Across the country people and their kids are living on the edge because they can’t pay the rent. They are the “working poor,” the disabled, and ex-cons whom nobody will rent to or hire. The lucky ones have a vehicle to bed down in.
In Seattle, Wash. many vehicular homeless are parked behind a Seattle Housing Authority office — cruel irony. Last February the city gave them 72 hours to get out. Where were they supposed to go? What are they to do?
Many people in this richest of nations have lived poorly for decades. Workers have struggled in the “boom” economy of the last seven years. Now, misery is expanding due to job loss, disappearing pensions, wage cuts and double-digit price increases. Recession is here and depression is on the way.
Why is this happening? Who’s to blame? What’s to be done?
It’s the system, sisters and brothers. Articles and commentaries blame many causes for the tottering economy. To name a few: the Iraq war that is costing 50-60 times more than predicted; the banking crisis ignited by mortgage failures; obscenely high salaries of corporate CEOs; incompetent regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission; corruption, theft and greed in high places.
All true. Nobody but Marxists, however, points to capitalism, which is simply not based on meeting human needs. Its sole purpose is to accumulate profit, regardless of how many people are homeless or hungry or sick.
The great economist and political activist Karl Marx studied young capitalism 150 years ago. He showed that periodic crashes are built into the system.
This is because businesses must expand to beat out their competition. Endless growth inevitably produces more goods than can be sold. Picture tons of pinto beans rotting, not because they are unneeded, but because they can’t be sold profitably.
So with the housing crisis we have empty homes and apartments in a sea of single mothers, people of color, and disabled vets without the money to buy or rent.
The overproduction results in factory closures, layoffs, disappearing credit, dizzy stock markets, lost pensions, tremendous waste and great suffering.
Measures that bring recovery (to corporations) only build a worse crash the next time. Smaller businesses get squeezed out or swallowed by larger ones. Workers are forced to accept wage and benefit cuts just to keep jobs, like the auto and airline workers. The rich get richer, the poor and even those in the middle, sink further.
Historically, relentless growth created huge international monopolies with overwhelming power. V.I. Lenin, leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, explained this process in his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.
Originally, the production of goods, such as food, clothing, machinery, etc., dominated the economy. Today, the most developed countries have transferred their goods manufacturing to places such as China, India and South America.
Meanwhile CitiBank and other giants concentrate on currency trading and all kinds of financial speculation. They buy and sell mortgages, not homes, and produce hedge funds, not products!
Imperialism’s most visible feature is the need to dominate every corner of the world. Free trade and corporate globalization take away jobs in developed countries and impoverish workers worldwide. From Guatemala to Somalia to India, the majority of people in every city and village and farm stagger to keep standing or become despised refugees in a foreign land.
And imperialism is the engine that drives the war machine.
Fixes that don’t fix. When expansion slows, the ruling class starts a war, which guarantees gigantic government spending of taxpayer money on armaments. Remember the dot-com crash in 2000-2001? It sparked a recession which was checked for awhile by the “war on terror.” Army contracts with private industry went from $23.3 billion in 1992 to $100 billion in 2006.
Other ways to speed up the economy include: Cutting corporate taxes. Slashing “non-profitable” public programs like food stamps and Head Start early education programs. Privatizing Medicare and Social Security. And of course, busting unions and eliminating health insurance and pensions. But stealing from workers only makes things worse, since two-thirds of U.S. economic activity relies on consumer spending.
Big business and government blame consumers for their “lack of confidence” whenever some part of the economy tips over. They call on people to “buy, buy, buy.” But people don’t have any more money to spend.
So speculators trick them into mortgaging homes at rates they can’t afford, supply easy credit cards, require no down payments, etc. This sparks deeper debt, defaults, foreclosures, and more crisis — and eventually slows down borrowing and buying.
Mammoth consumer spending on credit and government military deficit spending drives inflation through the roof. This borrowing effectively puts much more money in circulation than there is actual wealth to back it up. Food prices alone went up 20 percent worldwide in 2007! Now the dollar is crashing internationally.
The White House and Congress boastfully passed an economic “stimulus” bill in February. But even their own economists admit that giving workers a few hundred one-time-only dollars won’t be nearly enough to break up the coming storm. And it won’t put a dime into the pockets of the neediest.
Whatever the fix, it is always short-term, profitable to capital and at the expense of working people. But workers have the ultimate power — to withhold their labor. And that force can revolutionize the world.
An action program for labor. We need to unleash our potentially unstoppable might in order to provide jobs and social services for all, and then take control of the economy so our gains can’t be reversed. In the labor movement, this means installing leaders who are willing to strike and are not afraid to go to jail. For these are times to demand — and strike — for profound changes.
All working women and men need jobs at sufficient wages so that they and their families can have a standard of living with access to health care and education befitting the country they’ve made the wealthiest in the world. Right now there are more people who want to work than there are jobs, so the remedy demands:
• Provide more funds for the domestic economy by ending the wars, closing military bases and forcing corporations to pay taxes. Direct part of this money to job retraining for former soldiers and workers in military industries.
• Create 25 percent more jobs instantly by shortening the workweek from 40 hours to 30, with no loss in monthly pay. And develop a massive public works program to give people union wage jobs repairing the huge number of dangerous, decrepit roads, bridges and levees and serving in education, childcare, healthcare, civil administration, national parks, and the arts.
• Restore affirmative action in jobs, schooling and small business loans for women and people of color. Use union hiring halls and training centers to ensure fairness for immigrants and undocumented workers.
• Ensure a guaranteed annual income for all U.S. residents, regardless of legal status, who cannot hold a fulltime job.
Time for a new system. These or similar programs have existed but were lost because working people — the greater mass of humanity — didn’t control the economy. So, to insure these are institutionalized forever, the people who do the work must control their places of employment. This includes the banks and big industries, which must be nationalized. This won’t happen overnight but it is a necessary goal for the future.
Capitalism isn’t cast in concrete. It had a beginning and it will have an end. It is man-made. And it must be unmade. The sooner the better.