FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Revenge of the Plutocrats

by MICHAEL BRENNER

Last Sunday, The New York Times published a lead editorial defending Social Security from its attackers.  A candid piece – even if it did slight the political incentives for continuing to milk the Social Security fund to cover other appropriations. Welcome – but 4 years overdue. The game is lost – the intellectual and political game. Obama gave it away in the summer of 2011 and is on the brink of sacrificing Social Security as part of his so-called “grand bargain.’

The NYT belated action falls under the heading of “grand-pa responses.” When 30 years from now, a grandchild at Thanksgiving dinner asks; “Grandpa – where were you when they sold out the old people?” he can respond by pulling out a yellowed clipping of the March 31, 2013 editorial. If the kid is really sharp, the follow-on question might be: “shouldn’t this have been dated April 1?”

The Times tacked in the opposite direction by Wednesday – perhaps taken aback by its own deviance? An exceptionally long news story by Jackie Calmes pressed hard on the theme that Social Security was in fact becoming a drain on the budget and the economy since new recipients were beginning to receive more than they contributed.

Of course, the program always had an element of inter-generation transfer insofar as payers-in were earning higher wages than had been the case a generation or two earlier. And of course, the earlier decades of surplus were more than ample to create a surplus sufficient to meet new claims for another generation – at least. That is the case so long as the government does not move that surplus into the general budget.  Moreover, the calculation of contributions made and disbursements somehow does not include the interest accrued. Calmes seems to have applied Islamic banking principles to Social Security.

So the article set up a straw man that Social Security was some sort of individual investment vehicle whose expose as something different justified the cries of havoc. To ensure that maximum effect, this line was    incorporated in a story whose headline, and first part, concentrated on the different arithmetic of Medicare.

Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, pulled a similar stunt a few weeks ago in speaking to a critical meeting of EU prime ministers and Finance Ministers. In an effort to prove his case that the plight of the Community’s “southern” members stems from the laziness and incompetence of their workforce, he highlighted statistics that purported to show vast differences in productivity/wages gap. Draghi conventionally measured the former in Euros discounted for inflation and the latter in nominal Euros. If there are 20 ways to lie, with statistics there are 100.   If someone can shed some light on any of these lubricious numbers, please email me and I’ll pass it on.

On Thursday, the White House announced its proposed budget. The document featured cuts in Social Security and $400 billion in Medicare cuts – cuts that Obama pledged to resist during the re-election campaign.  Many expressed surprise – for some inexplicable reason.

Remember Richard S. Fuld Jr, the CEO of Lehman Brothers who crashed that venerable investment house? The simpering Mr. Fuld who begged the Congressional committee for sympathy and understanding of what  had befallen him? Well, the BBC a while back made a documentary on the Word Financial Crisis that includes a brief video of Mr. Fuld exhorting his executives a few months before the collapse. He howls: “I want to reach in, rip out their heart and eat it before they die.” They are his competitors. There are few vegans on Wall Street. In a related video, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson leaves a crisis meeting to call his wife with the message: “It looks like Lehman might go under – pray for me.” Pray for us?

Austin is renowned as Texas’ only liberal city. It does actually elect a real Democrat to Congress. Still. This Monday the local Chamber of Commerce called before its council the head of the Board of Education to      instruct her as to the exact reform that the school district would have to make in eliminating under populated schools in exchange for the CoC’s support of a school bond issue. When the School Board voted by 7-1 to reject the demand, the CoC announced its implacable opposition. Within 24 hours, an emergency meeting of the school board was convened and the original vote reversed 8 – 0. Democracy in form; plutocracy in substance.

Scientists at Harvard and MIT claim to have come up with a computer program that grades essay exams. This super-TA is advertised as an historic breakthrough in higher education that can cut costs while removing the subjective element in the evaluation of students’ work. (No more illicit exchanges of higher grades for brownies). There are so many perverse illogicalities mingled in this latest step in the march of progress as to suggest that the story is a belated April Fool’s joke. It isn’t – unfortunately. The common thread is commitment to uniformity, uniformity within predetermined narrow limits. The unstated premises are that (a) there are definitive ways of thinking which are measurable; and (b) mechanical routinization is a self-evident good.  Instrumentalism becomes the paramount educational principle. The corporate mindset finds this irresistibly appealing. The educational mindset that serves the corporate world has lost any sense of what education is beyond vocational training. Hence, the mindlessness of people who are paid to do nothing but think.

Talks on the loudly trumpeted North Atlantic Free Trade Area are scheduled to begin soon. The agenda features three items dear to three American interests groups: lowering obstacles to farm exports by breaking down EU restrictions on genetically modified, hormone and anti-biotic impregnated foodstuffs; lowering obstacles to the export of American films and other entertainment commodities; and the lowering of obstacles on American financial services and IT companies operating in Europe. Hollywood, Wall Street & Dubuque. The more ambitious and revolutionary Washington goal is to give private companies throughout the region the legal authority to challenge before the business friendly World Bank an extensive range of national legislation and regulation on environmental, safety, tax, and matters. In other words, businesses acquire the status of sovereign states at the expense of elected governments.  Similar ideas have been put forward at the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area talks. Public debate on these dramatic innovations?

There is a steady drumbeat of such stories that percolate (usually beneath the surface) every week.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail