FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Austerity Backlash

by JACK RANDOM

The countries that are doing very well in Europe are the Scandinavian countries. Denmark is different from Sweden, Sweden is different from Norway – but they all have strong social protection and they are all growing. The argument that the response to the current crisis has to be a lessening of social protection is really an argument by the 1% to say: “We have to grab a bigger share of the pie.”

— Joseph Stiglitz

There are few themes the American right likes better than accusing the centrists of the Democratic party of trying to enact European socialism.  Led by their corporate candidate for the White House, they point with apparent glee at the economic slide in Europe and proclaim the triumph of conservative economic theory.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Europe’s decline was in fact a direct consequence of its adopting American-style free enterprise economics.  The initial crisis (along with our own) was caused by drinking the kool-aid of Wall Street’s brave new theory:  that wealth could be created where none actually existed.

Under the leadership of Europe’s new Iron Lady, Angela Merkel of Germany, and France’s conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, the continent embraced the assumption that financial markets could govern themselves.  When the fraud was exposed in America and the markets imploded worldwide, Europe responded with rightwing ideological zeal.

Europe discarded the lessons of practical economics and marched lockstep down the road to austerity.  The result is a prolonged, profound, double-dip recession that threatens at once European unity and the sovereignty of its member nations.

Spain should have been an exception to the austerity mandate but its socialist government fell in line, yielding to the influence of Europe’s more powerful nations.  Socialist in name only, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero followed the examples of discredited former Prime Minister Tony Blair and former American President Bill Clinton.  Claiming the mythical “third way” he discarded his most fundamental principles by lowering taxes on the wealthy, cutting public spending by record amounts, cutting wages for public workers, and freezing pensions.

As any practical economist would attest, Zapatero and indeed most of Europe not only failed to act responsibly; they did the opposite of what was required.

Zapatero was swept from office at the end of 2011 and others will soon follow.  The democratic backlash against the austerity mandate has swept through the Netherlands, smashed through Greece and Italy and today (as I write these words) it rolled over Sarkozy’s France.

The people have served notice that they will not stand idly while their governments sell out to the interests of the elite.  They will not pay for what the financial institutions broke.  They will not suffer while the wealthy prosper.  They will not watch their pensions disappear, their wages cut, their unions broken, their services stripped bare while the international corporations that conspired in this crisis continue to prosper.

If this sounds familiar to American readers, it should.  Austerity is what the Republican right wants to bring to our nation in the name of freedom.

Socialist Francois Hollande of France has promised to challenge the austerity mandate, fundamentally changing the Euro Zone by strengthening the European Investment Bank, launching Euro bonds to finance the debt while funding infrastructure projects and public works.  He proposes a financial transaction fund (a tax on the wealthy) and fiscal reform to allow nations to carry larger deficits.  He seems to understand what economists have long understood:  that deficits must be allowed to stimulate a stalled economy in a prolonged recession.

We can only hope that Hollande holds true to his principles and, backed by popular support throughout the continent, he is able to hold sway over his more powerful rival for the reigns of the European Union.

The only nations that have largely been spared the ravages of the austerity regime are the Scandinavians of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, who managed to retain their social safety nets and social consciousness.

There is much we can learn from the lessons of Europe but we must first lose our irrational fear of words.  The economic principles of socialism are neither the enemy of democracy nor of the American people.  In its essence, socialism is less an economic system than an ideal.  Whenever the public good is considered in public policy, the principle behind that consideration is socialism.

There is not and never has been a purely socialist economy on a national scale.  Simply because a government exerts control over the economic sector does not mean its policies are for the public good.  The oligarchies of Russia and China (though both have incorporated significant elements of free enterprise capitalism) use their control largely for the benefit of the elite and ultimately to the detriment of the people at large.

I would argue that any nation that does not employ democracy as its system of government is inherently anti-socialist because it denies the will of the people as an expression of the public interest.  Moreover, any nation that denies the fundamental rights of labor is anti-socialist as the vast majority of people work.  By this standard the most socialist nations on earth are the Scandinavian nations that have survived the global economic downturn relatively unscathed without exploiting labor.

All social programs, including public pensions, public works, public health care, public education, job training and unemployment benefits, proceed from the socialist ideal.

To imagine an America without its socialist component is to imagine a nation without highways, without dams, without Medicare, without Social Security, without public hospitals or clinics, without public schools or universities, without unemployment benefits, without mass transit systems, on and on.  In short, a purely capitalist America would be a very different place and not one that many of us would enjoy.

There is of course no nation on earth that is purely capitalist.  Every nation strikes a balance between individual interest and public good, between the wants of the one and the needs of the many, between free enterprise and social responsibility.

Free enterprise provides an economic force that generates wealth but it also tends to encourage greed and corruption.  Governments must function to control that force, to mediate inevitable conflict between workers and employers, to counterbalance the powerful against the powerless, to counteract corruption and moderate greed.  Social programs by any name are essential to a functioning society.

The American electorate is too easily dazed and confused by words meant to evoke a guttural response.  Socialism is one of those words.  In the next election we will hear that word like a daily drumbeat.  The word we will rarely hear is austerity.  That is a shame because the party seeking the White House, controlling the House and obstructing the Senate is running on an austerity platform.

Listen to the people who have experienced austerity first hand and heed their warning.  Austerity is economic suicide and all but the wealthy will suffer.  Listen to the people of Europe and understand what is at stake.

Jack Random is the author of Jazzman Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press.)

Jack Random is the author of Jazzman Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press.)

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail