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How the McEconomy Bombed the American Worker May 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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www.tomdispatch.com, May 8, 2011

While President Obama has seen a sizeable jump in his approval ratings in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, scratch beneath the surface of those polls and you’ll find another story entirely.  Check out his figures when it comes to the economy, and there, Osama bin Laden and all those “USA! USA!” chanting crowds aside, his approval rating just hit a new low.

Killing bin Laden, Libya’s Gaddafi, and Iran’s Ahmedinejad, for that matter, isn’t likely to win an election for an American president these days. As in Bill Clinton’s famed 1992 election campaign against George H.W. Bush (who also garnered headlines for foreign policy “successes”), the mantra is still: “It’s the economy, stupid.”  The job market (or lack of it), rising food and gas prices, a housing market that remains in a state of collapse — you know the story.  Right now, it looks as if someone had flown a hijacked plane directly into the economy. For example, among young people, a key Obama demographic, more than four million Americans ages 16 to 24 are out of work

And if you think that the usual numbers are dismal, just wait until you dig under them with TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll and consider the way the American economy and its workers are being Third-World-ized.  This remains a wealthy country with significant resources, which makes it all the eerier that it’s beginning to feel as if the phrase “banana republic” might one of these days apply.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Kroll discusses what grim news lurks under the monthly unemployment figures, click here, or download it to your iPod here.)  Tom

How the McEconomy Bombed the American Worker
The Hollowing Out of the Middle Class

By Andy Kroll

Think of it as a parable for these grim economic times. On April 19th, McDonald’s launched its first-ever national hiring day, signing up 62,000 new workers at stores throughout the country. For some context, that’s more jobs created by one company in a single day than the net job creation of the entire U.S. economy in 2009. And if that boggles the mind, consider how many workers applied to local McDonald’s franchises that day and left empty-handed: 938,000 of them. With a 6.2% acceptance rate in its spring hiring blitz, McDonald’s was more selective than the Princeton, Stanford, or Yale University admission offices.

It shouldn’t be surprising that a million souls flocked to McDonald’s hoping for a steady paycheck, when nearly 14 million Americans are out of work and nearly a million more are too discouraged even to look for a job. At this point, it apparently made no difference to them that the fast-food industry pays some of the lowest wages around: on average, $8.89 an hour, or barely half the $15.95 hourly average across all American industries.

On an annual basis, the average fast-food worker takes home $20,800, less than half the national average of $43,400. McDonald’s appears to pay even worse, at least with its newest hires. In the press release for its national hiring day, the multi-billion-dollar company said it would spend $518 million on the newest round of hires, or $8,354 a head. Hence the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “McJob” as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”

Of course, if you read only the headlines, you might think that the jobs picture was improving. The economy added 1.3 million private-sector jobs between February 2010 and January 2011, and the headline unemployment rate edged downward, from 9.8% to 8.8%, between November of last year and March. It inched upward in April, to 9%, but tempering that increase was the news that the economy added 244,000 jobs last month (not including those 62,000 McJobs), beating economists’ expectations.

Under this somewhat sunnier news, however, runs a far darker undercurrent. Yes, jobs are being created, but what kinds of jobs paying what kinds of wages?  Can those jobs sustain a modest lifestyle and pay the bills? Or are we living through a McJobs recovery?

The Rise of the McWorker

The evidence points to the latter. According to a recent analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the biggest growth in private-sector job creation in the past year occurred in positions in the low-wage retail, administrative, and food service sectors of the economy. While 23% of the jobs lost in the Great Recession that followed the economic meltdown of 2008 were “low-wage” (those paying $9-$13 an hour), 49% of new jobs added in the sluggish “recovery” are in those same low-wage industries. On the other end of the spectrum, 40% of the jobs lost paid high wages ($19-$31 an hour), while a mere 14% of new jobs pay similarly high wages.

As a point of comparison, that’s much worse than in the recession of 2001 after the high-tech bubble burst.  Then, higher wage jobs made up almost a third of all new jobs in the first year after the crisis.

The hardest hit industries in terms of employment now are finance, manufacturing, and especially construction, which was decimated when the housing bubble burst in 2007 and has yet to recover. Meanwhile, NELP found that hiring for temporary administrative and waste-management jobs, health-care jobs, and of course those fast-food restaurants has surged.

Indeed in 2010, one in four jobs added by private employers was a temporary job, which usually provides workers with few benefits and even less job security. It’s not surprising that employers would first rely on temporary hires as they regained their footing after a colossal financial crisis. But this time around, companies have taken on temp workers in far greater numbers than after previous downturns.  Where 26% of hires in 2010 were temporary, the figure was 11% after the early-1990s recession and only 7% after the downturn of 2001.

As many labor economists have begun to point out, we’re witnessing an increasing polarization of the U.S. economy over the past three decades. More and more, we’re seeing labor growth largely at opposite ends of the skills-and-wages spectrum — among, that is, the best and the worst kinds of jobs.

At one end of job growth, you have increasing numbers of people flipping burgers, answering telephones, engaged in child care, mopping hallways, and in other low-wage lines of work. At the other end, you have increasing numbers of engineers, doctors, lawyers, and people in high-wage “creative” careers. What’s disappearing is the middle, the decent-paying jobs that helped expand the American middle class in the mid-twentieth century and that, if the present lopsided recovery is any indication, are now going the way of typewriters and landline telephones.

Because the shape of the workforce increasingly looks fat on both ends and thin in the middle, economists have begun to speak of “the barbell effect,” which for those clinging to a middle-class existence in bad times means a nightmare life.  For one thing, the shape of the workforce now hinders America’s once vaunted upward mobility.  It’s the downhill slope that’s largely available these days.

The barbell effect has also created staggering levels of income inequality of a sort not known since the decades before the Great Depression. From 1979 to 2007, for the middle class, average household income (after taxes) nudged upward from $44,100 to $55,300; by contrast, for the top 1%, average household income soared from $346,600 in 1979 to nearly $1.3 million in 2007. That is, super-rich families saw their earnings increase 11 times faster than middle-class families.

What’s causing this polarization? An obvious culprit is technology. As MIT economist David Autor notes, the tasks of “organizing, storing, retrieving, and manipulating information” that humans once performed are now computerized. And when computers can’t handle more basic clerical work, employers ship those jobs overseas where labor is cheaper and benefits nonexistent.

Another factor is education. In today’s barbell economy, degrees and diplomas have never mattered more, which means that those with just a high school education increasingly find themselves locked into the low-wage end of the labor market with little hope for better. Worse yet, the pay gap between the well-educated and not-so-educated continues to widen: in 1979, the hourly wage of a typical college graduate was 1.5 times higher than that of a typical high-school graduate; by 2009, it was almost two times higher.

Considering, then, that the percentage of men ages 25 to 34 who have gone to college is actually decreasing, it’s not surprising that wage inequality has gotten worse in the U.S. As Autor writes, advanced economies like ours “depend on their best-educated workers to develop and commercialize the innovative ideas that drive economic growth.”

The distorting effects of the barbell economy aren’t lost on ordinary Americans. In a recent Gallup poll, a majority of people agreed that the country was still in either a depression (29%) or a recession (26%).  When sorted out by income, however, those making $75,000 or more a year are, not surprisingly, most likely to believe the economy is in neither a recession nor a depression, but growing.  After all, they’re the ones most likely to have benefited from a soaring stock market and the return to profitability of both corporate America and Wall Street. In Gallup’s middle-income group, by contrast, 55% of respondents claim the economy is in trouble. They’re still waiting for their recovery to arrive.

The Slow Fade of Big Labor

The big-picture economic changes described by Autor and others, however, don’t tell the entire story. There’s a significant political component to the hollowing out of the American labor force and the impoverishment of the middle class: the slow fade of organized labor. Since the 1950s, the clout of unions in the public and private sectors has waned, their membership has dwindled, and their political influence has weakened considerably. Long gone are the days when powerful union bosses — the AFL-CIO’s George Meany or the UAW’s Walter Reuther — had the ear of just about any president.

As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum has written, in the 1960s and 1970s a rift developed between big labor and the Democratic Party. Unions recoiled in disgust at what they perceived to be the “motley collection of shaggy kids, newly assertive women, and goo-goo academics” who had begun to supplant organized labor in the Party. In 1972, the influential AFL-CIO symbolically distanced itself from the Democrats by refusing to endorse their nominee for president, George McGovern.

All the while, big business was mobilizing, banding together to form massive advocacy groups such as the Business Roundtable and shaping the staid U.S. Chamber of Commerce into a ferocious lobbying machine. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Democratic Party drifted rightward and toward an increasingly powerful and financially focused business community, creating the Democratic Leadership Council, an olive branch of sorts to corporate America. “It’s not that the working class [had] abandoned Democrats,” Drum wrote. “It’s just the opposite: The Democratic Party [had] largely abandoned the working class.”

The GOP, of course, has a long history of battling organized labor, and nowhere has that been clearer than in the party’s recent assault on workers’ rights. Swept in by a tide of Republican support in 2010, new GOP majorities in state legislatures from Wisconsin to Tennessee to New Hampshire have introduced bills meant to roll back decades’ worth of collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions, the last bastion of organized labor still standing (somewhat) strong.

The political calculus behind the war on public-sector unions is obvious: kneecap them and you knock out a major pillar of support for the Democratic Party.  In the 2010 midterm elections, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent nearly $90 million on TV ads, phone banking, mailings, and other support for Democratic candidates. The anti-union legislation being pushed by Republicans would inflict serious damage on AFSCME and other public-sector unions by making it harder for them to retain members and weakening their clout at the bargaining table.

And as shown by the latest state to join the anti-union fray, it’s not just Republicans chipping away at workers’ rights anymore. In Massachusetts, a staunchly liberal state, the Democratic-led State Assembly recently voted to curb collective bargaining rights on heath-care benefits for teachers, firefighters, and a host of other public-sector employees.

Bargaining-table clout is crucial for unions, since it directly affects the wages their members take home every month. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers pocket on average $200 more per week than their non-union counterparts, a 28% percent difference. The benefits of union representation are even greater for women and people of color: women in unions make 34% more than their non-unionized counterparts, and Latino workers nearly 51% more.

In other words, at precisely the moment when middle-class workers need strong bargaining rights so they can fight to preserve a living wage in a barbell economy, unions around the country face the grim prospect of losing those rights.

All of which raises the questions: Is there any way to revive the American middle class and reshape income distribution in our barbell nation?  Or will this warped recovery of ours pave the way for an even more warped McEconomy, with the have-nots at one end, the have-it-alls at the other end, and increasingly less of us in between?

Andy Kroll is a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine and an associate editor at TomDispatch. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a firmly — and happily — middle-class household. His email is andykroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Kroll discusses what grim news lurks under the monthly unemployment figures, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Andy Kroll

Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered January 28, 2010

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Thursday 28 January 2010

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Edphoto
(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard’s book, “Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal,” published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard’s working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard’s fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special – untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my fist glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition and resistance to the Vietnam War. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn’t interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” He wrote:

“From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard’s salary for years.

Howard loved watching independent and Hollywood films and he and I and Roz [Howard's wife] saw many films together while I was in Boston. I remember how we quarreled over “Last Tango in Paris.” I loved the film, but he disagreed. But Howard disagreed in a way that was persuasive and instructive. He listened, stood his ground, and, if he was wrong, often said something like, “O.K., you got a point,” always accompanied by that broad and wonderful smile.

What was so moving and unmistakable about Howard was his humility, his willingness to listen, his refusal of all orthodoxies and his sense of respect for others. I remember once when he was leading a faculty strike at BU in the late 1970s and I mentioned to him that too few people had shown up. He looked at me and made it very clear that what should be acknowledged is that some people did show up and that was a beginning. He rightly put me in my place that day – a lesson I never forgot.

Howard was no soppy optimist, but someone who believed that human beings, in the face of injustice and with the necessary knowledge, were willing to resist, organize and collectively struggle. Howard led the committee organized to fight my firing by Silber. We lost that battle, but Howard was a source of deep comfort and friendship for me during a time when I had given up hope. I later learned that Silber, the notorious right-wing enemy of Howard and anyone else on the left, had included me on a top-ten list of blacklisted academics at BU. Hearing that I shared that list with Howard was a proud moment for me. But Howard occupied a special place in Silber’s list of enemies, and he once falsely accused Howard of arson, a charge he was later forced to retract once the charge was leaked to the press.

Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Howard never allowed himself to be seduced either by threats, the seductions of fame or the need to tone down his position for the standard bearers of the new illiteracy that now populates the mainstream media. As an intellectual for the public, he was a model of dignity, engagement and civic commitment. He believed that addressing human suffering and social issues mattered, and he never flinched from that belief. His commitment to justice and the voices of those expunged from the official narratives of power are evident in such works as his monumental and best-known book, “A People’s History of the United States,” but it was also evident in many of his other works, talks, interviews and the wide scope of public interventions that marked his long and productive life. Howard provided a model of what it meant to be an engaged scholar, who was deeply committed to sustaining public values and a civic life in ways that linked theory, history and politics to the everyday needs and language that informed everyday life. He never hid behind a firewall of jargon, refused to substitute irony for civic courage and disdained the assumption that working-class and oppressed people were incapable of governing themselves.

Unlike so many public relations intellectuals today, I never heard him interview himself while talking to others. Everything he talked about often pointed to larger social issues, and all the while, he completely rejected any vestige of political and moral purity. His lack of rigidity coupled with his warmness and humor often threw people off, especially those on the left and right who seem to pride themselves on their often zombie-like stoicism. But, then again, Howard was not a child of privilege. He had a working-class sensibility, though hardly romanticized, and sympathy for the less privileged in society along with those whose voices had been kept out of the official narratives as well as a deeply felt commitment to solidarity, justice, dialogue and hope. And it was precisely this great sense of dignity and generosity in his politics and life that often moved people who shared his company privately or publicly. A few days before his death, he sent me an email commenting on something I had written for Truthout about zombie politics. (It astonishes me that this will have been the last correspondence. Even at my age, the encouragement and support of this man, this towering figure in my life, meant such a great deal.) His response captures something so enduring and moving about his spirit. He wrote:

“Henry, we are in a situation where mild rebuke, even critiques we consider ‘radical’ are not sufficient. (Frederick Douglass’ speech on the Fourth of July in 1852, thunderously angry, comes close to what is needed). Raising the temperature of our language, our indignation, is what you are doing and what is needed. I recall that Sartre, close to death, was asked: ‘What do you regret?’ He answered: ‘I wasn’t radical enough.'”

