into, to turn the South, that bastion of state’s rights (leave our Jim Crow alone you evil federal government and activist courts), the bastion of Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism, Republican.

Thanks to party realignment the increasingly dixiefornicated Republican Party has been able to dixiefy places like Wisconsin thanks to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has ties to one of the rich peoples movements that has been at the forefront of the tax revolt, the two self proclaimed libertarian Koch Brothers, David and Charles, whose father was involved with the John Birch Society. In the name of the need to deal with a governmental debt created, ironically, by the tax revolt, Walker has gone after elements of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin who oppose what Walker is doing in the name of his rich patrons and benefactors. First, he went after minorities who tend to vote Democrat by passing restrictive voting rights laws. Then he went after public employee unions who tend to vote Democrat and who, thanks to unionisation, have bucked the trends of lower wages and less benefits for workers. Now he is going after universities, whose faculty tend to vote Democrat, by promising to slash and burn their budgets, something that will, in the long run if it continues, destroy the very thing, the public higher education in the US, that helps the middle class and even the poor in some instances, improve their economic lot. That many can’t see what Walker and others, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Sam Brownback in Kansas, are up to, they are acting to promote their own naked political and economic agendas and ambitions and that of their puppet masters, is a testament to how culture creates reality or how culture creates fake realities. Many of those most hurt by these Republican power grabs and actions to promote the interests of the already economically and politically powerful, actually support the very policies that are hurting them, that are proletarianising and lumpen proletarianising them.

Here are a few numbers that give you a glimpse into the reborn greatest good for the fewest number of Americans America. I take them from a variety of sources including David Harrell, Edwin Gaustad, John Boles, Sally Griffith, Randall Miller, and Randall Woods, Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), Scott Shane, “The Opiate of Exceptionalism”, in the New York Times, Ed Vulliamy, "The Rebellion in Baltimore is an Upraising Against Austerity Claims Academic" in the Guardian>, and John Komlos, "Income inequality begins at Birth and These are the Stats that Prove It".

Let's begin with the data on poverty. In the 1960s 20% of Americans lived below the poverty line. After the Great Society’s War on Poverty, poverty declined to 15%. America's elderly and particularly its White elderly benefitted most from the War on Poverty with its expansion of social security and its creation of Medicare. In the 1980s and 1990s 35 million Americans lived below the poverty line. Those living below the poverty line rose from 13% to 13.5% between 1980 and 1990. Poverty hit Blacks and Hispanics worse than it did Whites. By 2001 30% of Blacks and 30% of Hispanics lived below the poverty line. 13.9% of African American families earn less than $20,000 dollars a year only 5.5% of Whites earn less than $20,000 dollars a year. In Baltimore, a city hit hard by white flight, deindustrialisation, globalisation, and tax decreases, 12 percent of African American families have total incomes less than $10,000 dollars compared to 4 percent of whites. The federal poverty rate for a family of four in the continental US is $24,250 dollars. Poverty hit female headed families even more. In the 45.1% of female-headed families fell below the poverty line. 40% of never married mothers were long term welfare recipients compared to 14% of divorced mothers. The homeless rate, perhaps the ultimate measure of poverty, rose from 280,000 to 500,000 over the course of the early 2000s. Homelessness is particularly a problem in America’s urban areas.

Income disparity between America's rich and poor increased in the years after the "Reagan revolution". During the 1980s and 1990s income disparity rose in the US while the poverty rate was at its highest rate since 1993 with 46 million Americans living below the federal poverty line, The top 1% of Americans, however, doubled their share of the national income. In 1995 the richest 5% of Americans accounted for 20% of the national income. Between 2013 and 2015 the wealth of the 14 richest Americans grew by $157 billion dollars according to the Bloomberg Millionaires Index. That is more than the total wealth of 128 million other Americans. The poorest 40% accounted for 15% of the nation’s income. Income disparity was and is even worse when you look at the poor and particularly poor minorities. Currently 20% of America's 15 million African American households have no wealth whatsoever, just debt.

Finally, I want to look at recent statistics which allow us to compare greatest good for the fewest number America to other modern Western nations. In a sample of 13 wealthy countries the US ranks highest in inequality and lowest in intergenerational earnings mobility. Wealth in the US, in other words, isn’t earned fresh in each new generation by latter day Horatio Agers it is passed down, preserved, and expanded through tax laws that favour the rich and powerful and the continuous transmission of social and cultural capital. Of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th in the child poverty edging out only Romania. The US comes in at number 28 in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool. At the other end of the scale the US ranks 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education degree. In terms of infant mortality the United States ranks lower than 48 other countries and territories. In terms of social mobility the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility. Before the institution of the Affordable Care Act the World Health Organisation ranked the US health care system number 37 right below Costa Rica and right above Slovenia thanks, in part, to the fact that millions of poor Americans couldn't obtain health care through their workplace and afford health insurance given its cost as a result. The US is number one in locking its citizens up with an incarceration rate far higher than that of the likes of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010 an African-American male born in 2001 had a 32% chance of going to jail during his lifetime, compared with 17% of Latino males, and 6% of whites. While African-Americans make up 13% of the US population and 14% of drug users, but comprise 37% of those arrested for drug-related offences, account for 57% of people in state prisons for drug offences, are 33% more likely than whites to be detained while facing a criminal trial, and in 2009 were 21% more likely than whites to receive mandatory minimum sentences and 20% more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offences. In 2009, two-thirds of life sentences were given to non-whites. In 2010, the US Sentencing Commission found that African-Americans received 10% longer sentences than whites for the same crimes. In New York City, 80% of people stopped by police are black or Latino, and 85% of those stopped are searched, compared with 8% of whites. The US leads the world in obesity, a reflection of inequalities in access to high quality food, easily outpacing second-place Mexico and with nearly 10 times the rate of Japan. The US is number one in energy use per person, with double the consumption of Germany, a measure of rich big business driven wastefulness in America. The US, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is number one in total defence spending, a measure of where much of America's decreasing taxes go, at $739.3 billion dollars compared to $89.8 billion for China and $52.7 billion for Russia.

Welcome to the America by and for the one percent. Welcome to an America in which rich people and their rich people’s movements with their mantra of poor, poor pitiful us who pay way too much in taxes (by the way, taxes in the US are far lower than most Western European nations whose people, despite higher taxes, seem to be, if surveys are to be believed, happier than most Americans), and the governments they now own and control, proletarianise, lumpen proletarianise, and segregate, by class and race, the rest of America. Welcome to an America where even once countercultural institutions like coops increasingly mimic the very corporate organisations they once did not want to be. Coops coopted. I hope you enjoy it.

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