Before ‘W’ got in and made changes in taxes and military spending we were paying off the debt. Bush said the deficits that resulted from his changes were “extremely positive news.” (Yes, that is in quotes, click the link.) Before that Reagan also caused deficits on purpose. He called it “starve the beast” — as if democracy is a “beast” that needs to be killed. So don’t fall for all this deficit hysteria, let’s just fix what caused the deficits and move on.
What happened to jobs? The pubic wants government to do something about jobs and getting the economy moving, and in DC the only thing is this weird argument about … anything but jobs and getting the economy moving! “Fiscal cliff?” What about jobs? Fixing the economy will fix the debt, not the other way around.
Economic Storm Clouds
The economy is slowing, with signs of trouble on the horizon. Recent economic indicators are not so good. Trade deficits are huge, a bad manufacturing number this week, Europe still stagnant and slipping (because of austerity), China slowing. NY Times says, “Recent economic data “surprisingly weak,” and “recovery sputtering.” From Republicans Balk at Short-Term Stimulus in Obama Plan,
“As the debate rages in Washington, data has shown the recovery once again sputtering, with the underlying rate of growth too slow to bring down the unemployment rate by much and some of the economic momentum gained in the fall dissipating in the winter.”
It’s Demand Stupid
This slowing is not happening because people are “worried about the fiscal cliff.” It is because there are not enough jobs, and the wages of the people who do have jobs are stagnant with all the gains in the economy going to a very few at the very top of the economic ladder. Europe is slowing because they attacked deficits instead of hiring people to do jobs. We are slowing because the government stopped stimulus and started cutting.
The slowdown is because the jobs are not coming back fast enough, wages are stagnant and falling, and the government is not doing anything about it. And that means that there is not enough “demand” in the economy to cause investment and hiring.
Businesses want customers, not tax cuts — and certainly not cutbacks. In fact most of what DC is focused on — austerity — will make the situation worse, possibly even much worse, as it has done in Europe.
Small Stimulus In President’s Proposal
To his credit the President’s “fiscal cliff” proposal does contain a limited stimulus to help keep the economy moving, at least at its current slow pace. But we really need a massive investment in jobs. The President’s offer of $50 billion in stimulus for one year is insufficient, but at least it is something. The Republicans offer less than nothing, they want government efforts cut.
Jobs Fix Problems: The DC elite, major media and lobbying apparatus is focused like a laser beam on how much to cut, so the wealthy can have even more. But the public isn’t stupid, they get that there is a disconnect because they know that jobs fix problems, jobs fix deficits and lots of jobs fixes wage stagnation. Strong employment = wage growth. Strong wages = strong economic growth.
The People Spoke — The Election Was Supposed To Have Decided This
The election made it obvious, the public wants jobs, wants government services like Medicare and Social Security protected and even expanded, and more than anything wants taxes raised on the ultra-wealthy.
The election made the public’s wishes clear. But Washington continues to simply ignore what the public wants, and is focused like a laser beam on what a few billionaires want.
It was like there was an intense focus on the election, the public spoke, and then the very next day all attention shifted back away from what the public wanted and onto this austerity agenda that helps the billionaires at the expense of the rest of us.
A Government Of, By and For We, the People
I recently watched the PBS series The Dust Bowl. One thing that stood out was how the government actually cared about what was going on with the people, was trying to solve the problems, and how the people got it that the government was on their side.
Today it is a very different story, with the government isolated and largely under the control of wealthy and powerful interests. The current “fiscal cliff” absorption being only the most recent example.
The public doesn’t get what is going on in DC. They want JOBS first, they want the meager government services they do get preserved and even expanded. And they want a fix to the problem of the last few decades of wage stagnation, corporate domination, outsourcing manufacturing, deferring infrastructure maintenance, unionbusting, age discrimination, and cancelling TV shows everyone likes. (Just seeing if you are still reading.)
Economy Has Lots Of Jobs That Need Doing
Jobs solve problems. Right now the country has lots of problems, so the country needs lots of jobs, which solve problems. And by great coincidence right now the country needs lots of things done. The country needs to repair and modernize its infrastructure. The country needs to update its electrical grid. The country needs to make its buildings and homes more energy efficient. All of these are things that improve the economy in the long run. And the remarkable thing is that all of these are things that will have to get done sooner or later.
