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AmericainDecline Friday5August2011 by:NoamChomsky,Truthout|OpEd (Photo:TheU.S.Army/Flickr) ItisacommonthemethattheUnitedStates,whichonlyafewyearsagowas hailedtostridetheworldasacolossuswithunparalleledpowerandunmatched appealisindecline,ominouslyfacingtheprospectofitsfinaldecay,Giacomo ChiozzawritesinthecurrentPoliticalScienceQuarterly. Thethemeisindeedwidelybelieved.Andwithsomereason,thoughanumberof qualificationsareinorder.Tostartwith,thedeclinehasproceededsincethehigh pointofU.S.powerafterWorldWarII,andtheremarkabletriumphalismofthe postGulfWar'90swasmostlyselfdelusion. Anothercommontheme,atleastamongthosewhoarenotwillfullyblind,isthat Americandeclineisinnosmallmeasureselfinflicted.

.Thecomicoperain Washingtonthissummer,whichdisguststhecountryandbewilderstheworld,may havenoanalogueintheannalsofparliamentarydemocracy. Thespectacleisevencomingtofrightenthesponsorsofthecharade.Corporate powerisnowconcernedthattheextremiststheyhelpedputinofficemayinfact bringdowntheedificeonwhichtheirownwealthandprivilegerelies,thepowerful nannystatethatcaterstotheirinterests. Corporatepowersascendancyoverpoliticsandsocietybynowmostlyfinancial hasreachedthepointthatbothpoliticalorganizations,whichatthisstagebarely resembletraditionalparties,arefartotherightofthepopulationonthemajorissues

underdebate. Forthepublic,theprimarydomesticconcernisunemployment.Undercurrent circumstances,thatcrisiscanbeovercomeonlybyasignificantgovernment stimulus,wellbeyondtherecentone,whichbarelymatcheddeclineinstateand localspendingthougheventhatlimitedinitiativeprobablysavedmillionsofjobs. Forfinancialinstitutionstheprimaryconcernisthedeficit.Therefore,onlythe deficitisunderdiscussion.Alargemajorityofthepopulationfavoraddressingthe deficitbytaxingtheveryrich(72percent,27percentopposed),reportsa WashingtonPostABCNewspoll.Cuttinghealthprogramsisopposedby overwhelmingmajorities(69percentMedicaid,78percentMedicare).Thelikely outcomeisthereforetheopposite. TheProgramonInternationalPolicyAttitudessurveyedhowthepublicwould eliminatethedeficit.PIPAdirectorStevenKullwrites,Clearlyboththe administrationandtheRepublicanledHouse(ofRepresentatives)areoutofstep withthepublicsvaluesandprioritiesinregardtothebudget. Thesurveyillustratesthedeepdivide:Thebiggestdifferenceinspendingisthat thepublicfavoreddeepcutsindefensespending,whiletheadministrationandthe Houseproposemodestincreases.Thepublicalsofavoredmorespendingonjob training,educationandpollutioncontrolthandideithertheadministrationorthe House. Thefinalcompromisemoreaccurately,capitulationtothefarrightisthe oppositethroughout,andisalmostcertaintoleadtoslowergrowthandlongterm harmtoallbuttherichandthecorporations,whichareenjoyingrecordprofits. Notevendiscussedisthatthedeficitwouldbeeliminatedif,aseconomistDean

Bakerhasshown,thedysfunctionalprivatizedhealthcaresystemintheU.S.were replacedbyonesimilartootherindustrialsocieties,whichhavehalfthepercapita costsandhealthoutcomesthatarecomparableorbetter. ThefinancialinstitutionsandBigPharmaarefartoopowerfulforsuchoptionseven tobeconsidered,thoughthethoughtseemshardlyUtopian.Offtheagendafor similarreasonsareothereconomicallysensibleoptions,suchasasmallfinancial transactionstax. MeanwhilenewgiftsareregularlylavishedonWallStreet.TheHouse AppropriationsCommitteecutthebudgetrequestfortheSecuritiesandExchange Commission,theprimebarrieragainstfinancialfraud.TheConsumerProtection Agencyisunlikelytosurviveintact. Congresswieldsotherweaponsinitsbattleagainstfuturegenerations.Facedwith Republicanoppositiontoenvironmentalprotection,AmericanElectricPower,a majorutility,shelvedthenationsmostprominentefforttocapturecarbondioxide fromanexistingcoalburningpowerplant,dealingasevereblowtoeffortstoreinin emissionsresponsibleforglobalwarming,TheNewYorkTimesreported. Theselfinflictedblows,whileincreasinglypowerful,arenotarecentinnovation. Theytracebacktothe1970s,whenthenationalpoliticaleconomyunderwentmajor transformations,endingwhatiscommonlycalledtheGoldenAgeof(state) capitalism. Twomajorelementswerefinancialization(theshiftofinvestorpreferencefrom industrialproductiontosocalledFIRE:finance,insurance,realestate)andthe offshoringofproduction.Theideologicaltriumphoffreemarketdoctrines,highly selectiveasalways,administeredfurtherblows,astheyweretranslatedinto

deregulation,rulesofcorporategovernancelinkinghugeCEOrewardstoshort termprofit,andothersuchpolicydecisions. Theresultingconcentrationofwealthyieldedgreaterpoliticalpower,acceleratinga viciouscyclethathasledtoextraordinarywealthforafractionof1percentofthe population,mainlyCEOsofmajorcorporations,hedgefundmanagersandthelike, whileforthelargemajorityrealincomeshavevirtuallystagnated. Inparallel,thecostofelectionsskyrocketed,drivingbothpartiesevendeeperinto corporatepockets.Whatremainsofpoliticaldemocracyhasbeenundermined furtherasbothpartieshaveturnedtoauctioningcongressionalleadershippositions, aspoliticaleconomistThomasFergusonoutlinesintheFinancialTimes. ThemajorpoliticalpartiesborrowedapracticefrombigboxretailerslikeWalmart, BestBuyorTarget,Fergusonwrites.Uniquelyamonglegislaturesinthe developedworld,U.S.congressionalpartiesnowpostpricesforkeyslotsinthe lawmakingprocess.Thelegislatorswhocontributethemostfundstothepartyget theposts. Theresult,accordingtoFerguson,isthatdebatesrelyheavilyontheendless repetitionofahandfulofslogansthathavebeenbattletestedfortheirappealto nationalinvestorblocsandinterestgroupsthattheleadershipreliesonfor resources.Thecountrybedamned. Beforethe2007crashforwhichtheywerelargelyresponsible,thenewpostGolden Agefinancialinstitutionshadgainedstartlingeconomicpower,morethantripling theirshareofcorporateprofits.Afterthecrash,anumberofeconomistsbeganto inquireintotheirfunctioninpurelyeconomicterms.NobellaureateRobertSolow concludesthattheirgeneralimpactmaybenegative:Thesuccessesprobablyadd

littleornothingtotheefficiencyoftherealeconomy,whilethedisasterstransfer wealthfromtaxpayerstofinanciers. Byshreddingtheremnantsofpoliticaldemocracy,thefinancialinstitutionslaythe basisforcarryingthelethalprocessforwardaslongastheirvictimsarewillingto sufferinsilence. (NoamChomskysmostrecentbookis''911:TenthAnniversary.''Chomskyisemeritus professoroflinguisticsandphilosophyattheMassachusettsInstituteofTechnologyin Cambridge,Mass.) 2011NoamChomsky DistributedbyTheNewYorkTimesSyndicate.