I suspect that Howard would have said the same thing about himself. And maybe no one can ever be radical enough, but Howard came close to that ideal in his work, life and politics. Howard’s death is especially poignant for me because I think the formative culture that produced intellectuals like him is gone. He leaves an enormous gap in the lives of many thousands of people who knew him and were touched by the reality of the embodied and deeply felt politics he offered to all of us. I will miss him, his emails, his work, his smile and his endearing presence. Of course, he would frown on such a sentiment, and with a smile would more than likely say, “do more than mourn, organize.” Of course, he would be right, but maybe we can do both.

Editor’s Note: Howard Zinn and Henry A. Giroux not only shared a long personal friendship but also many professional and political connections. Henry A. Giroux recently joined the Truthout Board of Directors. Howard Zinn was a member of Truthout’s Board of Advisors and his comments and suggestions about our work will be greatly missed by all of us. to/vh

The Underlying Divisions in the Health Care Debate December 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Democracy, Health, Political Commentary.
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(Roger’s note: Hmm, “the merger of government power and corporate interests.”  Now, where have I heard that before?  Yes, now I remember, it was called National Socialism and occurred in post-Weimar Germany in the 1930s.  The article below discusses the corporatist phenomenon but stops short of calling a spade a spade.  Corporatism = Capitalism.  Plain and simple.  The inner logic of capitalism, whether it occurs in a political democracy or in a Communist dictatorship in the form of state capitalism, is accumulate, accumulate, accumulate.  The big keeps getting bigger, the rich richer, the poor poorer.  With greater economic concentration comes the ability to hijack the political process, which is exactly what we are seeing in the United States.  Big Corporate America owns Congress, the Presidency, and via the Presidency the Supreme Court.  “We the People” are the ones left out.  Permanent war, billions upon billions spent upon nuclear and non-nuclear armaments; permanent economic crisis; continuing deterioration of the social safety net; continuing environmental degradation: these are the by-products of worldwide capitalism.  Nothing short of revolutionary changes can save the planet [or do you think the heads of state meeting at Copenhagen -- the heads of state of the industrial nations fronting for oil and coal, the heads of state of the poor nations bludgeoned by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel into submission -- do you think they can or will do it?])
 
Published on Friday, December 18, 2009 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald
Ed Kilgore has a very perceptive analysis in The New Republic about the underlying (and largely unexamined) ideological and strategic differences among progressives that are at least partially driving the rift over the health care bill.  He argues — correctly — that the current debate “displays a couple of pretty important potential fault lines within the American center-left” that have manifested in other disputes as well.  That was the principal point of this much-maligned Daily Kos post observing that many (but not all) of the progressive bloggers most vehemently demanding passage of the health care bill also supported the Iraq War.  As the author of that post (Jake McIntyre) explicitly said, his intent wasn’t to suggest that those individuals shouldn’t be listened to because of their Iraq position six years ago (that would be an invalid and unfair claim), but simply that — as Kilgore says — there are underlying and significant differences in strategic and ideological outlook driving the health care debate that have been present for some time but are typically ignored.Shared contempt for the Bush administration (at least once Bush and the Iraq War became discredited) largely obscured these differences when Bush was in office.  The desire to undermine the Bush GOP and dislodge that movement from power subsumed all other objectives and united people with vastly different political outlooks and agendas.  There is still a shared revulsion towards the Palin/Limbaugh Right, but that faction is too marginalized and impotent to serve the same function.  With the unifying force of Bush/Cheney gone, the divisions Kilgore describes are now vibrant and increasingly potent.  In addition to health care and Iraq, roughly the same progressive fault lines are seen over the bank bailout, escalation in Afghanistan, Obama’s economic team, tolerance for Obama’s embrace of Bush/Cheney civil liberties polices, and even the reaction to Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone article on Obama’s subservience to Wall Street. 

There are many reasons for the progressive division on the health care bill.  There are differences over the narrow question of health care policy, with some believing the bill does more harm than good just on that ground alone.  Some of it has to do with broader questions of political power:  if progressives always announce that they are willing to accept whatever miniscule benefits are tossed at them (on the ground that it’s better than nothing) and unfailingly support Democratic initiatives (on the ground that the GOP is worse), then they will (and should) always be ignored when it comes time to negotiate; nobody takes seriously the demands of those who announce they’ll go along with whatever the final outcome is.  But the most significant underlying division identified by Kilgore is the divergent views over the rapidly growing corporatism that defines our political system.

Kilgore doesn’t call it “corporatism” — the virtually complete dominance of government by large corporations, even a merger between the two — but that’s what he’s talking about.  He puts it in slightly more palatable terms:

To put it simply, and perhaps over-simply, on a variety of fronts (most notably financial restructuring and health care reform, but arguably on climate change as well), the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of deploying regulated and subsidized private sector entities to achieve progressive policy results. This approach was a hallmark of the so-called Clintonian, “New Democrat” movement, and the broader international movement sometimes referred to as “the Third Way,” which often defended the use of private means for public ends.

As I’ve written for quite some time, I’ve honestly never understood how anyone could think that Obama was going to bring about some sort of “new” political approach or governing method when, as Kilgore notes, what he practices — politically and substantively — is the Third Way, DLC, triangulating corporatism of the Clinton era, just re-packaged with some sleeker and more updated marketing.  At its core, it seeks to use government power not to regulate, but to benefit and even merge with, large corporate interests, both for political power (those corporate interests, in return, then fund the Party and its campaigns) and for policy ends.  It’s devoted to empowering large corporations, letting them always get what they want from government, and extracting, at best, some very modest concessions in return.  This is the same point Taibbi made about the Democratic Party in the context of economic policy:

The significance of all of these appointments isn’t that the Wall Street types are now in a position to provide direct favors to their former employers. It’s that, with one or two exceptions, they collectively offer a microcosm of what the Democratic Party has come to stand for in the 21st century. Virtually all of the Rubinites brought in to manage the economy under Obama share the same fundamental political philosophy carefully articulated for years by the Hamilton Project: Expand the safety net to protect the poor, but let Wall Street do whatever it wants.

One finds this in far more than just economic policy, and it’s about more than just letting corporations do what they want.  It’s about affirmatively harnessing government power in order to benefit and strengthen those corporate interests and even merging government and the private sector.  In the intelligence and surveillance realms, for instance, the line between government agencies and private corporations barely exists.  Military policy is carried out almost as much by private contractors as by our state’s armed forces.  Corporate executives and lobbyists can shuffle between the public and private sectors so seamlessly because the divisions have been so eroded.  Our laws are written not by elected representatives but, literally, by the largest and richest corporations.  At the level of the most concentrated power, large corporate interests and government actions are basically inseparable.

The health care bill is one of the most flagrant advancements of this corporatism yet, as it bizarrely forces millions of people to buy extremely inadequate products from the private health insurance industry — regardless of whether they want it or, worse, whether they can afford it (even with some subsidies).   In other words, it uses the power of government, the force of law, to give the greatest gift imaginable to this industry — tens of millions of coerced customers, many of whom will be truly burdened by having to turn their money over to these corporations — and is thus a truly extreme advancement of this corporatist model.  It’s undeniably true that the bill will also do some genuine good, as it will help many people who can’t get coverage now to get it (though it will also severely burden many people with compelled, uncontrolled premiums and will potentially weaken coverage for millions as well).  If one judges the bill purely from the narrow perspective of coverage, a rational and reasonable (though by no means conclusive) case can be made in its favor.  But if one finds this creeping corporatism to be a truly disturbing and nefarious trend, then the bill will seem far less benign.

As I’ve noted before, this growing opposition to corporatism — to the virtually absolute domination of our political process by large corporations — is one of the many issues that transcend the trite left/right drama endlessly used as a distraction.  The anger among both the left and right towards the bank bailout, and towards lobbyist influence in general, illustrates that.  Kilgore says that anger among the left and right over corporatism is irreconcilable, and this is the point I think he has mostly wrong:

To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama’s critics to the right say he’s engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can’t both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance.  But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.

This supposedly irreconcilable difference Kilgore identifies is more semantics than substance.  It’s certainly true that health care opponents on the left want more a expansive plan while opponents on the right want the opposite.  But the objections over the mandate are largely identical — it’s a coerced gift to the private health insurance industry that underwrites the Democratic Party.  The same was true over opposition to the bailout, objections to lobbying influence over Washington, and most of all, the growing anger that Washington serves the interests of financial elites at the expense of the working class.  

Whether you call it “a government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government,” it’s the same thing:  a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else’s expense.  Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s.  It’s true that the people who are angry enough to attend tea parties are being exploited and misled by GOP operatives and right-wing polemicists, but many of their grievences about how Washington is ignoring their interests are valid, and the Democratic Party has no answers for them because it’s dependent upon and supportive of that corporatist model.  That’s why they turn to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; what could a Democratic Party dependent upon corporate funding and subservient to its interests possibly have to say to populist anger?

Even if one grants the arguments made by proponents of the health care bill about increased coverage, what the bill does is reinforces and bolsters a radically corrupt and flawed insurance model and and an even more corrupt and destructive model of “governing.”  It is a major step forward for the corporatist model, even a new innovation in propping it up.  How one weighs those benefits and costs — both in the health care debate and with regard to many of Obama’s other policies — depends largely upon how devoted one is to undermining and weakening this corporatist framework (as opposed to exploiting it for political gain and some policy aims).  That’s one of the primary underlying divisions Kilgore identifies, and he’s right to call for greater examination and debate over the role it is playing.

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Die November 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Labor, Uncategorized.
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Today marks the 94th anniversary of labor hero Joe Hill’s death by firing squad. (Photo: david_axe / flickr)

http://www.truthout.org

Thursday 19 November 2009

by: Dick Meister, t r u t h o u t | Report
It’s November 19, 1915, in a courtyard of the Utah State Penitentiary in Salt Lake City. Five riflemen take careful aim at a condemned organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Joe Hill, who stands before them straight and stiff and proud.

“Fire!” he shouts defiantly.

The firing squad didn’t miss. But Joe Hill, as the folk ballad says, “ain’t never died.” On this 94th anniversary, he lives on as one of the most enduring and influential of American symbols.

Joe Hill’s story is that of a labor martyr framed for murder by viciously anti-labor employer and government forces, a man who never faltered in fighting for the rights of the oppressed, who never faltered in his attempts to bring them together for the collective action essential if they were to overcome their wealthy and powerful oppressors.

His is the story of a man and an organization destroyed by government opposition, yet immensely successful. As historian Joyce Kornbluh noted, the IWW made “an indelible mark on the American labor movement and American society,” laying the groundwork for mass unionization, inspiring the formation of groups to protect the civil liberties of dissidents, prompting prison and farm labor reforms, and leaving behind “a genuine heritage … industrial democracy.”

Joe Hill’s story is the story of, perhaps, the greatest of all folk poets, whose simple, satirical rhymes set to simple, familiar melodies did so much to focus working people on the common body of ideals needed to forge them into a collective force.

Remember? “You will eat, bye and bye/In that glorious land above the sky/Work and Pray, live on hay/You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

Ralph Chaplain, the IWW bard who wrote “Solidarity Forever,” found Hill’s songs “as coarse as homespun and as fine as silk; full of laughter and keen-edged satire; full of fine rage and finer tenderness; songs of and for the worker, written in the only language he can understand.”

Joe Hill’s story is the story of a man who saw with unusual clarity the unjust effects of the political, social and economic system on working people and whose own widely publicized trial and execution alerted people worldwide to the injustices and spurred them into corrective action.

It’s the story of a man who told his IWW comrades, just before stepping in front of the firing squad: “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize!”

Hill’s comrades aimed at nothing less than organizing all workers into One Big Union regardless of their race, nationality, craft or work skills, calling a general strike and wresting control of the economy from its capitalist masters. The revolutionary message was presented in the simple language of the workplace, in the songs of Hill, Chaplain, and others, in the street corner oratory and in a tremendous outpouring of publications, including a dozen foreign-language newspapers, which were distributed among the many unskilled immigrants from European nations where unions had similar goals.

Workers were told again and again that they all had the same problems, the same needs and faced the same enemy. It was they who did the work, while others got the profit; they were members, all of them, of the working class. To aspire to middle-class status, as the established labor movement advocated, would mean competing against their fellow workers and chaining themselves to a system that enslaved them.

Organized religion also was a tool of enslavement, to keep the worker’s eye on that “pie in the sky” while he was being exploited in this world. Patriotism was a ruse to set the workers of one nation against those of another for the profit of capitalist manipulators.

IWW organizers carried the message to factories, mines, mills and lumber camps throughout the country, and to farms in the Midwest and California.

The cause of radical unionism to which Joe Hill devoted his life was lost a long time ago. The call to revolution is scarcely heard in today’s clamorously capitalist society. Labor organizations seek not to seize control of the means of production, but rather to share in the fruits of an economic system controlled by others. Yet, Joe Hill’s fiery words and fiery deeds, his courage and his sacrifices continue to inspire political, labor, civil rights and civil liberties activists.

They still sing his songs, striking workers, dissident students, and others, on picket lines, in demonstrations, at rallies, on the streets and in auditoriums. They echo his spirit of protest and militancy, his demand for true equality, share his fervent belief in solidarity, even use tactics first employed by Hill and his comrades.

Hill emigrated to the United States from his native Sweden in 1902, changing his name from Joel Haaglund, working as a seaman and as an itinerant wheat harvester, pipe layer, copper miner, and at other jobs as he made his way across the country to San Diego, translating into compelling lyrics the hopes and desires, the frustrations and discontents of his fellow workers.

In San Diego, Hill joined in one of the first of the many “free speech fights” waged by the Industrial Workers of the World against attempts by municipal authorities around the country to silence the street corner oratory that was a key part of the IWW’s organizing strategy.

Not long afterward, Hill hopped a freight for Salt Lake City where he helped lead a successful construction workers’ strike and began helping organize another free speech fight. But within a month, he was arrested on charges of shooting to death a grocer and his son and was immediately branded guilty by the local newspapers and authorities alike. Ultimately, Hill was convicted on only the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.

Hill had staggered into a doctor’s office within an hour after the shootings, bleeding from a chest wound that he said had stemmed from a quarrel over a woman. The prosecutor argued that the wound was inflicted by the grocer in response to an attack by Hill, although he did not introduce into evidence either the grocer’s gun or the bullet that allegedly was fired from it. He did not introduce the gun that Hill allegedly used and did not call a single witness who could positively identify Hill as the killer. But he easily convinced the jury that the murders were an example of IWW terrorism and that since Hill was an IWW leader and had been arrested and charged with the crime, he was guilty.

