The Pretense of “Austerity”

The New York Times editorial staff congratulated the State of Illinois last week for “waking up” where it had previously “pretended that it had not fallen off a budgetary cliff.” The Times opined in response to Illinois’s income tax increase, a measure enacted as a reaction to the state’s $15 billion budget deficit in the hope of staving off a systemic breakdown.

When the Times submits that the tax hike “by itself is unlikely to send businesses packing” — that a “stable environment” is Big Business’ ranking concern — it’s broaching an important but latent side of this story. Though it is without question true, as the editors of the Times seem to acknowledge, that ingrained businesses will easily absorb their heavier tax burden, that fact doesn’t necessarily affirm the wisdom of the tax hike as passed.

Rather than a “necessary medicine” or a step in the right direction that will ultimately benefit Illinois’s working class, the tax won’t serve workers, who are already leaden with Corporate America’s operating costs. As anarchists of the free market left, we oppose all taxation as the elite’s polite term for self-serving theft, but when the state gets “serious about fixing the budget” it never calls for Big Business to pay its own way.

The effects of taxes like Illinois’s fall inordinately on labor and on small businesses — on productive members of society — engirdling markets for the towering actors that prevail in state-capitalism. So while Illinois raises its income tax and Jerry Brown lays it on thick about “painful” budgets, we can be quite sure that the country’s Boss Men won’t feel the pain.

Incredibly, just as working taxpayers are covering corporate expenses — and getting ripped off as a “thank you” — we get to hear from the state and its surrogates that the common man doesn’t pay enough. As Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s On Point, phrased the question, “Is this the end of the free ride?” But who, we have to wonder, is actually getting this free ride? The apocryphal account circulated by Ashbrook and the supposed “responsible centrists” extends from the state elite’s myth that the masses live off of the brilliance of a productive few.

The truth of state capitalism, though, is that it harnesses and exploits the labor and aptitude of the many to fatten a parasitic few. Working people lay the foundational infrastructure of state-capitalism, allowing its top-heavy imbalances to carry on in the face of countervailing economic realities. “The State,” explained Luigi Marco Bassani and Carlo Lottieri, “is declining … because of its internal contradictions.” And we’re witnessing the verification of Bassani and Lottieri’s thesis in Illinois and in state budgets around the country.

Contrary to the casuistic claim of Ashbrook’s guest, the Pew Center on the States’ Susan K. Urahn, the public is not “getting more government than it’s paying for”; indeed, it’s getting a whole lot less, with the state’s real services going to the plutocratic magnates who feast from its economic system. The state’s other, more noticeable services, things like police services and public education, are hardly worth what people pay for them, offloaded onto us at monopoly prices.

But the real cost to the public lies in the taxes we never see outright, the high and unnecessary costs we pay as a result of misspent resources and the lack of real competition. This is exactly the outcome that business wants and the state is happy to indulge it, delivering a service of immeasurable worth.

True austerity would mean requiring the giants of American capitalism to carry their costs, to pay for the services they receive. For politicians and mainstream commentators, however, such a “radical” prescription isn’t now and won’t ever be on the table. Anarchists want to “decommission” the state, to allow free people in voluntary associations to take its place and dispense with its “Society of Status” economy.

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