Summary: We can see our future in today’s news headlines. Unless we become more active, our complacency today will create future astonishment — as we pretend surprise when the inevitable arrives. Here are ugly examples from our increasingly dark news. I recommend anger as a good first step.
I love the New York Times, so often reporting the news but burying the lede. Today’s fun headline is “BlackRock Reaches a Deal for a Move to Hudson Yards“. The real story tells how New York State gave $25 million in tax credits to the giant financial firm Blackrock. In exchange for Blackrock moves into nicer quarters and keeps 2,672 jobs in Manhattan. Terrorism works! Blackrock also promises to create 700 jobs (but there are no penalties for non-compliance).
Yesterday the NYT told us that “On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need ‘Safe Spaces’“, which reports about two trends on college campuses. Conservatives say that “their views are not respected.” And threats of terrorism. As the President of the U of MI said, with insane even-handedness:
“…a student walking near campus was threatened with being lighted on fire because she wore a hijab… Some students have also been shouted at and accused of being racist because of their political views.”
We passively read news headlines showing the US political system breaking down, its norms no longer respected by its leaders. Such as “Donald Trump will remain Executive Producer on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’“. How long until President Trump nominates a horse as cabinet secretary?
We doze while the well-coiffed reporters on the TV announce that America is being dismantled and rebuilt as a plutocracy. Oklahoma’s governor sells off its parks (let the peons relax at country clubs!), and pretends not to notice that unregulated fracking is causing increasingly severe earthquakes. In a truly a truly Orwellian touch, Trump appoints a modern version of Mr. Potter (from It’s A Wonderful Life) as his Secretary of Labor: advocates letting inflation erode away the minimum wage and gutting the social safety net, and opposes effective regulation of overtime laws (see the ugly details here).
Look across the ocean to see America’s future
Similar trends are reshaping Britain. Their social services were more advanced than ours, but are being dismantled at an accelerating pace. Together we race to a dystopian future as plutocratic societies run by hypocritical libertarian cant. Their greatest social levelers, the National Health Services and universities, are being wrecked. Their local governments, providing vital public services, are being defunded. For details see “The Strange Death of Municipal England” by Tom Crewe (editor of the London Review of Books). It is gated, but you should subscribe to the LRB (it is on the top of my reading list).
He describes how since Thatcher austerity has been the hammer used to break down Britain, slowly strangling its public services. The result is closed pools, parks, playgrounds, libraries (15% closed since 2010, the rest are reducing hours), care centers for the elderly, museums (one in five regional museums has closed), and toilets (1,782 public toilets have been closed in the last decade). Public transport systems are being gutted — cutting routes, reducing timetables, and jacking up prices.
Similar trends are re-shaping America. For example, tuition at the California’s public universities has tripled since 2002 (up 8,9%/year) — and is still rising. Conservatives are directly targeting for destruction other engines of social mobility.
“Councils are also closing Sure Start children’s centres, one of New Labour’s most successful innovations. Designed to mitigate the effects of inequality as early in life as possible, the centres provide sessions with midwives and health visitors, ‘stay and play’ sessions, and other educational activities for families. A government-commissioned report, sneaked out last Christmas, found that ‘children’s centres can have positive effects on [social] outcomes, especially on family functioning that affects the quality of parenting, and that children’s centres are highly valued by parents’.”
This is a process, with the end still not in sight.
“The services that remain are hopelessly overstretched: pay is generally abysmal and training limited … here is no let-up in sight: councils have a further billion pounds of cuts planned for the current year, with more to come until, in 2019, the gap between needs and resources will reach an estimated £2.8 billion, and spending on adult social care will fall below 1 per cent of GDP. One consequence is that the NHS can no longer safely discharge patients into the community, leading to a shortage of hospital beds.”
Privatization is another conservative tool to reshape the relationship between citizen and government. Public assets are sold off, so that the public can pay more to corporations and get less.
“People can no longer expect the services they pay for to be run in their interest, rather than the interests of shareholders; and they can’t assume that the companies that operate these services are in any way transparent or accountable to them. Governments can be removed, but ten-year contracts signed by one set of ministers will persist into the next parliament. The Civil Service has been progressively stripped of expertise: every time a service is outsourced, experience and understanding are lost, weakening supervision and creating gaps that in the future will need to be filled by more private-sector support. “
Austerity is an instrument by which to increase inequality. For conservatives this is a feature, not a bug.
“The poorer an area, the greater its needs and the greater the council’s reliance on government grants, so cuts too are proportionally greater. The richer an area, the less the council relies on government grants, and the less it is affected by cuts. Knowsley and Liverpool are two of the most deprived areas of the country: council spend per head in these areas has been reduced by £400 and £390 respectively. In Wokingham and Elmbridge, two of the wealthiest parts of the country, the corresponding totals are £2.29 and £8.14. Local authorities in the top 20% for rates of health deprivation and disability have had their spending power cut by an average of £205 per head, 12 times the average reduction faced by those in the bottom 20%.
“Between 2010 and 2015 the worst-hit councils cut their social care budgets by 14% on average, while those who received the smallest reduction increased theirs by 8%; child social care in the former group was cut by 4% and increased in the latter by 15%. Look at every other area of spending and you will see the same trend. What is worse, the government’s few attempts to ameliorate councils’ financial position have had the perverse – if intentional – consequence of disproportionately benefiting well-off Tory councils in the shires.”
This is the future of America, unless we wake up and act. Time is our enemy. Anger is the first step to reform.
For More Information
For more about this Team Trump: Here’s the news about Team Trump. See the promises fade away. Trump assembles a Strategic and Policy Forum to better hear the 1%. Also see “Trump’s wealthy cabinet choices hark back to Gilded Age” by Shawn Donnan in the Financial Times — “Few precedents for collection of billionaires and their lack of government experience.”
- The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?
- Realism about the prospects for reform in America.
- Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
- Warning: the income gap between races is widening in America.