Noam Chomsky on How the Military Is Bankrupting Us and Why Corporate Interests Want to Destroy Public Programs

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I can’t say that I find it disappointing, because, quite frankly, I never expected anything. Actually, I wrote about it before the primaries, just based on his record on his website.

I think my—I should say, first of all, that this latest jobs plan is one of the better things he’s done. I don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough, but at least it has elements that are going in the right direction. There was, when the—during the lame-duck session, the serious question was whether—what to do with the Bush tax cuts. The Bush tax cuts were carefully designed so that, at the beginning, everyone got a little, and you had a feeling taxes were being reduced. But they were designed so that, as the 10-year period ended, it was overwhelmingly going to the very rich. Now, the population is strongly opposed to that. You take a look at polls during the lame-duck session, when this was coming up: very strong support for increasing taxes for those with incomes over, say, quarter-million dollars a year. Well, Obama didn’t push that. If he had appealed to the public, they, I think, could have overcome the opposition of the financial institutions, you know, the Republican—the new Republican congressional delegation and so on. But he didn’t even try. And that should be done.

Now, the current proposal goes partially in that direction by indirectly increasing taxes through elimination of deductions. But the tax code simply has to be revised. It’s become highly regressive. In fact, the share of GDP, you know, national income by—of taxes, is probably lower than it’s ever been, far lower than 20 or 30 years ago, particularly for the rich. All of that should be adjusted. There is a stimulus in the program, which is a good idea, but it’s much too small. And the concentration on deficit reduction, when the serious problem is massive unemployment, I think that’s a very serious error. You can understand why the banks and insurance companies, and so on, like it, but it’s completely wrong for trying to extricate ourselves from quite a serious economic crisis. The deficit itself, if you want to take it seriously—I don’t think it’s the major issue, by any means. In fact, I don’t even think it’s a serious issue, at least in the short term. But if you do want to take it seriously, it’s pretty easy to trace it to the roots.

Dean Baker, very good economist, has done the calculations which show that if the United States had a healthcare program similar to other industrial countries, which is not a utopian dream, not only would there be no deficit, but there’d be a surplus. And the military budget is probably half the deficit. It’s way out of line with anything needed, certainly for any defensive purpose, but for any justifiable purpose. Ron Paul, who you heard before, was quite right about that. The U.S. is spending about as much as the rest of the world combined almost on military spending, technologically very advanced, new destructive techniques developing far beyond what any other country has. First of all, it shouldn’t be done, on principle, but it also ends up being harmful to us, essentially for the reasons that Paul mentioned. And very expensive of course. That plus the hopelessly dysfunctional healthcare system — those are fundamental problems that have to be addressed.

Now, that could have been addressed. At the time of the healthcare reform, depending on how the question was asked, either the large plurality, often a majority, of the population was in favor of some form of national healthcare, which would be incomparably more efficient and more humane. But Obama just dropped that. The public option remained as a possibility. That was supported by, I think, maybe almost two-thirds of the population. Obama just dropped it. So, everything is in the hands of the insurance companies. We continue to have roughly twice the per capita healthcare costs of comparable countries, some of the poorest outcomes. And it’s the only large, almost unregulated, privatized system. Yes, it’s highly inefficient; it’s also very inhumane—not to speak of tens of thousands of people without insurance or many more with not enough insurance. Well, that can be changed. It should be changed. If it could, the deficit issues, such as they are—I think they’re secondary—would largely disappear.

There’s a long-term debt problem. That’s a different matter. And we can trace that to its roots, too. Ronald Reagan, who was fiscally totally irresponsible, tripled the U.S. debt and shifted the U.S. very quickly from the world’s leading creditor to the world’s leading debtor. George W. Bush enhanced it with his fiscal policies, including the huge tax cut for the rich, the wars. And in the long term, that’s a problem. But the way to deal with that problem, in the long term, is with economic growth, appropriate economic growth, sensible economic growth. Well, that can be done, but it’s not going to be done through deficit reduction programs or tampering with entitlements, as is on the table, unfortunately.

So there were elements—and infrastructure development is significant, and Obama mentioned it. There’s small programs. He talked about work sharing, which is quite an important proposal. I don’t know if anything will be done. It was done in Germany, and it cut down unemployment very sharply, led to substantial economic growth, even through the recession. Those are options that could be pursued. They’re mentioned. They should be pushed harder. They should be expanded. But at least there are elements there that could turn into a constructive program—however, not until the core issues are handled.

One is enormous unemployment. That’s the worst problem, and it’s becoming almost permanent unemployment. Another is the deterioration of manufacturing, meaning offshoring of manufacturing. The only way that can be dealt with is by cutting back on the overvalued dollar, that would improve possibilities for exports. The healthcare system, which is grotesque—it’s an international scandal; the huge military spending; the very low taxes for the rich, by comparative standards, also corporations and so on—those are fundamental problems that have to be dealt with if there’s going to be anything like successful economic and social development in the United States.

AARON MATÉ: Noam, you mentioned entitlements, and obviously this is an issue that’s come up a lot in the deficit debate. Governor Rick Perry, the Republican presidential hopeful, has called it a Ponzi scheme. But even Democrats seem to buy into this narrative that it’s in crisis. Can you address that?

NOAM CHOMSKY: 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 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, but people with disabilities and others. Very low administrative costs, extremely efficient, and no burden on 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 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 that for the rich, it’s meaningless. For anyone 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— 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 ver many are suffering severely. And they have nothing else to rely on, but the pittance that they’re getting from Social Security. To take that away would be just disastrous (Posted by

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