US media demands Greek-style austerity for American workers

WSNM

In recent days, the US media—led by the standard bearer of American liberalism, the New York Times—has insisted that workers inseek truth the US, like their brethren in Greece, have been living the good life for far too long and must accept a drastic and permanent reduction in their living standards.

In a May 9 piece, Times columnist Thomas Friedman denounces workers in the US and Western Europe for believing in the “tooth fairy” and expecting government services without paying for them. In America, Friedman says, the baby-boom generation, which supposedly had inherited the prosperity of the post-war years, had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.”

“After 65 years in which politics in the West was, mostly, about giving things away to voters, it’s now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics.”

Describing what he has in mind, two days later Friedman wrote about his meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in a rooftop restaurant in Athens. Praising Papandreou for defying mass protests, theTimes columnist hails the government for carrying out a “revolution,” including raising the retirement age and slashing wages and pensions for public sector workers, imposing regressive consumption taxes and wiping out two-thirds of the country’s publicly owned companies.

Another May 11 article, appearing on the front page of the Times, is entitled, “In Greek Debt Crisis, Some See Parallels to U.S.” Its author, David Leonhardt, led the newspaper’s campaign to promote Obama’s health care overhaul, explicitly supporting limits on medical treatments ordinary people could receive. (“In truth, rationing is an inescapable part of economic life”).

“It’s easy to look at the protesters and the politicians in Greece—and at the other European countries with huge debts—and wonder why they don’t get it,” Leonhardt writes. “They have been enjoying more generous government benefits than they can afford…

“Yet in the back of your mind comes a nagging question: how different, really, is the United States?… Both countries have a bigger government than they’re paying for. And politicians, spendthrift as some may be, are not the main source of the problem.

We, the people, are.”

It is rich to hear demands for sacrifices and lectures about “the people” living beyond their means, particularly from the likes of Leonhardt and Friedman. The latter, who is paid $50,000 per speaking engagement, is married to the heir of a multi-billion dollar real estate fortune. According to theWashingtonian magazine, the couple owns “a palatial 11,400-square-foot house” in suburban Washington, DC, valued in 2006 at $9.3 million.

In these circles it is taken for granted that massive cuts must be imposed on the living standards of the working class, but not a word is said about the hundreds of billions that are funneled into the personal fortunes of the financial aristocracy and the subordination of the entire economy to increasing their piles of wealth.

The events of the last several years have revealed to the world that the greatest burden on society is not ordinary working people but the anti-social activities of an unproductive and parasitic financial elite. The grotesque consumption and appropriation of social wealth by this oligarchy is not a minor factor in the crisis of the global capitalist system itself.

The bankrupting of whole countries—chiefly through the transferring of the bad debts of the financial speculators onto the books of various governments—is being used to demand austerity from workers and ever-greater riches for the elite.

The four biggest US financial firms—Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase—made money from trading every single day during the first quarter of the year, according to their financial filings. The banks, which all benefited from the Wall Street bailout, reaped hundreds of millions in profits from betting on the movement of currency, commodity and sovereign debt markets, including in relation to Greece.

At the same time, the value of corporate shares has risen, chiefly through a campaign of job cutting, wage and benefit concessions and a staggering 3.8 percent increase in worker productivity in 2009. As a result, corporate CEOs, who took stock options in lieu of pay increases when profits were down, are now cashing in, according to an Associated Press report, entitled, “America’s top CEOs are set for a once-in-a-lifetime pay bonanza.” Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, for example, received a $47.2 million package during her first year on the job, 90 percent of which came from stock awards and options.

While these vast personal fortunes have been made, there has been no recovery in the wages and benefits workers have lost during the recession. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that real wages fell last year by 2.7 percent in Japan and Ireland, 1.1 per cent in Germany and 0.8 percent in the US.

The unbridled greed of America’s ruling elite—and the complete subservience of the political establishment, from Obama on down, to its needs—can only be compared to the ancien régime in France. The parasitism and extravagance of the aristocracy became a major factor in the country’s breakdown, and ultimately the eruption of the French Revolution in 1789.

Workers must reject the demand for austerity. The working class did not create this crisis and must not pay for it. Instead, the ill-gotten gains of the ruling elite must be confiscated and used to meet the interests of society as a whole, instead of gutting social programs and destroying jobs.

This must include a multi-trillion dollar program of public works to put the unemployed to work—at decent wages and full medical care—to rebuild the cities and suburbs, repair the nation’s infrastructure and provide high quality housing, medical care and education for all.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the founder of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky, argued in the Transitional Program that it is “impossible to take a single serious step in the struggle against monopolistic despotism and capitalistic anarchy—which supplement one another in their work of destruction—if the commanding posts of the banks are left in the hands of predatory capitalists. In order to create a unified system of investment and credits, along a rational plan corresponding to the interests of the entire people, it is necessary to merge all the banks into a single national institution. Only the expropriation of the private banks and the concentration of the entire credit system in the hands of the state will provide the latter with the necessary actual, i.e., material, resources—and not merely paper and bureaucratic resources—for economic planning.”

The nationalization of the banks, however, will produce positive results, Trotsky explained, “only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

For this to be realized the working class must build its own mass political party, independent of and irreconcilably opposed to the two parties of big business, and dedicated to the fight for a workers’ government to replace capitalism with socialism.

