Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Death By Free Market

Terry McKenna returns to the blog this evening, with some reflections on certain life-defying trends in American economic policy. This comes on a day when we learned that the Pentagon is breaking up its financial orgy with MZM, an intelligence and defense contractor that has long enjoyed the Bushies' largesse with anyone dealing in guns, office furniture, or political favors (in the case of MZM, all three), at the most inflated prices possible. The stated reason for the breakup was a change in procurement law, but the oddly coincidental connection between MZM bribes and Duke Cunningham's recent confession was not missed by some in the press.

Someday, someone with a hell of a lot of time and energy (and some good sources) will have the ability to write the complete history of crime, corruption, graft, and destruction within this Bush administration. It will be an encyclopedic volume; I only hope the publisher decides to print it on recycled paper.

Mr. McKenna will now address the congregation.

Just a note about compassionate conservatism. You know, that softened brand of conservatism that pretends that we can somehow generate a widely prosperous society via smaller government, diminished regulation and low taxes.

Why bring this up just now? Well I just read an article in the NY TIMES that reports how many states have designed easy tests so that their school children appear to be making the required annual progress demanded under NCLB. Unfortunately, a second and standardized batch of tests exposes the fraud. Thus in the worst offenders, upwards of 80% will pass muster under NCLB and yet less than 1/3 will show proficiency under the genuinely standardized tests. NCLB was a cornerstone of GW’s compassionate conservatism. Leading with tax cuts, NCLB and Medicare “reform,” GW’s conservative policies were supposed to move us toward a new era of policy creativity. The plan was to leverage the free market and private charities (some faith based) so that the federal bureaucracy could be shrunk and the legacy of the New Deal destroyed. Oh yes, it was also supposed to work.

With the war a failure, with old folks now confused by a bizarre Medicare reform, and with a mounting federal deficit, it was inevitable that the last of the Bush platform would also fail.

You might think it early to judge GW to be a failure, but his conservative platform is really not new. Conservative pressures have been dismantling the New Deal and Great Society for the past 30 years. The results have been a disaster for working America.

Just a sampling of the trends:

• Real wages of non-farm workers fell from a high in the 1960’s and have stayed low.
• US infant mortality is worse that of any of our peer nations – and has started to rise for the first time since 1958. Cuba does better than we do!
• The destruction of manufacturing employment leaves no career path for high school graduates who do not go on to college or specialized training.

Some of these trends are just the inevitable push of history. For example, as China and the rest of Asia industrializes, there is greater and greater competition for resources (wood, steel, oil). And low value work in the US was probably always doomed (so jobs in garment and shoe manufacturing would have always left the US under the best of circumstances). Still it was not inevitable that nearly all manufacturing would decline, nor was it necessary that our central cities would be made untenable.

Yet the talking heads continue to chant the mantra of free markets and competition as the means to solve all of our ills. Why?

If we look at the delivery of health care, we see failure. Unlike most markets (like that for underwear or computers) prices are not going down, but up.

Let’s look at food. Yes we produce a lot, but our hardened fruits and vegetables are better for the picker than the eater. And our processed foods are making us fat. To generate more meat, we subject animals to concentration camp conditions. We overfeed our animals and give them antibiotics to survive both the overfeeding and the nightmare of their surroundings. And our feedlots are toxic. Mountains of manure become warehoused in lagoons that can get a large as football fields. The conditions have created an environmental time bomb.

How about gas drilling? In western states, new gas drilling techniques involve shattering underground stone such that methane and other toxic chemical permeate and mix with the ground water.

And yet… no one says a word.

—T. McKenna

No comments: