A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: austerity

Blind Ambition

by evanmcmurry

Larry Bartels found a fascinating American distinction: whereas support for government spending cuts in other affluent democracies is modest but steady across incomes, it’s class-dependent in America. Which is to say, rich people support cutting gummiment spending a whole lot more than poor people. Here, have a graph:


Bartels thinks this is due to a combo of the entanglement of class and race — government spending goes to “those people,” as a certain Nevada rancher informed us this past Wednesday — and the fact that the federal generosity that waters the upper class flows through back channels like wink-wink tax deductions rather than visible ones like food stamps.

But that’s a binary view that sees only rich and poor. Shrinking though it is, the middle class still exists. Kevin Drum fills in the gap:

The opinions of the rich are what drive public policy in America. Add in longstanding grievances against providing benefits to people with darker skins, and you’ve got a big chunk of the middle class on your side too.

Bingo. The rich drive public policy because the group caught between the rich and the poor ape the former to distinguish themselves from the latter. You might call this Yacht Politics. Or, to quote Rousseau via Corey Robin, “Citizens only allow themselves to be oppressed to the degree that they are carried away by blind ambition.” That’s the austerity vote in a nutshell.

Paul Ryan Hits It on the Head

by evanmcmurry

Apparently Paul Ryan now thinks sudden and harsh austerity measures are disruptive and traumatic to the economy. I’m sure he’s re-writing his past two budgets as we speak.

But here’s the key line that Ryan slips in. Listing previous examples of presidents negotiating over the debt ceiling, he includes:

Two years ago, Mr. Obama signed the Budget Control Act, which swapped spending cuts for a debt-ceiling hike.

Ha! So the “negotiating” Obama did during the debt ceiling debacle two years ago—at gunpoint—is now being used as a precedent to force him to “negotiate” now—at gunpoint. That’s exactly why Obama’s not negotiating now.

Greece Shows Austerity Doesn’t Work, Says People Who Forced Austerity On Greece

by evanmcmurry


The International Monetary Fund is to admit that it has made serious mistakes in the handling of the sovereign debt crisis in Greece, according to internal reports due to be published later on Wednesday. Documents presented to the Fund’s board last Friday will reveal that the Washington-based organisation underestimated the damage austerity would cause to the eurozone country, which has required two bailouts in the past three years.

As Pierce put it, we can stop warning that America is going to turn into Greece as even Greece couldn’t have become Greece without help from the austerity scolds.

For the record, this blog has saying this forever and a day.

Austerity slows GDP growth, employment recovery

by pdxblake

In the NY Times (ht Jared Bernstein).  Offered without comment.

Austerity Is Hurting The Recovery, Part the Zillionth

by evanmcmurry

New Brookings Institute* report proves what you already knew (especially if you read this blog): unemployment is abnormally high because austerity measures have prevented the public sector from expanding to its full potential:

Based on the government’s response in the five recessions between 1970 and 2007, the US should have 2.2 million more public sector jobs than have been produced by the response to the Great Recession.

From the report: “By cutting jobs during a period of already high unemployment, budget policies have contributed to the tepid pace of labor-market recovery and stand out as a departure from typical policy responses after recessions…  In the forty-six months following the end of the five other recent recessions, government employment increased by an average of 1.7 million. During the current recovery, however, government employment has decreased by more than 500,000.”

Obama gets the worst of both ends of this: a slower recovery, and the stigma of socialism from the very people calling for the austerity measures that result in the slower economy.

* Yes, Brookings is left-ish, but unlike certain think tanks it still can, you know, add and stuff.

Shut Up That’s Why, Austerity Edition

by evanmcmurry

The pro-austerity response to the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco continues to be SHUT UP. The more they do this, the more austerity looks like a religion indifferent to evidence rather than an ideology in search of some.

Here’s The Waste That Pentagon Cuts Would Have Eliminated If We Had Passed Them, Which We Didn’t

by evanmcmurry

Once upon a time, in a land very much like ours—America circa two months ago—an unprecedented thing happened: a majority of poll respondents came out in favor of cutting defense spending. As with all polling, there was a caveat, namely they only favored the cuts once they were informed how flippin’ much we were spending on defense. Via US News:

Respondents were given information about the size of the yearly defense budget in several ways. After digesting that data, in “three of the five cases a majority of respondents said that the size of the defense budget was more than they expected,” according to a study accompanying the poll results. “When asked for their conclusion, a large majority favored cutting defense.”

So that was May 16. On May 18, the tea partyized House of Representatives “voted to eliminate the sequestration part of the National Defense Authorization Act, bringing it in line with a previous House move on the Budget Control Act, all of which protects the defense budget from the threatened cuts.” Total number of days in the post World War II era in which Americans favored defense cuts: two. In fact, the final amount the House passed was actually a few billion dollars higher than Barack Obama’s proposed budget.

Yes, that was the same House that incited the debt ceiling debacle that created seuqestration in the first place, and that won’t accept a 10:1 spending-cuts-to-revenue-increase ratio. The sequestration would have cut just $55 billion from defense; for perspective’s sake, that’s only .02% of the Harry Reid’s proposal to cut $2.7 trillion from the deficit, which Republicans found laughably low. To justify keeping the defense spending, the House proposed $300 billion in cuts to domestic programs, including food stamps and women’s health care.

Yesterday, the Times informed us what we’re getting for our money:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to prove that the Pentagon could build a technologically advanced weapon system within an affordable budget, without huge delays. After the aircraft turned into the Pentagon’s biggest budget buster, and performed disappointingly, the Obama administration tried to correct course in 2010. A new report last month by the Government Accountability Office showed that the problems had not been solved.

The Air Force, the Navy and the Marines plan to buy more than 2,400 F-35s through 2037. The accountability office now estimates the total cost of acquisition at nearly $400 billion, up 42 percent from the estimate in 2007; the price per plane has doubled since project development began in 2001. Cost overruns now total $1 billion.

The agency reported other problems as well. It said that the plane would not be in full production until 2019, a delay of six years, and that the small number of planes produced so far were being delivered, on average, one year late. The F-35’s overall performance in 2011 was described as “mixed.” There also have been difficulties integrating 24 million lines of software code into the complex computer system.

Meanwhile, the F-22 Raptor, the world’s costliest and most advanced stealth fighter jet, is also mired in performance problems. Over the past 18 months, there have been repeated cases in which pilots have suffered dizziness and disorientation from lack of oxygen in the planes, which cost $400 million each.

Pentagon budget cuts—which aren’t actually cuts, but merely reductions in the annual increase of the budget—are not some progressive pipe dream of America laying down its arms and funding school lunches. The cuts’ biggest proponent is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who focused not on hacking away at America’s defense capacities, but on waste:

Gates announced today that, in the budget scrubs that got under way this past summer, the Air Force found $34 billion in waste and duplication that it was fine with cutting, the Army found $29 billion, and the Navy $35 billion—in all, $98 billion. (The various Department of Defense agencies not related to any service found an additional $54 billion to cut.)

Included in the waste Gates found? The F-22 Raptor.

There was a time when the tea party-ish elements of the Republican Party actually demonstrated some ideological consistency by including the defense budget along with social services in proposed budget cuts—though they often justified doing so by marrying defense cuts to an isolationist worldview—suggesting that no area, no matter how sacrosanct, was exempt from contributing to deficit reduction. Those days are gone. Now, conservatives openly endorse hundreds of billions of dollars in government waste while slashing social services in the name of austerity. What we all get for the trade: expensive, malfunctioning fighter jets.