So the country could just hire people to do those jobs that need doing — like FDR did. How hard is it to understand that?
1) Hire people to modernize the infrastructure and make buildings and homes energy efficient.
2) All those people are participating in the economy again: paying taxes, buying things, not getting food stamps and unemployment.
3) The economy is much more efficient because of the work that got done on the infrastructure and energy efficiency.
4) The newly efficient economy is more than able to pay off the cost of all the work that was done — that had to be done eventually.
Republicans Obstructing Everything
The current Republican view is that government itself hurts the economy, is “in the way,” and that taxes and government spending “take money out of the economy.” So they continue to block all efforts to revive the economy through jobs programs, investment in infrastructure, even helping the unemployed.
They say that providing unemployment benefits keeps people from being forced to take the lowest-paying, nastiest, most demeaning job that comes along. But progressives believe in democracy and say that’s the point of helping each other — that we are a country where we are in this together to build mutual prosperity — unemployment benefits prevent a death spiral of continually falling demand.
Republicans talk about “pro-growth” policies, always meaning tax cuts for the rich. They say that only rich people “create jobs” so giving more and more money to these “job creators” will eventually trickle down to the rest of us. But all actual evidence shows that this policy does nothing to promote growth, only inequality. In fact the times of highest taxes on the wealthy have been the times of more jobs and more economic growth shared by more of us.
Business Gets It
I recently came across this Comstock Partners, Market Commentary: The Deficit Did Not Cause The Recession; The Recession Caused The Deficit,
Both Wall Street and Washington have lost sight of the major cause of the deep recession and exceedingly slow economic recovery. To hear all the talk, the major concern is about the impending fiscal cliff and the federal budget deficit. Fix the fiscal cliff and make major reductions in the deficit, they say, and all will be ok. We think they’ve got it wrong.
Go read why…
The term “fiscal cliff” is a one-sided propaganda phrase that misinforms and triggers public fear and anxiety. The fiscal cliff is not a “cliff” and the country isn’t going to fall off anything at the end of the year. Journalists: don’t help the misinformers — don’t say or write “fiscal cliff.” Congress: when people are scared and misinformed our Congress should pause, step back and help inform us instead of rushing to take advantage of the fear.
What The Fiscal Cliff Is
At the end of the year the Bush tax cuts expire and several budget cuts start to phase in (including military spending cuts.) This reduces the deficit, and some of those cuts will slow the economy if nothing is done to restore them in the next several months. That is the “fiscal cliff” that you are hearing so much about. Except it isn’t a cliff, it kicks in gradually, Congress has a lot of time to work it out and can fix anything that is a problem.
That’s right, if nothing is done in the next several months — there is no “cliff” at the end of the year — some of those cuts will slow the economy. All the screaming and hysteria are about putting pressure on the “lame duck” Congress to do something in a big hurry, outside of the accountability of democracy and before the President and progressives have more leverage.
What The Fiscal Cliff Is NOT
Most people I talked to over Thanksgiving apparently think the “fiscal cliff” is the government runs out of money on December 31 because the deficit is so big and all kinds of terrible things happen on January 1. This is sort of the opposite of what is going on. Even the few who didn’t think it was about the country running out of money were misinformed in one way or another, with most thinking something terrible happens January 1.
The “fiscal cliff” is about taxes going up and budget cuts, which reduce the deficit. And absolutely nothing in anyone’s life will change on January 1, or for some time (weeks, months) after.
That’s right, all the people who were hysterically screaming about the deficit are hysterically screaming now because of deficit cuts. Go figure. But the reason is that they have an agenda.
Journalists Should Not Help Misinform And Scare People
The very term “fiscal cliff” misinforms and scares people. Some media outlets, like FOX News, exist to misinform and scare people. But responsible media outlets should try to help the public understand complicated issues, not help scare and misinform.
Any journalist using the propaganda phrase “fiscal cliff” is taking the side of misinforming and scaring.
Settle Down, Beavis
Everyone should settle down. There is no “cliff.” No one is going to fall off of anything. And after the first of the year the President and progressives have much more leverage in this fight than they do now — hence all the pressure to act before then.
When people are this misinformed and scared the Congress owes it to the public to stop, take a break, work to inform the public and not act in a panic. Journalists, especially, owe it to the public to inform, not misinform and scare.
