Chomsky: America is Fading Fast

Posted on Friday, 5th August 2011 @ 11:51 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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America In Decline

By Noam


The comic opera in Washington this summer,
which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue
in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few
years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled
power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect
of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political
Science Quarterly.

The theme is indeed widely believed. And with
some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start
with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after
World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War ’90s
was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among
those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no
small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer,
which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no
analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle
is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power
is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in
fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege
relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

power’s ascendancy over politics and society—by now mostly
financial—has reached the point that both political organizations, which
at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right
of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the
public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current
circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant
government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched
decline in state and local spending—though even that limited initiative
probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the
primary concern is the deficit. Therefore, only the deficit is under
discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the
deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed),
reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Cutting health programs is
opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent
Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.

Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would
eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both
the administration and the Republican-led House (of Representatives) are
out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the

The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest
difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense
spending, while the administration and the House propose modest
increases. The public also favored more spending on job training,
education and pollution control than did either the administration or
the House.”

The final “compromise”—more accurately, capitulation
to the far right—is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to
lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the
corporations, which are enjoying record profits.

Not even
discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as economist Dean
Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the
U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies’, which
have half the per capita costs and health outcomes that are comparable
or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too
powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought
seems hardly Utopian. Off the agenda for similar reasons are other
economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street.
The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the
Securities and Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial
fraud. The Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

wields other weapons in its battle against future generations. Faced
with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American
Electric Power, a major utility, shelved “the nation’s most prominent
effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power
plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible
for global warming,” The New York Times reported.

self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent
innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political
economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called
“the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were
financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial
production to so-called FIRE: finance, insurance, real estate) and the
offshoring of production. The ideological triumph of “free market
doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as
they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance
linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater
political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to
extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 percent of the population,
mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers and the like,
while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties even
deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy has
been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning
congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas
Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

“The major
political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like
Walmart, Best Buy or Target,” Ferguson writes. “Uniquely among
legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post
prices for key slots in the lawmaking process.” The legislators who
contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result,
according to Ferguson, is that debates “rely heavily on the endless
repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested for
their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the
leadership relies on for resources.” The country be damned.

the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new
post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic
power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the
crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in
purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their
general impact may be negative: “The successes probably add little or
nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters
transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”

By shredding the
remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the
basis for carrying the lethal process forward—as long as their victims
are willing to suffer in silence.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of
Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and
the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. He writes a
monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate.

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