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Issue #1795      September 20, 2017

People in crisis

The capitalist media are often seized with not just surprise but amazement when ordinary people pull together to help one another in times of crisis, as so many Americans did after Hurricane Irma. Such “human interest” stories are always given prominence, even ahead of stories about baby animals.

But why should examples of common humanity take them so much by surprise? Because, dear reader, they’re the capitalist media, and capitalism is all about looking out for number one, “get yours, and get it first”, and Devil take the hindmost! So when ordinary people set aside all considerations of personal profit to help their neighbours it runs counter to the entire ethos of capitalism and must be treated as extraordinary and exceptional. After all, it would never do for people to become used to the idea of helping your neighbours, for it to become the norm. Some smart aleck might point out that that is what people living under Socialism do!

Paul Buchheit, writing in US web journal Common Dreams, made the point that “except for brief surges of generosity after cataclysmic events, big corporations have little incentive to provide for the long-term well-being of people struck down by catastrophe.” And those brief surges of generosity usually have more to do with being seen as “good PR” than with any actual desire to help others. If it isn’t going to make them a profit, most capitalists simply can’t be bothered. If they did, it wouldn’t be capitalism any more.

Buchheit adds, “The business world has little incentive to safeguard the population against pollution and industrial poisons; or to maintain infrastructure in the inner cities and rural townships; or to make sure everyone has the opportunity for a living-wage job.” Little incentive? Let’s face it, they regard such programs as theft of their hard-earned profits. They go out of their way to ensure that their money is not used for such programs, employing an army of tax avoidance accountants, lobbyists and advertising agencies to ensure that the funds government needs for social services, welfare and disaster relief are not drawn from the corporate sector.

Heavens, no. Giving lovely corporate profits to poor people would be a dreadful waste! After all, they can’t buy anything – they’re poor remember. Except as cannon fodder they don’t really have a role in the capitalist economy any more. Even the capitalist media is aware of this, as witness this comment in The New York Times: “The free market often does a terrible job of providing basic services to the poor – see, for instance, the lack of grocery stores and banks in many low-income neighbourhoods.”

In developed capitalist countries like the USA (and Australia), the great majority of the recipients of welfare and other life-sustaining programs are children, the elderly, and the disabled. Children, of course, are essential if labour is to be replenished. But the elderly? The disabled? And suchlike? For capitalism, that’s just money down the drain.

Which is no doubt why the leading capitalist country, the USA, has such an abysmal record in health care. Hollywood always portrays the US health system, which is run strictly for profit, as the envy of the world, but the reality is very different. As Buchheit notes: “We have a privatised health care system that spends more and performs more poorly than most other developed countries ... Our infant mortality rate is among the highest in the developed world.” He thinks this “disregard for the lives of children reflects a disdain for poor women in America: their children are more likely to die than similarly poor mothers in other countries.” (Now there’s a statistic that’s not bandied around much – certainly not in the capitalist media.)

Buchheit’s criticisms are not confined to the US health care system. He also lambastes the US education system (already the only place in the world where armed police can be found patrolling school corridors). He points to the USA as the place where you find “profit-seekers promoting forms of school ‘choice’ that eliminate the poorest and neediest students, while draining money from the public system, even as state governments continue to cut school funding.”

And as everyone knows, homelessness too is rife in “the land of the free”. Those who do have homes are lucky to live in a tiny inner-city apartment. Many Americans have to make do with a “mobile home” in the caravan parks that surround every US town. As Buchheit says, “We have hardly any places in the US where a working class family can afford housing, and yet the federal housing budget is targeted for a cutback.”

Capitalism is a system of “private enterprise”, that is, it is intended to provide opportunities for private entrepreneurs to make profits. For decades now, US governments have railed against government expenditure on social programs, denigrating it as “big government” which is apparently a Very Bad Thing. In reality, they attack it because government-funded public works compete with private sector public works, where big money can be made.

The private sector, however, has little interest in providing housing for low income families (i.e. the poor) because, once again, providing housing or any other essential service to poor people is money down the drain. How can you get a profit out of them? They’re poor. Building houses for the rich, that’s where you can make real money!

In a rational society, the government would fund the construction of public housing because people have a right to housing (shelter), but who thinks the capitalist USA is a rational society?

Not me, that’s for sure.

Next article – Nine Eleven

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