As Hill’s futile appeals made their way through the courts, Gov. William Spry of Utah was swamped with thousands of petitions and letters from all over the world asking for a pardon or commutation. But he would not even be swayed by the pleas for mercy from the Swedish ambassador. Not even by the pleas of US President Woodrow Wilson.

The governor paid much greater attention to the views of Utah’s powerful Mormon Church leaders and powerful employer interests, particularly those who controlled the state’s dominant copper mining industry. They insisted that the man they considered one of the most dangerous radicals in the country be put to death.

Joe Hill’s body was shipped to Chicago, where it was cremated after a hero’s funeral, the ashes divided up and sent to IWW locals for scattering on the winds in every state except Utah. Hill, with typical grim humor, had declared, “I don’t want to be caught dead in Utah.”

Even in death, Hill was not safe from the government. One packet of his ashes, sent belatedly to an IWW organizer in 1917 for scattering in Chicago, was seized by postal inspectors. They acted under the Espionage Act, passed after the United States entered World War I that year, which made it illegal to mail any material that advocated “treason, insurrection. or forcible resistance to any law of the United States.”

The envelope, containing about a tablespoon of Hill’s ashes, was sent to the National Archives in Washington, DC. It remained hidden there until 1988, when it was discovered and turned over in Chicago to the men who presided over what little remained of the Industrial Workers of the World, shrunken to only a few hundred members.

The post office apparently had objected to the caption beneath a photo of Hill on the front of the envelope. “Joe Hill,” it said – “murdered by the capitalist class, November 19, 1915.”

What Happened in Chile: An Analysis of the Health Sector Before, During, and After Allende’s Administration September 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Health, History, Latin America.
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Posted on http://susanrosenthal.com/general/what-happened-in-chile-an-analysis-of-the-health-sector-before-during-and-after-allendes-administration

Tue, Sep 1, 2009

America In Crisis, Featured, General, Health and Medicine, Socialism

What Happened in Chile: An Analysis of the Health Sector Before, During, and After Allende’s Administration by Vicente Navarro¹

To all those in Chile and in the rest of Latin America who are persecuted because they believe that the way to break with the underdevelopment of health is to break with the sickness of underdevelopment.

On September 11, 1973, at nine o’clock in the morning, two battalions of infantry surrounded the Chilean presidential palace in Santiago. From ten o’clock until two o’clock, troops bombarded the building, killing most of the staff, including the President of Chile, Salvador Allende.²

Just a few yards from the palace can be found the most luxurious hotel in Santiago, the Careras Hotel, which is owned by the U.S. Sheraton chain.

The New York Times correspondent in the city reported that the maids, cleaners, and blue-collar workers in that hotel gathered in the basement in fear and anger over the fall of what they considered their government. Up on the top floor, meanwhile, the hotel manager invited his patrons to drink champagne with him, to celebrate the military coup and the fall of the Unidad Popular government (Kandell, 1973a).

Not far away, in the Medical College building, the Chilean Medical Association sent a telegram of support for the coup (El Mercurio, 1973a).

Meanwhile, in most health centers and hospitals, and in most working-class and rural communities, the health workers, the blue-collar workers, the low-income peasantry, the unem­ployed, and the poor, that sector of the Chilean population that Neruda had defined as the “disenfranchised majorities,” were resisting the military takeover.

The strength of the resistance is evidenced by the fact that today, ten months after that morning in September, the country is still in a state of siege (Gott, 1974). And the military has had to establish a repression defined by the correspondent of Le Monde in Santiago as “the carnage of the working class and of the poor” (Le Monde, 1973:12).

Thousands of miles away, according to the Washington correspondent of Le Monde Diplomatique, the atmosphere in the “corporate corridors of power in Washington was one of cautious delight, with some embarrass­ment” (Le Monde Diplomatique, 1973:7).

pinochet_attacks_allende

Why these events? How were they linked? And more impor­tant, what is the meaning of those events in Chile for Latin America as a whole?

In this presentation I will try to give you my perception of what happened to Chile’s health sector and why it happened. And I will attempt some tentative conclusions. Also, and since it is my assump­tion that the health sector in any society mirrors the rest of that soci­ety, I will try to describe the evolution of Chile’s health services within the over-all parameters that define the general underdevelopment of Chile.

BACKGROUND

In order to explain the events in Chile, both within and outside the health sector, we should first look at the causes of underdevelop­ment in Chile, which, as I have postulated elsewhere (Navarro, 1974), are the same determinants that shape the structure, function, and dis­tribution of resources in the health sector.

The causes of underdevelopment, not only in Chile, but also in most of Latin America, are not due (as is believed in most of the leading circles of government and academia of developed countries and in the international agencies) to:

(1) the scarcity of the proper “values” and technology in the poor countries

(2) the scarcity of capital and resources

(3) the insufficient diffusion of capital, val­ues, and technology from the developed societies to the cities of the underdeveloped countries and from there to the rural areas

Quite the opposite of that interpretation of underdevelopment, the causes of un­derdevelopment are the existence in Chile – as well as in the rest of Latin America – of the “conditions of development,” that is (1) too much cultural and technological dependency on the developed countries, and (2) the under-use and improper use of the existing capi­tal by the national bourgeoisie and its foreign counterparts.

In fact, the highly skewed distribution of economic and political power in Chile is the root of Chile’s underdevelopment.

To some of you, accustomed to the classless approach of sociological research prevalent in American sociology, this may sound very sketchy and even like a slogan. If this is the case, I would suggest you read “The Underdevelopment of Health or the Health of Underdevelopment” (Navarro, 1974), where I present evidence to support this theory. This presentation is an extension of that article.

To understand the underdevelopment of health resources in Chile, we have to start with a description of the skewed distribu­tion of economic and political power between the different classes in Chile. Although each class contains different groups with differ­ent interests, there is still a certain uniformity of political and economic behavior within each class that allows us to break Chilean society into basically three classes.3

At the top, we have 10 percent of the population, who control 60 percent of the wealth (income and property) of society and who determine the pattern of investment, production, and consumption in Chile. Because their economic, political, and social power is dependent on the power of the bourgeoisie of the de­veloped countries, Frank (1973) adds the expression “lumpen” to the term bourgeoisie.

Dependent on the lumpenbourgeoisie are the middle classes, who, in Latin America, as a UN-ECLA report states, “im­proved their social status by coming to terms with the oligarchy” (United Nations Economic Council for Latin America, 1970:79; quoted in Frank 1973:134). Far from being a progressive force, as the middle classes were in the developed societies following the industrial revolution, the middle classes in Latin America were and are a mere economic appendage to the lumpenbourgeoisie.

Below these two classes is the majority of the population, the blue-collar workers, the peasantry, the unemployed, and the poor, rep­resenting 65 percent of the Chilean population and owning only 12 percent of the wealth of that society (Petras, 1970).4

The Structure of Health Services in Chile

Not unexpectedly, the class structure of Chile is replicated in her health services.

crowd2

The governmental health service or National Health Service (NHS) covers the working class, the peasantry, the unem­ployed, the poor, and a small fraction of the lowest-paid white-collar workers – a group that repre­sents approximately 70 percent of the Chilean population.

Voluntary health insurance (SERMENA) covers the middle class which represent approximately 22 percent of the Chilean people; and fee-for­-service, out-of-pocket, “market” medicine covers the lumpen­bourgeoisie, approximately 8 percent of Chileans.

Not unexpectedly, expenditures per capita are lowest in the government sector, higher in the insurance sector, and even higher in the private sector.

Between 1968 and 1969, the top two groups, the lumpenbourgeoisie and middle classes, representing 30 percent of the Chilean population, consumed 60 percent of Chile’s health ex­penditures, while the working class, the peasantry, the unemployed, and the poor, representing 70 percent of the population, consumed only 40 percent of national health expen­ditures (Chilean Ministry of Public Health, 1970:93, 183, and 186; quoted in Gaete and Castanon, 1973).

Moreover, reflecting the increasing income differential between the upper and lower classes, those differences of consumption have been increasing, not decreas­ing.

In 1958, private-sector consumption represented 41 percent of national health expenditures. By 1963 that percentage had grown to 57 percent, and by 1968 to 60 percent (Gaete and Casta­non, 1973:10).

Between 1960 and 1968, private-sector consumption of health and medical services increased from 2.0 to 3.7 percent of the Gross National Product, while public sector consumption decreased from 3.2 percent to 2.5 percent over the same period. This expansion of private-sector  consumption was due to increased consumption per capita in the private sector, since the percentage of the population in the upper classes did not change. (Petras, 1970).

In summary, then, the distribution and consumption of health resources in Chile reflects Chile’s class dis­tribution, and this leads to a situation in which family expenditures for health services in the lower classes are a tenth of the amount spent by the upper classes (Diaz, 1966; quoted in Gaete and Castanon, 1973).

It is important to know how this distribution of resources, which reflects the class system, came about. It is worth noting that, while the evolution of the Chilean health services has some unique elements, there are also quite a few characteristics that are similar to those seen in other countries, including in the United States. For a succinct historical review of the main histor­ical events in Chile during this century, see Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action (1973).

In 1925, it was written into the Chilean Con­stitution that health care is a human right and that the state has the respon­sibility of guaranteeing health care for its citizens.

The gap between theory and practice was a wide one, however, and it was not until 1952 that a  National Health Service was established, initially to take care of blue collar workers, and then, in successive stages, other sectors of the population such as the peasantry, the unemployed and the poor.5

There are several reasons, as many as there are theories, for the creation of the National Health Service at that time. One reason is the situation of the Chilean economy in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the Depression that hit the world economy in the 1930s, international demand for raw materials and primary products fell off markedly, creating a major crisis in dependent economies such as Chile’s, where the main exports were those goods. However, during World War II, the demand for Chile’s products, and primarily for copper, Chile’s main export, began to revive.

It was at this time that the lumpenbourgeoisie and its foreign counterparts saw an opportunity to develop Chile’s sluggish economy according to their own schemes, with industrialization as the main stimulant. Because they wanted to build up the economy, it was advantageous to have a healthy work force, particularly in the industrial sector.

The primary aim of the National Health Service was to “produce a healthy and productive labor force” (Gaete and Castanon, 1973:12), and the statutory law establishing the National Health Service actually states that a prime objective of the Service is to “guide the development of the child and the young, and the maintenance of the adult for their full capacity as future and present producers” (Chilean Ministry of Public Health, 1950).

The industrialization of the country required great sac­rifices and, as has occurred in most countries, the burden of these sacrifices fell not on upper- but on lower-class shoulders.

Dur­ing the decade 1940-1950, a large regressive distribution of in­come took place at the expense of the lower-income groups. Wages during that period fell from 27 to 21 percent of the national income, and the economic gap between the classes increased dramatically. These developments were accompanied by great repression, with the intent to destroy working-class-based parties.

Not surprisingly, this period of Chilean history was marked by worker and peasant upris­ings, and great social unrest.

people-march-posterThe threatened lumpenbourgeoisie responded to this not only with repression but also with social legislation.

This reaction was not unlike that of Bismarck during the previous century in Germany, with, besides repression, the creation of social security and the founding of a National Health Insurance scheme to care for blue-collar workers, and later the peasantry, the unemployed, and the poor.

The intent of these changes was to co-opt the unsettling forces. But the concession of one class was the gain of the other.

Naturally the working-class-based parties not only supported but fought for the creation of the National Health Service. And it was none other than the late President Allende, at that time a member of the Chilean Senate for the Socialist Party, who introduced and spon­sored the law establishing the National Health Service.

In that respect the Chilean experience in the 1950s repeated the experience with social security in other countries.

Let me quote Sigerist, that great medical historian and professor of medical history at Johns Hopkins back in the 1940s. His presentation to the London School of Hygiene in the same year (1952) that the National Health Service was created in Chile, are relevant not only to the Chilean situation of the 1950s but also to our present debate on national health insurance here in the United States (Sigerist, 1956; quoted in Terris, 1973:317):

Social-security legislation came in waves and followed a certain pattern.

Increased  industrialization created the need; strong political parties rep­resenting the interests of the workers seemed a potential threat to the existing order, or at least to the traditional system of production, and an acute scare such as that created by the French Commune stirred Conser­vatives into action and social-security legislation was enacted.

In England at the beginning of our century the second industrial revolution was very strongly felt. The Labour Party entered parliament and from a two-party country England developed into a three-party country.

The Russian rev­olution of 1905 was suppressed to be sure, but seemed a dress rehearsal for other revolutions to follow. Social legislation was enacted not by the Socialists but by Lloyd George and Churchill.

A third wave followed World War I when again the industries of every warfaring country were greatly expanded, when, as a result of the war, the Socialist parties grew stronger everywhere, and the Russian revolution of 1917 created a red scare from which many countries are still suffering. Again social-security legislation was enacted in a number of countries.

Every historical pattern we set up is to a certain extent artificial, and history never repeats itself unaltered. But patterns are useful because they help us to understand conditions.

When we look at the American scene we find the need for health insurance and a red scare that could not be stronger, but America has no Socialist party, no politically active labour movement that could bring pressure upon the Government. The existing order is not threatened from any side and conservative parties do not feel the need for action on these lines.

How applicable this quotation is to our present situation in the United States is for you to decide.

As for its applicability to the Chilean situation in the 1950s, it is clear that the creation of social security and the National Health Service was also a response by the right to claims and threats from the left. At the same time, the middle and upper classes retained their private sector options with fee-for-service, direct payment to physicians, following the market model in which health services are sold and bought like any other commodity.

chilean-medical-association-bannner

The attitude of the medical profession toward the National Health Service has been ambivalent.

On the one side, they need it, since the consumer power for the majority of the population covered by the National Health Service was, and continues to be, very low indeed. The National Health Service has always been an important source of income for the 90 percent of Chile’s physicians who work for it either on a part- or full-time basis (Gaete and Castanon, 1973:9).

On the other hand, the medical profession maintained profound reservations about the National Health Service because they feared government intervention. This explains why, as their conditions of acceptance of the service, they demanded:

(1) that the Chilean Medical Association be appointed, by law, as the watchdog of the National Health Service, to defend the economic and other interests of the med­ical profession

(2) that their private practice, fee­-for-service patients would be able to use Na­tional Health Service facilities.6

In the 1960s, when an economic depression hit Chile and the costs of health care increased, both the consuming middle classes and physicians began a movement that led to the creation in 1968 of a health insurance plan (SERMENA), similar to our Blues, to cover both hospitalization and ambulatory care, with maintenance of the fee-for-service payment to physicians.

