The Coastal Post - February, 1996

Corporate Control And Democracy Cannot Co-exist

BY SANDY LEON

Hypocrisy, inhumanity, contradiction, inconsistency, logic twisted beyond recognition: These are a few characterizations that come to mind as President Clinton and Congress publicly wring their hands over the so-called budget impasse. At this point, the outcome, no matter who wins, will spell disaster for anyone with an income under about two hundred G's.

Consider the following Washington-versus-the-real-world dichotomies:

In the real world, some 800,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the U.S. since 1989. Discarded workers, unable to compete with cheap labor and higher profits in Mexico or offshore, compete with one another for part-time jobs at the likes of Wal-Mart and MacDonalds.

In Washington, Senator Phil Gram appeals to welfare recipients—two-thirds of whom are children—to get out of the wagon and push. Newt Gingrich rails about personal responsibility, and President Clinton revels in the success of GATT and NAFTA—trade agreements that lifted tariffs and made it easier for corporations to move production to third world countries. In a world of corporate mergers and massive layoffs, no one mentions corporate responsibility.

In the real world, in the past two decades wages have fallen for working males with a high school education or less. In 1996, labor statistics cite declining wages for males at every educational level.

In Washington, President Clinton gives an upbeat State of the Union speech, urges families to take responsibility, deems the '90s the age of possibility.

In the real world, never before in our nation's history have so many been so overworked and underpaid. Small business owners, unable to compete in a corporate market, close down shop or file for bankruptcy in record numbers. Health insurance is a luxury. Men and women in one- and two-parent households struggle to pay rent and mortgage, to hold families together, to take responsibility to maintain family values while holding two, sometimes three, part-time jobs each.

In Washington, President Clinton brags about unemployment figures being at an all-time low. He conveniently forgets to mention that under-employment is at an all-time high—meaning that while official unemployment records remain low, masses of Americans work in low-paying, dead-end jobs with little or no health care benefits, no job security and no hope for the future of their children.

In the real world, some 80 percent of today's workforce is experiencing falling real wages. According to M.I.T. economist Lester Thurow, "No country without a revolution or a military defeat has ever experienced such a sharp shift in the distribution of earnings as American in the last generation."

In Washington, President Clinton, while still on the campaign trail, promised, "a more equitable...system of distribution...a higher standard of living for every hard-working America...in the new global economy."

Still, these are not the issues that dominate the news. The pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report ramble on about the budget crisis, rarely questioning the sudden (and out-of-character) Republican interest in balancing the budget during the budget-bloating years of the Reagan administration illustrates the point all too clearly.

But it is the similarities, not the differences, in the Republican and Democratic proposals that are newsworthy. It is true that Republican cuts in entitlements are more draconian than Bill Clinton's, but only by degree. Clinton had embraced the subtractive approach to government spending long before the Republicans threatened to end government as we now know it.

Both sides talk about family values, while simultaneously espousing cuts in welfare benefits to women and children. This so they can magically move them into a mostly non-existent job market (not everyone wants or can afford to work at MacDonalds or Wal-Mart in a part-time job at a sub-standard wage) with little or no funding for childcare of job training. All this as if motherhood had no inherent family value of its own.

This at a time when what little remains of Bill Clinton's job-training programs, scholarship funds, student loans, and educational enrichment programs (not to mention environmental protection measures in place for year) is threatened to the point of extinction in the interest of reaching a budget compromise.

Robert Borosage, of the Institute for Policy Studies and founder of the Campaign for New Priorities, recently pointed out other important philosophical similarities between the White House and the Gingrich Congress. Both sides agree that:

• Austerity and deficit reduction should be the core domestic economic strategy, despite the fact that the U.S. deficit is smaller, as a proportion of its economy, than that of any other industrial nation;

• Free trade will remain the central global strategy, despite the fact that the U.S. trade deficit is at a record high, including massive imbalances with mercantilist East Asian nations that play by their own rules;

• Taxes on corporations and the affluent are to be reduced, not raised, despite the fact that the country's rich, who have reaped most of the returns from increased productivity and growth in recent years, already pay the lowest rate of taxes in the industrialized world;

• Military spending will stay virtually at cold war levels, forcing further cuts in vital domestic investments in education and training, research and infrastructure, already a levels proportionately far lower than they were in the Eisenhower years;

• Excessive health care costs are to be addressed by cut-backs in Medicare and Medicaid, rather than by universal health are reform, despite the fact that only universal reform can hope to insure Americans good health care at affordable costs;

• Prison, police and harsher sentencing are the major urban initiatives worth financing, despite the fact that the United States imprisons more of its population than South Africa did under apartheid;

• Aid to dependent children must be reformed, even at the cost of driving more children into poverty, while aid to dependent corporations remains sacrosanct, although the latter costs and corrupts far more than the former.

The Republican mantra that the budget must be balanced, in order to insure our children's future, employs the same twisted logic that has allowed Republicans to get away with reasoning that the root cause of poverty is aid to the poor. Try that line anywhere else in the world.

It may well be in our national interest to achieve a balanced budget. But the subtractive approach to entitlement programs, environmental protection and education is as short-sighted as it is inhumane. To remove safeguards and basic assurances without providing any alternative is to remove all hope for the future.

The lack of creative vision in Washington today is upstaged only by the void in economic logic. A nation of hungry, uneducated, unhealthy and depressed citizens is not in the national interest—anymore than the production of global distribution of weapons of destruction constituted national security. The reason for this lack of vision is all too clear.

As a progressively elite body of elected representatives becomes indistinguishable from the corporate interests they serve, these same representatives become increasingly alienated from and disinterested in the interests of ordinary people.

The general consensus in Washington is that the change from a national to a global economy is bound to be a little rough—on all but the profiteers, that is. They see the massive layoffs, worker displacement and environmental destruction as an unfortunate but necessary by-product of the times.

This "why worry?" attitude is buttressed by record corporate profits, soaring stock and bond markets and a boost of over 60 percent in income for the top one percent of Americans over the past decade. The rest of us will surely grow stronger by continuing to push the profit wagon. If we slip and fall, there's always MacDonald's—or prison, the last pit stop, where society's big losers have an opportunity to be part of the final solution to the labor problem.

Where there's life there's...

A successful transformation from a destruction-based economy to a production-based model challenges all of us to redefine terms, heretofore accepted as truth.

The Cold War is over. The Russian army can barely hold its own against its own in Chechnya. There is no single country in the world that has the capacity to threaten the United States, despite propaganda to the contrary.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the Center for Defense Information. and the Pentagon, the United States produces and exports more weapons than all other countries combined. Yet U.S. military spending remains intact at nearly $250 billion.

President Clinton is currently spending billions of dollars to promote foreign arms sales, thereby increasing the international arms race and the destabilization of the developing world. This keeps arms manufacturers in business and maintains their capacity to produce even more arms.

That is the nature of our current economic system. The effect of this is that valuable resources are diverted, not only in the United States, but throughout the world—away from productive investment and desperately needed social spending.

In its present state, our economic system, with its inherent inequities, pits man against woman, white against black, blue-collar workers against environmentalists, civilian peace activists against military servants, the working poor (a term that has lost its meaning as more and more of us fall into that category) against welfare recipients. That system serves to take the spotlight off the real problems we face as a nation.

This is the price of corporate control of government. Self-interest on the part of Congress has deemed the current budget debate superficial and meaningless. It is being defined by the wrong questions. The important questions are less about the size of the annual budget than about what to invest in and who, in the interest of preserving true national and global security.