It is graduation time and our youth are inheriting a dysfunctional economy while they are saddled with the highest debt ever. This situation creates a downward spiral in which new graduates delay meaningful participation in the economy, such as buying a house or starting a new business, while they try to pay off their debt.
Chuck Collins advocates for one solution: higher taxes on the wealthy that are used to reduce the cost of education. This is being done in Washington State. The student debt resistance movement has had some success in cancelling debt. But the reality for most youth today is a very different situation than that experienced by the older generation; it is one of intergenerational injustice that must be confronted and corrected or the negative impacts will last a long time.
Of course, there are solutions, such as cancelling student debt and making public universities free or low cost, and most people support these positive solutions. Many people no longer believe the lies we are told to keep us from demanding them. A veil is being lifted as people understand how the system is rigged against them and how they need to work together to fight for a better future.
The Current Economy is Rigged for the Wealthy
Student debt is part of rigging the economy for the wealthy. Rather than recognizing that guaranteeing access to education benefits everyone and that youth play an important part in the economy, the wealthy pursue short term goals of profits even when it means ripping off an entire generation. Youth are one group of victims of voracious capitalism.
Worker’s pensions are disappearing and so is the wealth from home ownership. Retirees are being mistreated by an outdated Social Security system that provides a poverty level lifestyle. Steve Hill has a new book, “Expand Social Security Now! How To Ensure Americans Get the Retirement They Deserve,” in which he compares the New Deal system of a strong social safety net to the current system. Since the 1970’s, the US has shifted from stable employment with benefits to a ‘gig economy’ where workers try to cobble together an income based on several part-time jobs. At present, almost half of the jobs created after the 2008 financial crash pay minimum wage and one third of workers are doing freelance work. Conditions for people who have full-time jobs are not so great as they are required to be permanently on-call, which makes dealing with the rest of their needs, such as child care, very difficult.
The same is true for healthcare. As premiums and out of pocket costs continue to rise, people are finding that the Affordable Care Act is not producing affordable health care. Super-majorities of people in the US support a national healthcare system funded by the government. The ACA is a scam, a rip-off forcing people to pay for insurance that is not very useful and is robbing the US Treasury of $150 billion a year for subsidies to private insurers that could be spent on direct healthcare instead. One of the top healthcare policy advocates in the country, Dr. Marcia Angell, describes how the US could provide full health coverage to everyone at lower cost with an improved Medicare for All system. It requires the US ridding itself of the two drivers of increasing costs — insurance companies and for-profit healthcare institutions.
Austerity measures are also striking at the local level. Cities across the country are facing challenging economic circumstances because of decades of neglect and inadequate investment. This is resulting in multiple challenges — such as homelessness, crime, and joblessness — as well as basic needs of citizens not being met. The water crisis occurred in Flint because un-elected government managers tried to save money and ended up polluting the water, poisoning the community and costing billions of dollars to make amends. In a neighboring city, Detroit, water cut-offs will affect 40% of the Detroit population. The city is not cutting off water to corporations that are behind in their water bills but 150,000 Detroit residents face no access to water. Why? The answer is gentrification. This seems to be a way to push people out of the city and make room for a new city built for the wealthy. It is an ugly scenario.
Another way that the economy is rigged against people is through systemic corporate greed by big business. A lot of the basic problems with the economy are demonstrated in the current Verizon strike of 40,000 workers. Verizon executives have put short-term profits and their high salaries and benefits ahead of the needs of workers and customers. Verizon has off-shored and outsourced union jobs. And they’ve cut back on workers who must now work 60 to 70 hours a week or be threatened with punishment. Verizon is making $1.5 billion per month and yet it underpays and mistreats its workers. This is a sign of the sickness of the US economy and it’s a form of extreme capitalism.
Oxfam reported this week that the poultry industry is also mistreating its workers. Poultry workers 1) earn low wages of diminishing value, 2) suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, and 3) often experience a climate of fear in the workplace. Workers say that the thing that offends their dignity the most is simple: lack of adequate bathroom breaks, which has led them to wear diapers, and the suffering that entails.
Unfair wages add to the downward spiral in government services. In a report focused on manufacturing, which used to be among the better paying jobs in the United States, the National Employment Law Project found found that manufacturing production wages now rank in the bottom half of all jobs in the United States, 7.7% lower than the median income. NELP found that one-third of manufacturing workers are enrolled in some kind of government program because they are not paid enough to survive. This drives up the cost to government and in the end results in less services for others in need.
This stage of capitalism is in the midst of a vicious cycle — businesess pay less than a living wage, governments make up the difference with safety net programs, and this causes stress on public budgets which are unable to fund programs adequately.
The Veil of Deceit Is Lifted on the TPP
This week some important realities about the Trans-Pacific Partnership came out. The US International Trade Commission, which is required to provide Congress with an economic impact statement of trade agreements, published its report on the TPP.
