We received another blow to sane voting patterns when Governor Walker inexplicably escaped his recall in Wisconsin, and I plan to write a long article about the current state of American politics but for now here's a brief summary based on anecdotal quotes from those who voted for Walker... Americans have really bought into the idea that government is "bad" and should stop spending our tax money, poorly. So when Republicans like Walker spout these ideas they find a whole boatload of passionate support. A man actually voted for Walker because his teacher sister-in-law "shouldn't get free health care. She should have to pay." Without getting into the state of mind of someone who wants a relative to suffer, the key to him is that our tax dollars are paying for teachers' health care and since all tax spending is evil, fuck his sister-in-law and all teachers. I may be paraphrasing his actual beliefs of course. But instead of trying to change the system so that we all get health care because it's cheaper for the country and better for our economy and better for our national health, this voter (and the 51% of Wisconsin -- a generally liberal state -- who voted for Walker) blames the teachers and firefighters and police officers and clerks at his state park where his kids go to play for getting something that he does not, even if their salaries are lower in comparison to private citizens and even if we all use the services that these government employees provide. And the kicker? This particular voter is a postal worker. Or was. Until his hours got cut back because of governmental policies that have hamstrung the US Postal Service. I believe he is currently unemployed. And collecting a government unemployment check. But he the government!!! Ugh. Anyway, I've diverted from my brief little post but the point is that such a significant percentage of the voting population have truly bought into the belief that government is evil that I'm not sure what we can do about it.
Part of the problem is that Democratic lawmakers haven't provided enough efficient, effective governmental programs -- particularly in states like NJ, at least based on my experience -- allowing the Republican mantra of less government take hold. Even the health care law that Obama and a Democratic majority passed -- which vast majorities of voters like all the provisions of -- contains so much seeming bureaucracy that it has been sold by conservatives as "government health care" (which it isn't, it's still going through the horrible private insurance industry) and that is, again, seen as evil by voters. I'd prefer if we did have government run health care systems because those systems are so much better across the world than our private system and Obama's getting blamed for having it anyway, but the point is, as I diverge again, that Democratic governance hasn't exactly been a model of effectiveness and efficiency. The larger problem is that Republican governance is so apocalyptically bad -- the Bush presidency literally collapsed the world economy, turned the surplus into a $10 TRILLION deficit (we had a surplus when he came into office, a SURPLUS!), not to mention 9/11 on his watch, 2 quagmire wars, tax cuts that went primarily to the rich and led to no economic improvement, anemic private sector employment (worst in 50 years), massive government and bureaucracy increases particularly in defense and homeland security (none of it paid for, hence the deficit), letting a major US city die during and after Katrina, and oh yeah, not capturing Bin Laden. On a side note, why exactly are we even entertaining the idea just 4 years later that Mitt Romney -- whose economic and foreign policy advisers are almost all Bush alumni and whose ideas are almost exactly the same as Bush, or in many ways worse -- is a credible solution to our mess? I mean, Karl Rove is pumping $100 Million into Romney's campaign -- already -- and this was Bush's most trusted aide. And this is a good idea? But I digress. Again. The point I'm making is that Democratic governance is not exactly a model of efficiency and that Republican governance -- largely, there are probably some statewide examples that are OK, although not in this decade -- is much, much worse, but the result is that all voters see is that the government fucked up the economy and their livelihoods and teachers still have jobs and health care so fuck it, if Governor Walker says he's cutting back everything to reduce spending then the teachers have to suffer. Fuck his sister-in-law's "free" health care. I guess. My own sister and brother-in-law and their three kids get health care through the government (my sister works in the school system), saving probably $15K a year in insurance premiums yet they vote for Republicans (based on what they say whenever politics comes up) who are trying to destroy public sector unions -- this is happening in every single Republican state, all since 2010, all coordinated -- the very same unions whose limited power got them that insurance. Myself? I work for a private company which pays some amount -- probably $5K a year -- that indirectly is being removed from my salary (the percentage I personally pay of that amount is low), along with state taxes that pay for my sister's salary and her health care. Well, actually that's not true since I don't live in her town and Governor Christie has all but eliminated state support of teachers, leaving local townships to fend for themselves to educate the future workers of America -- because Republicans love America! and children! yay rich people! (oh wait). But anyway, I vote Democratic. Not because I'm some sort of generous soul who loves to pay high property taxes so the teachers and policemen in my town get free health care. I don't have any kids in our schools and haven't ever called the police to protect me, so fuck it -- in a Ayn Randian Republican dream I shouldn't even pay property taxes! But no, I vote Democratic because the policies of a social structure that includes money for government employees like teachers and a social safety net for the aged and the infirm and the poor and unemployed are: (a) historically good for the country, (b) historically great for getting out of a recession, and (c) common sense to anyone who lives anywhere in this country who went to public schools or used public roads or plays sports in a public park or has a parent or grandparent on Social Security and Medicare or has been defended by brave soldiers fighting enemies around the world (real or imagined -- thanks again President Bush!). Republican ideas are not just that all that shit is not true, even though it is, but also that the rich should keep the majority of the money "saved" that comes from reducing or eliminating the social structures that fueled our country's growth after World War II. I could almost see people voting for Republicans if the savings from teachers getting laid off went into your pocket. But it doesn't. You saved $200 this year in property taxes when your local school funding got voted down (at least in NJ that's what happens). The CEO of Johnson & Johnson who made $50M in stock options last year while living two towns over from you saved $2 million when Christie cut taxes on him to reduce education support from the state to your township, which resulted in the $200 shortfall in funding for your schools that your township tried to pass on to you. So your kids and neighbor's kids suffer from having more students in their classroom and less resources for your school so that this multi-millionaire is $2M richer. Wise choice, Republican voter. Oh and that $2M that the J&J CEO has? He ain't hiring more workers at his company. Because the 100 teachers that got fired in your town + every town in NJ reduced the overall income of the state way more than $2M so not enough people have money to buy Band-aids, and J&J isn't actually expanding payroll despite making record profits, they are cutting it if anything. Why? Supply and demand. No demand? No increased supply. No increased supply? No one gets hired. I don't know the specifics of J&J's hiring in recent years, I just picked a random big company based in NJ but the point is SUPPLY SIDE ECONOMICS (cutting taxes) DOESN'T WORK WHEN THERE'S EXCESS SUPPLY!!!! If you can't figure that out, read a fucking book before you vote. It's not that hard. Turn off Fox News and read a book not written by Glenn Beck. Here's one by a Nobel Prize winner in economics. Here's one by a Republican -- Reagan's economic advisor. Who created supply side policies. Hint: he's for spending plans today. Because WE HAVE EXCESS SUPPLY AND NO DEMAND. It's not that hard to figure it out.
