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Issue #1685      May 20, 2015

Culture & Life

Candidates and capitalism

“Can somebody who is not a billionaire [and] who stands for working families actually win an election in which billionaires are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the election?” That’s the question posed by US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont who is seeking to become the Democratic nominee for President.

US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

“I think I’m the only candidate who’s prepared to take on the billionaire class which now controls our economy, and increasingly controls the political life of this country,” Sanders said in a TV interview. In addition, he championed “bold leadership” to tackle the climate crisis, and voiced clear opposition to the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

“I think what the American people are saying is that at a time when 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent, and when the top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, maybe it’s time for a real political shake-up in this country.

“I get very frightened about the future of American democracy when [elections] become a battle between billionaires,” he added.

Some of us would say that “American democracy” has been in deep trouble for a long time but it’s refreshing to see a progressive position being taken by a mainstream candidate, even if his chances of defeating Hillary Clinton are slim. Mrs Clinton has a very well stuffed war-chest and backers with very deep pockets. As Sanders says, “Hillary Clinton has been part of the political establishment for many, many years.”

Nevertheless, many ordinary people have already given Sanders their support. The progressive presidential candidate raised $1.5 million online in only one day after announcing his bid. 35,000 people donated just over $40 each.

It may not be enough to defeat the big corporations and their political machine, but it is good to know that despite all the relentless propaganda and the corrupt practices there are still plenty of Americans prepared to fight the good fight.

In an article on privatisation in the US on the Common Dreams website, Paul Buchheit listed a litany of capitalist ploys, ambitions and grasping practices that taken together are simply gob-smacking. Climate change, for example: to most of us, it is a crisis threatening our very future and requiring concerted government action to be taken “without fear or favour”. Capitalism sees it differently, however.

According to former World Bank Chief Economist Nicholas Stern, climate change is “the greatest market failure the world has seen.” But not for the canny ones. As the Bloomberg news agency reports, “Wall Street firms are investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter.” Reminds me of the old definition of a capitalist as someone who, on his way to the gallows, will try to sell you some rope for the noose.

And what about the things that are essential to sustain life, like food and water, not to mention health care? A water security expert in the US actually suggested that “One promising solution is to create water markets that allow people to buy and sell rights to use water.” Only a capitalist could see that as a “solution”! And of course, corporations are greedily eyeing the privatisation of water supply as a potential profit bonanza.

And why not? A 2009 analysis of US water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services! The same global corporations are seeking to privatise water supply services in Australia, in search of similar profits.

As for health care, the almost totally privatised US system is “the most expensive in the developed world, with the price of common surgeries anywhere from three to ten times higher than in much of Europe, and with 43 percent [nearly half!] of sick Americans skipping doctor’s visits and/or medication purchases in 2011 because of excessive costs”. The US system is the preferred model for the Abbott government.

Banking began as entirely made up of private for-profit companies, but eventually life demanded that governments establish publicly owned banks, as essential components of a well run economy. In more recent years, as capitalists desperately searched for new sources of profit, the public banks were also disposed of by obliging governments.

Buchheit points out that “thanks to private banks, interest claims one out of every three dollars that we spend”, and that by the time we retire nearly half of our superannuation package “is lost to the banks”.

However, “the normally privatisation-minded Wall Street Journal admits that the public Bank of North Dakota (BND) ‘is more profitable than Goldman Sachs Group Inc, has a better credit rating than JP Morgan Chase & Co and hasn’t seen profit growth drop since 2003’.” Meanwhile, in the US, “at least $2.2 trillion per year in tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate non-payment go mostly to the very rich, the most brazen of whom make the astonishing claim that their hedge fund income should be taxed at a much lower rate than a teacher’s income.

“Their tax breaks are augmented by the payroll tax rate limit, which allows multi-millionaires to pay a tiny percentage compared to middle-income earners; by high-risk derivatives that are the first to be paid off in a bank collapse; and by a bankruptcy law that allows businesses, but not students, to get out of debt.”

Buchheit makes the relevant observation that “At the heart of privatisation is a disdain for government and a distrust of society, and a mindless individualism that leaves little room for cooperation. … Adherents of privatisation demand ‘freedom’ unless they need the government to intervene on their behalf.”

He also notes that “The people in position to take from society seek to rationalise their actions … through the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the author of The Virtue of Selfishness” and the views of Margaret Thatcher who proclaimed “There is no such thing as society”.

What a system!

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