We protested at the US ITC on the day the report was released. Based on their previous estimates for other agreements, the US ITC report was expected to be optimistic and the Obama administration planned to use it to build momentum for ratification of the TPP. This is because the economic model that the US TC uses is based on flawed assumptions, such as that trade agreements do not cause trade deficits and that displaced workers find new employment quickly and with better wages. But this year, even with these mistaken assumptions, their report came back with bad news for the Obama administration and other TPP advocates.
Leo W. Gerard, of the United Steelworkers said “This may be the most damning government report ever submitted for a trade agreement.” In fact, it found almost no economic benefits. The ITC estimates the proposed 12-nation trade deal will increase the U.S. global trade deficit by $21.7 billion by 2032. The report predicted a worsening balance of trade for 16 out of 25 US agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors that cover vehicles, wheat, corn, auto parts, titanium products, chemicals, seafood, textiles and apparel, rice, and even financial services. Indeed, output in the manufacturing sector would be $11.2 billion lower with TPP than without it in 2032.
When it is fully implemented in 2032, the TPP will result in an almost invisible 0.23% increase in the Gross Domestic Product. This is not a story in the Onion, this is really what Obama has called the centerpiece of his economic program for 2016.
The US ITC limits itself to economic areas, so it does not even look at the impact the agreement would have on other areas such as the climate crisis. In fact, the TPP would do the opposite of what the US and nations of the world agreed to do in Paris. If it is ratified, the TPP will open the floodgates for carbon energy to be extracted and shipped across the world and worsen environmental crises. The economic impact of the TPP is even worse if the cost of storms like Sandy and Katrina, or mass forest fires as have been seen in Canada and the western US are included. Each of these incidents cost billions of dollars and massive environmental and human damage.
So, now that we know the TPP will produce risks for many economic sectors in exchange for little to no economic benefit, one may ask what is the purpose of the TPP? It is about making corporations more powerful than governments so they can dictate economic, environmental, worker, food and other policies. It is about the continued privatization of the economy, turning public goods and government services into profit centers for big business interests. It is about the United States adding economic domination to the military Asian Pivot that is ongoing. In short, it is about big business empire.
At present, ratification of the TPP is stalled in Congress and none of the presidential candidates support it. The US ITC report should be the final nail in its coffin, but the Obama administration and big business are not giving up. They are using a propaganda campaign to sell it to small business, farmers and the public. They say that if we don’t pass the TPP this year, it will cost the economy $94 billion, but they fail to say this number is based on a study by the Pete Peterson Institute that has been discredited. They say that if we don’t pass the TPP, then China will dictate the terms for the region, but they omit that the US already has trade agreements with many of the TPP countries and is negotiating a bilateral agreement with China.
People are fighting back against this misinformation by sharing the People’s Economic Impact Statement and signing up to be part of the #NoLameDuck Uprising to prevent the administration from sneaking the TPP through Congress after the November election. Nearly 1,500 have signed up to participate and ensure this agreement is not ratified by a lame duck Congress. Sign up here.
We have stalled the TPP to a standstill in Congress and are on the verge of victory. We need to stop the TPP in the lame duck, then it will be very difficult for the agreement to move forward in the next Congress. We are getting closer to a major people powered victory over the transnational corporations. Join us in this effort.
The Veil of US Empire is also Lifting
This week, South Korea remembered the 36th anniversary of the Gwangju uprising for democracy. The US was complicit in the massacre of hundreds to thousands of protesters, led by students in May of 1980, after a military coup. We joined activists from the Corean Alliance for Reunification and Democracy for a vigil at the White House. This month, activists braved a ban on protest to remember the massacre two years ago at the union hall in Odessa, Ukraine, also supported by the US. And recently CIA agent Donald Rickard confessed on his death bed to arresting Nelson Mandela. This new information may help researcher Ryan Shapiro of MIT bring the truth to light.
Once again, right-wing protests are destabilizing the Maduro government in Venezuela and creating a state of emergency. The wealthy students who led these protests in the past were trained and funded by the US. And US military airplanes violated Venezuelan airspace, possibly for purposes of spying. Emboldened by the successful impeachment of Dilma Roussef in Brazil, the oligarchs are trying to recall Maduro. The Maduro government sees foul play as they have already discovered that 190,000 signatures on the petition were by people who are dead.
In order to work towards peace, we must know the truth about US Empire. The Senate took a step in that direction this week by passing a bill to allow victims of the attacks on 9/11 to sue the Saudi government, despite veto threats by President Obama. Pressure is mounting to release the 28 pages from the joint Congressional investigation into 9/11 as well as 80,000 pages of FBI documents on Saudis who may have been involved. And thanks to the Intercept and Edward Snowden, NSA documents from the decade after 9/11 are being released so that journalists will have access to them and can report on the contents.
Reality is becoming hard to deny. The facts keep coming in about the unfair economy , the corruption of government by big business interests and US Empire. As reality becomes clear and the movements for justice continue to grow, the power of the popular movement also grows. We are in a stronger position than we have been for years. We can position ourselves to set the agenda for the next four years no matter who is president. First, we stop the lame duck ratification of the TPP; then we must not give the next president a ‘honeymoon’. The inauguration is a time for the people to set the agenda. Our time is now.