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Issue #1619      November 20, 2013

Culture & Life

Killer Capitalism

Under the headline “The Stealthy Killer That Is Capitalism”, US college lecturer and author Paul Buchheit wrote an article in Common Dreams on November 11, 2013, about the growing ill effects of capitalism on American people’s well-being. “The process is gradual, insidious, lethal. It starts with financial stress in various forms, and then, according to growing evidence, leads to health problems and shorter lives”, he wrote.

“Financial stress is brought upon us by the profit motive of capitalism, which offers little incentive to feed hungry children, to treat the sick, to secure us in retirement, to provide job opportunities for middle-class Americans.” [In modern American parlance, “middle class” also encompasses the working class.]

There are now some 48 million Americans depending on government food stamps to obtain food. The whole budget for the SNAP (food stamp) program is a piddling $78 billion – that’s less than the 2012 investment earnings of the 20 wealthiest Americans. Nevertheless, the Republican-dominated Congress has cut it. Half the SNAP recipients are children, but in future they will now get $1.40 for a meal instead of $1.50. Even a child cannot get a decent meal in the USA for $1.50 (let alone $1.40). Malnutrition now stalks millions of Americans. Meanwhile, as Buchheit says, “not a penny extra is being taken from the multi-billionaires.”

Paul Buchheit is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites UsAgainstGreed.org and PayUpNow.org and is the editor and main author of American Wars: Illusions and Realities (Clarity Press). He is especially crooked on ultra-wealthy Americans who mock the reality of the situation in the US, and their own situation in particular. People like Casino billionaire Steve Wynn who had the gall to declare: “Guys like me are job creators and we don’t like having a bulls-eye painted on our back.”

Or guys like Bank CEO John A Allison IV: “Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive.” [What did he ever actually produce, apart from bank profits for his family and friends? Given that he is the IV of his ilk, we can be sure that some at least of his wealth is inherited, not even the product of his own scheming and conniving.]

Buchheit comments: “The reality is that corporate profits have doubled in ten years, and the corporate tax percent has been cut in half, while millions of jobs have been lost.” Job creators my eye!

Buchheit also takes a quick look at the effects of capitalism’s many crises on the health of the US population. “Over 200 recent studies have confirmed a link between financial stress and sickness. In just 20 years America’s ranking among developed countries dropped on nearly every major health measure.”

As we all know, the US does not have a universal health care system or anything like it. Illness or accident can mean ruin. Buchheit points out that lack of a proper health care system is itself a source of stress. With no public health system to look after them, Americans are forced to rely on the for-profit private system, and the only way they can even try to afford that is to take out private health insurance policies, at a sufficiently high rate to cover accidents and emergencies. Buchheit notes that “A Harvard study estimated that nearly 45,000 Americans lost their lives in 2005 due to lack of health insurance.” They couldn’t afford it. That’s an awful lot of people who died because they were poor.

Buchheit also focuses on the mental health impact of capitalism in the US: “In addition to its effects on our physical health, financial stress threatens our mental well-being. Stunningly, one out of every five American adults had mental illness in 2011, as reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Another recent study found that unemployment, whether voluntary or involuntary, can significantly impact a person’s mental health. But only one of two Americans needing mental health care can afford treatment.

“Grimmer still is the growing suicide rate, also linked to unemployment and declining wealth. The rate has accelerated since the 2008 recession.”

Buchheit concludes: “The facts show that we were a relatively healthy people until unregulated free-market capitalism began to disrupt our lives. Now, because of its winner-take-all profit motive, we’re literally fighting for our lives.”

In another article Buchheit observes that the wealthiest elite in the US has “taken $25 trillion of new wealth while paying less taxes.

“The 2013 Global Wealth Databook shows that US wealth has increased from $47 trillion in 2008 to $72 trillion in mid-2013. But according to US government revenue figures, federal income taxes have gone DOWN from 2008 to 2012. Even worse, corporations cut their tax rate in half.

“American society has gained nothing from its massive wealth expansion. There’s no wealth tax, no financial transaction tax, no way to ensure that infrastructure and public education are supported.

“Just how much have the super-rich taken over the past five years? Each of the elite 5% – the richest 12 million Americans – gained, on average, nearly a million dollars in financial wealth between 2008 and 2013.

“For the first time in history”, says Buchheit, “the rich believe they don’t need the rest of us.” The rich in developed capitalist countries have always needed the workers and the lower middle class to work in their factories and buy their products. With globalisation this is no longer true. “Their factories can be in China, producing goods for people in India or Europe or anywhere else in the world.

“They don’t need our infrastructure for their yachts and helicopters and submarines. They pay for private schools for their kids, private security for their homes. They have private emergency rooms to avoid the health care hassle. All they need is an assortment of servants, who might be guest workers, willing to work for less than a middle-class American can afford.”

That, as I am sure many of you have already recognised, is the vision of the future shared by Tony Abbott.

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