Economic Austerities: Who Pays the Tab?

Well, we’re pretty deep in the shit now, aren’t we, folks? Do we all remember the rumblings that started a few years ago and how we wrote them off and kept diligently ignoring the warning signs and insisting that everything was fine? Do we all remember the government representatives assuring us that everything would be right as rain in a few months? Has anyone else noticed that these announcements are being made with increasing degrees of cynicism and desperation these days?

As the government has flailed and seesawed wildly between different policy approaches, a new elephant has appeared on the horizon. Financial austerities are being touted as the solution to all our economic problems. It started in Europe, mixed with a fair amount of outrage over Greece, Spain, Portugal. And then it spread like an ugly rash to the United States. Politicians are valiantly trying to sell it, but they seem pretty confused about what austerities actually are and how they work.

And, perhaps most critically, who pays for them.

I personally do not believe that austerities are good economic policy. I think that they come with too high a price and, given that I am one of the people who is going to be paying that price until the end of my life, I think that I ought to have a bit of a say in whether or not these policies will be enacted. People in their 60s and 70s won’t be catching the brunt of austerities. They will start to taste the misery, and then they will die, leaving my generation to clean up the mess they made.

Because austerities are long term policy. This is how they are structured. And one of the only ways to pull out of the tailspin that austerities create is to go to war. Which is…not really the way that I would prefer to spark an economic recovery, especially given that we are already involved in several costly wars and they don’t seem to be doing much for the economy. Although they most certainly are lining some pockets, like those belonging to security contractors.

Here’s the thing about austerities. When you cut services, when you cut down on spending, the people who pay the price are those who can least afford it. If we do this, if we enact austerities, we will be yanking the already thin and holey rug out from underneath the feet of people with disabilities, people living in poverty, people of colour. People with no safety net. They are the ones who suffer when spending is slashed because spending is already too meagre, because they are already not getting the benefits they need. The solution here is not to cut more.

Austerities do more than harming our most vulnerable. They create a chilling effect that will be felt for decades, even after the spending is over. A number of studies have shown that people are profoundly impacted by the economic climate they grow up in. People who grow up in periods of austerity suffer for it. And, of course, cutting funding to things like education increases the numbers of people who are not getting adequate educations. It creates a perpetual class of poorly educated people who do not have the tools to find better jobs, to take advantage of upward economic trends. A permanent lower class is being cultivated before our very eyes in this land of the ‘American dream’ and apple pie.

To say nothing of the declines in the professional classes. Cut education, cut careers that require education, and watch people suffer as a result. Watch the ranks of medical professionals thin as people reach retirement age and there is no one available to replace them because public education was savagely cut for 10 years or more and people weren’t adequately prepared for medical careers, were told that such careers were not open to them, were encouraged to go out and find work ‘now’ even if that work will lead nowhere, will end in nothing other than ashes and broken dreams.

These are the consequences we must live with if we enact austerities. The enlargement of the lower classes. The destruction of the social safety net. Spending cuts that actually result in increased spending because they create emergencies and dire need that could have been avoided. We are being pennywise and pound foolish if we think that doing things like cutting social services will generate a savings.

Meanwhile, the upper classes will thrive, because they always do. There are always people ready to profit on poorly educated labourers with no safety net who need work and will do anything to get it. There are always people who will market products to the working poor with the specific goal of keeping them working and poor. There are always people who will be ready to create perpetual debt spirals that are impossible to escape, who will contribute to the development of a new slave class.

Is this what we want? Because this is how austerities will end, and I really don’t think that it is what we want. I say this even though I watched the government throw money away on countless bailouts to ensure that huge corporations were not forced to pay for their crimes. I say this even though the government did not force banks to accept write downs, to swallow their losses. I say this even though the government is protecting those who can most afford to pay while throwing those who can least afford it to the dogs, because it seems impossible, ludicrous, ridiculous that this is what we are coming to, that the government is seriously proposing this as a solution.

Is the government really so deeply in the control of the wealthiest classes that it is willing to sell us out?

I guess we’re about to find out.