As with our Blues, the creation of SERMENA was a response to provider concern that the increasing costs of medical care were forcing their private clientele out of the market. The Frei administration, whose main constituency was the middle classes, approved and stimulated the creation of this insurance, which covers the majority of professionals, small owners, petite bourgeoisie, and white-collar workers.

With the establishment of SERMENA, the Chilean class structure was formalized and replicated within the health  sector, with the National Health Service taking care of 70 percent or the majority of the population, the blue-collar workers, the peasants, the unemployed, and the poor, and the health insurance scheme (SERMENA) taking care of the middle classes (20 percent) and increasing sectors of the lumpen­bourgeoisie (2 percent). For a historical review of the health services in Chile, see Laval, 1944; Laval and Garcia, 1956. Both articles are in Spanish.

The Distribution of Resources by Regions

Related to this maldistribution of resources by social class, there is a maldistribution of resources by regions, depending on whether the areas are urban or rural.

map-opf-chileChile, a long, narrow country that is 2,600 miles in length, is 75 percent urban and 25 percent rural, and 30 per­cent of the population lives in the capital city, Santiago.

Analyzing the distribution of resources, we find that the number of visits per annum per capita in Santiago is twice that of the rural areas, while the personal expenditures for health services in Santiago ($38) are over four times those in the rural areas ($9), for both ambulatory and hospi­tal care. (For an excellent review of the distribution of health re­sources in the National Health Service in Chile, see Hall and Diaz, 1971.)

Although Santiago has only one-third of the Chilean popula­tion, it has 60 percent of all physicians and 50 percent of all den­tists. In terms of environmental services, 80 percent of the water supply and 65 percent of the sewerage system is considered adequate in the urban areas, compared with only 20 percent and 9 percent, respectively, in the rural ones (Requena, 1971).

As I have explained elsewhere (Navarro, 1974), these rural areas are not marginal areas that the modern sector has not reached. Quite the contrary, their poverty is due to their link to the modern sector, with the wealth of the urban areas being partially based on the poverty of the rural ones.

However dramatic this statement may sound, the evidence shows that a significant part of the wealth of the urban-based lumpenbourgeoisie comes primarily from the extractive industries and agriculture, which are situated where most of the pov­erty in Chile is – in the rural areas. (For a detailed and excellent explanation of this argument, see Frank, 1969: 1- 120.)

Why Such Maldistribution?

In the paper referred to earlier (Navarro, 1974), I attempted to analyze some of the reasons for this maldistribution, which are typical of most Latin-American countries. As I indicated earlier, we cannot understand the maldistribution of resources in the health sector without analyzing the unequal distribution of economic and political power in these societies, i.e., who controls what, or what is usually referred to in political economy as who controls the means of production and reproduction.

In Chile, as in most Latin-American countries, the lumpen­bourgeoisie controls most of the wealth, property, and income in society. They are the ones who do most of the saving, who direct the investments and influence the affairs of state and who primarily control the workings of the executive, legisla­tive, judicial, and military arms of government. Above all, they con­trol the distribution of resources in the primary, secondary, and ter­tiary sectors of the economy.

In the tertiary sector, they influence the distribution of resources in the health sector by:

(1) expounding the “market model” system of allocating resources, whereby resources are distributed according to consuming rather than producing power, i.e., upper-class, urban-based consumer power

(2) influencing the means of reproduction, i.e., urban-based medical education

(3) controlling the social content and nature of the medical profession, as a result of the unavailability and inaccessibility of university education to the majority of the population.

Medical students come primarily from the professional and lumpenbourgeoisie classes, which represent less than 12 percent of the Chilean population.

Let me illus­trate this point with figures on the father’s occupations of the 264 first-year students in the School of Medicine of the University of Chile in 1971: managers and professionals (70.4 percent); white-collar workers (16.0 percent); blue-collar (4.1 percent); and others (9.5 per­cent). The category “others” does not include peasants. The peasantry, 30 percent of the labor force, had not a son or a daugh­ter in the main medical school of Chile (Sepulveda, 1973:4).

Another mechanism of control used by the lumpenbourgeoisie in the health sector is their influence, tantamount to control, over the highly centralized, urban-based state organs, so that the public sector, controlled by the different branches of the state, is made to serve their needs.

Until 1970 the executive, legislative, and judicial branches were all controlled by those political parties that represent the lumpen­bourgeoisie and the middle classes. In the election of 1970, however, the executive, though not the other branches of the state, changed hands and passed partially into the control of the working-class-based parties. For a detailed explanation of this point, see the series of arti­cles edited by Cockcroft et al. (1972: Part II).

Consequences of Class Control: Priorities in the Health Sector

doctor-with-arms-crossedControl by the bourgeoisie of the means of production in the health sector leads to a pattern of production aimed primarily at satisfying the bourgeoisie’s pattern of consumption. And this pat­tern of consumption of the lumpenbourgeoisie, the setters of the tastes and values of these societies, mimics the patterns of consumption of the bourgeoisie of the developed countries.

Not surprisingly, the pattern of production in the health services of Chile was very similar to the pattern of production in most health services of developed countries, i.e., a system that is highly oriented toward:

(a) specialized, hospital-based medicine as opposed to community medicine

(b) urban, technologi­cally intensive medicine in contrast to rural, labor-intensive medicine

(c) curative medicine as different from preventive medicine

(d) personal health services as opposed to environmental health services

Considering the type of health problems prevalent in Chile, where malnutrition and infectious diseases are the main causes of mortality and morbidity, the best strategy to combat the problems which affect the majority would be to emphasize precisely the opposite patterns of production to those currently prevalent in the health sector. This would imply emphasis on rural, labor-intensive, and commu­nity-oriented medicine, while giving far greater priority to the preventive and environmental health services than to personal health and curative services.

This mimic behavior of the lumpenbourgeoisie is explained by their interest in having the “latest” in medicine, with a concomitant growth of open-heart surgery units, coronary-care units, organ transplants and the like, representing “Cadillac” or “Rolls Royce” medicine.

This order of medical priorities is bad enough in de­veloped countries, and even worse in developing ones, because it diverts much needed resources away from providing health services for the many, in order to provide them for the few.

Control by the few of the production of health resources also determines a pattern of reproduction in Chile’s medical education, where the distribution of specialties follows very closely, by types and percentages of specialties, the pattern in the developed countries.

Table 1 shows the percentage distribution of physicians in certain specialties. You can see that surgery, the typical tech­nological, hospital-based specialty, represents the top specialty by per­centage of physicians, with pediatrics and public health being the low­est categories.

It should be obvious that in a country with 38 percent  of  the population under 15 years of age, and with most morbidity caused by environmental and nutritional deficiencies, there is an over­supply of surgeons and an undersupply of pediatricians and specialists in public health.

TABLE 1
Percentage Distribution of Physicians by Some Specialties

Country                 Year         General Practice       Public Health          Surgery      Pediatrics

Chile                       1972               14.0                                3.2                        18.2              10.0
United States       1970               17.8                                0.8                         20.0                6.0

Source: Adapted from Department of Human Resources, Pan American Health Organization (1973)

Expenditures on environmental health services were a very small fraction of total health expenditures, with the majority of resources going to curative services and the largest percentage to hospitals. In 1969, 94 percent of total health expenditure was spent on medical care, while only 6 percent was spent on water and sewerage. Per capita expenditures on these items were $24 (US) and $1.5 (US) respectively (Sepulveda, 1972).

The well-known economist Ahumada (1968), Navarro (1974), and many others (see Navarro and Ruderman, 1971) have emphasized that the health services re­quired for a developing country are services that are not technological, but labor-intensive, not hospital- but community-oriented, not curative but preventive, and aimed not at personal but environmental health. This suggested order of priorities is precisely opposite to the one followed in Chile and in the majority of Latin-American coun­tries, which as I have explained, is a result of the pattern of economic and political control in those countries.

The Election of the Unidad Popular (UP) Government

allende-and-crowd2

Having detailed the situation before the coming of Allende’s govern­ment, let me now define what a government whose main constituen­cies were the disenfranchised blue-collar working classes and peasantry did, and intended to do, in the area of health services. A song, popular among the upper class during the Allende administra­tion, said (quoted by Feinberg, 1972:169):

Under Alessandri [National Party], gentlemen governed,
under Frei, the noveaux riches [and not so rich],
and now, with Allende, govern the ragged ones.

The Unidad Popular government, which took office in 1970, was a coalition administration, a popular front  government of different parties with no one in a clear position of leadership.7 Inter-party strug­gles were part of the daily political scene, with cabinet positions given according to the relative importance of each party within the coali­tion.

The Ministry of Public Health, not a basic post within the gov­ernment (or, I would add, in most governments and in most coun­tries), was given to a minority party, the Radical Party, whose con­stituency was a small sector of the middle class. The major health policies, however, were defined by the Cabinet, chaired by President Allende, with a Socialist and Communist majority.

President Allende, a physician by profession, had long been ac­quainted with the development of the health services, both as a member of the Senate for thirty years and as the youngest Minister of Public Health during the Popular Front government in 1938. It is thus not surprising that although the distribution of health resources was not the top issue within the administration, it was not at the bottom either.

The evolution of events in the health sector mirrored the over-all series of events that took place in Chilean society as a whole during the period 1970 to 1973.

The three main commitments that the Allende administration made in the health sector were the integration of the different branches of the health services (with the exception of the armed forces health service) into one health service, the democratization of the health ser­vices institutions, and the change of priorities in the health sector, placing greater emphasis on ambulatory care and preventive services.

Let me start by looking at the third of these commitments and examining ambulatory and preventive services.

The Change toward More Ambulatory and Preventive Services

The National Health Service in Chile was organized by region during the Alessandri administration (1958- 1964). This regionalization was developed further during the years of the Frei administration (1964 to 1970) and strengthened during Allende’s time.

There were three levels of care: a primary-care or health-center level, looking after a population of approx­imately 30,000 people; a secondary-care or community-hospital level, looking after a population of approximately a quarter to half a million; and a tertiary-care or regional-center level, in charge of the care provided to a population of one to one and a half million people.

This regionalized National Health Service during the Alessandri and Frei administrations has been characterized as being largely cen­tralized, bureaucratic, and very hospital-oriented (Requena, 1971:7). Like the situation in the United Kingdom and the United States, a large percentage of all National Health Service expenditures, close to 50 percent, went to hospitals.

The Allende administration tried to reverse these priorities by shifting more resources to the health centers.

allende-feeds-child-milkOne example of this shift was that, out of the six hours a day physicians worked in the NHS, during the Allende administration at least two hours or the equivalent had to be spent in the health centers.

Another example is that the Compulsory Community Service, whereby all physi­cians had to work for a period of three years in an urban or rural health center (either when their degrees were granted, or at the end of their residencies), was expanded to five years.

Also, the number of hours that the health centers were open to the community was expanded into the late hours of the evening, and in some communities such as San­tiago, they were even open twenty-four hours a day. During the night hours, the centers were staffed with final-year medical students, under the over-all supervision of available physicians (Chilean Ministry of Public Health, 1972).

Needless to say, none of these changes endeared the Allende ad­ministration to the majority of physicians. These policies were, how­ever, very popular with the majority of the population, since they increased the accessibility of resources, providing ser­vices where people lived (i.e., in the communities).

Follow­ing the implementation of these policies immediately after Allende took power, there was a large increase in the con­sumption of ambulatory services, primarily among children. Indeed, the over-all number of ambulatory visits by children increased  in the first six months of 1971 by 17 percent over the whole country and by 21 percent for the city of Santiago (Requena, 1971:11).

As part of this new orientation toward the community, preventive services such as immunizations, vaccinations and prenatal care were emphasized. These services were provided not as separate programs, but as part of the core services of the health centers.

Another change was to expand the distribution of half a liter of milk per day, previously provided to children under five, to include children up to 15 years of age.

While these activities were far from uniformly successful, they stimulated popular support and popular involvement in the delivery of health services. And this leads me to what may be considered one of the most important achievements in the health sector during the Allende administration: the democratization of health institutions.

The Democratization of Health Institutions

The National Health Service in Chile has been referred to as a mam­moth bureaucracy that was not very responsive to the needs of the citizenry in general and to the local consumers and communities in particular.

However, the increase in working-class political conscious­ness as a result of the continuous economic crisis of the 1960s, besides making the working-class parties more powerful, also created, at the community level, a demand for popular participation in social and economic areas. This growing demand explains the creation by the Frei administration of the Community Health Councils, which were aimed at stimulating the participation of the communities in running the health institutions, either at the primary-, secondary-, or tertiary-care levels (Gaete and Castanon, 1973:14).

Like our health ad­visory councils here in the United States and the newly established district community councils in Britain, these early councils were sup­posed to be merely advisory to the director of the institution, who was appointed by the central government.8

The councils were not very successful as a mechanism for community participation in the health sector. They were perceived by the working class as a co-opting mechanism. Indeed, as indicated by the First Congress of the Trade Unions of Chilean Health Workers (1971; quoted by Gaete and Castanon, 1973:23-24):

with community participation [equivalent to our American consumer participation], our bourgeoisie gives our workers a feeling of participa­tion, but without an actual and authentic power of decision . . . with this policy the decisions that are taken by the bourgeoisie are legitimized by the participation of the workers, who not only don’t have any power of decision, but do not have the right to complain afterwards about those decisions either, since, in theory, the workers did participate in those decisions.

It was felt that, as another writer pointed out, “community participa­tion is an intent of co-option of the community dwellers and legitimiza­tion of the power of the bourgeoisie” (Germana, 1970:15).

fistsResponsive to a demand not for community participation but for community control, the Allende administration committed itself to the democratization of the health institutions, stating in their political plat­form dealing with the health sector that “the communities – people – are the most important resources in the health sector, both as producers and as decision makers” (Unidad Popular Party, 1970).

Democratiza­tion took place in other areas besides the health sector, although in that sector it did go further. A likely reason for this may have been that most of the health institutions, health centers, hospitals, and the like, were already in the public sector and more amenable to government influence. The majority of economic institutions, on the other hand, remained in the pri­vate sector.

The democratization of the health institutions took place via the executive committees, which, as their name suggests, were the execu­tive or top administrative authorities in each institution. They had a tripartite composition, with a third of the board elected by community organizations (trade unions, Federation of Chilean Women, farmers’ associations, etc.), another third elected by the workers and employees working in that institution, and one third appointed by the local and central government authorities.

Each  level elected the level above it­self, so that the executive committees of the health centers elected the executive committees of the community hospitals and these elected the executive committees of the regional hospitals. Their authority was limited to an over-all budget for each institution, and it had to be spent within the guidelines established by the planning authorities, which were in turn accountable to the central government.

How did this democratization work? Before replying to this question, I should point out that democratization was a result of popular and community pressure on the one side and the commitment of the ruling political parties to implement it on the other.

A key element for that implementation was the civil servants of the National Health Service, who mostly belonged to the opposition parties and whose outlook, like that of most civil servants in any country I know of, be it socialist or capitalist, tend to be conservative. By a large majority, 86 percent to be precise, they were in favor of community participation but against community  control (Albala and Santander, 1972:68).

Let me explain what I mean by the conservative attitude of the civil service.

Civil servants, or, as Miliband (1969) defines them, the “servants of the state,” tend to defend the status quo and thus tend to be conservative. As Crossman (1972) has said for the Labour Party in Britain, and Myrdal (1960) has said for the Social Democrats in Sweden, both parties have always encountered the unspoken resistance of the civil service when trying to implement their policies. And even in China, after thirty years of Communist Party rule, as the need to have a cultural revolution showed, the civil service opposed the changes advocated by powerful sectors of the ruling party (Robinson, 1969). Chile, then, was no exception.

chile-medical-association2Needless to say, another group that did not welcome democratiza­tion of the health institutions was the medical profession, and this added to the long list of grievances that the medical profession had against the Allende administration.

 

Democratization, however, proved to be quite popular among the citizens of the communities. A survey carried out for a doctoral thesis (Albala and Santander, 1972) found that the majority of community representatives interviewed expres­sed “satisfaction” to “active satisfaction” with the democratization of the health institutions.

Not surprisingly, community involve­ment with health institutions increased, side by side with the increased politicization of the population, which was the main charac­teristic of the period between 1970 and 1973.

Another example of community participation was the Councils for Distribution of Food and Price Controls (JAP), neighborhood committees created by communities to avoid speculation and oversee the distribution of popular items to consumers.9

The community-control movement was parallel and went hand in hand with the movement of  workers’ control, another commitment of the Allende administration.

Indeed, all 320 enterprises that were in the public sector during Allende’s 34 months as President were managed by an administrative council com­posed of five worker representatives (three blue-collar workers, one technical person, and one professional person), five state representatives, and one state-appointed administrator.

Let me add something here that my business school colleagues will very likely not believe.

An American scholar in Chile found, in a multivariate analysis of productivity in a sample of factories, that productivity in the factories was related to participation by both workers and employees in the process of decision making.

The variable of the political con­sciousness of the factory workers was more important in explaining increased participation and production than were other variables such as capital-labor ratio, technological complexity, technological type, size of the vertical or horizontal integration, and other factors (Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action, 1973:26- 28; Zimbalist and Stallings, 1973).

All these related movements of community and worker control grew parallel to the politicization of the population and increased rapidly after the first abortive attempt at a military coup on June 29, 1973, when, spontaneously, twenty factories were taken over  and di­rectly managed by both the workers and the communities. And it was in response to the first owners’ strike in October 1972 that the workers themselves took over the management of the factories. As Steenland (1973:18) has indicated:

the October offensive of the bourgeoisie further polarized the Chilean political scene. Every organization and almost every individual was forced to take a position for or against the government.

demonstration1

It was at this time that the Industrial Strife Committees were estab­lished to coordinate the management of all factories located within a vicinity or community and to set up committees within each factory  in charge of production, distribution, defense and mobilization.

These committees also stimulated the creation of the Neighborhood Commands, broadly based community committees in charge of the coordination of  community social services, including health, and the mobilization of the population (North American Con­gress on Latin America, 1973b:5).

These movements of community and worker control, stimulated at first by the Allende government, grew and achieved a momentum of their own, until they expanded into the main sectors of the economy and forced a hesitant government into a defensive position.

As Sweezy (1973) has indicated, the government went from a leadership position to one of a follower, far behind, and hesitant to grant what was being requested and demanded in those movements. And, as both Sweezy (1973) and Petras (1973) point out, it was this hesitancy that seems to have  partially stimulated the downfall of  the Unidad Popular government.

And speaking of hesitancy, let me describe the third characteristic of the Allende government in the health sector, the one in which it showed the greatest hesitation and the one that brought about the greatest opposition: the policy of ending two-class medicine, with integration of both the National Health Service and SERMENA into just one system. In the health sector, this policy was Allende’s Achilles’ heel.

The Intent of Creating a Classless Health Service

Allende had made a commitment, as part of his political platform, to create one national health service that would integrate both the  National Health Service and the voluntary health insurance  of SERMENA (Requena, 1971). This integrated system was never intended to include health services for the armed forces. A characteristic of the Allende administra­tion was his efforts not to antagonize the military, allowing and even encouraging the granting of special privileges to those in uniform (Rojas, 1973).10

How the integration of health services was to take place was not spelled out either in the Unidad Popular platform or in subsequent policy statements once Allende was in power. Fearful of further antagonizing the lumpenbourgeoisie, the middle classes and the med­ical profession, the UP government kept postponing the implementa­tion of this commitment for a more propitious time.

Opposition to the integration measure was expected from the lumpenbourgeoisie and middle classes, because integration would have meant a leveling off of their consumption of health services and the prospect of having to share the resources they had always en­joyed with the rest of the population.

woman-doctor-at-bedsideThe medical profession opposed integration for both professional and class reasons.

Among the former reasons was the fear of losing the much desired fee-for-service and “private practice” type of medicine typical of SERMENA. In addition, they feared that integration with the National Health Service would mean the loss of their indepen­dence and of their economic power.

Among the class reasons was the increasing curtailment of consumption that both the lumpenbourgeoisie and the middle classes experienced under the Allende administration as a result of an alleged scarcity of resources both outside and within the health sector.

Since much has been written on that scarcity of resources, allow me to dwell on this point for just a moment.

There is a widely held belief in some sectors of our academia and press that the cause for this scarcity of goods, commodities, and services, and even for the fall of the UP government, was the incompetence of the economic advisers to the Allende administration.

As one of the representatives of this belief, Paul N. Rosenstein-Rodan (1974:E12), recently wrote in the New York Times, “undergraduate economic students would have known better” than the economists advising the Chilean government.

According to this interpretation of the scarcities and of the fall of Allende, other possible explanatory factors, such as the U.S.-led economic blockade, the boycott of the production of goods and services by U.S. and Chilean economic and professional interests, and the manipulation of the international market by those interests to dam­age the Chilean balance of payments, are dismissed as mere “left wing demonologies.” Actually, in the widely publicized article by Rosenstein-Rodan quoted before, these factors are not mentioned once.

Since the acceptance of the idea of “economic incompetence” absolves the powerful economic and professional groups both internationally and in Chile of any major responsibility for the events in Chile, this interpretation of the scarcity of resources and of the fall of Allende is the most widely held, sup­ported, and circulated view, not only among those economic groups, but also among those sectors of the U.S. press and academia sympathetic to those groups.

Because this view is so frequently expressed both outside and within the health sector, let me present other alternate explana­tions for the scarcity of goods, commodities, and services under Al­lende.

When the UP government took office, 47 percent of the popula­tion were undernourished (North American Congress on Latin America, 1972:17), 68 percent of the nation’s workers were earning less  than what was officially defined as a subsistence wage, and there was an unemployment rate of 6 percent in Chile as a whole and a rate of 7.1 percent in Santiago (Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action, 1973:14 – 19).

The poorest 60 percent of Chilean families received only 28 percent of the national income, while the richest 6 percent received 46 percent (Steenland, 1973:9). Over one quarter of the population of Santiago lived in flimsy shacks without running water. Meanwhile, industrial production was running at only 75 percent capacity (Steenland, 1973).

Just one year after the UP took office, industrial production went up to 100 percent capacity, unemployment went down to 3.8 percent (5.5 percent in Santiago), workers received a 20 – 30 percent increase in real wages, and the percentage of the national income in wages went up from 51 percent in 1970 to 60.7 percent in 1971. Meanwhile, inflation was kept down to 22 percent in 1971, as com­pared to an average 26.5 percent in the years 1965 – 1970.

This dramatic increase of the purchasing power of the majority of the population and the larger availability of resources to all, not only to a few, created a great increase in the demand for goods and ser­vices, which as I indicated before was also reflected in the consump­tion of health services, primarily ambulatory health services.11

pyramid-of-people

Because of the increase in demand for basic goods such as food, the UP government had to import more than the usual 60 percent of food that Chile had to bring in from abroad. Chile, like the United Kingdom, has to import most of the food that it eats.

This increase in imported commodities, plus the decline by 28 percent in the international price of copper, which represented 80 percent of Chile’s foreign-exchange earnings, created a rapid shortage of foreign exchange and a rapid worsening in Chile’s balance of payments.

Compounding this situation was the “invisible” economic blockade, which started immediately after the UP government took office.

As Steenland (1973:10) points out, to fully understand the meaning of this economic blockade, you have to realize that in Chile, a country with a gross national product of about $10 billion, a gov­ernment budget of about $700 million and exports of about $1 billion, United States investments also amounted to a sizable $1 billion, con­trolling 20 percent of the Chilean industry, with participation in another 7 per cent cent. Steenland (1973:14) continues:

In the dominant industries, foreign interests controlled 30.4 percent and participated in another 13.2 percent . . . And aside from outright control through ownership, Chilean industry used largely U.S. machinery and was dependent on the U.S. for technology. This dependency was greatest where the industries were most modern, and in industries which were growing rapidly – rubber, electric machines, refinement of metals, and lumber. In addition to U.S. control through technology and ownership, the U.S. government also exercised great indirect economic power through international finance institutions.

Not surprisingly, then, when the Allende government nationalized the U.S.-dominated mining industry, the United States pressured the international lending institutions to deny new credits to the Chilean economy, with the result that the total loans and credits fell in just one year, 1971, from $525 million to just over $30 million.

For an excellent and detailed account of the economic blockade, see North American Congress on Latin America (1973a). The Santiago corespondent of the Washington Post (1973c:1,14), writing just after the coup described how the economic blockade helped to cripple Allende:

Since 1970, the Allende government has been the target of economic policies that have squeezed the fragile Chilean economy to the choking point.

These policies were conceived in an atmosphere of economic strife between the Allende government and a group of large U.S. corporations whose Chilean holdings were nationalized under the terms of Allende’s socialist platform.

The instruments for carrying out the sustained program of economic pressure against Allende were the U.S. foreign aid program, the Inter American Development Bank, the U.S. Export Import Bank, the World Bank and also private U.S. banking institutions . . . [one ex­ample of this blockade is that] one of the first actions under the new policy was the denial by the Export Import Bank of a request for $21 million in credit to finance purchase of three Boeing passenger jets by the Chilean government airline, LAN-Chile. The credit position of the air­line, according to a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations, was an excellent one.12

These credits were needed to buy not only foodstuffs, but also machinery, equipment, etc., and also to pay off the $3 billion foreign debt that the Frei government had left the nation, which made Chile the second most indebted country per capita in the world, after Israel (Steenland, 1973:14).

The lumpenbourgeoisie, dependent on foreign capital, joined the external boycott with an internal one together with explicitly political strikes aimed at causing the fall of the UP government or triggering a military coup. One part of this boycott was the truck owners’ strike that paralyzed the system of transport and hindered food distribution, thus compounding existing scarcities (Steenland, 1973:16).

crowd4

It was the greatly increased demand for basic goods and services plus the politically motivated shortages, the result of both the international blockade and the lumpenbourgeoisie boycott, that deter­mined the need to ration basic goods.

Not unlike rationing in other countries, the ones more opposed to that rationing were the upper rather than the lower classes. For the lower classes, the “free market” supported by the wealthy was in  itself a form of rationing where the criteria for the distribution of food was based on the con­sumer power of the rich. Thus, the lower classes were far more sym­pathetic to formal rationing, where the criteria for the distribution of resources were defined by a government that was, at least in theory, sympathetic to their needs.

The weekly paper Ercilla (1973), which was not sympathetic to the UP, published an opinion poll showing that the success of the Allende government distribution policies lay in the fact that 75 percent of lower-class householders found that essential goods had become easier to obtain, while 77 percent of middle-class and 93 percent of high-income households were finding them less accessible. The medical profession, very much a part of these latter classes, were among those who were finding essential goods less accessible.

As a Chilean folk song says, sharing the riches, my son, is for some to have less and for others to have more.

The period 1970 – 1973 in Chile saw an attempt to redefine this idea of sharing. Not surprisingly, the medical profession and the classes they belonged to, the lumpenbourgeoisie and the middle classes, did not want to have their class and professional privileges redefined. Nor were they willing to tolerate the integration of health services into one system where they would have to share their resources with the majority of Chileans.

The Fall of the Allende Administration

protest

As I have explained, the delay in integrating the two-class medical system into one system revealed the UP government’s hesitancy, which was greatest in the health sector, al­though it was a “trademark” of the Al­lende administration in other areas as well. As Sweezy (1973) has noted, the political strategy of the UP government seems to have been to increase its popular support while trying to avoid or post­pone confrontation with the lumpenbourgeoisie and middle classes.

This strategy seemed a valid one in the first year of the administration, when the parties forming the UP coalition, which had polled 36.3 percent of the vote in the presidential election, just five months later, in April 1971, increased their share of the vote to 51.0 percent, in a municipal election that was based on the question of support or opposition to the UP government (Steenland, 1973:10).

The weakness of this strategy, however, was that it meant post­ponement not only of the integration of the health services, but also of promised policies in other sectors, and this gave the medical profes­sion and other groups and classes the time to organize their opposition, which they did legally in 1972 and then illegally in 1973.

As Sweezy (1973) and Petras (1973) have indicated, the UP seems to have underestimated the power of the response of the national bourgeoisie and its international counterparts. A summary list of events shows this. (For a detailed list of events during the Allende administration, see Steenland, 1973; Zimbalist and Stallings, 1973; Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action, 1973; North American Congress on Latin America, 1973a and 1973b.)

In October 1972, the truck owners staged their first strike against the government, in theory to delay any attempt by the administration to nationalize transport, but in practice to force the resignation of the government.

