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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence