Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Crazy Leftist Policies

This is a long piece by British playright David Hare, but the best part comes at the end where he very succinctly points out the power of the Neoliberal thought virus on the so-called "sane" left (see previous post):
Commentators write glibly about the public’s increasing contempt for politicians, and yet what goes unremarked, and is equally damaging, is politicians’ growing contempt for us. To the degree that we hate them, so they hate us back. Why wouldn’t they? Speak to any Labour politician and you will find them furious and disbelieving that the Scottish people have had the nerve to relocate the site of radicalism to the SNP and away from the traditional vessel. Since the expenses scandal, politicians of all stripes are sick of being told that they are only in it for themselves; that there is no such thing as public service; and that anyone who chooses to work at Westminster must necessarily be doing it for the opportunities of lifestyle and cash, or as a stepping stone to a more lucrative career in private business. And yet this deep anger at the way they are perceived is largely the fallout of a crisis politicians have brought on themselves. It is their own fault that they are seen as just one more self-interested cartel, a professional trade union no more or less significant than any other.

At a time when foreign policy has been effectively outsourced to Washington, when wars have been dishonestly pursued without democratic support, when banks have been permitted to carry on exactly as they did before they destroyed the British economy, and when international corporations that flout tax regulations have become far too powerful to be challenged or brought into any national legal framework, politicians have conspired in their own diminishment by no longer bothering to make it clear what on earth it is they exist to do. They have gaily delegated and privatised so many of their own functions that nobody any longer knows what they are there for. ...

The genius of 21st-century capitalism has been its ability to create a sense of the inevitable at the very moment when it has been at its most vulnerable. The ability of the banks to blackmail their way back into their old pomp has left the entire electorate feeling bewildered and disenfranchised. Everyone knows it’s wrong, but nobody does anything about it – just as they know that British complicity in torture and rendition from 2001 onwards was also wrong, but will again be endorsed by a boneless establishment, which believes that institutional law-breaking is an oxymoron. The welfare state and the NHS, perfectly affordable when the country was desperately poor after the war are, we are told, mysteriously unaffordable now that the country is infinitely richer. Workers cannot expect proper wages, or indeed wages at all, or proper conditions of tenure, or pensions, or employment rights, because, again it is said, there are millions more workers waiting to do their jobs more cheaply. The state, which has for years done an invaluable job of providing a much-needed safety net for the poor, is again for reasons never once explained going to be healthier when it is starved to a point when it can no longer help anyone. Public broadcasting and public art, which have done so much to enrich tens of millions of lives, will apparently be so much more purposeful when they are slimmed down so they can reach none. Underlying the decline of Labour is a comprehensive failure, far deeper than in 1992, to provide a competing narrative, one that makes the public feel that inequity is not the natural condition of man, and that the mid-century experiment of investing in a benign state that is proud to take responsibility for its own citizens has not been abandoned for no other reason but that it was going so well.

In my previous post, I wondered why so many political ideas which were solidly mainstream fifty-plus years ago are now considered extravagant, lavish and unfordable today, at a time when Americans are constantly reminded how much richer "we" are thanks to unbridled globalized corporate capitalism.  People who put forward ideas that were actually implemented in the past are branded as "crazy" today, even while we are told computers will bring about some sort of utopia.

Here's a great example - the United States once had a policy of national child care! But it was taken away by successive politicians and businesspeople, like many of the benefits American "rugged individualists" used to enjoy:
It sounds like a progressive dream found only in Scandinavia - employers who offer on-site, affordable, education-based childcare 24-hours a day. Healthy and affordable pre-cooked meals are sent home with the children so parents don't have to cook.

In fact, such a scenario was an American reality for workers during World War Two. President Obama used his State of the Union address this year to laud the programmes and urge the nation to "stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women's issue" and to make it a national economic priority.

"During World War Two, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority - so this country provided universal childcare," President Obama said. "In today's economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever."

In the budget released this week. Mr Obama didn't deliver universal care - instead, he offered an increased tax credit for childcare costs.

World War Two marked the first and only time in US history that the government funded childcare for any working mother, regardless of her income. The programmes were created as women entered the workforce in droves to help with the war effort.

The Kaiser Company Shipyards in Oregon and California were at the vanguard of progressive childcare during World War Two. They hired skilled teachers and some offered pre-made meals for mums to take home and heat up. Some even offered personal shoppers to help women juggle home life and the building of combat ships.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was so impressed that she visited several of the Kaiser centres and urged companies across the United States to emulate the model. "I don't understand why it hasn't come back," says Natalie Fousekis, a historian and author of Demanding Childcare: Women's Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-1971. "I understand the political forces have prevented it. The studies I have seen and the studies during and after World War Two and today show that investing in good childcare with an educational component to it pays off in all kinds of ways."
What happened? Take a guess:
The Truman administration planned to yank all the federal funding for childcare after World War Two, which sparked protests across the country, mainly by women. The protest movement failed everywhere but in California where women successfully fought to keep the centres open. But over the years, funding has been chipped away and the California centres decimated.
Free childcare in the US: A forgotten dream? (BBC) I'm guessing the key is to why this was possible back then was because all the kids in those photos were white.

Universal healthcare was also on the table at the same time, but did not quite get as far:
Though Franklin Delano Roosevelt had cautiously chosen to leave a universal health care plan out of his Social Security Act of 1935 (which established pensions for the elderly), towards the end of his presidency Roosevelt returned to the idea, calling for the “right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” in his 1944 State of the Union Address. After his re-election that year, he began to prepare for another effort at a national health program — aborted, as Monte M. Poen explains in Harry S. Truman Versus the Medical Lobby, only by his death in April 1945.

His successor Harry S. Truman re-initiated the campaign for a national health insurance program, and had he been successful, the United States would have acquired a unified national program around the same time that much of Europe did.

Truman had strong support from organized labor, but encountered trenchant resistance from organized medicine in the form of the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA and other interests (including the relatively young pharmaceutical industry) poured millions of dollars into a red-baiting public relations campaign that all but accused the Truman administration of communist sympathies; the plan, unsurprisingly, soon went down in the flames of Cold War politics.

With no universal system enacted, the United States instead experienced a rapid expansion of employer-provided private health insurance, a move that had begun during the war, when federal authorities excluded health insurance benefits from wage controls (thereby giving companies a way to legally attract scarce workers). This dynamic was crucially bolstered in the postwar period, when employer-provided private health insurance was exempted from taxation: more and more workers were able to win increasingly comprehensive coverage — frequently through collective bargaining — over subsequent decades.
The Neoliberal Turn in American Health Care (Jacobin)

And speaking of "crazy" unthinkable policies - Croatia just canceled the debts of its poorest citizens (Washington Post). Don''t expect to see much coverage of this.

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