Well I digressed a whole lot when I planned to write a brief post that talked about austerity and I think that has gone way off the rails now. But I do get upset. Because Republicans have convinced so many voters that government is evil (mostly by making government ineffective, aided by Democrats) that these voters vote against their own economic interests -- voting for Republicans who cut the very programs that these voters -- ALL middle class voters -- use in their every day lives, in order not to balance the budget but to give more tax money back to rich donors. That's so idiotic. And it absolutely is killing our economy. Anyway, here's what the post was supposed to be. A quick refresher on the history of austerity measures -- austerity being the act of cutting back spending in the face of a recession, which has happened all across Europe to zero success in the past couple years and is the prevailing wisdom of Republican governors running their state economies into the ground and Republican congressmen who reduced the stimulus to half its recommend size (and loaded it up with useless tax cuts, which don't stimulate at all) and then have resisted every single attempt by Obama in the past two years to do something -- anything, even something as simple, basic, and historically powerful as infrastructure spending -- to help the economy get back on track. And of course, Mitt Romney vows to cut spending even more, even though public sector employment has dropped by 600,000+ workers under Obama, putting a massive drag on the economy despite a huge surge in private sector employment since Obama's first year in office.
It is increasingly accepted that these policies are not working in the current environment. But less widespread is the recognition that there is also plenty of historical evidence showing that they have never worked. The same happened during the 1982 developing world debt crisis, the 1994 Mexican crisis, the 1997 Asian crisis, the Brazilian and the Russian crises in 1998, and the Argentinian crisis of 2002. All the crisis-stricken countries were forced (usually by the IMF) to cut spending and run budget surpluses, only to see their economies sink deeper into recession. Going back a bit further, the Great Depression also showed that cutting budget deficits too far and too quickly in the middle of a recession only makes things worse.
As for the need to cut social spending to revive growth, there is no historical evidence to support it either. From 1945 to 1990, per capita income in Europe grew considerably faster than in the US, despite its countries having welfare states on average a third larger than that of the US. Even after 1990, when European growth slowed down, countries like Sweden and Finland, with much larger welfare spending, grew faster than the US.
As for the belief that making life easier for the rich through tax cuts and deregulation is good for investment and growth, we need to remind ourselves that this was tried in many countries after 1980, with very poor results. Compared to the previous three decades of higher taxes and stronger regulation, investment (as a proportion of GDP) and economic growth fell in those countries. Also, the world economy in the 19th century grew much more slowly than in the high-tax, high-regulation era of 1945-80, despite the fact that taxes were much lower (most countries didn't even have income tax) and regulation thinner on the ground.
The argument on hiring and firing is also not grounded in historical evidence. Unemployment rates in the major capitalist economies were between 0% (some years in Switzerland) and 4% from 1945-80, despite increasing labour market regulation. There were more jobless people during the 19th century, when there was effectively no regulation on hiring and firing.
So, if the whole history of capitalism, and not just the experiences of the last few years, shows that the supposed remedies for today's economic crisis are not going to work, what are our political and economic leaders doing? Perhaps they are insane – if we follow Albert Einstein's definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". But the more likely explanation is that, by pushing these policies against all evidence, our leaders are really telling us that they want to preserve – or even intensify, in areas like welfare policy – the economic system that has served them so well in the past three decades.
For the rest of us, the time has come to choose whether we go along with that agenda or make these leaders change course.
Do we want a society where 50% of young people are kept out of work in order to bring the deficit down from 9% of GDP to 3% in three years? A society in which the rich have to be made richer to work harder (at their supposed jobs of investing and creating wealth) while the poor have to be made poorer in order to work harder? Where a tiny minority (often called the 1% but more like the 0.1% or even 0.01%) control a disproportionate, and increasing, share of everything – not just income and wealth but also political power and influence (through control of the media, thinktanks, and even academia)?
Maybe we do, but these choices need to be made consciously, rather than by default. The time has come to choose the kind of society we want to live in.