Social Contracts, American Style II

Man. Is the class-warfare dragon in the States fanning its wings these days. Or what? Not only does it feed off the Bunko Artist-in-Chief’s proposal to “reform” the Social Security system—potentially the single greatest financial scam in American history. (Though I must admit: The Pentagon has got such a huge headstart over it, it’d take the Social Security scam quite a few years to catch up.) Or the proposal—vetted most recently and celebratedly by the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve—for a national sales tax to replace the income tax, two basic re-draftings of the social contract to be accompanied by the reinstitution of the thumb-screws, public floggings, and debtors’ prison, should push come to shove.

(Real fast aside. To repeat a question that Paul Krugman asked the very next morning: “Does anyone still take Mr. Greenspan’s pose as a nonpartisan font of wisdom seriously?” Though to one-up Krugman: Why on earth would anyone ever have taken this pose seriously in the first place?)

But also, at the other end of the American food chain, the new bankruptcy law passed by a margin of 74-to-25 in the U.S. Senate yesterday (with 18 of the Senate’s 44 Democrats voting with the Republican block) to “keep debtors in bankruptcy for longer periods than in the past while allowing high-income earners to continue to shield such assets as trust funds and expensive homes in states with large homestead exemptions, such as Texas and Florida,” as the Chicago Tribune reported this morning.

By all appearances, this one looks like beauty. A “victory for President Bush and credit card companies,” the Trib called it. “If the measure becomes law as expected, many Americans who file for bankruptcy protection against their creditors will be unable to wipe out medical bills, credit card debt, automobile loans and other debt as they can do now….Critics said the bill would remove a safety net for many Americans who do not have significant savings and find themselves in bankruptcy court because they have lost their jobs or suddenly face a large medical bill.” Sounds like a plan to me. (See Social Contracts, American-Style I.)

Yet another “[r]apid-fire [victory] by Republicans on business-friendly legislation,” the New York Times reported. “The banking, credit card and retail industries, which have pushed for the legislation for more than seven years, argue that changes to current law are needed to end abuse of the system by people who shirk their financial obligations when they could repay some of what they owe,” the Washington Post explained. “The three industries gave more than $56 million to political parties and candidates in the 2004 elections, most of it going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics….” The Times also reported that an effort by the senior Senator from Massachusetts to “rally members of his party around a series of amendments that would offer special protection for those whose bankruptcy was attributed to health care costs or other unexpected expenses” went kerplunk. The whole disgraceful event prompted the Senator to quip: “This legislation makes the bankruptcy courts of the United States the collection agency for the credit-card industry.”

Debtors will now find it harder to protect themselves from astronomical medical bills—the U.S. alone in being without a national health care program, let us not forget, medical-related debt being a major component behind the bankruptcy phenomenon in the States. (See “Illness And Injury As Contributors To Bankruptcy,” David U. Himmelstein et al., Health Affairs, posted February 2, 2005.—For the PDF version of the same article.)

Best of all, though, was this quote from Illinois Senator Richard Durbin: “The worst element of the bill is that it is going to force a lot of people deeper into debt. Many won’t be discharged from debt under these payback plans because many of them have debts beyond their control. They will be burdened with these debts for years to come.”

Debt peonage, the most heavily incarcerated population of any in the entire world, wars of foreign aggression, and spreading freedom and democracy around the globe: It all makes for a very nice version of the social contract indeed.—

Once again: Sounds like a plan to me.

Maybe the regime in Washington can solve its all-volunteer military-personnel shortage by slipping legislation through Congress that offers a state-buyout of a person’s medical debts in return for some form of “national service,” the size of the buyout being directly proportional to the risks of the service involved? Thus, for example, at the low-end, dental work can be exchanged for replacing the divots on golf courses with brand new sod after insurance and credit card company executives finish a round of golf. At the mid-level, elective surgeries for driving American oil company executives around Baghdad. (Or Caracas, in case it’s ever liberated.) More serious and invasive procedures in return for helping the Americans manage their vast “rendition” gulag around the world. While at the extreme high-end, any life-saving procedure for serving as a human land-mine sniffer ahead of the troops before they invade the next outpost of tyranny.

“To what do the billionaires owe their good fortunes?” Thus ponders an essay introducing the 671 names to have made it onto Forbes‘s All-Billionaires list 2005, a total of 215 more billionaires than made the 2003 list (a record 131 new billionaires this past year alone), accounting for some $800 billion more net worth this year than just two years ago. The co-authors then canvass a number of possible explanations. But they settle upon one above all: “old-fashioned entrepreneurialim.”

“The U.S. is now home to an astonishing 341 billionaires,” Forbes reminds us, “just shy of half the world’s billionaire population.”

Strengthening Social Security for Future Generations,” White House Office of the Press Secretary (Homepage)
The Tax System: Testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan Before the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform,” March 3, 2005

The World’s Billionaires,” Luisa Kroll and Lea Goldman, Forbes, posted March 10, 2005
Why So Many New Billionaires?” Luisa Kroll and Lea Goldman, Forbes, posted March 10, 2005

American Bankruptcy Institute (Homepage—for all of you “busy insolvency professionals” out there)

Deficits and Deceit,” Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 4, 2005

Bankruptcy bill passes Senate,” Nicolas Brulliard, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 11, 2005
Going broke may prove costlier than ever,” M. William Salganik, Baltimore Sun, March 11, 2005
Senate OKs tougher bankruptcy rules,” William Neikirk, Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2005
Democrats Are Divided, As Some Back G.O.P. Bills,” Carl Hulse, New York Times, March 11, 2005
Bracing for a Bankruptcy Rush,” Riva D. Atlas and Eric Dash, New York Times, March 11, 2005
Bankruptcy Overhaul Gets Senate OK,” Ann McFeatters, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 2005
Florida Door May Shut on Debtors,” Helen Huntley, St. Petersburg Times, March 11, 2005
30% interest rates: Sound business or loan sharking?” Editorial, USA Today, March 11, 2005
Senate Passes Bill To Restrict Bankruptcy,” Kathleen Day, Washington Post, March 11, 2005

Health Economics 101,” Paul Krugman, New York Times, November 14, 2005 (as posted to Truthout)
Bad for the Country,” Paul Krugman, New York Times, November 25, 2005 (as posted to Truthout)

Social Contracts, American-Style I

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