The medical profession, following a call by the Chilean Medical Association, followed with a strike that was in theory to pro­test the lack of availability of equipment in the health sector, but, again, in practice, it was meant to force the Allende government to resign. In fact, organized medicine did call for the resignation of Al­lende at this time.

A passing but interesting note here is that the public health physicians, with a great number of faculty and students from the School of Public Health, as well as the majority of the trade unions of health workers, came to the support of the government. Their rallying call, which was to become a slogan later on, was the very nonsectarian one of “this government is shit, but it is our government.”

The 1972 strike did not succeed.

The second great moment of difficulty for Allende’s government was in July 1973, when the second strike of the truck owners took place with the explicit aim either of causing the fall of Allende or stimulating a military coup.

The medical profession joined in with renewed requests for Allende’s resignation. And, in an almost unani­mous resolution, the Chilean Medical Association expelled President Allende from its membership. Dr. Allende, I might mention here, had been one of the first officers of the association when it was founded.

kissinger-and-pinochet

Meanwhile, from the end of 1972, the truck owners, the professionals (including the Chilean Medical Association), the Chilean Chamber of Commerce, and other groups representative of national and international economic interests, had been planning, together with the military leaders, the military coup of September 11, 1973, which achieved what they had sought, the fall of the Unidad Popular government. This fact was later admitted by the military leaders and reported by the New York Times (Kandell, 1973c), 13

The Chilean Medical Association was the first professional association to send a telegram of support to the junta, applauding their “patriotism.”

It seems, then, that the  fear and hesitancy of the Allende gov­ernment brought about its end. The leadership’s belief that time was on their side apparently proved to be a self-defeating strategy.14

The dramatic successes and the great popularity of the government during the first year were not used to advantage. The  UP would have gained strength and weakened its opponents had it implemented its integration and democratization policies in the health sector and in other sectors of the economy.

The Response of the Reaction15

Not surprisingly, the military junta, the voice of those interests were curtailed during the Allende administration, including those of the medical profession, has undone most of the advances that the working class and peasantry achieved during the period 1970 – 1973. This has taken place both outside as well as inside the health sector.

 

chilean-military2

Let me list some of the most important changes brought about by the junta.

First, the project of integrating the two-class medicine has been abandoned, with a declared commitment by the junta to leave the fee­-for-service system of payment in SERMENA untouched. There has even been talk within military circles of changing the system of payment to physicians within the National Health Service from salary to fee-for-service (Chilean Ministry of Public Health, 1973b).

A col­onel has been appointed Minister of Health, and the treasurer of the Chilean Medical Association has been appointed Director General of the National Health Service.

In other sectors of the economy, the junta has returned to the initial owners, to the private sector, most of the industries nationalized during the UP administration (Washington Post, 1973e) and said that it would pay for the remaining ones on generous terms (Kandell, 1973e).

According to an interview with General Pinochet, the head of the junta, published in La Prensa (1973b:14), the leadership wants to open negotiations with the U.S. former owners of the nationalized copper mines on terms favorable to the U.S. companies, since “it is not ethi­cal that we Chileans take over what does not belong to us.”

An economic policy has been established aimed at encouraging foreign investments on very favorable and generous terms to foreign capital (La Prensa, 1973b). Furthermore, a policy has been instituted that encourages foreign investments, mimicking the “brotherly regime of Brazil” (Washington Post, 1973i:12).

bookJust one month after the coup, the World Bank (which had denied loans to Chile for three years), together with the Inter American Bank, loaned $260 million to the new government. The Allende administration had tried unsuccessfully  for three years to get this loan (Rubin, 1973). As the president of the Chilean Bank, General Eduardo Cano, said, “the World Bank and international financial circles were well disposed to the new military government in Chile” (Washington Post, 1973h: A32).

Further proof of this good will is that the Latin American Development Bank, which turned down every request made by the Allende government, is about to award a development loan to the junta that is almost five times the size of all the loans received during the Allende administration (Birns, 1973).16

One month after the coup, the Nixon administration in the United States approved a $24 million credit to the junta, for the purchase of 120,000 tons of wheat. This credit, as Senator Kennedy indicated on the floor of the U.S. Senate (Washington Post, 1973g: All) “was eight times the total commodity offered to Chile in the past three years when a democratically elected government was in power.”

Second, the coup, which was a bonanza for the Chilean lumpen­bourgeoisie and middle classes and their international counterparts, meant belt-tightening for the working class and peasantry in the health sector and other sectors of the nation.

In the  health sector, institutional democracy was automatically discontinued a week after the coup. And the Minister of Public Health, a colonel, declared that in matters of policy the military would rely “very heavily on the good judgment and patriotic commitment of the Chilean Medical Association” (Chilean Ministry of Public Health, 1973c).

At the same time, the Chilean Medical Association sent a delegation abroad to several foreign countries, including Uruguay, Brazil, and the United States, to strengthen a scientific ex­change with their professional colleagues and equivalent organizations in those countries. The Chilean Medical Association also reassured the military junta of its complete support (El Mercurio, 1973c).

Outside the health sector, the junta discontinued workers’ control of the factories, returning them to the previous managers (Kandell, 1973d), and, at the same time banned trade unions, incarcerating the national leaders of the trade unions, including those of the health worker unions (Kandell, 1973b).

In addition, all political party activities were forbidden, and all working-class-based parties were outlawed (Washington Post, 1973b). Only those the junta defines as “patriots” are entitled to any form of civil rights. The narrow­ness of their definition may be reflected by the declaration of General Pinochet, head of the military junta, accusing “the U.S. Senate of being under the influence of international communism” (La Prensa, 1973a:14).

Third, the junta changed the priorities in the health services. The amount of resources available to the health centers was reduced and the amount available to the hospitals increased. The number of hours that physicians have to spend in health centers was halved, and the hours the centers are open to the public were shortened to the 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. schedule of pre-Allende times. Moreover, the milk-distribution program was discontinued (Chilean Ministry of Pub­lic Health, 1973d, e, f).

Outside the health sector, price controls were discontinued and the goods desired by the upper and middle classes are now plentiful in the stores. The working class and peasantry, meanwhile, as reported by the New York Times (Kandell, 1974:10), are going through very tough times of tight budgeting.

Fourth, all opposition was outlawed and persecuted, and in the health sector a campaign of repression was begun against those physi­cians and health workers who did not join the physicians’ strike against Allende’s government, who were considered sympathetic to Allende, and whose names were provided to the police authorities by the Chilean Medical Association (Argus, 1974).

A campaign of repression was started against the public health movement, which largely supported the Allende administration.

chilean-military

The budget of Chile’s only school of public health, which is situated in Santiago and is the most prestigious school of its kind in Latin America, was slashed by three-quarters, and 82 faculty members out of a total of 110 were fired and some imprisoned (American Public Health Associa­tion, 1973). As the Chilean Ministry of Public Health (1973a) stated, “Very many public health workers were misguided and their activities were subversive of the traditional medical values.”

Medical schools and all other university centers have been placed under military control. All presidents and deans of academic institu­tions are now military men. As Dr. E. Boeninger, the last president of the University of Chile, said, “The Chilean University is in the hands of the military” (El Mercurio, 1973b:12).

The known results of this repression in the health field are that 21 physicians have been shot, 85 imprisoned, and countless others dis­missed (Chilean Medical Doctors in Exile, 1974).

Outside the health sector, the junta has instituted a campaign of repression that has been defined by Amnesty International as the most brutal that that association has ever surveyed, more brutal even than the repression in Brazil in 1965, Greece in 1968 and Uruguay in 1972 (New York Review of Books, 1974). Today, ten months after the coup, the state of siege continues (Gott, 1974).

Epilogue

It may be too soon to make a post-mortem of performance of the Allende administration in the health sector. But still, enough knowl­edge of those years has been accumulated to entitle us to draw some conclusions.

One important interpretation of these events may be that Chile seems to show, once again, what Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and many other Latin American countries have shown before – that there is a rigidity in the economic, political, and social structures of most Latin American countries that makes evolutionary change almost an impossibility, how­ever slow or gradual that change may be.

The lumpenbourgeoisie and their foreign counterparts offer extremely strong opposition to any movement that might curtail their benefits in any way. They perceive that any con­cession creates a momentum that might escalate, accord­ing to the sadly famous “domino theory,” to the final destruction of their privileges. The reaction of these groups to the UP government in Chile is an example of this.

strike-a-matchActually, in spite of the alarm that the Unidad Popu­lar administration created in U.S. corridors of power, Allende’s government was not a “radical” one.

As the pro-UP economist Al­berto Martinez indicated, even if all the programs for nationalization that the UP government called for had been implemented, it would have meant state control of only 25  percent of industrial production outside of the mining sector, which is less than the control of that production by U.S. interests, estimated to be close to 30 percent (quoted by Steenland, 1973:12).

Allende himself argued:

I want to insist that Chile is not a socialist country. This is a capitalist country and my government is not a socialist government. This is a popu­lar, democratic, national revolutionary government – anti-imperialist (Washington Post, 1973f:C1) .

Indeed, he emphasized that the UP was an “anti-imperialist and anti-monopolistic government, more than a socialist one” (Debray, 1971:85). And he held that it was “not a socialist government, rather, there is a government that is going to open the path, to blaze the path for socialism” (Allende, 1971).

The major economic decisions taken by Allende were the nationalization of the copper industry and the takeover of the control of banking and most foreign commerce, measures that were more anti-oligarchy and nationalist than socialist.

Concerning his interior policies, a UP economist (Monthly Review, 1971:17) has explained that Allende’s economic policy was of the nature that we in the United States

would call the New Deal type . . . [since] it combines a policy of large-scale public works (especially housing and related services) with fiscal and monetary measures designed to stimulate popular purchasing power . . . [and with] strict price controls [which ] would keep these gains from being dissipated as has regularly been the case in the past, through inflation.

Not surprisingly, Allende has been called the Léon Blum of Chile. Actually, his reforms could hardly be accused of being an intrin­sic threat to the capitalist system. In spite of this, na­tional and international interests perceived his programs as being the beginning of the end for them.

Opposition to UP economic policies was formidable, showing how, inside the parame­ters of underdevelopment and within present structures, the pos­sibilities for change, however limited, are very small indeed. Allende underestimated this opposition.

The gradualism and the faith of the UP leadership in the “uniqueness” of the Chilean phenomenon (considered by some to be unhistorical), together with their postponement of policies that would have weakened their opponents, allowed time for national and international interests to organize their opposition.17 The postponement of the integration of health services is a fitting case in point.

In that respect, Allende’s delays may have caused his down­fall. Contrary to prevalent belief in some sectors of the U.S. press, the cause of Allende’s downfall may not have been because he moved too quickly but because he moved too slowly. Indeed, as Oskar Lange (1938; quoted in Monthly Review, 1971:40) said almost forty years ago, if

a socialist government . . . declares that the textile industry is going to be socialized after five years, we can be quite certain that the textile industry will be ruined before it will be socialized . . . [during those five years] no government supervision or administrative measures can cope effec­tively with the passive resistance and sabotage of the owners and mana­gers.

It is my belief that this observation applies to the health sector as well as to other areas. Many proposals for national health insurance schemes and/or national health services have been frustrated because of delays in their implementation and because of final compromises with the medical profession and with other in­terest groups in the health sector.

Actually, the Chilean experience reflects the experience of other countries, be they socialist or capitalist: when a political party or group is committed  to a national health program intended to benefit the citizenry and to curtail the privileges of the providers, its chances of implementation are inversely related to the length of time required for implementation.

solidarityWe can see that, in Chile, the longer the delay, the more time there was for the interest groups to organize and achieve compromises that diluted and subtracted from the program. And these compromises, I might add, can only benefit the providers, not the consumers, the majority of the citizenry.

There are certain conclusions, then, that we can derive from the events in Chile.

One is that the present political structures in most of Latin America (and in most of the underdeveloped world) hinder, rather than foster, any opportunity to bring about a change that would benefit not just the few, but the many. The national and international economic elites control those political structures to maintain outdated and grossly unjust political, social, and economic privileges in opposition to the popular demands of the majority of the population.

A second conclusion would be that gradualism by those parties and groups in underdeveloped countries that are committed to change weakens the possibilities for change in the health sector and in other areas. The Chilean workers and peasants, the real heroes of the tragedy that was played out in Chile, clearly understood this when they kept urging the Allende government to proceed with reform at a faster pace.

And when, after the first, unsuccessful, military coup, Chilean society began increasingly to polarize, it was the working class and the peasantry, in their work places, their factories, their hospitals and health centers, and in their communities, who began to mobilize and to prepare themselves for the coming second coup.

They have lost, for the time being, and the privileged classes and their military brute force have won. As the poet Pablo Neruda (1963:111) wrote almost forty years ago, on the day that another military coup took place, in Spain, hope lived in the hearts of the people,

Till one morning everything blazed:
one morning bonfires
sprang out of earth
and devoured all the living;
since then, only fire,
since then, the blood and the gunpowder, ever since then.
Bandits in airplanes
and marauders with seal rings and duchesses
black friars and brigands signed with the cross, coming out of the clouds to a slaughter of innocents.

crowd-for-allende

NOTES

1. First published in the spring of 1974 as “What Does Chile Mean: An Analysis of Events in the Health Sector Before, During, and After Allende’s Administration,” Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 52:2, pp. 93-130. Based on a presentation to the International Health Seminar at Harvard University, Boston, February, 1974. Republished here by permission of the author, Vicente Navarro, M.D., Johns Hopkins University, 615 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Md 21205, USA.

2. For an accurate report of the events that took place during and after the coup, see the dispatches from Santiago by the correspondents of the Washington Post and Le Monde, and by J. Kandell (1973a-e) of the New York Times. The Santiago correspondents of the Wall Street Journal are notoriously inaccurate. For an excellent detailed critique of the misinformation provided by the Wall Street Journal, see Birns (1973).

3. The upper class includes the monopolistic bourgeoisie, the large agrarian bourgeoisie, the large landowners, the large urban non-monopolistic bourgeoisie, and the small and medium urban bourgeoisie. The middle class includes the petite bourgeoisie, the professionals, the white collars, state civil servants, and large sectors of the middle echelons of the armed forces. The working class includes the workers in monopolistic and large industries (the best-organized and most politicized workers in Chile), the workers in small and medium-sized industries, and the subproletariat. The peasantry includes the farm workers and sharecroppers. For an excellent description of each class, see the Popular Action Unity Movement (MAPU) pamphlet, “The Character of the Chilean Revolution,” published as Chapter 10 in Johnson (1973).