Update – I wrote this and went to bed. I wake up, and there is a perfect example in the Monday NY Times titled, Debt Reckoning, The Fiscal Deadline In Washington. The write-up in the morning NYTimes email is “The New York Times is beginning a new online feature that will chronicle the talks on the fiscal cliff between President Obama and Congressional leaders.”
The clear message of this headline and summary is that the country is in crisis because of debt. The public cannot help but get the impression that the country goes broke in a few weeks. As I explained above (and as Paul Krugman explains today’s in Fighting Fiscal Phantoms) this is really the opposite of what is happening.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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You might be hearing about the “Fiscal Cliff.” And you might be hearing about a “Grand Bargain.” You certainly have heard about “Simpson Bowles.” You will be hearing more and more about these strangely-named things because the usual suspects are cranking up the usual propaganda machine again, getting the usual DC elite ready to play out another of the usual take-from-the-people-to-give-to-the-rich games right after the election. This time it’s a push for austerity.
I always start any discussion of deficits and debt by reminding people that the country had a big budget surplus before Bush cut taxes for the rich, and doubled the military budget.
Deficit history: Reagan dramatically cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations. He doubled the military budget. Huge deficit resulted and the country began accumulating massive debt. They called it “strategic deficits,” a plan to “starve the beast” by bankrupting the country and forcing cuts to government, to the things government does for We, the People, and the ways government protects us from exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.
After 12 years of Reaganomics people were fed up, and elected Clinton. Clinton raised taxes on the rich. Those increases combined with the stock market bubble created a surplus and we were paying off the debt, and then something changed. ‘W’ Bush again cut taxes for the wealthy and again doubled the military budget and now the deficits are enormous. So here we are.
But fixing what caused the deficits is not on the table. It never is, because that doesn’t fit the plan.
They say the country faces a “Fiscal Cliff” at the end of the year. After the election the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. And – this is a bit complicated – something called “sequestration” also kicks in. This is a series of budget cuts that happen because of the “debt ceiling” deal, when Republicans held the debt ceiling hostage and threatened to put the country into default, demanding that we immediately take trillions out of the economy. The sequestration deal was a compromise that was intended to force the Congress to agree to a bipartisan solution, which failed.
The sequestration includes military cuts, which our billionaire-backed DC elite believe would ruin the economy when combined with expiration of the Bush tax cuts — because in their minds tax cuts do not cause deficits and unlike other government spending military spending creates jobs. So to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff” after the election Congress is supposed to meet to keep the military budget intact, keep taxes on the rich from rising and cut the things our government does for We, the People.
Why After The Election?
That pesky democracy thing keeps on getting in the way of Wall Street’s plans for our economy. But after the election comes what’s called a “lame duck” session of the Congress. The legislators who have been chosen by the people aren’t in office yet, the ones who have been defeated are still there and the ones who were re-elected know that anything they do will be long forgotten by the next election. Democracy and the will of the people will not be a factor. Every poll says the public wants immediate action on jobs and no cuts in the things government does for We, the People.
If Obama is re-elected the post-election debate will be between the Obama deficit plan, a “Grand Bargain” based on the “Simpson-Bowles” plan vs the Ryan plan — the budget the House Republicans passed that privatizes Medicare and reduces spending on most things government does for our people. If Romney is elected all bets are off.
Simpson-Bowles is a budget plan put together by a Republican Senator and a Director of the Wall Street bank Morgan Stanley. After the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (“Deficit Commission”) failed to make recommendations, the two came up with a plan that cuts Social Security, cuts a number of other things government does for our people, cuts a bit from military and cuts tax rates on the rich and corporations, calling it “reform.” (The plan also eliminates the home mortgage interest deduction, for example.)
Important point: At least Simpson-Bowles is not a “cuts cause growth” plan. It is sold as a deficit plan, even though it cuts taxes at the top and for big corporations. It clearly asks that any cuts not take place until the economy has improved because cuts slow growth.
The “Grand Bargain” is the idea that Democrats and Republicans can reach a compromise involving Republicans “allowing” tax “reform” that eliminates some tax deductions like the home mortgage interest deduction and reducing tax rates on the wealthy and corporations, in “exchange” for cuts in things government does for us, including Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. (These cuts do not eliminate the need, they just shift the cost away from the government onto the larger economy.) (If this sounds like a “bargain” that entirely benefits the wealthy and large corporations, that’s just how Washington works these days.) (“Reform” always means cutting out things government does for We, the People and reducing taxes on the wealthy.)
