Simon English: US moguls who think benefits are indulgent

Outlook Surveying the latest wreckage from the Chancellor, it is easy to think that Britain is the meanest of the countries in the free West.

There's annoying interference in pensions here, ongoing pain for beer drinkers there, some well-meaning but totally futile stuff about getting folk back to work around the corner.

None of these measures does anything to genuinely impact the deficit, which can only be cut by economic growth. In the meantime, well, lots of people's lives can be made worse to no particular purpose.

The good news, though you can't really call it that, is that there is at least one other First World country that is even more mean-spirited than ours.

American business folk and politicians have been banging on for decades about the need to "reform" – that's means axe – social security benefits, based on the entirely false claim that this highly popular government programme is going bust (it isn't).

There's a new drive now called the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a coalition of bankers, private equity kings and other millionaires that want to slash the safety net many Americans rely on to survive.

They are using the arrival of the so-called "fiscal cliff", another scare story dreamt up by the far right, as the tool to do what they have always wanted to do: ditch benefits for everyone and everything other than gigantic corporations and the plutocrats that run them.

In their minds, tax write-offs: vital for progress. Food for the poor: an indulgence we can no longer afford.

Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, is one member of the Fix the Debt Campaign. So is Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein, who recently opined: "You're going to have to do something, undoubtedly, to lower people's expectations of what they're going to get, the entitlements, and what people think they're going to get, because you're not going to get it."

That Blankfein and others were bailed out, directly or indirectly, by US taxpayers including recipients of social security might at least give him pause for thought about slashing a benefit that is just about the most successful and most popular government programme in history (our NHS runs it close).

What's interesting about these folk, I think, is that they seem to genuinely imagine that funded benefits – the social security trust fund is in surplus for decades – are a problem in a way that bank bailouts are not. It's hard to see how they get there in their heads, but get there they do.

Mr Blankfein isn't being disingenuous when he talks as if US social security payments were an impending disaster. He really believes it. Whether this is better than outright scheming for personal gain is hard to say.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'