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US shutdown shows the system is cracking up

The shutdown of the US government by the right-wing Tea Party faction of the right-wing Republican party is a critical moment, one that reveals deepening cracks inside the capitalist state’s political system.

On the first day, 800,000 federal employees were affected by the absence of a government that could pay their wages. On the same day, many of the 32 million Americans not covered by insurance queued to sign up for access to affordable health care.

The new insurance marketplace websites which opened for business on the first day of trading are a key part of the president’s so-called “Obamacare” legislation. Overwhelmed by the demand, many websites crashed in the first hours. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was adopted in 2010, in fulfilment of Obama’s election pledge, and Republicans have failed 50 times to block it. To their disappointment, the Supreme Court ruled that that legislation was constitutional.

In trying to place more rocks in the road of a long, tortuous, contradictory journey towards the universal provision of healthcare, Republicans led by the Tea Party have initiated the shutdown of government by denying approval to the federal budget.

So with services closing, government workers are being sent home on unpaid leave. It’s wish-fulfilment time, a dream come true for the super-rich corporate funders of the Tea Party who vehemently hate all forms of public spending.

Never mind that the massive expansion of the insurance market was a Republican model pragmatically adopted by Obama as a way to provide health care for the tens of millions who’ve been denied it in the world’s richest country.

The health industry, especially in the US, has been a feeding frenzy for Big Pharma, for the makers of ever more technologically advanced and expensive medical devices and highly profitable insurance companies.

Although US spending per head on health is 150% more than in the UK, life expectancy at birth is among the lowest of developed countries, while infant mortality is the highest. Potential years of life lost by people under the age of 70 are also far higher. It’s a health system that benefits the well off.

When the economy crashed in 2008, the turning point arrived. The status quo was unsustainable. Millions were thrown out of work, losing access to healthcare funded through insurance as part of their employment contract. Economically, socially and politically the game was up.

One thing is clear: having taken the first tentative steps towards universal access, the current system of government looks unlikely to survive. Its problems are piling up fast. The two wings of the Congress of the 1%, for the 1%, by the 1% are in deadlock. 

Although the Republicans are trying to block Obamacare, the bigger issue looming ahead is the soaring federal government deficit. Unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling later this month, the US government could be staring at an international default as it won’t have the money to service interest payments.

The consequences of default by the world’s biggest capitalist economy are beyond imagination. Most analysts are saying it couldn’t happen, they’ll surely come to their senses. But the Republican Party is so divided in itself that anything is possible.

Who is to blame for all of this? Reflecting a generalised rejection of the political process, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed about one-quarter of Americans would blame Republicans for a shutdown, 14% would hold Obama responsible and 5% Democrats in Congress, while a massive 44% said everyone would be to blame.

George Atkinson, an 82-year-old Coast Guard veteran of the Korean War was among those pushing past barricades to visit the National World War ll Memorial, closed by the government shutdown. "The whole group ought to be replaced, top man down," he said.

Events around the world show that it’s not so much the people who are operating the system who are to blame. It’s the system itself. It’s in trouble wherever you look. The Greek government has arrested some of its own, elected, Golden Dawn representatives. Britain has a non-elected coalition. Berlusconi is singlehandedly trying to bring down the Italian government. The system is cracking up.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
2 October 2013

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