Life After COVID, As the U.S. Competes with China

By Eve Ottenberg, published on CounterPunch, April 16, 2021

Who can doubt that if Trump had won reelection, the numbers of people vaccinated against covid would be in the thousands, instead of Biden’s nearly 100 million? Who can doubt that the daily death rate would stand above 3000, as MAGA morons went about their business maskless and as it was when Trump left office – instead of the less than 1000 a day under Biden? The difference on this one matter between Trump and Biden is stark. It’s the contrast between Trump’s utter feckless ineptitude and Biden’s undeniable competence. Biden said we can vaccinate the nation, and he’s well on the way to doing so. No way this would be the case under Trump.

That said, there are all the things that won’t change: murderous sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Iran and basically any country that won’t approach the U.S. on its knees; over 800 imperial U.S. military bases in 70 countries; continued, very dangerous attempts to destabilize the nuclear-armed governments of China and Russia; the new, idiotic space force; an obscenely large military budget that starves the rest of the very needy nation; international trade deals, stupendously lucrative for rich corporations and horrible for workers; global bullying of any allies that do business with our so-called adversaries, for instance Germany and its Nord Stream 2 deal with Russia; fossil fuel corporations’ impunity as they cook the planet; violent interference in Latin American affairs whenever a left government gains power; support for Colombia’s reactionary leader and a blind eye to its death squads, because that government is the chief U.S. servant on the South American continent – and on and on.

Then there are the things that could change, mostly in the imperial core. Because Biden is concerned about life in the imperial core, and his massive $2-trillion-dollar covid rescue plan addresses some of the many inequities there. Biden’s rescue bill won’t end poverty in the U.S., won’t even come close. It is not a comprehensive, sustained offensive of the sort China mounted and with which it lifted over 800 million people out of poverty. In fact, no country on earth can compete with China on this score, no country has improved the lives this much of this many people this quickly.

Biden gives small sums to parents for each child, but that program is not permanent. If he can make it permanent, if he slashes student debt by at least $50,000 per person, he will thus locate the U.S. commitment to aiding its citizens closer to the ball-park, though not in it, of the neoliberal governments of Europe. But to repeat, none of them can compete, in this sphere, with the hybrid Chinese system, which deploys some communism and aspects of capitalism to guarantee freedom from want to well over one billion people. But then, the U.S. does not consider freedom from want one of the precious freedoms for which it claims exceptionality. On the contrary, U.S. capitalism endorses freedom to starve and freedom to sleep under overpasses – that is, unless the neighbors find this unsightly and call the cops.

Biden’s Rescue Plan also tries to lure red-state holdouts to expand Medicaid – a move that seems to be working – and provides housing vouchers for people teetering on the abyss of homelessness. There are eight million of those, as Ken Silverstein recently noted in Washington Babylon, citing impending social murder as those millions unfurl into a tsunami of destitution. There is, currently, no arrangement for permanently preventing that.

Biden’s plan also increases the earned income tax credit. According to Vox on March 10, these measures will combine powerfully: “By one estimate, overall poverty will fall by a third, and child poverty by over a half.” Unfortunately, most of these changes are temporary – so what happens when the stimulus bill ends? We get a bounce in poverty by a third? If anything could put the disgraced and tattered GOP back in power, this is it. The Dems better move heaven and earth to fix these anti-poverty provisions in lasting legislation.

The most notable feature of Biden’s plan, the child allowance, which is a huge deal for broke single mothers, adds up to $3600 per year for children five and younger and $3000 for children ages six to 17. Vox reports that it “includes in its scope poor families that don’t qualify” for the full, current $2000 per year. Nobody pretends that an extra $3600 per year will, presto, make a family middle class. But it helps keep food on the table and the table under a roof. In a country with over half a million, dispossessed vagabonds, that is significant. In a country with eight million more waiting in the wings for their turn to join tent cities, it’s a step in the right direction. In a country where the middle class regularly visits food banks, yes, that’s a help.

But no, the U.S. isn’t even remotely as committed as China to eradicating poverty, though it’s nice to know we have a president for whom the issue is on the radar. Similarly, in the comparison between the two countries, Biden’s call for U.S. corporations to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a loser. One reason is that China’s motives don’t match the U.S.’s, although American elites routinely project their imperial and colonial aims onto those they view as competitors, as Yasha Levine recently reported, basically arguing that the U.S. “ruling elite just might be stupid and sociopathic enough to go to war with China.” But that belligerence is a response to a mirage. Paraphrasing China expert from the Nixon administration and retired career diplomat Chas Freeman, Levine observes:

“When Americans look at China, they don’t see China as it actually exists – what they see is America and America’s own imperial ambitions and history, reflected back at them.”

Freeman explains:

“I think the rudimentary driver of the United States’ confrontation with China is psychology, not strategy…we’re afraid of not being number one…It means that we object to things like China’s anti-access and area denial weapon system (A2/AD), otherwise known as defense…But there’s not much evidence of China wanting to replace us…The initial impulse of the Belt and Road initiative was that China had a surplus capacity in steel, cement, aluminum and construction capability – and it extended these resources abroad…And the Chinese assumption…is that as the largest and most dynamic society in that area, they will be the preeminent force in it. But this is an economic strategy, it’s not a military one.”

Biden’s call to out-compete China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a loser for another reason: U.S. companies aren’t interested in investing in the Global South and leaving the infrastructure they create behind, in the hands of local governments. U.S. companies are interested in profit. Go in, make a killing and get out. Extract everything worth money like crazy. China’s approach is significantly less arrogant, destructive and selfish, because China has generally socialist principles and deploys capitalist structures in the service of those principles. Indeed, the Belt and Road Initiative is a startling lesson in anti-colonialism. U.S. corporate media sees nothing but shameless self-promotion in China’s assistance to poor countries. But, right or wrong, others see the benefits of socialism. Some might even call it generosity.

Featured Image: Source ~Derek Simeone – CC BY 2.0

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Birdbrain. She can be reached at her website.

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