AUGUST 5, 2011 7:10PM

Chomsky: "America in Decline"

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Friday 5 August 2011
by: Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science Quarterly.

The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War '90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

Corporate power’s ascendancy over politics and society – by now mostly financial – has reached the point that both political organizations, which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending – though even that limited initiative probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit. Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House (of Representatives) are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget.”

The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”

The final “compromise” – more accurately, capitulation to the far right – is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, which are enjoying record profits.

Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies’, which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian. Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions tax.

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street. The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial fraud. The Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

Congress wields other weapons in its battle against future generations. Faced with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American Electric Power, a major utility, shelved “the nation’s most prominent effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming,” The New York Times reported.

The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called “the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to so-called FIRE: finance, insurance, real estate) and the offshoring of production. The ideological triumph of “free market doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy decisions.

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers and the like, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

In parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy has been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

“The major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy or Target,” Ferguson writes. “Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process.” The legislators who contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result, according to Ferguson, is that debates “rely heavily on the endless repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested for their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the leadership relies on for resources.” The country be damned.

Before the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their general impact may be negative: “The successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”

By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward – as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.

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I think the professor, relying on several sources, lays out a case, that is, virtually, indisputable.
Thanks for stopping by Toritto. The same "corporate power" that the professor refers to assures that he will be seen on national media VERY infrequently. Furthermore, with the dumbing down of america, even were he allowed greater access, only few would understand, let alone, acknowledge what he says.

I, do, however, detect strong rumblings of discontent. Joblessness, the crashing stock market, the increasingly worthless $US is started to affect the rich and the idiots, alike, and I have to believe "A Change Is Gonna Come" (Neville Brothers).

Thanks for being a frequent visitor here, Toritto. Your presence is appreciated, perhaps, more than You can imagine.
We, on the same side of the barricades, need be thankful toward each others, as the "evil doers" in bush the lesser-speak seem to be proliferating on OS.

Everyday, another person, one would think to be possessed of above average intelligence seems to join the list of prevaricators, so I an ALWAYS grateful to see Your name appear, here.
"Yep, son, we have met the enemy, and he is us."

Well, not exactly "us," but in general, our sorry representatives.
US health care has metastasized from a cartel, to basically, a national cancer.
chomsky is brilliant, too bad he cant think past a paper bag wrt 911 truth.
A TOTALLY apolitical friend of mine from the states, just sent me an email saying there should be a salem with hunt in D.C., Dr Lee.

It seems You and he are on the same page as me.

Thanks for coming by.
VZN, I TOTALLY share Your concerns regarding Chomsky and 9/11. I have, often stated my contentions about the event, one as recently as the last few days on someone else's blog.

I, do, have sporadic email contact with Professor Chomsky, having first met him, nearly forty years ago. Perhaps, I should write him concerning the issue You raise.

I, suspect, I would get a perfunctory response claiming that current events preclude him from re-examining his position on the issue.

Thanks for coming by, and thanks to the unknown rater (once again, I think I know who You are).
I have heard there has been much criticism of me on Open Salon. And as I realize this forum is exactly what will decide the next election I now disavow my previous path of bipartisanship. Next week I'm signing an executive order that states one banker a week will be executed until massive wholesale lending resumes.

More to come, my friends!
Thank you for this post, Mark. And you are right: it is unreasonable to dispute what Chomsky says. Aside from the fact that he is arguably the smartest man alive, I have so much respect for his knowledge and opinion. Great choice, my friend. R
I'm glad Chomsky finally figured it out. I knew it 9 years ago, a large part of the reason I emigrated to New Zealand.
Well, "guys", I'm having my few ups and downs with all of this so far this evening. For one thing, since I knew Noam years ago when he was known as "the bright young guy at MIT" I confess (being by now, myself, old, crotchety [and female]) as well as long in fairly quiet but not happy ruminations on the US dropping of the first of the two atomic/hydrogen bombs onto Japan), I'm having a few sort of (inappropriate?) knee-jerk reactions to this "Professor Chomsky" language. I mean, Noam and I were both young when we joined a twelve-member Brookline, MA official "tax refusers group" in protest against the then U.S. war involvement in what's now shortcutted as "Vietnam" (though of course it wasn't geographically limited to that one part of Indochina). We were legally advised that what we were doing was legally endangering us to a 12-year "conspiracy" judgment against us. O.K., so sobeit. I'm sorry to be being so sort of ?"yin"?, but this has been a hard day for me, Mark. Over there, on Okinawa (which when I was growing up in WWII was "enemy territory" 'we' [U.S. armed forces] were supposed to "attack"): What is the perspective on any of that part of the military history between the US and Japan? See, I kind of count on you as (so to say) "my one OS voice today in Japan", so I'm clearly posting off-topic but ... as my oldest stepson loves to say ... "wotthehey". Thanks for being there, Mark (and here, too!),
Best piece of analysis I've ever seen you write. Really well done.
Welcome, President Barack Obama -- always special to have new commenters, abroad.

ONLY one banker - why such limitations?

Please come back, soon, after Your birthday celebrations have concluded, at the latest.
Thoth,my friend, I was so happy, when I saw Your name back here, recently, and, now, it's a special pleasure to see You, at my blog. Thanks for stopping by.

I'll never forget the first time, I was privileged to sit with the guy in a small informal discussion, where there was no time for prepared answers, and many unanticipated questions were asked.

It was like being in the presence of the world's greatest LIVING library - the professor didn't even need to blink or compose his thoughts. He, just, answered, and went on to the next question.