4. In terms of income distribution, in the 1960s this was as follows: “five percent of the population, composed mainly of urban owners of capital, receives 40 percent of national income; twenty percent of the population, mainly urban employees, receives 40 percent of national income; fifty percent of the population, mainly urban workers in industry and trade, receives 15 percent of national income; and twenty-five percent of the population, mainly rural agricultural workers, receives 5 percent of national income” Frank (1969:106).

5. Before 1952, labor insurance and welfare systems took care of blue-collar workers (although not these workers’ families) and the poor.

6. Full-time physicians working for the National Health Service are supposed to work, in theory, six hours a day, being paid on a salary basis. The arrangements for part-time physicians are similar to those in the National Health Service in Britain, with privileges for “amenity beds” for the physicians’ private clientele within the National Health service hospitals.

7. The parties of the coalition included the Socialist and Communist Parties, the most powerful within the coalition, the Radical Party (a lower-middle-class party), MAPU (United Popular Action Movement), and the IC (Christian Left). These two last parties were split-offs from the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the main bourgeoisie party. To the left of the UP coalition parties, there were the MIR (Revolutionary Left Move­ment) and the PCR (Revolutionary Communist Party), two very small radical left par­ties which did not participate in, but supported, the UP government.

8. There is voluminous literature in both the United States and the United Kingdom on consumer participation. For a representative view in the United States, see Sheps (1972) and in the United Kingdom, see Weaver (1971). For a description of the roles of the district community councils, see Great Britain, Ministry of Health (1972).

9. The JAPs originated in 1971 to assist in the distribution process, making sure that local shopkeepers did not charge above the official prices and that they did not divert items to the black market (Zimbalist and Stallings, 1973).

10. This policy was part of a deliberate intent by Allende to co-opt the military, which traditionally has had very strong ties with the U.S. military. It is interesting to note that in 1973 , at the height of the economic blockade against Chile, Chile’s armed forces remained, along with Venezuela’s, the main recipients in Latin America of U.S. aid for training officers. And when no other public agency or department within the UP gov­ernment could get international loans and credit, the Chilean military received credit to buy F5E supersonic jets (North American Congress on Latin America, 1973b:8). Actu­ally, the U.S. granted to the military in Chile a total of $45.5 million in aid during fiscal years 1971 to 1974, double the total granted in the previous four years. As Admiral Raymond Peet testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee, “One of the big advantages that accrues to the United States from such a foreign sales program is the considerable influence we derive from providing the support for these aircraft” (North American Congress on Latin America, 1973b:9; Monthly Review, 1971).

11. One of the goods whose consumption increased most as a result of the growth in  purchasing power of the working class and peasantry was beef. Under the Alessandri  administration (1958- 1964) a worker had to labor five hours, 35 minutes to buy a kilo of stewing beef; under Frei, four hours, 53 minutes; but under the UP, a worker had to labor only two hours to buy the same amount (North American Congress on Latin America, 1972).

12. The credit to buy these Boeing jets was granted just two weeks after the coup (Washington Post, 1973d).

13. It has been said, particularly by conservative voices, that the military coup was a necessary response to the “lawlessness of the masses,” which seems to be their  code name for the mass mobilization of the lower classes. This argument deliberately ignores the documented fact, recognized even by the junta itself, that the military started plan­ning the coup as early as six months after Allende’s administration took office and one year before the spontaneous mobilization the working class took place. Moreover, the first mass mobilization occurred, as indicated in the text, after, not before, the first (unsuccessful) coup took place. In that respect, the historical sequence shows that the mobilization was a response by the working class to the military and strike threats from the lumpenbourgeoisie and the armed forces, not vice versa.

14. The main architect of this evolutionary strategy within the coalition of the Unidad Popular parties was the Communist Party.

15. Information published in this section relies very heavily on the dispatches from the correspondents in Chile of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Le Monde, as well as information from Chilean and other witnesses who were part of these events. Additional information is from Sweezy (1973); Petras (1973); Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action (1973); North American Congress on Latin America (1973a; 1973b).

16. According to U.S. News and World Report (1973), U.S. bankers have decided to provide short-term loans to private and government banks totaling $39 million, to aid the Chilean economy.

17. As an ITT memorandum indicated, “a realistic hope among those who want to block Allende is that a swiftly deteriorating economy . . . will touch off a wave of violence, resulting in a military coup” (Washington Post, 1973a:A2).

REFERENCES

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Chilean Trade Unions of Health Workers
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Cockroft, J. D., A. G. Frank, and D. L. Johnston
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Debray, R.
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Ercilla (Santiago)
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Feinberg, R. E.
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Frank, A. G.
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Gaete, J., and R. Castanon
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Germana, C.
1970    ”The state and the marginal masses in Chile.” Bolletin ELAS 4(6). In Spanish.

Gott, R.
1974    ”Chile keeps state of siege.” Manchester Guardian Weekly 110 (June 29):7.

Great Britain, Ministry of Health
1972    National Health Service Reorganization: England. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Command 5055.

Hall, T. L., and S. Diaz
1971    “Social security and health care patterns in Chile.” International Journal of Health Services 1 (November):362- 377.
Johnson, D. L. (ed.)
1973    The Chilean Road to Socialism. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press.

Kandell, J.
1973a   New York Times (September 20):14.
1973b   “Military junta in Chile prohibits Marxist parties.”  New York Times (September 22):1 and 3.
1973c   “Chilean officers tell how they began to plan the takeover last November.” New York Times (September 27):3.
1973d  “Ousted bosses back at Chile’s plants.” New York Times (September 25):3.
1973e  “Chile offers to reopen talks on copper.” New York Times (Sep­tember 29):3.
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Lange, O.
1938 “On the economic theory of socialism.” In Lange, O., and F. M. Taylor, On the Economic Theory of Socialism. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. Reprinted in Monthly Review 22 (January): 38-44.

Laval, E.
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Laval, E., and R. Garcia
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El Mercurio (Santiago)
1973a    ”Support of the professional organizations for the revolutionary govern­ment.” El Mercurio (September 18). In Spanish.
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1973c    ”Starting anew in curative medicine.” El Mercurio (November 9):12. In Spanish.

Miliband, R.
1969    The State in Capitalist Society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Le Monde
1973    ”The repression in Chile” Le Monde (October 10). In French.

Le Monde Diplomatique
1973    ”The Chilean coup” Le Monde Diplomatique (October 13 – 17). In French.

Monthly Review
1971    ”Peaceful transition to socialism?” Editorial. Monthly Review 22(January):1 – 18.

Myrdal, G.
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Navarro, V.
1974  “The underdevelopment of health or the health of underdevelopment: an analysis of the distribution of human health resources in Latin America.” Politics and Society Vol. 4, pp. 267 – 293.

Navarro, V., and A. P. Ruderman (eds.)
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Neruda, P.
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Petras, J.
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La Prensa (Santiago)
1973a    ”General Pinochet said that the U.S. Senate is under the influence of Communism.” La Prensa (October 22).
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Requena, M.
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1973 “The Chilean armed forces: the role of the military in the Popular Unity Government.” In Johnson, D. L. (ed.), The Chilean Road to Socialism. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press.

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1973    ”How the U.S. intervened in Chile.” The Guardian 26 (December 26):16.

Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action
1973    ”Chile.” Issue of the Bulletin of the Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action 5(6).

Sepulveda, P. S.
1972    ”Analysis of health expenditures in Chile.” Santiago: University of Chile. Mimeographed.
1973    ”Perspectives for a revolutionary change in Chilean medical care.” San­tiago: University of Chile. Mimeographed. In Spanish.

Sheps, C.
1972    ”The influence of consumer sponsorship on medical services.” Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 50, No. 4 (October- Part 2):41 – 69.

Sigerist, H. E.
1956    Landmarks in the History of Hygiene. London. Oxford University Press.

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Sweezy, P. M.
1973    ”Chile: the question of power.” Monthly Review 25 (December):1 – 11.

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1973    ”Links with Chile revive.” U.S. News and World Report 75(23, De­cember 3):85.

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1973a    Washington Post (September 16).
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I would like to acknowledge the important assistance of many Chilean friends and colleagues in collecting the information presented in this paper. I want to thank Christopher George and Kathy Kelly for their invaluable assistance in editing and preparing the original manuscript.

- Vicente Navarro

Firing The Boss: An Interview with Chicago Factory Occupation Organizer January 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Argentina, Labor, Venezuela.
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republic-workerArmando Robles, president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical Workers union, speaks about the action against Republic Windows and Doors. (Photo: Justin Goh / ChiTown Daily News)

www.truthout.org , January 16, 2009

Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Interview

 On December 5, 2008, over 200 recently fired workers at the Republic Window and Doors factory in Chicago occupied their plant, demanding they be paid their vacation and severance checks. The occupation ended victoriously six days later when the Bank of America and other lenders to Republic agreed to pay the workers the approximately $2 million owed to them.

    But the workers didn’t stop there. They are now seeking ways to restart the factory and potentially operate it as a worker-run cooperative. The workers are also filing charges against their former employer for failing to give the workers sufficient notice of plans to shut the factory down; the workers were only given three days’ notice, and the management refused to negotiate with the workers’ union about the closure.

    In this interview, Mark Meinster, the International Representative for the United Electrical Workers (UE) – the union the Republic workers belong to – talks about his role as the coordinator for the plant occupation, connections between the struggle of the Republic workers and workers’ struggles and tactics in South America, the fight to reopen the plant and what the Republic workers’ strategies say about social change in an economic downturn.

    Benjamin Dangl: First, please briefly describe your role in the union, in the occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory, and the ongoing struggle of the Republic workers.

    Mark Meinster: I’m an International Representative for the United Electrical Workers (UE). My primary responsibility is to oversee the union’s organizing work and staff in Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was the lead organizer on the effort to organize the Republic workers into UE in 2004 and led negotiations for a first contract in 2005. Since then, I and UE Field Organizer Leah Fried have worked with the local on leadership and steward training, grievance handling and contract negotiations. I coordinated the plant occupation at Republic Windows and Doors and participated in negotiations with the employer and the financial institutions involved and continue to work on efforts to reopen the plant.

    BD: Could you please talk about some of the connections you see between the Republic workers’ struggle and actions and the strategies and experiences of similar workers’ groups in Argentina and Venezuela and the landless farmers in Brazil? How did you learn about these struggles and come to apply them in Chicago as a union organizer?

    MM: Obviously there is a long history of workers taking actions of this type, both within the US and in other countries. Because there have been very few plant occupations in the US since the 1930s, we needed to look to workers’ struggles in other countries for recent guidance. For example, the Canadian Auto Workers, who have engaged in similar actions over the past 20 years to protest plant closings and win severance benefits, provided us with invaluable technical advice.

    But in many respects, workers’ struggles in Latin America were the biggest inspiration for the Republic occupation. I had read about the land occupations carried out by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra in an interview with Joao Pedro Stedile in 2002. I was struck by the MST’s focus on popular education and leadership development, and especially the way they placed the occupation tactic within the context of the right to unused land enshrined in the Brazilian constitution. The occupation, although technically an illegal tactic, was used to enforce a legal right. This gives workers confidence and places the struggle on a moral plane, allowing for more significant community and political support. We drew on this concept in planning the Republic occupation.

    Current UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles attended the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2006. There, he heard from workers from Inveval, a “recovered” factory in Venezuela. They had inspired a movement of workers occupying and running factories, with the help of the government, that had been abandoned by bosses who had fled the country. Armando returned from that experience politicized and inspired. I visited Venezuela in 2007 and spent time visiting worker-run co-ops. I was struck by the workers’ investment in the revolutionary process and their ability to run production without management.

    We drew on the Argentine factory occupations to the extent that they show that during an economic crisis, workers movements are afforded a wider array of tactical options. Militant action can win public support during a downturn in ways that would have been impossible before. In fact, the film “The Take” was screened in the factory during the occupation in a makeshift movie theater set up in the locker room.

    BD: Is there a plan to transform the Republic factory into a worker-run cooperative? If so, how did the decision to do this come about? At this point, how is the process going of setting this up?

    MM: At this point we are working to find a buyer for the factory, focusing on firms specializing in energy-efficient windows. Though, we are also exploring the idea of a cooperative enterprise; the fact that no real movement of worker-run enterprises exists in the US makes this option much more difficult at this point. The workers have set up an entity called the “Windows of Opportunity Fund,” to help provide technical assistance and study this and other possibilities for restarting production.

    BD: Could you comment on the role the Republic workers’ struggle in inspiring workers across the US to take up similar tactics to confront unemployment and problems related to the current US economic downturn?

    MM: I think the Republic struggle shows we can win support for bold tactics, especially when we think carefully about how we project the struggle to the public. Time will tell whether the Republic struggle will be viewed as a bell-weather event or a flash in the pan. On the one hand, the occupation led to a huge outpouring of support – from solidarity rallies all across the country to donations of money, food and essential supplies. That this support was on a scale unthinkable only a year ago is proof that this action spoke to the desire of working-class people to seek ways to resist the current economic onslaught. On the other hand, for this event to be a spark, others will have to pick up the baton. That means organized labor will have to take some measure of risk, embracing militant tactics when necessary and abandoning its reliance on political maneuvering as the primary means for the advancement of a working class agenda.

    ——-

    Benjamin Dangl is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America.

The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff December 8, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Education.
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(Note from Roger: I thought the very last line was a gratuitious cop-out; but otherwise an interesting analysis.)
www.truthdig.com
Posted on Dec 8, 2008
AP photo / Douglas Healey

By Chris Hedges

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and halls in places like Cambridge, Princeton and New Haven to the financial and political centers of power. 

The nation’s elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive. They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers and rigid structures that are designed to produce certain answers. The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service—economic, political and social—come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the “specialist” and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions. It destroys the search for the common good. It dices disciplines, faculty, students and finally experts into tiny, specialized fragments. It allows students and faculty to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing moral, political and cultural questions. Those who defy the system—people like Ralph Nader—are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter. 

“Political silence, total silence,” said Chris Hebdon, a Berkeley undergraduate. He went on to describe how various student groups gather at Sproul Plaza, the center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students, a practice know as “tabling.”

