Noam Chomsky puts economic news in perspective

In this article –really a transcript of an interview with Aaron Maté via Amy Goodman at alternet– the famous leftist rambles a bit and calls into question our supreme military. But his take on the present debate over Social Security calls into question common assumptions about the public’s true interests in our democratic republic. His remarks expose the president’s endorsement of the status quo as especially unfortunate, given the likely consequences.

Chomsky answered Maté’s question about Republican governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry labelling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.”  I reprint Chomsky’s response with my emphases added:


Social Security is not in any crisis. I mean, the trust fund alone will fully pay benefits for, I think, another 30 years or so. And after that, taxes will give almost the same benefits. To worry about a possible problem 30 years from now, which can incidentally be fixed with little—a little bit of tampering here and there, as was done in 1983—to worry about that just makes absolutely no sense, unless you’re trying to destroy the program. It’s a very successful program. A large number people rely on it. It doesn’t pay munificently, but it at least keeps people alive, not just retired people, people with disabilities and others. Very low administrative costs, extremely efficient, and no burden on the deficit, doesn’t add to the deficit. The effort to try to present the Social Security program as if it’s a major problem, that’s just a hidden way of trying to undermine and destroy it.

Now, there has been a lot of opposition to it since—you know, since the 1930s, on the part of sectors of extreme wealth and privilege, especially financial capital. They don’t like it, for several reasons. One is the rich don’t barely—for them, it’s meaningless. Anyone with—you know, who’s had a fairly decent income, it’s a tiny addition to your retirement but doesn’t mean much. Another is, if the financial institutions and the insurance companies can get their hands on this huge financial resource—for example, if it’s privatized in some way or vouchers—I mean, that’s a huge bonanza. They’ll have trillions of dollars to play with, the banks, the investment firms and so on.

But I think, myself, that there’s a more subtle reason why they’re opposed to it, and I think it’s rather similar to the reason for the effort to pretty much dismantle the public education system. Social Security is based on a principle. It’s based on the principle that you care about other people. You care whether the widow across town, a disabled widow, is going to be able to have food to eat. And that’s a notion you have to drive out of people’s heads. The idea of solidarity, sympathy, mutual support, that’s doctrinally dangerous. The preferred doctrines are just care about yourself, don’t care about anyone else. That’s a very good way to trap and control people. And the very idea that we’re in it together, that we care about each other, that we have responsibility for one another, that’s sort of frightening to those who want a society which is dominated by power, authority, wealth, in which people are passive and obedient. And I suspect—I don’t know how to measure it exactly, but I think that that’s a considerable part of the drive on the part of small, privileged sectors to undermine a very efficient, very effective system on which a large part of the population relies, actually relies more than ever, because wealth, personal wealth, was very much tied up in the housing market. That was people’s personal wealth. Well, OK, that, quite predictably, totally collapsed. People aren’t destitute by the standards of, say, slums in India or southern Africa, but …suffering severely. And they have nothing else to rely on, but what they—the, really, pittance that they’re getting from Social Security. To take that away would be just disastrous.

So destroying the effective safety net of Social Security on the one hand, and going after the public schools on the other (which have been somewhat effective), is being done by the same people, oligarchs bent on a society of passive, obedient citizens “dominated by power, authority, wealth”?
If that’s true, it may be up to teachers and other public service workers to speak truth to the monied powers. Who else will warn them against removing time-tested pillars of our society?  Who else can remind them of the historic benefits of a flush middle-class?
That these oligarchs no longer see schools and Social Security as necessary riot insurance makes them either foolishly naive or coldly ready to fill our prisons and hospitals as they fill their bank accounts. Prisons and hospitals, by the way,  have over the past 20 years already been privatized in the USA (along with the military), so the pattern fits. 

Wikimedia Commons image used with permission

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