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Taking Stock of the Obama Administration

13 December 2011

Three-quarters of the way into his first term as President, it is time to take stock and evaluate Barack Obama's performance.

Fourteen million Americans are 'officially' unemployed, and, as we know, the real figures are always higher than the official ones. Few new jobs are being created. One in six Americans lives in poverty. Unemployment, at 6.9% when Obama took office, is now at 9.1%. This is exacerbated by the fact that, owing to population growth, the US labour force has increased by seven million since the recession began in 2007, yet the amount of jobless has increased by 300 000. Only 63.5% of men have any kind of job, which is the lowest level since records were kept in 1948.

Nor can it be said that some parts of the country are doing well. The sorry picture of desolation and devastation is the same everywhere. In Fresno, California, a job fair was held to find work for forty workers; six hundred applied. In New York the Bank of America announced that thirty thousand workers would be getting a pink slip. Seventy per cent of the construction workers in America's hardest hit state, Nevada, are unemployed. In the African-American population, unemployment is at an 'official' seventeen per cent.

The Congressional Budget Office expects an economic growth of 2.5% in 2012, but says the unemployment rate will remain around nine per cent. The US real estate market has slowed after tax incentives for home- buyers expired. On November 30, American Airlines filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy.

The financial crisis in Europe does not bode well for the US economy, nor does the slow down in China. A financial crisis overseas would quickly send America even further into recession. A recent poll showed only seventeen per cent of Americans is happy with the economy. Even the economic analysts know better than to try to put a brave face on it. According to Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at Berkley, "The current crisis is an extension of the depression that began in 2007." Political and economic commentator, Richard Posner said, "It's time for America to give up any false hopes that the economy is on a path to recovery. If we are being honest with ourselves, we would call this a depression. That would certainly convey both the severity of our problems and the fact that those problems have no evident solutions."

So if things are not going so well for Obama on the home front, what about international matters. Obama is still pursuing an unpopular war in Afghanistan. The killing of Osama Bin Laden did gain widespread approval but his disapproval rating has still shot up to fifty-five per cent. It is heartening to a socialist to know that many Americans, though with Obama, are not going to vote Republican on the premise 'why get rid of Tweedledum and put in Tweedledee?' This is at least, a step in the right direction. The Republican's popularity, as shown by opinion polls, has dropped even more than that of Obama. Michael Dimock at the PEW Center for the People and the Press, said, "Every drop that Obama sees in the polls seems to be magnified for the Republicans." No one knows who will win the next presidential election but of two things we can be certain. The amount of votes cast will be considerably less than the previous election, and whoever wins will continue to attempt to administer the day to day running of capitalism in a global economy that defies the machinations of any one state to control it in their favour. Socialists have always argued that it makes no fundamental difference which party is elected if it stands for the continuance of the capitalists system.

Some will argue that, though this is the case, nevertheless, some parties are more inclined to initiate reform measures beneficial to the working class than others. Certainly there have been reforms but often their effects are temporary and can, and sometimes are, diluted or cancelled when another party takes power. Furthermore, directly or indirectly, reforms are beneficial to the capitalist class or they would have a tougher time getting through the legislatures, e.g. safety legislation in the work place means the insurance companies don't have to fork out large payments.

Reforms to give equal rights to minorities delude these minorities into thinking they have equality with everyone else but, in reality, there is no equality under the capitalist system, nor will there be until that system is swept away and replaced by common ownership of the means of production. One of the great reforms initiated in the twentieth century was the British Medicare Act of 1948. Naturally, it was hailed as a wonderful event; the poorer sections of the working class had access to health care that previously was denied to them. Socialists did not oppose it as it benefited the working class but pointed out the class nature of the act. During the Second World War, many conscripts, after a decade of depression and hunger, were found to be in an unhealthy condition and not ready to fight capitalism's war. Enhanced health care took care of that. Nor can it be argued that if reforms don't solve everyone's problems, the quality of elected officials must make some difference. The answer to that is minimal while retaining the system that caused the problem.

Nobody will dispute that Obama is a well-meaning guy; that much is clear. If good intentions alone were enough there would be no problem. Whether a head of government is well intentioned or corrupt, well educated or not, bright or stupid, makes little difference to the affairs of capitalism.

Since the advent of capitalism we have seen all of the above in power at one time or another; we've seen dictatorships, democratically elected governments, state capitalism (USSR, China, Cuba et al) laissez-faire capitalism, and mixed economies. We have seen many reform measures enacted, some temporarily beneficial, some no so much so, yet, despite all of the above, war, poverty, unemployment, inequality, and environmental destruction remain a constant, and no tinkering around with it will change that reality.

Capitalism is a market system and nothing can change that. When a market exists for a product, competing capitalists glut that market with far more product than can be bought in the hope of higher profits, supply eventually outstrips demand, resulting in recession, lay-offs and all the accompanying misery for the working class. War is part of the functioning of capitalism as competing sections of the capitalist class clash over resources and trade, sending members of the working class to fight for their interests.

In Barack Obama, we have a bright, educated, and competent human being. If those qualities counted for anything, the US wouldn't be in its present mess. That it is proves anyone elected to run capitalism will be unable to solve its problems. Within capitalism there is no solution. Booms and busts, and the unpredictability of the market will continue. The only permanent solution will occur when a class-conscious majority of the working class decide to elect socialist deputies to the state legislatures around the world with the mandate to abolish capitalism in favour of a socialist society.

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