“Students table for Darfur, no one tables for Iraq. Tables on Sproul Plaza are ethnically fragmented, explicitly pre-professional (The Asian American Pre-Law or Business or Pre-Medicine Association). Never have I seen a table on globalization or corporatization. Students are as distracted and specialized and atomized as most of their professors. It’s vertical integration gone cultural. And never, never is it cutting-edge. Berkeley loves the slogan ‘excellence through diversity,’ which is a farce of course if one checks our admissions stats (most years we have only one or two entering Native Americans), but few recognize multiculturalism’s silent partner—fragmentation into little markets. Our Sproul Plaza shows that so well—the same place Mario Savio once stood on top a police car is filled with tens of tables for the pre-corporate, the ethnic, the useless cynics, the recreational groups, etc.”

I sat a few months ago with a former classmate from Harvard Divinity School who is now a theology professor. When I asked her what she was teaching, she unleashed a torrent of obscure academic code words. I did not understand, even with three years of seminary, what she was talking about. You can see this absurd retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every graduate department across the country. The more these universities churn out these stunted men and women, the more we are flooded with a peculiar breed of specialist. This specialist blindly services tiny parts of a corporate power structure he or she has never been taught to question and looks down on the rest of us with thinly veiled contempt.

I was sent to boarding school on a scholarship at the age of 10. By the time I had finished eight years in New England prep schools and another eight at Colgate and Harvard, I had a pretty good understanding of the game. I have also taught at Columbia, New York University and Princeton. These institutions, no matter how mediocre you are, feed students with the comforting self-delusion that they are there because they are not only the best but they deserve the best. You can see this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here is a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. He, along with “Scooter” Libby, who attended my boarding school and went on to Yale, is an example of the legions of self-centered mediocrities churned out by places like Andover, Yale and Harvard. Bush was, like the rest of his caste, propelled forward by his money and his connections. That is the real purpose of these well-endowed schools—to perpetuate their own. 

“There’s a certain kind of student at these schools who falls in love with the mystique and prestige of his own education,” said Elyse Graham, whom I taught at Princeton and who is now doing graduate work at Yale. “This is the guy who treats his time at Princeton as a scavenger hunt for Princetoniana and Princeton nostalgia: How many famous professors can I collect? And so on. And he comes away not only with all these props for his sense of being elect, but also with the smoothness that seems to indicate wide learning; college socializes you, so you learn to present even trite ideas well.”

These institutions cater to their students like high-end resorts. My prep school—remember this is a high school—recently built a $26-million gym. Not that it didn’t have a gym. It had a fine one with an Olympic pool. But it needed to upgrade its facilities to compete for the elite boys and girls being wooed by other schools. While public schools crumble, while public universities are slashed and degraded, while these elite institutions become unaffordable even for the middle class, the privileged retreat further into their opulent gated communities. Harvard lost $8 billion of its endowment over the past four months, which raises the question of how smart these people are, but it still has $30 billion. Schools like Yale, Stanford and Princeton are not far behind. Those on the inside are told they are there because they are better than others. Most believe it. 

The people I loved most, my working-class family in Maine, did not go to college. They were plumbers, post office clerks and mill workers. Most of the men were military veterans. They lived frugal and hard lives. They were indulgent of my incessant book reading and incompetence with tools, even my distaste for deer hunting, and they were a steady reminder that just because I had been blessed with an opportunity that was denied to them, I was not better or more intelligent. If you are poor you have to work after high school or, in the case of my grandfather, before you are able to finish high school. College is not an option. No one takes care of you. You have to do that for yourself. This is the most important difference between them and the elites.

The elite schools, which trumpet their diversity, base this diversity on race and ethnicity, rarely on class. The admissions process, as well as the staggering tuition costs, precludes most of the poor and working class. When my son got his SAT scores back last year, we were surprised to find that his critical reading score was lower than his math score. He dislikes math. He is an avid and perceptive reader. And so we did what many educated, middle-class families do. We hired an expensive tutor from The Princeton Review who taught him the tricks and techniques of taking standardized tests. The tutor told him things like “stop thinking about whether the passage is true. You are wasting test time thinking about the ideas. Just spit back what they tell you.” His reading score went up 130 points. Was he smarter? Was he a better reader? Did he become more intelligent?  Is reading and answering multiple-choice questions while someone holds a stopwatch over you even an effective measure of intelligence? What about those families that do not have a few thousand dollars to hire a tutor? What chance do they have? 

These universities, because of their incessant reliance on standardized tests and the demand for perfect grades, fill their classrooms with large numbers of drones. I have taught gifted and engaged students who used these institutions to expand the life of the mind, who asked the big questions and who cherished what these schools had to offer. But they were always a marginalized and dispirited minority. The bulk of their classmates, most of whom headed off to Wall Street or corporate firms when they graduated, starting at $120,000 a year, did prodigious amounts of work and faithfully regurgitated information. They received perfect grades in both tedious, boring classes and stimulating ones, not that they could tell the difference. They may have known the plot and salient details of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” but they were unable to tell you why the story was important. Their professors, fearful of being branded political and not wanting to upset the legions of wealthy donors and administrative overlords who rule such institutions, did not draw the obvious parallels with Iraq and American empire. They did not use Conrad’s story, as it was meant to be used, to examine our own imperial darkness. And so, even in the anemic world of liberal arts, what is taught exists in a moral void. 

“The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic,” William Deresiewicz, who taught English at Yale, wrote in “The American Scholar.” “While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite.”

Intelligence is morally neutral. It is no more virtuous than athletic prowess. It can be used to further the rape of the working class by corporations and the mechanisms of repression and war, or it can be used to fight these forces. But if you determine worth by wealth, as these institutions invariably do, then fighting the system is inherently devalued. The unstated ethic of these elite institutions is to make as much money as you can to sustain the elitist system. College presidents are not voices for the common good and the protection of intellectual integrity, but obsequious fundraisers. They shower honorary degrees and trusteeships on hedge fund managers and Wall Street titans whose lives are usually examples of moral squalor and unchecked greed. The message to the students is clear. But grabbing what you can, as John Ruskin said, isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists.

Most of these students are afraid to take risks. They cower before authority. They have been taught from a young age by zealous parents, schools and institutional authorities what constitutes failure and success. They are socialized to obey. They obsess over grades and seek to please professors, even if what their professors teach is fatuous. The point is to get ahead. Challenging authority is not a career advancer. Freshmen arrive on elite campuses and begin to network their way into the elite eating clubs, test into the elite academic programs and lobby for elite summer internships. By the time they graduate they are superbly conditioned to work 10 or 12 hours a day electronically moving large sums of money around. 

“The system forgot to teach them, along the way to the prestige admissions and the lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter or a number or a name,” Deresiewicz wrote. “It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.”

“Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul,” he went on. “These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don’t think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus.”

Barack Obama is a product of this elitist system. So are his degree-laden Cabinet members. They come out of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley and Princeton. Their friends and classmates made huge fortunes on Wall Street and in powerful law firms. They go to the same class reunions. They belong to the same clubs. They speak the same easy language of privilege and comfort and entitlement. They are endowed with an unbridled self-confidence and blind belief in a decaying political and financial system that has nurtured and empowered them.

These elites, and the corporate system they serve, have ruined the country. These elite cannot solve our problems. They have been trained to find “solutions,” such as the trillion-dollar bailout of banks and financial firms, that sustain the system. They will feed the beast until it dies. Don’t expect them to save us. They don’t know how. And when it all collapses, when our rotten financial system with its trillions in worthless assets implodes and our imperial wars end in humiliation and defeat, they will be exposed as being as helpless, and as stupid, as the rest of us.

The Idiots Who Rule America October 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, U.S. Election 2008.
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Truthdig
Posted on Oct 20, 2008
AP photo / Henny Ray Abrams

By Chris Hedges

Our oligarchic class is incompetent at governing, managing the economy, coping with natural disasters, educating our young, handling foreign affairs, providing basic services like health care and safeguarding individual rights. That it is still in power, and will remain in power after this election, is a testament to our inability to separate illusion from reality. We still believe in “the experts.” They still believe in themselves. They are clustered like flies swarming around John McCain and Barack Obama. It is only when these elites are exposed as incompetent parasites and dethroned that we will have any hope of restoring social, economic and political order. 

“Their inability to see the human as anything more than interest driven made it impossible for them to imagine an actively organized pool of disinterest called the public good,” said the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul, whose books “The Unconscious Civilization” and “Voltaire’s Bastards” excoriates our oligarchic elites. “It is as if the Industrial Revolution had caused a severe mental trauma, one that still reaches out and extinguishes the memory of certain people. For them, modern history begins from a big explosion—the Industrial Revolution. This is a standard ideological approach: a star crosses the sky, a meteor explodes, and history begins anew.”

Our elites—the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools—do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of the common good. They are stunted, timid and uncreative bureaucrats who are trained to carry out systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions which will satisfy the corporate structure. They are about numbers, profits and personal advancement. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are able to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they think, is a secondary product of the free market. And they slavishly serve the market. 

Andrew Lahde, the Santa Monica, Calif., hedge fund manager who made an 870 percent gain last year by betting on the subprime mortgage collapse, has abruptly shut down his fund, citing the risk of trading with faltering banks. In his farewell letter to his investors he excoriated the elites who run our investment houses, banks and government.

“The low-hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking,” he said of our oligarchic class. “These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.”

“On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal,” he went on. “First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have [reined] in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government.”

Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy, like individualism, is not based on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens. This is not happening. The corporate managers and government officials trying to fix the economic meltdown are pouring money and resources into the financial sector because they only know how to manage and sustain established systems, not change them. Financial systems, however, are not pure scientific and numerical abstractions that exist independently from human beings.

“When the elite begin to think that money is real, the crash is coming,” Saul said in a telephone interview. “That is just a given in history. Because what they’ve done is pull themselves out of the possibility of looking in the mirror and thinking, this is inflation, speculation, this is fluff. They can’t do it. And when you say to them, gosh, this is not real. And they say, oh, you don’t understand, you’re so old-fashioned, you still think this is about manufacturing. And of course, it’s basic economics. And that’s what happens every single time.

“The difficulty is you have a collapse, you have a loss of face by the people who are there, and it’s not just George Bush, it’s very, very deep,” Saul said. “What we’re talking about is the need to rethink the departments of economics, of political science. Then you have to rethink the whole analytic method of the World Bank. If I’m the secretary of the treasury, and not a guy like [Henry] Paulson, but I mean a sort of normal secretary of the treasury or minister of finance, and I say, OK, we’ve got a real problem, let’s get the senior civil servants in here. Gentlemen, ladies, OK, clearly we have to go in another direction, give me some ideas. Well, those people don’t have any other ideas because at this point they’re about the fourth generation of what you might call neoconservative globalist managers, unfairly summarized. So they then go to the people who work for them, and you work down; there’s no one in there with an alternate approach. I mean they’ll have little alternatives, but no basic differences in opinion. And so it’s very difficult to turn anything around because they’ve eliminated all opposing ideas inside. I mean it’s the problem of the Soviet Union, right?”

Saul pointed out that the first three aims of the corporatist movement in Germany, Italy and France during the 1920s, those that went on to become part of the Fascist experience, were “to shift power directly to economic and social interest groups, to push entrepreneurial initiative in areas normally reserved for public bodies” and to “obliterate the boundaries between public and private interest—that is, challenge the idea of the public interest.”

Sound familiar?

“There are a handful of people who haven’t been published in mainstream journals, who haven’t been listened to, who have been marginalized in every way,” Saul said. “There are a couple of them and you could turn to them. But then who do you give the orders to? And the people you give the orders to, they are not going to understand the orders because it hasn’t been a part of their education. So it’s a real problem of a good general who suddenly finds that his junior generals and brigadiers and corporals, you want them to do irregular warfare and they only know how to do trenches. And so how the hell do you get them to do this thing which they’ve never been trained to do? And so you get this kind of disorder, confusion inside, and the danger of what rises up there is populism; we’ve already had populism in a way, but we could get more populism, more fear and anger.”

We may elect representatives to Congress to end the war in Iraq, but the war goes on. We may plead with these representatives to halt Bush’s illegal wiretapping but the telecommunications lobbyists make sure it remains in place. We may beg them not to pass the bailout but 850 billion taxpayer dollars are funneled upward to the elites on Wall Street. We may want single-payer, not-for-profit health care but it is not even discussed as a possibility in presidential debates. We, as individuals in this system, are irrelevant. 

“I’ve talked to several Supreme Court justices, several times in several countries,” Saul told me, “and I say, look, in your rulings, can you differentiate easily in cases between the social contract and the commercial contract, and to which the answer is, we can no longer differentiate. And that lies at the heart of the problem. You don’t have the concept of the other, and of obligation of the individual leading to individualism. You can’t have that if the whole legal system has slipped over the last, really, 50 years, increasingly, to a confusion between the social contract and the commercial contract. Because they are two completely different things. The social contract is about the public good, responsible individualism, imagining the other. The commercial contract is a commercial contract. They’re not supposed to be confused. They don’t actually fit together. The commercial contract only works properly when the social contract works in a democracy.”

The working class, which has desperately borrowed money to stay afloat as real wages have dropped, now face years, maybe decades, of stagnant or declining incomes without access to new credit. The national treasury meanwhile is being drained on behalf of speculative commercial interests. The government—the only institution citizens have that is big enough and powerful enough to protect their rights—is becoming weaker, more anemic and less able to help the mass of Americans who are embarking on a period of deprivation and suffering unseen in this country since the 1930s. Consumption, the profligate engine of the U.S. economy, is withering. September retail sales across the U.S. fell 1.2 percent. The decline was almost double the 0.7 percent drop analysts expected from consumers, whose spending represents two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. There were 160,000 jobs lost last month and three-quarters of a million jobs lost this year. The reverberations of the economic meltdown are only beginning.

I do not think George W. Bush or Barack Obama or John McCain or Henry Paulson are fascists. Rather, they are part of a cabal of naive, mediocre and self-deluded capitalists who are steadily weakening political and economic structures to a point where our democracy will become so impotent that it can be blown aside, probably with broad popular support. The only question is how this will happen. Will there be a steady and slow decline as in the late Roman Empire when the Senate ended as a farce? Will we see a powerful right-wing backlash from those outside the mainstream political system, as we did in Yugoslavia, and the rise of a militant Christian fascism? Will there be a national crisis that allows those in power to instantly sweep away all constitutional rights in the name of national security?

I do not know. But I do know that what is coming, as long as our oligarchy remains in charge, will not be good. We will either recover the concept of the public good, and this means a revolt against our bankrupt elite and the dynamiting of the corporatist structure, or we will extinguish our democracy.

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