In September, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, in a comment perhaps not intended for publication, told Thierry Breton, French Finance Minister, that the US budget is out of control with the country being plunged ever more deeply into debt. The Economist reported Breton's disappointment "... that the management of debt is not a political priority today."
Breton was wrong. Accumulation of massive debt is the number one priority of the Bush Administration - a deliberate, managed move toward its goal of an “ownership society” in which all aspects are privatized.
Since the introduction of the massive Republican tax cuts, many observers understood immediately that they were to plunge government into debt, thereby undercutting its ability to fund social programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and to administer public domain that has long belonged to all citizens in common.
In May of 2003, Princeton economist Paul Krugman wrote that "gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry a price tag of only $320 billion are a joke ... The people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need."
Krugman had plenty of company. Peronet Dispeignes reported in the Financial Times of London that the Bush Administration had shelved a report commissioned by the Treasury that showed the US facing a future of chronic federal budget deficits totaling at least $44.2 trillion in current US dollars, and that closing the gap would require the equivalent of an immediate and permanent 66% across-the-board tax increase. Bill Moyers, on his PBS show NOW, said "We are watching the country's future slip deeper and deeper into a black hole of red ink."
The corporate sphere has spent countless millions lobbying for deregulation of its activities, for maintaining specific legislators in office, and for the privatization of everything from health care to education to Social Security to federal lands, including national parks. The goal is ownership and control of every corner of society by a "private sector" primarily in the form of corporations. Over more than a century of legal maneuvering, corporations have been able to create for themselves the status of “persons” in US law, so that the fortunes they lavish have, absurdly, become “free speech”. They have also acquired ownership of mainstream media and so have been able to obscure the significance and gravity of the situation while simultaneously perpetuating another widely believed absurdity, that of “the liberal media”.
A key mechanism for privatization is "outsourcing" to the private sector jobs that have historically been governmental. National parks, it seems, have been a trial area for this. Plans for the privatization of parks have lain obscurely on the rightwing to-do list for more than 20 years, and now the Bush Administration is allowing them to move ahead quickly. Terry Anderson, lead architect of a strategy to transfer America’s public lands into private ownership over a forty-year span, advises President Bush on public lands matters.
Early in 2003, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced her intention to outsource as many as 11,000 (72%) positions in the US Park Service. Shortly thereafter, President Bush declared that as many as 850,000 federal positions could become privatized. This is an attack on public ownership and of federal programs supportive of the poorer and middle classes that together constitute the bulk of society. While framed as an argument for fiscal efficiency, it is a recipe for a two-tiered society of a super rich minority atop a vast underclass of workers.
The Bush Administration's assault on government, under the banner of "cutting federal spending", is the cause of a FEMA underfunded into relative impotence and for inadequate levees in New Orleans. But even as we are learning that the cost of reconstructing the Gulf Coast will be (yet another) $200 billion, and that no-bid contracts (yet again) are being handed to Halliburton, news comes that to pay for it all will require "further cuts in federal spending". And things just don't add up.
Well, perhaps they do. Maybe they make even more obvious the Republican game plan to plunge government so deeply into debt that it can no longer offer support to the larger citizenry, and that this can only result in the corporate sector winning by default and becoming, in principle, like so many mediaeval landowners. Looking ahead, one sees the main controlling element of society not a government of, by and for the people but a corporate sector that controls life’s essentials and charges as much as the market will bear. “Nothing personal; just business.”
Rightwing strategist Grover Norquist's stated goal of shrinking government so that it can be, as he put it, "drowned in a bathtub", is now being fast-tracking at a rate that must surprise even him.
Bill Willers is an Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.