Hope to continue to see You visit, whenever You see something, here, that piques Your interest.
It was really reagen who made me understand that a life of permanent ex-pat was in my future, Dr. Bramhall.

Certainly, following the sage words of Professor Chomsky confirmed my choice.

NEVER miss any of Your posts, Dr, and find them to be most edifying -- despite the fact that I read ~ eight to ten hours a day, it is rare, when I read something of Yours, that I don't find something I was unaware of.

Thanks for stopping by.
As a Kaddish candle flickers its last flames, besides my computer, it has been a day of reflection on the bombs. Was considering a blog post on this excellent alternet piece on the subject matter, but I think I've said enough for one week (many would comment that I've said much too much, already), so I'll just post the link, here:

Will respond to Your questions via PM, PodunkMarte -- thought You were a guy -- forgive me for my presumptions, please.
Glad to see You, back, Kosh. I hope You accept that I've answered Your questions on a previous post, via our PMs -- if not, feel free to fire away via whatever medium You feel most comfortable using.

Kosh, in stark contrast, to most of the "community," I do not consider myself to be a writer, but a failed writer.

Although, I neglected end quotation marks above (apologies to all reading), what I am is as stated above, a compulsive reader, and my blog is basically reportorial.

What is contained in the blog is the words of others, whom I respect, and whose thoughts echo mine.

Heck, one look at my atrocious punctuation in comments should clue my readers off to the fact that my writing IS abysmal, at best.

Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad You enjoyed Professor Chomsky's analysis - he rarely fails to please (me, anyway).
My apologies. I noticed just after I hit "post this comment" that you were reporting and not writing.

Hey, I'm not a writer per se either, basically I'm a guy having extended conversations on a blog. The most valuable stuff I've done here is when a teacher who writes on OS contacts me and says something I said or an argument or analogy that I presented will be used in her classroom. Sometimes I hear that something I said will be used in a conversation with the conservative members of a blogger's family. A lot of what I do here is provide tools or, if you prefer to look at it this way, ammunition. The advantage of using a blog to do that is its weird geographic reach; if I say something memorable enough, it could work its way into conversations thousands of miles apart. However, I'm not submitting manuscripts anywhere. I'm not interested in doing that. For one thing, it isn't about me, it's about making a case of value.

I'm happy with my communications with you, thanks. The last PM was just to give you background; I find that sometimes background leads to greater understanding; for me, it did to a startling extent when I read of yours. For overtly political discussions, I'll usually keep it here in the posts because that stuff's for general consumption.
Yes, Kosh, but Your conversations, which I find more and more fascinating the more I read, not to mention Your comments, are YOUR own words, and have fostered a feeling of friendship, I'm delighted we've reached.

Thanks for stopping back.
mark, thanks for this. wise and sad analysis. I was commenting on Kent's blog about how Nader has pointed out that the friggin' VENDORS are making all the health care decisions and PROFIT OVE PEOPLE and how INCREDIBLY illogical that is. But this is surreal America. Ethical freakshow (as Rarchel says) America. So that the fat cats can pull in those salaries similar to the hedge fund top 10 in 2009, $900,000 an hour!!!! Where does that surreal and obscene amount of money come from? Our national collective bank account. Profits over people. Taking tax payer dollars earmarked for the taxpayer safety net programs and no longer are the bastards just skimming the top of the entitlements programs away for themselves. Skimming, indeed! I am struggling for an opposite metaphor from skimming and it is just not coming to me but you get the idea. Will work on it.

Anyway, all industrial nations except US take welfare of citizenry seriously enough to use tax dollars for universal healthcare. But in the United States, where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has great lip service, IT IS NOT HONORED. It would be some kind of scary scary socialism. Duhhhhhhh. Silence of the lambs. Yes.

So sad and sucker citizens let Big Pharma and insurance companies the friggin' VENDORS run the show. If single payer were instituted, it would mean jobs for many many health care workers. It wouldn't eliminate the need for people. It would just change the trickle up ... no not trickle... another more intense opposite word ... my brain is kinda fried tonight ... anyway ... universal health care would contribute to the lessening of the fat cats STUPENDOUS bank accounts by eliminating them as the middlemen. Medicare should be expanded. Obama denied we had an easy prototype for universal health care. He once again LIED. The fat cats with their gratuitously unearned huge payments fostered of course, guaranteed, from sell-out quid pro quo politicians.

Madamab from corrente bottom lines it. AUSTERITY=MURDER. End of analysis.

Take care. may go to sleep now. :) lib

I would work for Ralph in a heartbeat. He has consistently called out the shenanigans of all the rabid rat bastards, including the media that ignores him and can not begin to deal with that kind of truth to power honesty. Nor the pols.
How can I disagree with any of Your comments, LibbyLiberalNYC?

Your thoughts are so solid and well-thought out. Your commitment to change indisputable and undeterrable.

I was shocked to find out that you were around during the Vietnam days, young firebrand that I presumed You to be.

No wonder You know so much about so much. If I were, there, I would, surely, see You in DC in October, but alas and alack, my hopes, aspirations,heart, soul, and spirit will have to suffice to accompany You.

Your courageous statements ALWAYS renew my flagging spirits.

Oh, and for any initiates, Nader did categorically NOT cost Gore the election in 2000. The election wss fixed from the git go, in a manner that would make proud any "banana republic"and Gore's lackluster campaign sealed the deal.

Thanks for keeping hope alive LibbyLiberalNYC.
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