Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
 
There is a certain irony in the fact that the party of debt has now become a flock of austerity hawks. This is the same Republican Party that gave us two wars, an increase in military spending and whopping loss of tax revenues due to tax breaks for mega-rich corporations and the wealthy Americans. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman raises the question of what happened to the federal government budget surplus of 2000 and insists that the answer is, "three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs."(1) All told, President George W. Bush added $4 trillion to the national debt - and there was no debate about raising the debt ceiling at that time, which was raised seven times.(2) What is often missed in these discussions is that deficits have always been the objectives of hard right-wing Republicans and some equally conservative democrats who see them as an excuse for cutting social benefits and generating massive amounts of inequality that benefit the rich.(3) Michael Tomasky further legitimizes this claim with the charge that "the Republican Party cares nothing about the public debt. In fact, it wants more ... It is the party of debt. It is the party of deficits. It is the party of recession. It is the party of unemployment. It is the party of inequality. And it is the party of middle-class stagnation and slippage.... They scream about crisis because what they desire is to use the crisis as an excuse to do things to this country that the hard right has wanted to do for 30 years."(4)What Tomasky leaves out is that the current crop of right-wing Republicans controlling the shots in Washington and various states appear to revel in "a deep urge to inflict pain."(5) How else to explain that during recent debt negotiations between leaders of both parties, the Republican leadership walked out as soon as the Democrats suggested the need to talk about not only cutting programs that benefit the poor, but also limiting tax breaks for corporate jets, hedge-fund managers, the obscenely wealthy and corporations.

According to the children of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan, "neoliberal economics," individual interests and market driven needs trumped social needs; brilliant individuals were more qualified to run government and largely blossomed within institutions committed to making money; freedom was largely defined as freedom from regulation; and any government that passed policies to provide social protections, regulate corporations, or lessen inequality were either grossly authoritarian or unwise. In this scenario, especially under the administration of Ronald Reagan, government was declared the enemy and the market was turned into a form of casino capitalism as a series of policies were inaugurated in which there was a sustained assault on the working and middle classes through "the busting of unions, the export of millions of decent-paying jobs and the transfer of enormous wealth to the already rich. The tax rates for the wealthiest were slashed about in half. Greed was incentivized."(6) Accordingly, the ideologues of casino capitalism believed that as the rich and corporations paid less taxes and inequality was left unchecked, society as a whole would benefit, wealth would trickle down. Of course, what has actually happened in the last decade with the unchecked, Wild West, Bush-type casino capitalism is that wages for workers have stagnated; the top 1 percent of the population has gotten fabulously wealthy; health care has deteriorated for the vast majority of the population; schools have been turned into test centers; the nation's infrastructure has been allowed to rot; and, more recently, millions of people have lost their jobs, homes, and hope. Moreover, two-thirds of US corporations paid no taxes. For example, Bank of America has not paid any taxes for the last two years.(7) At the same time, increases in inequality in the United States dwarf the rest of the world, while increases in executive pay undercuts any claim we might have on democracy.

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