fresh voices from the front lines of change







It was a dream come true for the austerity crowd when Great Britain’s conservative/”centrist” coalition government took power in 2010. And for commentators like Slate’s Anne Appelbaum it was that kind of dream. Her celebratory column reflected the orgiastic glee with which the new government’s austerity plans were greeted, reveling in admiring (yes, admiring) phrases like these:

“Vicious cuts.” “Savage cuts.” “Swingeing (sic) cuts.” “Axe-wielders.”

As we noted at the time, never before had a government budget been greeted with such lurid, sado-masochistically charged imagery. Appelbaum’s piece read like a cross between Free to Choose and The Story of O.

“Articles about the nation’s finances are filled with talk of blood, knives, and amputation,” Applebaum wrote about the UK press, adding with palpable envy: “And the British love it.”

No debts, please, we’re British.

L’Amour Fou

There were many such outpourings of austerity bloodlust when David Cameron’s government was elected (although Appelbaum’s was arguably the most snuff-filmish). Nor has time or experience blunted the knife-edge of their desire. Over and over, governments have pushed spending cuts on their hapless populations, and over and over those cuts have failed. Yet austerity politicians and the wealthy patrons who love them have kept their blades sharp.

From deregulation to tax cuts, from government layoffs to fewer cops on the beat, Republicans keep peddling policies that have already proven to be disastrous pain-inflicters. Meanwhile, Obama and his fellow Democrats are running a schizophrenic campaign that argues on the one hand for jobs and growth – which are the right goals, but which require money – while on the other hand boasting that they’ve decreased spending.

Expenditures for jobs and growth and spending cuts? That doesn’t compute.

Don’t Tell Anyone

The electorate’s hearing two arguments: One’s coherent but false, and extremely dangerous. The other’s 50 percent correct, 50 percent misguided – and 100 percent incomprehensible. And nobody’s telling them the simpler truth, which can be summarized in one sentence:

Austerity economics is a proven failure which benefits the wealthy and brings misery to everyone else.

Who’ll tell the voters, if Democrats won’t?

The austero-erotic fantasists never learn. When the “swingeing cuts” of the Cameron government’s austero-eroticism began to devastate the British economy, it simply doubled down on the axe-wielding. The results can be seen in the IMF’s latest report. As the BBC reports, “the IMF thought the UK would grow by 0.8% this year and by 2% in 2012, but the new forecast pencils in growth of just 0.2% this year and 1.4% in 2013.”

And, by its own admission, the IMF’s figures are optimistic.

Put Down That Wrench, You Big Lug

You’d think results like these would cool the ardor of the sado-austerians, but those sexy bitches at No. 10 Downing Street aren’t ready to put away their axes. They’re fearlessly targeting the undertaxed parasites ruining the British economy by turning the full force of their political might against … plumbers.

That’s right: British Treasury minister and Exchequer secretary David Gaulke added the force of public shame to recent law enforcement actions against British plumbers and their customers. Gaulke said that it’s “morally wrong” to pay a bloke in cash for flushing your pipes, unplugging your drain, or making sure your heater’s all warmed up and toasty.

(And those aren’t euphemisms, by the way; they’re the kind of thing plumbers do … Well, okay, they’re euphemisms too.)

Gaulke did a public victory lap this week after a plumber in Surrey went to jail for evading 50,000 pounds’ worth of income tax. We’re not defending tax evasion, of course. But it was widespread criminal fraud by bankers, not tax-dodging by Surrey pipe-wrenchers, which led to the 2008 financial crisis.

Very Naughty Boys

As a result of that crisis the British economy “is still more than 4% below the level of GDP recorded in 2007 and about 12% below the trajectory set before the financial crisis,” as the Guardian noted. So we thought it might be helpful to provide some comparative statistics on British (and American) law enforcement efforts following that financial crisis – and less than two weeks after the LIBOR scandal came to light in London:

Number of plumbers prosecuted in Great Britain for financial malfeasance: 1.
Number of bankers prosecuted in Great Britain for financial malfeasance: 0.

The LIBOR rate-fixing scam alone cost the world economy trillions of dollars. At current exchange rates, the plumber in Surrey (his name is Melvyn Careswell) tried to abscond with unpaid taxes worth $77,562 in US dollars. And, as the Guardian reports, “Another campaign focusing on home repairs will be launched later in the year.”

Home repairs. Of course. That ought to do it. Barclays Bank CEO Bob Diamond may have walked away scott free – but put down the tape measure, you overalls-wearing scofflaws! We’ve got you dead to rights.

