Saturday, 23 June 2018

America, the sick man of the West

Playing to his ignorant base (ignorant because of cost-cutting meted out to the public education system over generations, which has left an entire generation of Americans unable to think for themselves), Donald Trump blames globalisation for the endemic wealth inequality that bedevils a country when the real problem is that democracy itself, along with its fruits, has been sold, like everything else in the place, to the highest bidder. The managerial class and its lobbyists in Washington DC have so skewed the system in America that the ordinary worker effectively has no voice. Hence workers’ frustration with the status quo.

America is a failed experiment where everything has nothing apart from a price. Encouraged by extremists animated within the dynamics of the old Cold War, politicians and businesses have let the commons be ransacked and pillaged over generations, and extreme wealth inequality has led to the election to the executive of a fool and a demagogue. American democracy is broken. Unalloyed by an effective commons, capitalism there is out of control. The  political divide is in fact the mere obverse of the same coin that has created conditions where an unbridled free market mindset feeds the greed that keeps most people in it poor.

The judicial system is broken. Judges are elected to office based on their ideological predisposition, rather than their probity or wisdom or knowledge of the law. This systemic corruption goes all the way up to the highest court in the land, where party appointments ruin any chance the country has to escape the strictures of political bias. And gerrymandering of federal electoral boundaries to favour Republicans is so bad because of the fact that there is no federal electoral commission to draw them; boundaries are set by partisan state governments.

The minimum wage (currently set at $7 per hour) is so low that ordinary workers often have to keep two or more jobs just to pay the rent and be able to feed their children. The prisons are filled to bursting with inmates inspired by poverty and poor education to commit crimes. America has more people in jail per head of population than any other country in the world. It’s healthcare costs are outrageous. It costs America 50 percent more than the OECD average to keep people well but mortality strikes Americans on average three years earlier than the OECD average. Your employer pays your healthcare and if you have no job you cannot go to the doctor, so employees are rendered more pliant in the workplace.

In Australia, where we enjoy a much more effective system because the commons (embodied in such institutions as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the excellent state public schools, the Australian Electoral Commission, Fair Work Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and others) are still relatively intact, meaning that ordinary people can afford to feed their children and give them a good education, the Liberal Party is intent on making us more like the sick man of the West, even though we know that this does not help people live their lives. In fact it hurts them in many ways.

The sale of the electricity generation and distribution systems in New South Wales, to give a recent example of how bad things can get, has led to exorbitant retail price rises there. The sequestering of unconventional gas and its conversion to liquid in Queensland so that it can be exported to overseas markets, means that Victorians, especially, who rely on gas heaters to keep them warm in winter, are paying more for their comfort.

Privatisation and the dismantling of the commons does not function to help ordinary people. It merely favours a small clique of rich men and women who sit at the apex of the corporate pyramid among the ranks of the rent-seekers who choke the ordinary worker by quarantining the productivity gains they produce in the form of high salaries and share dividends. Even the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia now says unions need to have more bargaining power so that wage increases can be negotiated across the board. Spending money locally is good for the economy. Giving more money to a single mother with two children earning $70,000 per year is going to stimulate the retail sector in a fashion that is much more effective than you would see if you gave $1000 a month to someone earning $200,000 per year.

America is the sick man of the West but it continues to bedevil Australians because ideologues here anachronistically hold it up as a beacon of freedom; most of the things make it deserve that cachet lie deep in its past. Russia ruined America a long time ago, many years before Putin arrived on the scene as a player in domestic politics there.

Privatising the ABC is typical of the brain-farts of extremists in the Liberal Party. The ABC is one of the best things about democracy in Australia, bringing people together, left and right, in one place. It gives people with different political views a place where they can gather to discuss ideas and policy options in a rational way. It binds us as one unit and strengthens our social fabric in many ways. It forms part of the essential glue that keeps society together, uniting us in a way that few other institutions do. The ABC also funds progressive and innovative programming that the commercial networks would never risk their dollars backing.

Ideologues like Murdoch hate the ABC not because it gives their own products competition in an open marketplace but because it means that people have access to accurate news and so the men in positions of influence like himself cannot manipulate the opinions of the population with their biased editorials. The ABC’s rigorous editorial policies keep it impartial so that it performs in a way that hands-on owners like Murdoch detest. It dilutes their power. Power they use to get outcomes they want in order to further their business goals, such as hobbling the National Broadband Network.
In the final analysis, by cutting funds to the ABC the Coalition is saying that they want ordinary people to be badly-informed and easily-manipulable, just like their cuts to funding for universities are designed to do. Ignorant people vote conservative. (At least America can still teach one useful thing.)

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