US Calamities: There Are Solutions

Johan Galtung (Transcend Media Service)

(This is a slightly abridged version of a recent lecture by Professor Johan Galtung) 

Manassas, VA, USA 

Political terrorism failed. The House Republicans used voting in one US legislative chamber to put the livelihood of millions of people inside and outside the country at risk for their own political goals. And they made the mistake of most terrorists, non-state or state: when people suffer they will join us, against our enemy; only to find out that people turn against the terrorists instead.

They were not a small group of Tea Party extremists, but a clear majority of the House Republicans: 144 voted NO in the end, only 87 YES. Obama has himself to thank for the general House Republican majority. Having betrayed most groups voting for him in 2008, he was punished in the 2010 mid-term elections. Likewise, the Republicans will be punished in 2014 for their political terrorism.

The budget deal postponed the government shutdown to Jan 15, 2014 and the US default to Feb 7, solving nothing. Worse, there was much reporting, but few ideas floating in the media; there was no massive million “Stop this Nonsense” March on Congress, but widespread apathy. Worst – the most clearly outspoken groups were veterans and reserve officers (1.1 million strong); indicative of a major threat should their November 1 paychecks not arrive.

The constitutionalism of the powers that be is legitimate, but terrorists are punished by not being listened to. The Health Care Act may not be affordable. There may be a coverage gap etc. So work remains to be done.

Solidarity with the disadvantaged is a legitimate goal, but there is also value to the idea of everyone fending for himself. Could they be combined?

There are solutions for a country as resourceful as the USA.

The government shutdown is about the federal budget deficit. Do as households do: decrease the expenditure, increase the income.

Three major parts of the federal budget are: loan interest, the military, and Social Security-Medicare-Medicaid. All are enormous.

How about USA making a deal with the Chinese and the Russians? The three giants are engaged in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) versus Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) race – a joint military terrorism putting humanity at risk. How about 50 percent Chinese debt forgiveness against 50 percent US reduction of the most offensive military components, the 800 bases around the world, over five to ten years?

Accompany this by a similar multilateral and balanced reduction in offensive arms in all three, building on the Russian chemical arms initiative momentum? Even small signals would have a major impact.

Social Security: let everybody of older age who wants to work do so. No dramatic cut, but gradual reduction of work income and gradual increase of social security. More tax revenue, less expenditure.

Medicare-Medicaid: create a more healthy population. Decrease in smoking, mainly thanks to USA, was a great step forward. Next in line: sodas. Selling and serving sodas should become as illegitimate as smoking in public. Much more to gain than from outlawing marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control (CDCs) are good at combating contagious diseases. Are they good at reducing stress as well? Or toxic pollution? Preventing the elderly from falling at home, and in public space?  Enormous savings are there to be made.

The debt ceiling is a deeper problem. It affects an economy that does not produce a surplus sufficient to run a modern society with acceptable livelihood for all citizens. A fifth or sixth of the population lives in misery; sufficient surplus that could be a source of much new income at the individual, family, local community, state and the federal levels. It is politically difficult, but economically simple: lift the bottom up.

Identify the poorest local communities, give short-term credit to cooperatives for growing and selling cheap organic food, for building affordable housing and simple polyclinics for treatment of the common diseases. And employing the neediest.

Make people fend for themselves rather than depend on taxation. Like any small business, they need some initial credit. Unlike small businesses they need the protection of cooperative production and consumption. Learn from Spain, for example Mondragon, federation of worker cooperatives and Marinaleda social-democratic cooperative community. The experience is positive. A small investment in people marginalized by mainstream economy, and they (re-)enter and become producers and consumers. Reduce suffering, decrease inequality, and make the real economy grow. Is the USA up to it?

The US economy is strong on goods, with decreasing unit costs but weak on services, with skyrocketing costs in education, health and elderly care. Credits are needed, but not from money banks. Rather from time banks with people exchanging services on a one hour = one hour basis.

The US real economy is today weak relative to the Wall Street finance economy. Washington bailouts rather than stimuli are using money to make more money, in seconds, not in years. The risk is great, with more 2008-type economic crashes lining up. Stop it.

[END]

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