Friday, May 27, 2011

The American Devolution

by Tom Kando

A hot debate in California at this time is whether or not to build the high-speed rail. Voters approved $10 billion for this in 2008, the Obama administration has appropriated nearly $3 billion, and California will receive several more billion reallocated to our State, after Florida, Michigan and some other states declined to participate and returned their share to the Feds (speaking of cutting your nose to spite your face!). The total cost, though, will run at least $45 billion.

So this brings up, again, the fundamental issue of the day: are public projects and the public sector good or bad?

There is now a second American Revolution going on. It’s actually an American Devolution. All the arguments for and against California’s High-speed rail can be generalized to other public projects and to the entire public sector.

There is today in this country, at all levels, a push to dismantle a century of social democracy, and its funding. From progressive taxation to Medicare and Social Security, from State and local parks to libraries, pubic transportation and public education.

The excuse for this has been the country’s indebtedness, mixed with a tinge of demographics: We know that our aging population increases the dependent sector while decreasing the productive sector. Each year, fewer working tax-payers must support more retirees and elderly. The conclusion drawn by the rich, the Republicans and the rest of the brainwashed population is that we must therefore dismantle the welfare state.

In the 1930s, when the country was in trouble, FDR responded with a glorious New Deal and magnificent public projects such as the TVA and the Hoover Dam. There was an elan of social awareness and collective action. Today, the response is the opposite.

Elsewhere in the Western World, the right-ward trend (which is what this is) exists, but it is much weaker. This, despite the fact that (1) their populations are aging more rapidly than ours, (2) their deficits often exceed ours (Japan’s is over 200% of GDP!) and (3) their public services and infrastructure are superior to ours. For example, California has been debating high-speed train service for 16 years, while France, Germany, Japan and even Poland have HAD it for many decades.

The difference? More of that dreaded thing called “Socialism,” or, if you prefer, FDR’s New Deal approach.

Because you see, the choice is NOT the one which House Budget Chair Paul Ryan and the Tea Party want to impose on us: The Status Quo vs. Dismantling the Welfare State. The solution is NOT the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, schools, prisons, juvenile institutions, reducing the entire service sector to a for-profit nightmare.

The solution is to IMPROVE the existing system, through simple and yes, sometimes draconian measures such as raising Social Security and Medicare age significantly (after all, we live much longer now), raising SS and Medicare contributions significantly, and above all: making taxation much, much more equitable, as it was until a generation ago. To begin with, return to the pre-Bush era tax rates on corporations and on wealthy individuals. Where is it written that the Federal budget should not exceed 20% of GDP?

To claim that the welfare state is not sustainable is to be ignorant of history and of the foreign experience. Despite two catastrophic wars - an entirely different topic - the Europeans have maintained successful welfare states for centuries, as have Japan, Canada, Australia and others. And they are not about to dismantle them.

The alternative is a devolution comparable to that of the Roman Empire - where roads, schools, public safety, literacy and the quality of life gradually wither, like vines in the winter... leave comment here