Economy  
comments_image Comments

Hysteria Over the Deficit Has Ground the Recovery to a Halt

The government is heading in exactly the wrong direction: raising taxes on the middle class, and cutting spending.

Continued from previous page

 
 
Share
 
 
 

Government spending has declined in nine of the last ten quarters, but it took a precipitous drop in the last quarter. This was mainly because military spending fell 22.2 percent. That’s the largest fall-off since 1972 (mainly due to reduced spending on the war in Afghanistan, and worries by military contractors about further pending cuts). State and local spending also continued to fall.

Personally, I’m glad we’re spending less on the military. It’s the most bloated part of the government. Major cuts are long overdue. But the military is America’s only major jobs program. Cutting the military without increasing spending on roads, bridges, schools, and everything else we need to do simply means fewer jobs.

What’s ahead? More of the same. So what possible reason do we have to suspect the recovery will pick up speed? None.

Don’t count on consumer spending. Wages and benefits continue to drop for most people, adjusted for inflation. States are hiking sales taxes, which will hit the middle class and the poor hardest. Deficit hawks in Washington are contemplating additional tax hikes on the middle class.

Housing prices are stabilizing, thankfully. But one out of five homeowners is still underwater, and the ranks of people renting rather than owning are rising. Health-care costs are also rising for most people in the form of higher co-payments, deductibles, and premiums.

Don’t count on government, either. Government spending continues to head downward. The White House has already agreed to major spending cuts, some to go into effect this year. Coming showdowns over the next fiscal cliff, appropriations to fund government operations, and the debt ceiling will likely result in more cuts.

More jobs and faster growth should be the most important objectives now. With them, everything else will be easier to achieve – protection against climate change, immigration reform, long-term budget reform. Without them, everything will be harder.

Yet we’re moving in the opposite direction — following Europe’s sorry example of failed austerity economics.

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
 
See more stories tagged with: