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

Noam Chomsky discusses US military adventurism abroad and domestic economic catastrophe.

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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.

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