The new American Revolution?
Pondering on the political and psychological implications of Katrina, Webb says:
The real question - putting it baldly - is whether there is going to be a revolution.The American social and economic system in fact creates the wealth that pays for all manner of things – schools, food, museums, even left-wing think-tanks - for all kinds of people, rich, poor and (perhaps more than any) otherwise. It also creates the wealth that pays for things like 57% of the UN’s World Food Program budget, and 22% of the UN’s operating budget. But at least as bad as Webb’s obvious resort to socialist demagoguery is his equally obvious economic ignorance. He may not be happy with the way the American economic system deals with poverty, but only a fool can think that it actually creates poverty where none would otherwise exist.
Will the American social and economic system - which creates the wealth that pays for billionaires' private jets, and the poverty which does not allow for a bus fare out of New Orleans - be addressed?
He doesn’t even seem to have a clue as to what it would mean to “address” the social and economic system in America.
[The social and economic system] has been tinkered with before of course, sometimes as a result of natural disasters. There were for instance plenty of buses on hand for this week's Rita evacuation.Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that, contrary to Webb's implication, even in New Orleans there were plenty of buses on hand for Katrina’s evacuation too (they just weren’t used). Just how does utilizing buses for an evacuation represent “tinkering” with the economic system of the US? I am at a loss. But that’s OK because, as Webb assures us, such tinkering hasn’t really changed much:
But the system's fundamentals - no limit on how far you can fly and little limit on how low you can fall - remain as intact as they were in the San Francisco gold rush.Well, let’s see. The San Francisco gold rush began in 1849. At the time the top federal income tax rate was a robust 0%, and in fact was unconstitutional. Annual federal outlays for unemployment insurance and other poverty prevention/reduction measures were exactly $0. Indeed, terms such as Social Security, Medicaid, Federal Deposit Insurance, the minimum wage, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and food stamps – not exactly unknown concepts to 21st century America - would in fact not even be invented for nearly another 100 years.
Now, I’m not entirely opposed to a touch of hyperbole now and then, but the notion that little has changed in the US government’s posture towards wealth and poverty in the last 150 years, and that there remains “little limit” on how low one’s economic prospects can go in the US is so utterly and completely absurd it is only fair to question just how much contempt Webb has for the intelligence of his audience that he tries to pass this off as a reasonable observation.
Demonstrating that the ideology of the BBC’s correspondents hasn’t changed much over the years, Webb favorably quotes one of his predecessors, who apparently referred to the failure of the European style welfare state to gain a foothold in the US in the wake of the Vietnam War as a “tragedy”. And Webb doubts that it ever will, lamenting that America will not be, in 50 years, the “workers paradise” that, one can only presume, he thinks the welfare states of Europe are.
Webb also has a tendency to portray universal traits as distinctly American characteristics. “Inequality,” he says, “is a part of American life…” Well, yes, just as it is a part of life the world over. Certainly he doesn't think that things like the NHS and the dole has rendered inequality extinct in the UK, does he? He says that “American government is a mess. American bureaucracy and red tape is a national shame.” Compared to what, those paragons of bureaucratic efficiency and sources of national pride in Westminster and Brussels? Surely he jests.
Webb does note, with apparently some degree of admiration, American self reliance along with the can-do attitude and charitable spirit of individual Americans. But even this seems to come with a black cloud.
This is unquestionably a source of strength and spine in troubled times, but boy does it put a dampener on revolution.
Charity ameliorates it, softens blows, pours oil on troubled waters. It does not lead to social change.
What a bummer, huh? Webb does at least leave us with something about which I sincerely hope he is correct. He says:
Perhaps, unlike Webb, Americans are aware that the government's ability to "give" with enthusiasm must, of necessity, be matched by a similarly unbridled enthusiasm for taking, and that "generosity" is not exactly an accurate characterization for such action. Perhaps Americans recognize that "generosity" requires a bit more than just spending other people's money.
Americans are cross with the government and disappointed with the response from Washington, but they have not sat on their hands and waited for the government to sort itself out. Much the opposite.
Americans have given with unbridled enthusiasm and generosity.
Is that not something governments do?
Americans do not think so and never will.