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Bad or Worse?

The Spreading Financial Rot

by SERGE HALIMI

The US financial rot spread, causing a global economic crisis with catastrophic results: no jobs, millions of property owners bankrupt, waning social security. That was five years ago. Now it is quite possible that the next incumbent of the White House may be Willard Mitt Romney, who owes his immense fortune to financial speculation, delocalisation of jobs and tax havens in the Cayman Islands.

His selection of Paul Ryan as Republican vice-presidential running mate offers a glimpse of what the US might look like if voters opt for the greater of two evils on 6 November. Barack Obama has already accepted a plan to reduce the budget deficit by cutting spending on welfare without raising the extraordinarily low level of tax on the highest incomes (1), but this Democratic surrender does not go nearly far enough for Ryan. Under his programme, supported by Romney and endorsed by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, there would be further cuts in the 20% tax rate, the tax ceiling would be brought down to 25%, the lowest since 1931, and there would be an increase in defence spending between now and 2017; all this would be achieved by reducing the ratio of the budget deficit to GDP to 10% of the present level. How does Ryan expect to do this? By handing most of each state’s civil responsibilities over to the private sector or to charity. Spending on Medicaid, the state-federal programme for the health of the poor, would eventually be 78% lower (2).

Since early last year, Obama has pursued a policy of austerity which has been both ineffective and extremely harsh, in the US as elsewhere. He takes credit for (rare) good news on the economic front, which he attributes to his presidency; and he ascribes bad news (including the lack of jobs) to Republican opposition. Insofar as these arguments are unlikely to mobilise voters for him, Obama is counting on fear of Republican radical rightwing views to get him elected for a second term. But what would he do with it, when the promises of his first term are in shreds and the Congress elected in November seems certain to be more rightwing than the one Obama faced when he took office?

Once again, with a political system operating for the benefit of two parties falling over each other to grant favours to the business community, millions of Americans disenchanted with Obama’s weakness will still be forced to vote for him. So they will resign themselves and make the usual choice offered in the US, that between bad and worse. But their decision will have wider repercussions: victory for a Republican Party that is determined to demolish any last remnant of a welfare state, devoted to a Christian fundamentalist line and driven by a paranoid hatred of Islam would set an example for the European right which is already tempted to go the same way.

SERGE HALIMI is director of Le Monde Diplomatique. He has written several books, including one  on the French press, Les nouveaux chiens de garde and another on the French left in the 20th century – Quand la gauche essayait – both are fine works.  He can be reached at Serge.Halimi@monde-diplomatique.fr

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.