Dom Giordano devoted several segments of his local radio program to the recent protest launched by Occupy Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania this Monday.
In addition to speaking with one of the university’s professors, Dr. Ania Loomba, about education costs and the issue of student debt with respect to Occupy Philadelphia, the Penn professor shared her own take on the protestors, whom she characterized as critical of capitalism and opposed to shrinking spending on America’s social safety net.
Giordano queried the professor regarding the goals of the Occupiers, as well as what she felt was fueling the movement, arguing “since it’s so unclear to me exactly what’s being protested. In fact, it’s embarrassing I think. You seem to differ…what is it about capitalism and corporations?”
Dr. Loomba went on to cite support from economists such as former head of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz, with Loomba citing his position that “what we’re seeing now is the worst and ugly face of capitalism. Capitalism, if you’re going to look at it as just a monolith, which can only work this way, then there’s something wrong with capitalism.”
Giordano further probed the Penn professor, pointing out the US does not practice pure capitalism and does maintain a social safety net before asking, “What would you put in place of capitalism?”
“I think you need a social justice network. What they’re protesting is the kind of eminent threats to social welfare systems. You’ve seen those being dismantled slowly in this country,” Loomba complained before continuing.
“I would say that you have to stop subsidizing even rich universities who are charging too much, so you just mentioned that yourself. If that is capitalism that you’re going to actually give subsidies, you mentioned it, to rich –”
“I would agree with you on that. But I do think we have a social [safety net] in this country. I think it’s too lavish.” Giordano objected.
A shrinking social safety net?
Dr. Loomba overstated the case that social welfare systems are in the process of being dismantled in America.
To be fair, there were two recent proposals to alter entitlements programs in the US, though the professor unfairly characterized this as a process of “dismantlement” as neither came to pass.
One plan associated with the July debt ceiling negotiations involved tweaking the formula used to calculate the cost of living adjustments for Medicare beneficiaries – yet by amounts that were infinitesimally small relative to the size of the overall budget.
The plan hardly constituted a “dismantling” of the program.
A second failed proposal was a component of Paul Ryan’s 2011 GOP budget; the plan sought to transform the existing Medicare system into a program along the lines of the current Medicare Part D prescription drug program for seniors and devolved Medicaid spending to state governments.
However, the proposal was easily defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Indeed, the opposite trend has been evident in the US during the last decade with social welfare spending continuing to accelerate as new government programs were added.
The Bush administration expanded health benefits through the Medicare Modernization Act, while Obamacare created a massive new entitlement and expanded eligibility for Medicaid.
In addition, the federal government has frozen the eligibility age for social security benefits for over a quarter of a century even as life expectancies continue to rise.
Social welfare spending on the rise
To the extent that there is any threat to the entitlement state, it is from resistance to the massive expansion in social safety net spending in recent years, which were the primary drivers of the record breaking $3.46 trillion in federal budget in FY 2010.
All the efforts to which Dr. Loomba presumably alludes have been simply been efforts to stem increases in this form of government spending. And all have failed.
Moreover, even if they had succeeded, the discussion around these efforts has only addressed slowing the rate of growth in the federal budget, not reduce levels of spending.
It’s like confusing a car’s velocity with its acceleration. The driver is not slowing the car down; he is merely trying to get the vehicle to speed up at a slower rate.
This is the second in a series on Occupy Philadelphia’s protest at the University of Pennsylvania; the first is available here. Subscribe to receive an email alert for the posting of the next edition in this series.
A free podcast of Dom Giordano’s complete interview with Dr. Ania Loomba is available here
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