by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR CorrespondentS
December 14, 2012
THE 'SHOCK DOCTRINE' AND THE SO-CALLED FISCAL CLIFF
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In her best-selling book, "The Shock Doctrine," author Naomi Klein outlined a process where business and political elites take a crisis, either real or created, use it to create a sense of panic and disorientation, and then push through economic policies that wouldn't merit consideration in calmer times.
That very process has been happening over the past few weeks since President Obama's re-election in the hysteria over the so-called "fiscal cliff." We're told we must accept cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment benefits, and other social welfare spending so we can keep giving the rich a break on their taxes.
The fiscal cliff crapola we've been hearing in the news media is nothing more than the same old conservative mantras we've been hearing for decades. Government cannot do anything right, while the market can do no wrong. The private sector can do things more efficiently than government. Public ownership of anything is akin to socialism. Spending on social welfare programs saps poor people's initiative, while tax cuts for the rich and corporations spurs creativity, creates more jobs and is good for the economy.
I think we can conclusively say that all these ideas have failed the reality test. Yet there are still some Americans who haven't figured out that if you have people in positions of power who believe government should do as little as possible, you get a government that does as little as possible.
And the Republicans in Congress over the past four years have followed the do-nothing philosophy to the letter. The result has been an anemic economy that benefits the top 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent of Americans that can't afford to buy Congresscritters or dump millions into political disinformation campaigns.
While the unemployment rate went down slightly last week, the percentage of the working-age population that is currently employed is also dropping. It's down to 63.6 percent, the lowest it has been since the 1981-82 recession. And the average workweek is 34.4 hours, also near historic lows.
Unemployment, not the federal deficit, is the big problem facing our nation. Fortunately, most Americans agree and oppose spending cuts and continued tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.
That's one reason President Obama was re-elected by a decisive margin - 332-206 in the Electoral College, and 51 percent to 47 percent in the popular vote. If, as many Republicans claimed during the campaign, that this election was a referendum on the President's economic policies, Mr. Obama won.
President Obama has proposed letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning above $250,000 a year, which would bring in about $1.6-trillion in extra revenue over the next 10 years, while offering $400 million in spending cuts over that period.
Republicans in Congress haven't offered specifics about what they want to cut, but they are adamant about continuing the low tax rates on the wealthy installed by President George W. Bush.
Why haven't Republicans offered specifics? Because if they did, few would support them. That's why there is such a thing as the shock doctrine, and why it has been used from Pinochet's Chile to Thatcher's England to Reagan's America. Create a crisis, confuse the citizenry, and reinforce the point that there's no alternative.
But there are alternatives that solve many of the elements of the so-called fiscal cliff, alternatives that should be embraced by the President and Congress.
If we had a functioning press corps, and business and political leaders smart enough to realize that austerity is not the answer to the real crisis of long-term joblessness and rebuilding a shared prosperity for all, there would be no talk of a cliff. There would a real plan on the table, it would be voted upon and the President would sign it.
Instead, we have posturing and threats and stupid talk. This is not what Americans voted for last month.
AR Chief Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.