Austerity is the word used to describe attempts to lower budget deficits by cutting government spending on the things that government does for its citizens.
The theory is that cutting way back on government will cause the economy to grow because government is “in the way” and helping citizens “takes money out of the economy.” Also, when government provides fewer safety-net services unemployed people are forced to take any work they can get, which drives wages down and increases corporate profits. Government cutbacks also mean they can’t enforce regulations, which unleashes businesses to pollute, commit fraud, cut safety procedures and other things government polices that restrict corporate profits.
But austerity literally “takes money out of the economy.” Public-employee wages and pensions are cut. Government services and safety net programs are cut. Public assets are sold off for immediate cash (reducing the government’s income in later years). So the demand side of the economy is reduced as people are not able to spend.
The Results Of Austerity
In practice the theory that removing government makes the economy grow has not worked out. Several European countries have been severely cutting budgets, and the result has been that the economies in the “austerity” countries have suffered. These economies appear to have fallen into a downward cycle where the “reforms” reduce demand, growth stalls, this reduces tax revenue, which means the deficit-cutting is not effective. (And meanwhile the economies are ruined and people are in misery.)
The austerity cycle happening in Europe works something like this:
Bankers demand “austerity” which drives up unemployment, cuts demand and slows economic growth. The reduction in economic growth causes tax revenue to shrink and increases use of whatever “safety net” programs remain, thereby increasing budget shortfalls.
So bankers demand more “austerity” which drives up unemployment, cuts demand and slows economic growth. The reduction in economic growth causes tax revenue to shrink and increases use of whatever “safety net” programs remain, thereby increasing budget shortfalls. .
So bankers demand more “austerity” which drives up unemployment, cuts demand and slows economic growth. The reduction in economic growth causes tax revenue to shrink and increases use of whatever “safety net” programs remain, thereby increasing budget shortfalls.
So bankers demand more “austerity” … well you might be starting to get the picture.
Recession Resulting From Austerity
These are the GDP growth rates in European “austerity” countries:
Spain expects -1.7% from 0.4% 2011
Greece -10% to 11%
Chart from Think Progress, CHART: HOW AUSTERITY IS SQUASHING EUROPE’S ECONOMIC GROWTH.
Unemployment Resulting From Austerity
These are the official unemployment rates in European “austerity” countries:
Austerity NOT Lowering Debt
Here is a chart of the debt-to-GDP ration as these countries shrink their GDP – and tax revenue – through austerity (click for larger):
Decline Resulting From Austerity
Europe is approaching a crisis as the region’s debt crisis and austerity measures increase the rates of depression, suicide and psychological problems – just as governments cut healthcare spending by up to 50 percent, according to campaigners, policy makers and health organizations.
Portugal’s health service is being forced into sweeping cuts as last May’s EU/IMF bailout terms begin to bite
Catholic Online: European economic crisis takes emotional toll
Suicides Resulting From Austerity
Digital Post, July: Austerity takes its toll with suicides increasing in Greece
Tampa Bay Times, August: Suicide rates rise in Europe amid job losses and severe cutbacks
Digital Post, August: Italian dies after setting himself alight in austerity protest
Reuters, August: Study links British recession to 1000 suicides,
A painful economic recession, rising unemployment and biting austerity measures may have already driven more than 1,000 people in Britain to commit suicide, according to a scientific study published on Wednesday.
CNN, September: Death and taxes in Italy
Watch the following news reports if you can stomach it:
What You Can Do
So the experiment in austerity that is playing out in Europe is coming to the US after the election – when democracy can’t intervene.
But the way to reduce deficits is to grow the economy. When people have jobs they pay taxes and use fewer social services. Jobs programs that come out of fixing our infrastructure and making us less dependent on oil also make our economy more competitive in the future so they pay for themselves.
Contact your member of Congress and let them know that you do not think this is the time to cut the budget. Let them know that you want to see jobs programs, infrastructure maintenance and improvements, increase the safety net so people are not forced to take any work, cut the age when people can get Medicare and Social Security and increase the benefits so people can retire and open up jobs and renegotiate trade deals that are sucking us dry.
Tell them jobs fix deficits — you want to grow us out of deficits, not pretend that cuts will work. Cuts make deficits worse.