Social policy in the USA is far from what a world power should have

The Great Depression. (Photo:
Heath School Social Studies)

For decades successive governments in the United States have resisted pressure to implement social assistance policies to help the sectors most in need, and this has serious consequences today. According to the Peruvian lawyer, sociologist and university professor Héctor Béjar in his latest column for Agenda Global, some 47 million of the USA’s 308 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, 15 million workers are unemployed and the prison population is 756 per 100,000 people.

Béjar, who is also a member of the World Council for the Global Call to Action against Poverty, wrote, “North American politicians do not want to design or implement a social policy such as the top world power should have.”

The Peruvian expert’s column is reproduced below.

North American Armageddon
By Héctor Béjar

To Raúl Wiener, lone yachtsman,
as are thousands of decent people today.

The United States has managed to convince the world that it is a land of wealth and opportunity. But in fact it hides its poor people in the sordid neighbourhoods of Washington, the decaying slums of Harlem, the port of New York overrun with rats and mice, and the poor districts of Los Angeles, where there are Afro Americans, Asians and Latin Americans, who call their own poor Hispanics.

North American politicians do not want to design or implement social policies such as the top power in the world should have.

In the 16th century, North American society was impregnated with charitable feeling for other Anglo Saxons, but not for the blacks or the Indians.

In the beginning there was a perceived public responsibility to care for the needy. When industrial society generated endemic poverty in the 19th century, there was a need for public assistance and private charity work. As time went by, it passed to owners and employers to provide social assistance for their employees. At the end of the 19th century, public assistance was abolished for all except the elderly and the infirm.

When Julia Lathrop campaigned in 1918 for a law to protect maternity and children, one response was a pamphlet, “Should the children of America become State property?” The people promoting the Sheppard Towner law to protect children were accused of being perverted and menopausal. The law was passed in 1921 during the Warren Harding administration (1921-1923), but Congress refused to allocate funding. It was not until 1935 that these measures and widows’ pensions were incorporated into the Social Security Law by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), but it was still thought that people who helped children were under communist influence.

When Roosevelt was governor of the State of New York (1929-1933), he managed to promulgate the Wicks Law to provide unemployment benefits during an emergency period, through the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, known by its acronym TERA. (Walter Trattner, “From Poor Law to Welfare State”, New York, The Free Press, 1989). When he was President he implemented a package known as the New Deal, which established social security at the federal level.

Harry Truman (1945-1953) took advantage of the period after World War Two to propose the Medicaid and Medicare programmes, but it was not until the 1960s under the Lyndon B. Johnson administration (1963-1969) that the law was passed.

Roosevelt’s work was not followed up. Bill Clinton (1993-2001) did not even dare to submit his health reform projects to Congress.

All North American social programmes are federal because there are states that will not countenance even the slightest hint of social security.

In 1989 the United States refused to sign the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Today the anti-values of competition and success have taken over that society.

As a result, some 47 million North Americans out of a population of 308 million live below the poverty line. There are 15 million unemployed. 5,000 people live in tents in 55 cities. Some 3 million are behind bars. The United States is the country with the biggest prison population in the world: 756 per 100,000 people are in jail. This is far fewer than in China, whose population is four times greater but has only one and a half million convicts. Or Venezuela, which has a prison population of 79 per 100,000 inhabitants. The USA uses torture as standard procedure in Guantanamo. And the country has debts of 15.5 billion (million million) dollars.

In this situation, Mitt Romney designated Paul Ryan as his running mate in the presidential elections. Ryan proposed doing away with Medicare, which not even George W. Bush (2001-2009) dared to touch, and replacing it with a system of vouchers or credits that patients would use to pay doctors. And on top of that he wants to reduce coverage. For people with that mentality, public money spent on health care is wasted.

As Christopher Caldwell says in The Weekly Standard, “The rationale behind this stance is that many right wing North Americans think the United States is on the verge of an Armageddon (a purifying catastrophe) like the disaster in Greece.

Maybe he’s right…

Agenda Global (in Spanish):