The Unquenchable Appetite for MORE

July 7, 2010

There’s an old adage that  implores us to “never hit a man when he’s down”.  The moneyed interests that run this country think that old adage is for fools.  From where you and I might stand, things are looking rather bleak economically.  The unemployment rate continues to hover near 10%, State and Local Governments face disastrous budget shortfalls and a solution to the foreclosure crisis has yet to be found.  In the adage, we, the working public are most certainly in the role of the man who is down.  And even though now might seem like a good time for a helping hand, brace yourselves, because the oligarchs are winding up for one swift kick to the teeth.

If you pay attention to the news, I’m sure you’ve heard at least one story about the importance of addressing the federal deficit. The time for financial stimulus, health-care reform and bailouts has come and gone, and now it’s time for a little bit of belt-tightening.  This sounds reasonable enough at first blush.  We like to think of our national and global economic situation in the same terms that most would think of their household economic situation.  Times are tough?  Then it’s time to cutback on dining out, it’s time to shut off the cable or it’s time to cancel that summer vacation.  Unfortunately, comparing the economic policies of nations with the economic policies of households is wrong.  The methods you use to balance your checkbook have nothing to do with the methods used for addressing our country’s financial situation. But this is not what the powers that be want you to believe.  They want you to believe that the only thing to do right now is to cutback…and you had better believe that they aren’t the ones who plan to be participating in any sort of sacrifice.  That will be up to you and me.  The proverbial ‘man who is down’.

The plan to convince us all of the need for belt-tightening has been charged to President Obama’s recently formed “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform”. One of the Commission’s stated purposes’ is to “propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending.” For those not versed in the linguistic styling of Washington bureaucrats, that quite simply means “finding ways to CUT Social Security and Medicare.” That’s right, cut the most popular, successful, efficient and possibly two most important programs in our country.  Wall St. gets its bailout, there’s endless money for endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, insurance and pharmaceutical companies receive sweet deals during health reform and the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich that are set to expire, might just stick around. Apparently, there’s money for all of that, but everyone out there skating by on Social Security and Medicare are just going to have to ‘suck it up’.

There’s two problems with this theory;  first, millions of American’s already living on the edge of poverty and despair will be shoved a little closer to the precipice, and second, reforming or cutting entitlement programs is an ineffective and wrong-headed strategy for trimming the federal deficit.  An explanation of this second point can be found in the testimony of economist James K. Galbraith when he appeared before Obama’s Fiscal Commission on June 30, 2010:

http://www.newdeal20.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/deficitcommissionrv.pdf

Professor Galbraith’s testimony essentially explains that entitlement programs like Social Security are transfer programs that function on a ‘money-in-money-out’ basis and are consequently irrelevant to deficit economics.  He goes on to highlight the true cause of the deficit (the financial downturn) and to explain that the call for deficit reduction is a political one, not one being demanded by the markets.  His testimony should be read in full by anyone with even a passing interest in this topic.

What all this illustrates is just the latest chapter in the ongoing class war being waged upon millions of Americans by wealthy who have, as the title of this post describes, “An Unquenchable Appetite for MORE”.  Entitlement programs represent to them an unearned handout to those who have demonstrated neither the talent or the willingness to succeed in life.  In their eyes, Social Security isn’t a necessary safety net or a means by which we show that societies who thrive are the ones that support and take care of the least of those among them.  To them, Social Security is a wasteful enterprise that encourages slothful behavior and rewards inadequacy.  But on top of that callous sentiment, entitlement programs represent to them a huge untapped resource of money that they ache to get their hands on.  That’s what the failed ‘privatization’ scheme of George W. Bush tried to accomplish.  It was not a benevolent new way to restructure a popular program; it was a money grab.  The powers that be wanted our Social Security funds to be invested on Wall St.  All of the talk about deficits and insolvency are nothing more than lies created to move money that is currently in the hands of the public trust into the hands of bankers and financiers who want to start laying it out on the craps table in a new effort to further line their already fat pockets.

The whole situation reminds me of the scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” where George Bailey gets the opportunity to give Mr. Potter an earful about his greedy ways. George says, “I know very well what you’re talking about…you’re talking about something you can’t get your fingers on…and it’s galling you!”  The fact that Social Security and Medicare still exist today is galling the financial elites.  It galls them that they don’t control it and it galls them that people in worse situations than they actually get to enjoy the spoils of it.  It doesn’t matter that there is a Democrat in the White House, either.  This ‘Fiscal Commission’ represents just the latest attempt by the oligarchs to put an end to something that’s been galling them for roughly eighty years.

You don’t have to look far to see the results of the economic recession.  Even if your life has found a way to carry on relatively unscathed, you undoubtedly know of someone else who hasn’t been so lucky.  All of us are merely scheming to find a way to persevere.  But while we’re fighting for our lives, the rich and powerful are scheming for new ways to squeeze out a few more drops.  So the next time you hear a politician or a banker on TV talking about the necessity of trimming the deficit, just remember that they don’t have the slightest pause when it comes to hitting a man when he’s down.