Yes, Masters

None of this is very funny in real life, of course. And things are going to get even uglier when the austerity crowd gets into full swing (or is that “swinge”?) here in the United States. At least the Brits knew what they were voting for. If current plans pan out after the election, our austero-erotic strangulation will be strictly non-consensual.

No matter who gets elected in November, there’s a plan for December. Democrats and Republicans will meet in a secret trysting place right after the election to hammer out a “Grand Bargain” along the lines of the “Simpson Bowles” proposal. And what is the Simpson Bowles proposal? Austerity.

The President has praised Simpson Bowles, and even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said she would “vote for in a heartbeat.”

Who else would want a plan like that? As Zach Carter reports, “the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for corporate CEOs, has praised Simpson-Bowles. So has Peter Peterson, who served as Richard Nixon’s commerce secretary before founding Blackstone Group, a major private equity firm.”

A number of those CEOs run corporations which paid billions of dollars to settle charges of criminal misconduct, some of which took place while they were receiving billions in bailout money. Now they’re dictating economic policy to the rest of the country.That’s what real nerve looks like.

In your face, Mervyn Careswell!

The Aristocrats

The Simpson Bowles plan would add to the spending cuts in last year’s debt ceiling deal, swell the ranks of the unemployed, and further slow economic growth. It would also cut both Social Security and Medicare benefits, while actually reducing tax rates for the highest earners below today’s historically low levels.

No wonder the austerity crowd likes its knife and axe metaphors: The Simpson Bowles plan is worthy of Countess Erzsébet Báthory, the aristocratic mass murderer of the 16th Century. Contemporary legends claimed she bathed in the blood of virginal victims to retain her youth and beauty. In true Erzsébet fashion, Simpson Bowles would bleed most Americans dry to protect the aristocratic few, stripping the middle class of much-needed tax breaks while it’s still reeling from the financial crisis and the last round of spending cuts.

Not fair, say the Simpson Bowles hucksters: Our plan will make up for rich people’s lower tax rates by closing their loopholes.

Really? Politicians don’t know how to cut rich people’s loopholes, not with all those lobbyists hanging around. The ultra-rich will keep their tax dodges. And they’ll continue to maximize them by using accountants like Mitt Romney’s – I think the firm’s called “Báthory and Associates,” but I could be mistaken – to bend the rules.

And while the wealthy skate on their taxes, the rest of us will struggle to pay off their debts. Their plan would be a great deal for billionaires – but plumbers better watch their step.

Slow Bleed

Instead of backing an austerity plan worthy of the Countess, the President and his party should be making the case for short-term spending to end the economic crisis. Sometimes they do, in a half-hearted way. But just as often it seems we run across items like this Facebook page, where a group called the “Obama Truth Squad” attacks claims that the President is a big spender.

“Under Obama,” the Truth Squadders boast, “Federal spending growth was the slowest in decades.”

But unemployment’s the highest it’s been in decades. So is wage stagnation. So is income inequality. And now economists expect poverty to reach its highest level in this country in nearly half a century, with children among the groups hit the hardest.

This is no time to brag about spending cuts. It’s time to explain why we need more spending until the crisis is over. If Democrats don’t do that, they’ll have no story to tell. That means they could lose. And if Romney becomes President, Simpson Bowles will only be the beginning. American austerity will be one horror show after another, the entire Scream series made political reality.

Austerity’s a job killer and a recession bloater which could even trigger a full-scale depression. It doesn’t even meet its stated goal of reducing the deficit. The Cameron government has had to increase, not decrease, its borrowing. But deficit reduction’s just a cover story anyway. You’ve seen slasher movies, haven’t you? The villain always needs a cover story to get inside the house.

Sometimes he even does it by pretending to be … a plumber.

As the Audience Shouts, Don’t Do It!

They’re sharpening their knives for a December feast, and we’re not the guests. We’re the main course.

Listen. Was that a knock at the door? There are two guys on the porch, wearing overalls with “Simpson” and “Bowles” stitched over the breast pockets. Now the doorbell’s ringing. Don’t worry, says the soothing voice of a stranger in a police uniform. They’re here to help you. Your hand reaches for the doorknob.

But wait. Do I see something glittering in an overall pocket, something sharp? Ring!

It’s okay, says the police officer. You’re safe with me. Let them in. Your hand reaches for the doorknob again. And then you remember: They laid off all the police officers last month.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. And whatever you do, Don’t answer that door.

(revised slightly since first posted)

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