We’re all in this together. We must share the sacrifice. The austerity narratives of deficit reduction are everywhere. Yet the facts show that this is a false story deployed cynically to achieve the pre-existing goals of the neoliberal decimation of the welfare state and the reduction of taxes for the super-rich.
The push has come, as it always does, primarily from the Right. John Nichols at The Nation points out that, “Republicans never cared about deficit reduction when George Bush was president. And, for the most part, they don’t care now — as evidenced by broad GOP support for House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan’s plan to keep the budget out of balance until 2040 while clearing the way to begin streaming federal Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid dollars into the coffers of Wall Street speculators and insurance-industry profiteers.”
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham hysterically implored a press conference in April, “don’t raise taxes unless you want to completely destroy America. It’s much better to give up benefits on the end side than pay taxes now.” Ironic that Republicans idealize the social mores of the 1950s but not the 92% tax rate on the top tax bracket when Eisenhower was in office, or the 30% of the nation’s tax revenue that corporate tax for most of the 50s (it is now well under 10%). Creating a strong nation through equitable income distribution and workers’ rights is rather less fun to contemplate than the dreamy memories of the sitcom nuclear family, I guess.
The cross-Atlantic anti-cut movements UKUncut and USUncut have in another way exposed the lie of austerity narratives by targeting profitable tax-dodging companies. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently released a list of the nation’s worst corporate tax avoiders, billion dollar corporations all. At the same time, tax rates of the nation’s wealthiest individuals have been sliding for decades, with capital gains – the key source of income for many billionaires at only 15%.
Republicans are fond of claiming that these cuts stimulate the most dynamic sectors of the economy. But as Truthdig’s Robert Scheer points out,
Those tax breaks over the past decade [that have left] some corporations such as General Electric to pay no taxes at all were supposed to lead to job creation, but just the opposite has occurred. As the WSJ put it, the multinational companies “cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.”
At the same time, deficit-reduction plans are targeting health-care programs for seniors and low-income earners, Planned Parenthood, and other necessary programs – a mere drop in the budget ocean that have everything to do with the disposability of social welfare of most of the country.
But none of the solutions provided by deficit hawks (and they include many “moderate” Democrats as well as Republicans) really address the real crisis facing the country – the unemployment rate. New York Democrat Congressman Jerry Nadler recently cogently argued that:
“We should be talking about how to create more jobs even if the cost [is] a bigger deficit. The deficit is a long-term problem, but we could have more spending for a year or two to get the economy up. If we had a 5 percent unemployment rate, that would by itself eliminate two-thirds of the deficit.”
The perpetual crises of capitalism have long been glossed with naturalistic imagery, with the long looming 2008 supposedly a “perfect storm” of conditions, and so too the budget crises of State and Federal governments this year. But budget deficits are an artificial creation of the low taxes afforded to wealthy corporations and individuals, a systemic movement encompassing the last 30 years of American history that has paradoxically accelerated post crash. Sometimes, as in Wisconsin this year, the language of crisis has been disingenuously invoked by the very people that created it mere weeks before.
But it is time for the many to stand against the fake crises of shock doctrine capitalism being deployed cynically to decimate public programs as at the same time, taxes for the rich continue to be slashed even more–thus reproducing the same cycle. Right wing ideologists hold out the very policies–less taxation, fewer social services, union busting, deregulation–that created the crash and have whittled the middle-class to a pale shadow of itself whilst slashing vital services to the most needy. But they will only produce more of the same.
The loudest voices in the discussion of austerity have been those representing the interests of the wealthiest citizens. Political scientists Benjamin Page and Jeffrey Winters have estimated that the top 10 percent of income earners hold about 90 percent of materially based political power. Even with the overwhelming public support for raising taxes on the rich, the sheer question is politically unthinkable.
We are told that government should be run like a business, but when even business cannot run itself successfully without massive Federal intervention, why should public services? Social welfare for the rich in a “crisis” is apparently fine, but the notion of a common good, of a shared social sphere run to help improve the lives of citizens, has evaporated. Instead, the evidence is clear and damning that the exorbitant lifestyles of the rich are being created off the backs of the poor and middle class.
We’re not all in this together, but we should be.