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Austerity or Debt: A False Choice

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

by Rick Staggenborg

By March 1, Congress will have had to face the budget cuts mandated by the failure of the Simpson-Bowles commission to come up with a plan of deficit reduction that would satisfy both Republican and Democratic leaders. The failure to come up with such a plan pulled the “trigger” of a gun that is being held to the heads of poor and middle-class Americans. They will see draconian cuts in social services if the Democrats hold true to form and compromise with a Republican Party that puts defense spending and tax breaks for the rich over the interests of the majority of Americans. Predictably, Democrats undermined their own ability to pass legislation protecting the interests of the People over those of their corporate patrons. Having vowed to protect the social safety net, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid caved in to conservative Democrats who opposed serious filibuster reform and traded away the power to control the outcome of the latest round of the fight over how to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Now we have a situation where the majority of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle accept the fallacy that the only way out of the debt they created is to impose austerity measures that target Medicare and Social Security. These are the primary protections against the depredations of a system that puts the interests of the rich over those of ordinary citizens. Their proposed solution to the problem of their own making is to protect the wealthy individuals who fund their campaigns and neglect the needs of the people who actually elected them. While this strategy has provoked riots and international strikes in Europe, many Americans accept this as a sensible solution. They fail to understand some basic facts.

The debt that the United States has accumulated since the Reagan years is the result of a system of corporate welfare that has left the American and world economy in a shambles. Both parties have promoted globalization, shifting jobs to third world nations. They have given tax breaks to corporations and “job creators” who ship these jobs overseas, deregulated banks that taxpayers had to bail out and privatized essential government functions to profited corporations by degrading services and making them more expensive, all to maximum profits for the investor class.

The real reason for the debt “crisis” is that the US government has deeply indebted taxpayers to private banks, promoting private profits over investment in the social and economic infrastructure that made America great in the first place. In Iceland, they threw out those in Parliament responsible for transferring private debt to taxpayers and prosecuted the banksters who took illegal advantage of their privileged position. Instead of passively assuming the debt their government tried to foist on them, they repudiated much of the debt that had been assumed in their name. We can do the same here, but only by first ending the ability of special interests to buy members of Congress of their choice by financing their elections.

A look at changing US demographics shows that unregulated capitalism will inevitably fail. Developed nations always see a drop in birthrate as women are empowered to have more control over their bodies and to participate in the economy. This means that over time, a smaller and younger work force has to generate the tax base necessary to fund essential government functions and to assure that a growing number of retirees have the security afforded by Social Security and Medicare. This is the reason that we are in a real crisis with Medicare. Baby Boomers are retiring in record numbers at the same time that a generation of young Americans are facing the most dismal job prospects in American history. It is unconscionable that older Americans expect their grandchildren to provide for their retirements while denying them the same opportunities that allowed them to prosper during their working lives and to be secure in retirement.

It will take an entirely new economic model to move the country forward and assure that our children can enjoy the American dream. We must elect leaders who will challenge the system of corporate welfare that is bankrupting the nation. We can then have an honest debate about how and why making Medicare universally available will dramatically cut the costs of healthcare, eliminate 60% of bankruptcies and assure that no one need choose between food and necessary health care. They can also fix Social Security easily by removing the cap on the FICA tax so that the rich pay their fair share.

We also have to realize that no economy can be built on the idea of endless growth. The resources of the planet are finite. If we expect human civilization to survive the coming global climate catastrophe we are beginning to see in Sandy, Katrina and a unprecedented number of other major storms, we must create an environmentally sustainable economy by promoting local production of food and goods, converting to sustainable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions through tax incentives. This will require that those who have profited in this collapsing economy pay their fair share. The remaining Bush tax cuts for the wealthy must be ended and corporate tax cuts need to be tied to job creation. We cannot afford to give highly profitable corporations like Exxon and General Electric billions in tax rebates while millions of middle class Americans lose their homes.

To make Congress accountable to We the People, we must make them pledge to support amending the constitution to ban corporate campaign expenditures, limit individual donations to influence elections and abolish corporate personhood. It is too late to make this a campaign issue in 2012 but not too early to begin making it an issue in 2014.

You can learn more about the Pledge to Amend campaign here. The campaign resonates with the aims of the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to get money out of politics that has been discussed extensively in Tikkun and pushed for by the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

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