In the American system, form and function merge perfectly. The “richest nation on earth” can afford to allow over half a million people to sleep on the streets every night because it’s important that people understand the consequences of failure.
The USA is not a nation of equals, but a place where everyone can engage in a war of each against all. Now, it could be asked, what happens to the vulnerable? Well, the answer comes back, private charity can look after them, and anyway, if you give people help, they’ll just ask for more. This attitude has been labeled “neoliberalism”: privatise, deregulate, and everything will find its level. This has been the dominant political theory since the 1980s, pushed by the Reagan and Thatcher administrations. If the wealthy were taxed less, then they would invest their money and it would “trickle down” to the rest of us. A rising tide would lift all boats.
The reality has been completely different. The wealthiest have spent their money on luxury goods, with the “plutonomy basket” of shares becoming one of the best investment opportunities. As Ajay Kapur, “global strategist” at Citigroup, suggests, the best course for the Business Community is to ignore the mass consumer and focus on the top 1%.
This thinking has been at the heart of elite philosophy in the USA, but the popular movements of the 1960s and the economic stagnation of the 1970s required an assault on the domestic population. The academic Samuel Huntington determined that an “excess of democracy” needed to be countered by rising public apathy, while the neoliberals prescribed a program of shock treatment. As Chomsky has pointed out:
“[T]he doctrines of “neoliberalism” were forged as an instrument of class warfare: specifically, the doctrine that one only harms the poor by efforts to help them, and that people have no rights other than what they can gain in the labor market, contrary to the mistaken assumptions of pre-capitalist society, which upheld a misguided “right to live.” Those who cannot survive under harsh market discipline may enter the workhouse-prison, or preferably, go somewhere else.”
And so, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, if you have a problem, if you fail, if you’re unlucky, then try the military – or failing that, prison, or homelessness. For many, it may be a combination of all three. About 40% of homeless people are veterans, many having suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. While their nation’s elites and their pundits celebrate their heroic patriotism during wars of aggression, afterwards the celebrations end.
A lack of social housing, national healthcare and effective social services means that unless you are part of the plutonomy, you had better keep your head above water. This is no accident – it is the result of careful, coordinated planning on the part of those at the top. They have learned to work together in the interests of their class. So, while an epidemic of homelessness is not only acceptable but integral to the system, the failure of the financial services industry is not. “You should thank God” that the government bailed out the banks that had gambled and lost, according to billionaire investor Charlie Munger. People will just need to “suck it in and cope”. Otherwise society will collapse.
The banks have helped contribute to homelessness by foreclosing on people’s homes, bringing a return to tent cities, many peopled by the former “middle class”. And this is all perfectly logical according to neoliberalism. Winning is proof of superiority, losing is proof of inferiority.
The American way dominates all of us, whether we live in the USA or one of its colonies. Finding a way out of this nightmare will take a renunciation of this system and coordinated solidarity and action on the part of those who are not the plutonomy. The citizens of Tunisia and Egypt have shown the possibilities for popular action. The choice is ours to make.