Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Will The GOP Abandon Austerity If England Has A Quadruple-Dip Recession? Or Will It Take A Full On Depression?


The U.K. Conservative Party Austerity agenda-- basically an English version of Paul Ryan's budget-- has just further wrecked Britain's fragile economy as we all watch it slip into a tragic triple-dip recession. By fighting back against the Republican tide and ignoring Ryan's Ayn Rand-inspired foolishness, Obama has managed to steer the American economy back towards modest growth. Ryan, Boehner and Cantor are still screaming for Austerity and still fighting Obama every step of the way, even as they see the European countries that have adopted their outlook sink beneath the waves one after the other. Cutting government spending, as England, Italy and Spain have all done, is a recipe for disaster and it's the only note the GOP has been singing for the past 4 years. Unemployment is still way too high and wages have continued to decline and yet American conservatives-- like their U.K. counterparts-- are still completely focused on how much more pain to impose on workers and normal American families. Beltway politicians-- most of whom are incredibly wealthy-- have already imposed several trillion dollars in cutbacks against ordinary families they pretend to be serving. And they-- the entire GOP and more than a few corporately-funded conservative Democrats-- are demanding more. As the Institute for America's Future pointed out this week, "leaders of both parties suggest that more deficit reduction is needed and that it would help the economy. Not surprisingly, polls suggest that most Americans believe that cutting spending will help the economy, not harm the recovery. The reality is that spending is not out of control, the deficit is already plummeting, and we should be focused on fixing the economy to make it work for working people, not on Austerity driven by wrong-headed deficit hysteria."
You can’t fix the economy by “fixing the debt.” Cutting spending now will only slow the recovery, put more people out of work-- and as we have seen in Europe, end up adding to our debt burdens.

In fact, fixing the economy is the necessary first step in getting our books back in order. Our deficits are largely due to the recession, with the costs of unemployment and the lost revenue from the loss of jobs. In these conditions, the best deficit reduction program is to put people back to work.

Even the slow growth we’ve witnessed has begun to reduce our deficits as jobs have been created. Despite all the hysteria, deficits are down by 25% compared to the economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office. They are falling faster than anytime since the demobilization at the end of World War II. And our debt level is basically stabilized for the next decade. More austerity-- whether balanced between taxes and spending as the president calls for or focused just on spending cuts as Republicans suggest-- will only serve to slow growth, cost jobs, and impede the recovery needed to get our books back in shape.

Worse, the austerity debate is now focused on whacking at the basic pillars of family security-- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The cuts under discussion-- slowing the inflation adjustment for Social Security, raising the eligibility age for Medicare or the retirement age for Social Security-- would harm the most vulnerable in our society.

Fixing our economy requires a very different agenda than mindless cuts. We need to invest in areas vital to our future, and stop squandering resources on things we don’t need and can’t afford. End the wars abroad, bring our troops home, and invest the savings in rebuilding America-- putting people to work while modernizing our decrepit infrastructure, from roads and rail to broadband and the electric grid.

End the subsidies and tax breaks to big oil companies and invest the resources in research and development to capture a lead in clean energy and the green industrial revolution sweeping the country.

Crack down on global tax havens, tax Wall Street speculation, tax investors at the same rate as workers, and use that income to provide every child with the opportunity to learn, from universal preschool to affordable college.

Lift the minimum wage, empower workers to gain a fair share of the profits they help to generate and curb perverse CEO compensation schemes that give them million-dollar incentives to ship jobs abroad.

And fix the sole source of our projected long-term debt problems-- our broken health care system. Don’t cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Instead, take on the insurance and drug company lobbies that have made our health care cost nearly twice what the rest of the industrial world pays.
The video up top features Paul Krugman on Morning Joe yesterday morning, slaying the Dragons of Austerity from both parties-- Ryan on video and Ed Rendell from the corporately funded Fix the Debt vultures, in the studio. The video's worth watching and Krugman's column from yesterday, Makers, Takers, Fakers, no doubt inspired by Ryan and coconspirators, as well as by Rendell-type Democrats, is worth reading.
Republicans have a problem. For years they could shout down any attempt to point out the extent to which their policies favored the elite over the poor and the middle class; all they had to do was yell “Class warfare!” and Democrats scurried away. In the 2012 election, however, that didn’t work: the picture of the G.O.P. as the party of sneering plutocrats stuck, even as Democrats became more openly populist than they have been in decades.

As a result, prominent Republicans have begun acknowledging that their party needs to improve its image. But here’s the thing: Their proposals for a makeover all involve changing the sales pitch rather than the product. When it comes to substance, the G.O.P. is more committed than ever to policies that take from most Americans and give to a wealthy handful.
Although he was talking about immigration policy, Arizona's new Republican Senator Jeff Flake, hit the nail right on the head the other day: "On some issues, it's not just the way we talk about it, it's our position. On immigration reform, it's been our position that was wrong. Not just the tone of the debate." In fact, though Flake would never agree, on every issue facing the nation-- particularly economic issues-- the Republican position is what has been wrong, not just their admittedly vile tone. Krugman uses Bobby Jindal as the example, as we did a few days ago, with his wrong-headed plea to fellow GOP leaders that they have to stop being the stupid party.
But Mr. Jindal didn’t offer any suggestions about how Republicans might demonstrate that they aren’t just about letting the rich keep their toys, other than claiming even more loudly that their policies are good for everyone.

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.

Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P.-- but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.

Why is this happening? In particular, why is it happening now, just after an election in which the G.O.P. paid a price for its anti-populist stand?

Well, I don’t have a full answer, but I think it’s important to understand the extent to which leading Republicans live in an intellectual bubble. They get their news from Fox and other captive media, they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks, and they’re often blissfully unaware both of contrary evidence and of how their positions sound to outsiders.

So when Mr. Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks, he wasn’t, in his own mind, saying anything outrageous or even controversial. He was just repeating a view that has become increasingly dominant inside the right-wing bubble, namely that a large and ever-growing proportion of Americans won’t take responsibility for their own lives and are mooching off the hard-working wealthy. Rising unemployment claims demonstrate laziness, not lack of jobs; rising disability claims represent malingering, not the real health problems of an aging work force.

And given that worldview, Republicans see it as entirely appropriate to cut taxes on the rich while making everyone else pay more.

Now, national politicians learned last year that this kind of talk plays badly with the public, so they’re trying to obscure their positions. Paul Ryan, for example, has lately made a transparently dishonest attempt to claim that when he spoke about “takers” living off the efforts of the “makers”-- at one point he assigned 60 percent of Americans to the taker category-- he wasn’t talking about people receiving Social Security and Medicare. (He was.)

But in deep red states like Louisiana or Kansas, Republicans are much freer to act on their beliefs-- which means moving strongly to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.

Which brings me back to Mr. Jindal, who declared in his speech that “we are a populist party.” No, you aren’t. You’re a party that holds a large proportion of Americans in contempt. And the public may have figured that out.

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