Doubling Down on Destruction

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Austerity’s Cost: Abandoned Children in Europe (CNBC via yahoo.com)

I should have known better than to blog here about how I hadn’t been subjected to much right-wing advertising about the coming election given my position in a “swing state” and the obscene amounts of money likely to be spent on advertising this year. Earlier this week I got hit with the same video seven times in one day from one of those right-wing PACs advocating for debt reduction, recycling the same canards about how the 2009 stimulus “failed” (despite the sharp reduction in job losses that immediately followed) and using the same analogy to personal spending and budget-balancing that gets trotted out all too frequently.

There are two big flaws in the whole “I have to balance my chequebook, so why can’t the government?” argument. First, governments are not people. They are endowed with additional powers that we as citizens do not directly get, but which we do get influence over with our votes. Among those powers is the ability to print more money, although this is very problematic due to the strong links between printing money and inflation. Secondly, and more importantly, when we as citizens need more money than we currently possess, we are able to get loans and credit. It’s certainly not the kind of thing that should be done on a regular basis, but there are times when taking on debt to pay for immediate concerns is a lot better than the alternative, whether we’re talking about individuals or a whole country. It’s one of the principles behind Keynesian economics, something that needs to be taught to high schoolers (along with opposing theories, of course) because too few people these days have any real economic literacy apart from the pablum that political talking heads mindlessly echo.

In a time of crisis — and I don’t think anyone could call the economic collapse of 2008 anything less than a crisis — the government can, and I believe should, spend money to mitigate the effects of the crisis and try to help its citizens maintain at least basic standards of living. The reason why the government needs to do this directly is because it has the power not just to designate the money to spend, but how to spend it, including, most importantly, the creation of jobs, allowing its unemployed citizens to get back to work (and be less dependent on government aid for the poor and unemployed). The main problem with the 2009 stimulus, apart from the fact that a lot more money needed to be spent (another of President Obama’s famous “compromises” with Republicans) is that too much money went to private companies in the hopes that they would create jobs; they did to an extent, but at a time that called for mass government initiatives to counteract the costs of corporate malfeasance, like FDR’s first hundred days, Democrats put a Band-Aid on a gusher of a wound. The wound healed itself eventually, but not before we lost a lot of proverbial blood (in the form of job losses and increasing hardships for the working and middle classes).

What is most galling about the right-wing calls for returning to the same pro-business, anti-government, supply-side policies that got us into this mess, apart from the human cost of this kind of thinking (which I’ll get back to later), is how we’re seemingly supposed to have forgotten that they were responsible for causing so many of these problems in the first place. Republicans know they can’t bring up those memories, which is why George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are currently as far out of the public eye as possible. A good part of the money we’re paying now is interest on the money we spent to fight two wars, one of which we were lied into, and through which the same companies that finance Republicans profited handsomely. Even to look past the Bush 43 presidency, when Republicans retook the House of Representatives in 2010 and President Obama got Democrats to extend the Bush 43 tax cuts through the end of this year — the extension was passed by the then-Democratic House, before John Boehner was sworn in as Speaker — right-wingers assured us that this would be the thing that got the economy back on track, more tax cuts for the rich. Apart from a small uptick in the job creation numbers at the very start of 2011, though, there was no economic turnaround.

You only need to look as far as personal wealth numbers to see why this happened. Apart from the downward spike that all of us suffered in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse, the rich have been getting richer, even in these dire times for the multitudes of us who aren’t rich. Instead of using the windfalls from the extension of the Bush 43 tax cuts to create jobs and get people working again, they’re basically hoarding their wealth, in the hopes that by doing so they will depress and anger less advantaged Americans and get Mitt Romney elected through a combination of right-wing outrage and Democratic apathy. (Then they’d be able to create jobs without the important social protections Republicans would immediately weaken if not undo, like wage laws and safety regulations.) If this effort succeeds then it will be possibly the greatest contravening of democracy in American history — not spending money to solve problems is still buying an election — and with the Citizens United ruling now in effect, I don’t know if  this kind of campaigning and politicking would ever go away.

More than the audacity of conservatives to insist on going back to the same policies that got us into such trouble in the first place, though, the actual suffering of the non-rich, like the increase in abandoned children as a result of Europe’s austerity programmes, really gets to me. I don’t think we are in crisis mode right now in America, but we are still in very serious trouble. As much as right-wingers might like to talk about “balanced budgets” and “fiscal responsibility,” when they use those words they’re talking about cutting social spending. Hardly any of them will even give half a thought to reducing the deficit by increasing taxes on the wealthy or cutting spending in Republican-friendly industries like defence (although there are exceptions, most notably Ron Paul). It’s impossible not to see the suffering so many have had to go through in this part of the country, and it’s infuriating enough that it’s happened, but it’s flabbergasting to think that, after conservative policies have caused them so much harm, right-wingers are now asking them to bear the brunt of the cost of “deficit reduction” by slashing the services so many of them are now forced to rely on to maintain a decent standard — in some cases, any standard — of life.

Stories like the rise in abandoned babies in Europe just go to show the untruth behind the magical thinking behind so much far-right thinking. We’re expected to believe that cutting social spending to pay for tax cuts for the rich will bring the economy back to life, when the failures of Europe’s austerity measures show that isn’t the case at all. This is the same kind of thinking that leads so many on the far-right to believe that by making abortion illegal then there won’t be any more abortions, or that there will always be oil to drill, or the planet will adapt to industrial pollution and these years upon years of record warmth (and their disastrous consequences, like the droughts here in America this summer) are just a “historical blip.” For a group that waves the banner of “family values” ceaselessly, you’d think that the spike in baby abandonment in Europe would move to them to some kind of action, if only on the personal, private, charitable level, but of course when they say “family values” they mean imposing their family’s values on the rest of us, regardless of how much that makes us suffer. (As we learned this week, some of them even think it’s morally acceptable to kidnap the children of same-sex parents.)

Ultimately it may just be these European austerity measures that could give the far right exactly what it wants. Austerity in Spain has yet to lessen their problems (it may even be exacerbating them), and if their economy collapses it will have an almost immediate ripple effect on the rest of the world, especially because Ireland would likely go down immediately after Spain. America’s economy is already due for a hit before election day due to increased food prices caused by this year’s droughts, and if Europe’s economy crumbles away then ours will likely get hit so bad that the “Are you better off now than you were four years ago” question will become relevant again, and Mitt Romney will have more than a fighting chance of winning this election and taking both houses of Congress with him. I’d like to think that, even if this does happen, there will be a way to stop and reverse the sickening growth of corporate influence on our politics, but I honestly don’t see where that’s going to come from. That’s a difficult enough scenario to think about in the abstract, but when you live among, and with, the consequences of this kind of thinking, it’s nothing short of heartbreaking.

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