The Economic Recovery Is Moving Along Quite Well – For The Boys Down On Wall Street

TheEconomicCollapseBlog.com

If you are part of the Wall Street establishment, the economic recovery is moving along quite well.  Many of the biggest firms on Megabanks controlling it allWall Street just handed out record-setting bonuses, the Stock Market has been moving up steadily and the DOW is back up to around 11,000.  Profits at the top banks have been quite impressive lately.  Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo combined for first quarter profits of $13.4 billion – the most in almost three years.  Yes, life is quite good down on Wall Street these days.  People are still buying fast cars, big yachts and homes in the Hamptons.  It is almost as if “the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression” didn’t even happen.  Things are quickly getting back to “normal” for the banking elite and to many it seems like there are a lot more smiles down on Wall Street than there have been in a long, long time.

Bank of America’s chief executive officer, Brian T. Moynihan, is being quoted by Reuters as saying that “the worst of the credit cycle is clearly behind us” and that the economic growth we are experiencing is “real”.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is quoted as saying that the U.S. economy may be poised for “a strong recovery”.

And why wouldn’t they say these things?  Profits are up.  Their stock portfolios are up.  They are getting record bonuses.  They know that if anything does go wrong again that their friends in Washington D.C. will bail them out because they are “too big to fail”.

But for tens of millions of other Americans, the economy seems like it is getting worse than ever.  It is hard to explain the gut-wrenching agony that many highly-educated and highly-qualified American workers are going through as they send out hundreds of resumes only to get no response.  Or the absolute frustration of only being able to get a very low paying retail job and realizing that it will not even be able to pay the mortgage – much less support an entire family.  Or the soul-crushing despair of working two or three jobs and still not being able to pay the bills at the end of the month.

But these are the daily realities that millions of Americans must face now.  The truth is that there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.  The number of unemployed Americans per job opening hit 5.5 in February.  It is like we are all caught in some bizarre game of musical chairs, and the losers end up destitute and out in the street.

Even many of those who can get jobs find themselves in bad situations.  Gallup’s underemployment measure hit 20.0% on March 15th.  That was up from 19.7% two weeks earlier and 19.5% at the start of the year.  A lot of very educated, very qualified people find themselves slaving away at jobs that high school students are qualified for.

But the ones being hurt the worst by this unemployment epidemic are the poor.  Check out the following chart.  At the end of 2009, the unemployment rate for those at the top end of the income scale in the United States was about 3%.  For those at the bottom of the income scale, the unemployment rate was about 30%….

It isn’t the boys down on Wall Street that are losing their homes and their jobs.

No, they are “too big to fail”.

It is millions of ordinary Americans that are losing their homes and their jobs.

And things keep getting worse.

According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings were reported on 367,056 properties in the month of March.  This was an increase of almost 19 percent from February, and it was the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

Not only that, but RealtyTrac projects that there will be a total of 4.5 million home foreclosures by the end 2010.  If you figure that there are approximately 4 people per household, that is another 18 million people that will be facing the pain of a foreclosure filing.

For many Americans, losing their home to foreclosure is just too much.  For example, one man in Ohio actually decided to bulldoze his own home rather than let the bank take it in foreclosure proceedings.

Because of the extreme economic conditions, millions of Americans are in severe pain and are becoming increasingly desperate.  In some of the most depressed areas, crime is absolutely spiraling out of control.  So far this year in Detroit, car thefts are up 83%, robberies are up 50%, burglaries are up 20% and property destruction is up 42%.

Adding to all of this economic despair is the fact that food and gas prices are starting to shoot up.

In some areas of the United States, people are already paying as much as $3.50 for a gallon of gasoline, and many experts are now predicting that gasoline could hit $4.00 a gallon by the end of 2010.

Not only that, but wholesale food prices rose 2.4% in March, matching the biggest gain in 26 years.

So while the economic recovery is buzzing along quite well down on Wall Street, the reality is that for millions of other Americans things are really hard.  In fact, not even the smaller banks are experiencing much of a recovery.  The FDIC’s list of problem banks just hit a 17-year high.

No, the main beneficiaries of this “economic recovery” are the boys over on Wall Street.  They should enjoy it while it lasts, because even harder economic times are on the way, and the reality is that none of us will be able to completely escape the economic pain that is coming.

The Banking Oligarchy That Controls Assets Equivalent To 60 Percent Of America’s GNP

Today financial power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals.  In fact, the six biggest banks in the United States now possess assets equivalent to 60 percent of America’s gross national product.  Back in the 1990s that figure was less than 20 percent.  These six banks – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo – literally dictate what goes on in the U.S. banking industry.  These entities are the poster children for “too big to fail”, and they donate massive amounts of cash to the campaigns of both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that they will continue to receive favorable treatment.  The vast majority of Americans have had a banking account, a credit card and/or a mortgage with one of these institutions at some point.  If they acted in concert, these six banks could literally bring down the U.S. economy overnight if they wanted to.  Together with the Federal Reserve, these six banks represent the real financial power in America.  They are the 800 pound gorilla in the room that influences nearly every major financial deal that gets done and virtually every major political decision that gets made.  As the last couple of years have demonstrated, top politicians from both parties (John McCain and Barack Obama for example) will instantly jump into action and start advocating that the U.S. government spend billions upon billions of dollars when the interests of these behemoths are threatened.  The frightening thing is that the power of these megabanks is growing at a frightening pace.  As dozens upon dozens of smaller U.S. banks are “allowed to fail”, they either go out of existence or the Feds actually encourage these smaller banks to sell themselves to one of the big sharks.  In either event, the banking power in the United States becomes further consolidated in the hands of the megabanks.   More…