Across Europe, governments are falling like wheat before the scythe as politicians and voters revolt against “austerity” measures demanded by the EU, the World Bank, and the rest of the usual suspects. Unfortunately, new governments are popping up to replace them as fast as they go down.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders and his Partij voor de Vrijheid pulled out of the ruling coalition in April, precipitating new elections, rather than acquiesce to “austerity” demands from Brussels.
In France, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande became president-elect last weekend with the aid of the anti-immigrant “far right” over “austerity.”
Similarly, the “far right” and “far left” gained at the expense of the reluctantly pro-“austerity” “mainstream” parties.
“Austerity” won the day in recent elections in Spain, Portugal and Ireland, but uneasy lie the heads, as they say — the argument is far from over, and may eventually result in dissolution of the Eurozone.
Across the Atlantic, in the United States, the federal budget is a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign after a “super committee” failed to reach agreement on deficit reduction and “automatic cuts” came into play.
But what, pray tell, is “austerity?”
Wordnet defines it as “the trait of great self-denial (especially refraining from worldly pleasures.)”
Given that definition, the aspirations of governments around the globe don’t really seem to meet it. In most cases, the “cuts” under discussion are mere reductions in growth of government spending.
In the EU, for example, the goal seems to be to get governments to limit their borrowing and spending to single-digit percentages above and beyond their actual revenues.
In the United States, the debate over defense “cuts” is reflected most harshly in the Obama administration’s intent to grow the state’s “defense” budget by “only” 10% over the next five years versus Republicans’ insistence that anything less than 18% growth is draconian.
There seems to be a triple standard regarding “austerity.”
The states’ functionaries don’t plan to practice “austerity” by reducing the amount of money they collect in taxes from their working, productive subjects.
Nor does the political class — the “defense” industry, the “law enforcement industry,” every outfit with a lobbyist at its disposal and friends in government — plan to practice “austerity” by accepting smaller rake-offs from those taxes.
“Austerity,” it seems, is for the little people. You know, the ones busting their asses on factory floors and behind shop counters and in the farm fields, paying those taxes so that politicians can continue buying expensive toys from their friends at an ever-increasing (“but hey, we’ll slow the increases down a little!”) rate.
I took Spanish instead of French in high school, so I’m just guessing here that “austerity” is French for “the productive class takes it in the shorts … again.”
Unfortunately, recombobulations of governments and the ascent of “far right” and “far left” parties won’t change that basic reality. The problem is not a matter of which party controls the state — the problem IS the state.
Like any parasite, the state grows and feeds on its host’s blood until that host (in this case, the “body politic”) can no longer support it — at which point it must either die or find new hosts.
The state’s host of second resort has been those willing to loan it money on the promise that the body politic will eventually recover its vitality and pay back on behalf of the parasite. But there are two major problems with that.
The first is that so long as the parasite continues to feed on it, the host will never recover.
The second is that even if it did, why on Earth would it feel obligated to repay those who assisted its tormentor?
Sooner or later — and the sooner the better — the productive class must come to grips with reality. “New government” isn’t the cure for what ails us. “No state” is.
Citations to this article:
- Thomas L. Knapp, In Europe and America, “austerity” doesn’t mean what you think it means, Baltic Review, 05/11/12