Dead-end explosions

AMERICA has been rocked by the Oklahoma bombing to the extent that the event has overshadowed all other news from the United States. But of equal, if not greater, significance was the release of Federal Reserve information relating to the distribution of wealth in that country. Figures from 1989, the most recent available, show that the richest one percent of American households owns nearly 40% of all US wealth.

This figure has hardly changed since 1920, whereas in Britain - where disparities are great enough - the figure has come down from 60% to a present-day 18%. Roughly this means that the top one percent of American households own a minimum of $2.3 million (£1.4 million).

At the same time many millions of Americans live in desperate poverty. The child poverty rate is said to be four times higher than the average of Western European countries. Some of the more clear thinking members of the US establishment are concerned by such extremes. For example, according to Robert Greenstein of the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, “You have to worry about the competitive effects as well as the social fabric effects”. The malnourished children of today are hardly likely to meet the requirements of the USA for a modern, well-trained workforce tomorrow.

Most bourgeois pundits are oblivious to this. The Republicans are pressing ahead with their ‘Contract with America’, which will exacerbate the inequality even further through the wholesale slashing of welfare rights. Murray L Weidenbaum, professor of economics at Washington University, St Louis, believes that the Republican agenda would produce “a bigger economic pie for all to share”. Depriving those on the streets of all welfare rights does not seem a likely way to let the very poorest have their share.

Greenstein’s fears about “the social fabric”, indeed a social explosion, are of course well founded. Unfortunately however, such an explosion would have no organised working class base. There is virtually no trade union consciousness, let alone any independent working class vision for the future. So the increasingly alienated poor will resort to individual crime, provoking an even more extreme backlash from rightwing ‘middle America’.

Dead-end acts of individual terrorism such as the Oklahoma bombing, which appears to have been organised by the extreme right, may well occur more frequently, as middle class and petty-bourgeois sections express their own insecurity and frustrations.

Jim Blackstock