Why is U.S. capitalism so decayed?

Collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, 2007.

Millions of people in Texas lost their heat, lights and water two months ago during a winter storm. The state’s profit-hungry utilities didn’t want to spend money winterizing natural gas pumps and other equipment. Over 100 people died because of capitalist greed.

The Texas tragedy is just the latest example of U.S. capitalism being unable to maintain its physical plant, which is called infrastructure. This includes utilities, roads, railroads, airports, school buildings and not the least, housing, health facilities and hospitals.

President Biden and Vice President Harris have proposed a $2.25 trillion “American Jobs Program” to fix some of these problems. Millions of jobs could be created. That sounds like a lot of money, but the funds will be spent over eight or even ten years.

That’s about $280 billion a year, or a little more than a third of the Pentagon’s official budget. It’s modest compared to the $1.6 trillion lifetime cost of the U.S. Air Force F-35 fighter planes. 

Yet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce attacked the White House plan. Writing in the reactionary National Review, David Harsanyi claims, “Our infrastructure is not crumbling.” 

Tell that to the children of Flint, Mich., who were lead-poisoned by their drinking water. Thirteen people were killed when the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007. Over 45,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient in the United States. 

Eight people died in New York City’s El Barrio (East Harlem) in 2014 because of a natural gas explosion. A nearby gas main dated from 1887 but the ConEd utility was too cheap to replace it. 

This writer worked as a train dispatcher at Amtrak. Every time the 111-year-old Portal Bridge crossing the Hackensack River in New Jersey opened for boat traffic, we hoped it would safely lock up again. Two hundred thousand passengers use it daily to enter and leave New York City.

More is needed

As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the real problem with the White House plan is that it’s not big enough. It was the Green New Deal championed by AOC and other congresswomen of color in “the Squad” that paved the way for any infrastructure proposals.

“Build back better,” as Biden calls it, has to include tackling toxic racism. Oil refineries and chemical plants are often built right next to poor communities. The abandoned phosphate fertilizer plant near Tampa, Fla., whose pond threatened a catastrophic flood, is just one of hundreds of dangerously polluted sites.

The Cross Bronx Expressway displaced thousands of New York families, while air pollution from trucks and cars created an asthma epidemic. The I-43 Expressway slashed through Milwaukee’s Black community, destroying hundreds of homes. 

The American Jobs Program proposes spending $85 billion on public transit and $80 billion for passenger and freight railroads. Millions of workers, students and seniors need better transit.

Big Oil, General Motors and Firestone conspired to get rid of streetcar systems coast-to-coast. The tracks of the Key System connecting San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., were ripped out of the Bay Bridge in 1958. The last passenger service on the Pacific Electric ― which once had 700 miles of tracks serving the Los Angeles area ― was in 1961.

Socialist China built 23 new subway systems between 2009 and 2019. The People’s Republic has more high-speed rail than the rest of the world. 

The $165 billion proposed for transit and rail in the U.S. over eight years is a fraction of what China is spending. Just in 2018 China invested $117 billion in railroads alone. 

That doesn’t prevent right wingers from attacking the Biden-Harris plan as extravagant. They take particular ire at spending $400 billion over eight years for home- and community-based care for seniors and people with disabilities.  

This is probably the most progressive part of the American Jobs Program. It calls for higher wages and benefits for miserably-paid homecare workers. 

Opponents claim this isn’t “infrastructure.” Helping millions of people is just as important as pouring concrete.  

The WPA and the socialist example

There’s much better mass transit and many more passenger trains in capitalist Western Europe and Japan. Meanwhile, in the United States, spending on infrastructure as a percentage of the total economy has been cut in half since the 1960s.

Why is this so? The billionaire class in the United States doesn’t see any individual profit in such investment. Wall Street as well as the British banks instead depend on a reverse blood transfusion of profits stolen from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Private utilities refused to even update the electrical grid, which is absolutely necessary for capitalist production. The capitalist state ― via President Obama’s stimulus program ― had to spend billions on it. More billions are scheduled under the Biden-Harris plan.

Lenin ― the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution ― called this the “parasitism and decay of capitalism” in his 1916 pamphlet, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.” Monopolies are just like landlords in their unwillingness to spend money to upgrade their property.

Why should slumlords spend any money on fixing dangerous conditions or getting rid of rats as long as they can keep collecting high rents? New York City had to pass local laws 10/80 and 11/98 to force landlords to fix their facades after Grace Gold was killed by falling debris in 1979. 

People still use and enjoy hundreds of well-built bridges and attractive parks built under the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s. Millions of workers were employed by the WPA during the Great Depression.

The Roosevelt administration was forced to set up the WPA because of a working-class upsurge. The Communist Party organized unemployment councils and fought evictions. Millions of workers joined unions and built the Congress of Industrial Organizations ― the mighty CIO.  

Another big factor was the example of the socialist five-year economic plans in the Soviet Union. These plans abolished unemployment and allowed the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler.

It’s the Black Lives Matter movement with over 20 million people demanding justice for George Floyd and all other victims of police murders that’s driving any social change in the United States. So are the campaigns to bring union wages, benefits and protection to Amazon employees and millions of other workers.

The example of socialist China doubling its economy since 2008 during the biggest capitalist economic crisis since the 1930s also put infrastructure on the political agenda. President Biden pointed to China’s success as an argument for passing his administration’s plan.

We need a massive jobs program that will build what we need. Don’t mix that up with poisonous attacks on Asian people and the war drive against the People’s Republic of China.

China has what we need: a socialist revolution that will abolish police terror and poverty.