Friday, May 11, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #56 - Part 5

Economy: Austerity and responding to the Ryan budget, which isn't one

April brought the government’s second consecutive subpar monthly-jobs report, leading to new concerns among our economic soothsayers that the economy is still stumbling - a revelation greeted with a resounding "duh!" by the rest of the population.

Unemployment dropped 8.2% in March to 8.1% in April but two big reasons are the expiration of the emergency unemployment-insurance program in a growing number of states and the number of people who have just given up altogether on finding work. Some 342,000 workers left the labor force in April.

In the first quarter of 2012, the economy grew at annualized rate of just 2.2%. By comparison, the average over the entire period 1947-2011 was barely under 3.3%, more than a whole percentage point higher - or, to put it another way, half-again as fast as the first three months of 2012.

But what are talking about? About where we can cut, where can do less. Some are predicting that after the election, both parties will be ready to work out a deal to cut spending - including on Social Security and Medicare - and that the argument will over just where to cut and how much to cut, not if to cut. Austerity is to be the watchword.

One would hope that the anti-austerity backlash by voters in Greece and France which shook the Eurozone would give them some pause: It showed there is at long last a limit to how much people will put up with. Austerity measures in Europe have produced 11% unemployment across the Eurozone, a double-dip recession in Great Britain, and four years of recession and wage and pension cuts in Greece which have produced nothing there except still-rising unemployment. They have proven again what has long been clear to everyone except the geniuses in charge of the economy that you don't get out of recessions by taking money out of the hands of the people who will spend it. That you can't grow by doing less. And that putting all your emphasis on reducing deficits in the face of a stagnant or even shrinking economy may help the banks but it won't help the people.

Despite that, the idea that "cutting the deficit" is the most important economic issue facing us is getting another replay in Washington, DC.

This is insanity. The most recent, the most blatant insanity is from Rep. Paul Rantin', whose new if I can stretch the word far enough "budget" not only proposes massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, environmental programs, education, transportation, and more but makes them even deeper in order to spare the militarists of the Pentagon from any further cuts at all.

And I have something to say about that:

This is the budget that too many on the left have taken on and criticized as unworkable and doomed to failure. But that's a blunder because Paul Rantin' and the rest of his crew know it won't pass. And they don't care!

Don't you get it? They don't care. They really don't. This isn't a financial document, it's an ideological one. It's purpose isn't to pass anytime in the foreseeable future but to make it the basis for debate, to make it the standard to which comparisons will be made.

Sure you can take a critical look at the numbers, sure you can cite the analyses. But what you don't do is stop there. What you don't do is take it seriously. You don't approach it as if it was a serious proposal from serious people that was sufficiently reasonable to deserve careful rebuttal. Instead, you seek to put it outside the range of acceptable discussion.

Denounce it. Decry it. Demonize it. Call it names. They're easy enough to come by because they're true. Don't even just say it would "end Medicare," say it's wild-eyed fanaticism that would destroy the basic fabric of American society. Say it would decimate (probably without using that particular high-falutin'-sounding word) our economy, ruin our environment, dismember our society. Say it proves their utter disregard for the welfare of American families. Call it a program "of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich" that would plunge us back into the worst days of the Robber Barons. Call it part of a plot to undo more than a century of social and economic progress. Label it a fringe document created by and for a fringe element; a rejection of American principles of justice and fairness; call it beyond the pale, over the top, around the bend. Insist that it does not deserve the regard of decent people.

The attack should be unrelenting. One thing the right does at which the left too often fails is to be open about what it's after. Even if the ideas are unpopular, they will repeat them over and over and over, chipping away at the opposition, making what was unacceptably radical seem more reasonable if only because it has become more familiar, it seems less outrageous because it is no longer a surprise. It's a classic way of moving the Overton window: pushing ideas that are beyond the fringe to make current fringe ideas seem more acceptable. It is strategic thinking.

By contrast, the left seems incapable of such thinking, preferring to all but exclusively focus on the question of "What might pass this year?" and then call - more properly, ask - for that instead of for what the actual goal is. In the real world, in real politics, at the end of the day you will all but always end up with something less than you asked for - which means as long as instead of demanding what you want, you ask for the most you think might pass, you will inevitably end up with even less than that.

Which brings me back to the point: The reactionaries don't care if this so-called "budget" passes because it isn't one. It's a "cause." And that cause is the undoing of what I have come to call The Commons, the undoing of any notion of having common interests or mutual responsibilities between and among citizens, the undoing of the social contract between the public and the government. That is why this document must be attacked not as a "budget" with funny numbers but for what it is: part of an immoral cause born of selfishness, greed, and indifference to the injustice experienced by others. And it is also why it is a terrible mistake that actually plays right into the reactionaries' hands to treat it any other way.

If you're of a religious mind, in denouncing the "cause" you might refer to Rabbi Hillel's declaration that the "whole Torah" comes down to "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." Or, if Christian, you might refer people to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and call Rantin's "budget" the work of the priest or the Levite who crossed the road and passed by the injured man.

Oh, and "a plot to undo more than a century of social and economic progress?" Absolutely. The reactionaries have made no secret of it. This is a letter I wrote to my local newspaper some 16 years ago about a George Will column for January 2, 1995:
To George Will goes the honor of being called an honest man. Cutting through the nonsense of Newt and company, he opens the heart of his cohorts’ agenda: “‘Back to 1900,’” he says, “is a serviceable summation of the conservatives’ goal.”

“Back to 1900.” Back to a time before legal labor unions or effective anti-monopoly laws, a time of child labor and twelve hour work days. Back to a time before consumer or environmental protection laws, before regulations requiring safe working conditions, a time when being killed at work was a major cause of death. A time before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment or disability insurance.

“Back to 1900.” Back to when poor people were considered genetic defectives who deserved their condition. Back before civil or voting rights laws, when wives were chattel, blacks were either “good niggers” who got called “boy” or “uppity niggers” who risked being lynched, racism (against Irish, Italians, and others as well as blacks) was institutionalized, sexism the norm, and gays and lesbians, as far as “polite society” was concerned, didn’t exist.

Back, in short, to a time when the elite were in their mansions and the rest of us were expected to know our places, live lives of servitude without complaint, and then die without making a fuss. “Back to 1900" is indeed “a serviceable summation” of the right wing’s goal, which is to undo a century of progress toward economic and social justice in order to selfishly benefit their morally stunted lives.
That's what they're after. They said it themselves. We should say it, too.


No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');