Austerity in the land of plenty

The most searched word on miriam-webster.com for the year 2010 - austerity. You do not have to look very far to see that folks are resigned to a future not as bright as the past. It's the new normal - shrinking expectations, stagnating income, long-term unemployment, a smaller government, more work in our later years, a growing permanent underclass, and a select few that are super wealthy paying a smaller percent of taxes than most workers. All this can be ignored because enough of us are doing well even in these conditions. We are a nation of plenty. The national debt soars, while state and local governments are forced to cut budgets in ways that reinforce the expectation. The consequences of the national debt are not as immediate. The increasing percentage of the federal budget that goes to pay down the debt will prompt calls for even more austerity on a national scale. Our future as a people joined together is at stake. Do not forget we are a nation of plenty.

I want everybody to know that I am willing to have a future of less as long as it is not more of the same. I reject a future of less because we continue the policies of the past. The time we find ourselves in is not the result of bad luck or an accident. Decisions lead to predictable consequences. We have been persuaded, maneuvered and browbeat into our current state. Experts, smarter than I, tried to warn us while the sly were doing their work. Will austerity solve the problems we face? I believe there is an argument it will lead to more of the same. Despite the calls for austerity can you remember that we are a nation of plenty?

Millions of manufacturing jobs that paid a living wage are gone, auctioned off to the lowest bidder in areas of the globe that do not have labor or environmental protections. The new economy offers replacement jobs with lower pay and fewer benefits. Tax revenue shrinks. This downward mobility places stress on unemployment benefits, social service organizations and health care providers. Fewer of us can afford what most consider the necessities. Still there are enough of us that have well paid jobs. In today's environment it is easy to resent our tax dollars going to the less fortunate. Thank goodness we are a nation of plenty.

Years before the calls for austerity, our federal government was running in the black. Remember the mantra, "We know the surplus is the people's money." The progressive tax structure of the upwardly mobile past was history. Taxes were cut, workers received a little while the wealthy stashed away a lot more. The tax cuts never produced the promised jobs. We now have a wide income inequality gap. The top 1-2% of taxpayers has tremendous wealth, unseen since the 1920’s. Are we a nation of plenty that can afford tax cuts for the rich and maintain the growing underclass? Here's an idea, keep cutting taxes until the next logical step is that the government send us all a check.

Exported jobs, tax cuts, then two wars on borrowed money and you wonder why there are calls for austerity? This nation of plenty has plenty of credit. We are able to have war without sacrifice except for the brave military members and their families. Do you think we would still be in Afghanistan and Iraq if taxes went up the day we entered these wars? Borrowing encourages the majority to be oblivious to the consequences. This nation of plenty is devoted to borrowing and spending more on defense than all other nations combined. Yes, it is time to make hard decisions regarding our shared priorities. Continued nefarious wars will definitely lead to calls for more austerity. Eventually we will run out of credit and credibility. Once our involvement in these wars end, where will the returning military members find a job? Veterans have a higher unemployment rate compared to the remainder of the population. They deserve better.

There are other decisions that have resulted in this "Great Recession" we find ourselves in. There are numerous examples that point toward the origin of these troubled times. I feel it is unfruitful to outline anymore of them. I am concerned that we are depending on many of the same leaders that got us into this mess to bring us out, hence my concern for "more of the same". We continue to be a nation of plenty. Just because we find ourselves in this hole does not mean we must stay here. We must stop the race to the bottom. One quarter of the globes economic activity is generated by our nation. Yes, we are a nation of plenty. Were you one of the folks that looked up austerity last year?

Austerity is the next step on the path that has brought us to where we are today. Education, infrastructure, police and fire budgets, libraries, state retirement benefits, and even selling off roads and state liquor stores are targets for the next step. Short-term gains lead to long-term losses. Cuts in vital government services and jobs will place an even greater strain on the social fabric that holds us together. A future of less does not have to be more of the same. Let’s build an economy that does not depend on bubbles that burst. I am calling for a future that depends on slow and steady growth, is sustainable and that gives most of us a chance at upward mobility.

The first move to make is to increase the wages of the many who work at the bottom of the pay scale. We have been repeating different variations of trickle down since 1980 and it has not worked. It is past due that we help those that earn the least. Increasing the wages of low income earners will increase costs, but I am willing to pay more and have less if I know that workers are receiving a living wage. Increasing wages at the bottom will stimulate the economy more than the trickle down efforts of the past. Continuing the depression of wages of these workers will result in greater pressure on government provided services during this time of budget deficits. Lifting wages will result in more taxpayers with fewer depending on taxpayer support. Increasing wages could be accomplished one of two ways. A graduated minimum/living wage could be used or as I prefer, have employees take responsibility for their fate by removing the high barriers that currently prevent workers from organizing. Yes, I am calling for labor unions! I am a nurse and I know that having 80% of us immunized for a disease protects us all. The decreased number of labor unions has the opposite effect, downward pressure on wages and benefits. We have lost the protective effect of having 30% of the labor force organized. I live and work in North Carolina, a right to work state. I am going out on a limb to say this; we need more workers organized in this country.

Can you get the genie back in the bottle or unscramble an egg? Then I want you in charge of returning manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Thousands of factories shuttered and millions of jobs gone. Is it too late to reconsider? How will more of the same ever get us close to full employment? Must the U.S. continue to unravel to the price-point of our less developed competition? High unemployment places downward pressure on wages and benefits. I believe we should use our economic power to bring dignity to workers here and abroad. We spend nearly a trillion dollars a year protecting the "interests" of our nation; no doubt we spend a good portion of that protecting the investments of multinational corporations that have little loyalty to you or this country. Seems to me that little effort goes into protecting jobs. There is a way to return living wage jobs here and to promote the dignity of workers abroad. We will have to pay a little more but I hope you agree the benefits are worth the costs. You may be comfortable and not agree, I say the unraveling will eventually affect you and change your mind.

The U.S. has the world’s largest economy, almost 15 trillion dollars a year. An economy this large deserves capable management. Those that believe this have been on the outside the last few decades. Free trade, deregulation and fiscal policy has resulted in pain for the lives of our citizens. No wonder a deep suspicion of our government exists. Yet we are told more of the same will turn things around. This nurse knows balance is necessary to stay upright for a patient or a nation. Loose it and fall. Good government is necessary to keep balance between the competing interests. Good government is not cheap but it does not have to be expensive. I also know we all have talents. Some have the talent of making tremendous sums of money. Allowing this small demographic group to run our nation has tipped the balance as much as having poets make all the decisions. Austerity will further concentrate the the power and tip the balance. Land of plenty, world’s largest economy and the only way forward is austerity? That said, I realize we cannot have endless deficit spending. Government spending could be reduced in ways that does not rip the social fabric that holds us together or harm our future. We cannot depend on spending cuts alone. We must pay off our debtors. We should consider re-instituting a more progressive tax structure. I feel like the struggling middle is working hard to keep the poor poor and the rich richer. Good government could discourage the poor and rich from gaming the system. It is long past due that these two ends of our social structure accept more responsibility. The progressive income tax coupled with living wages will move us in that direction.

The choice is simple; have less because we choose more of the same or have less because more of us have enough. When we have less because more of us have enough there will still be plenty to go around. We are a nation of plenty. Maybe this is why we are told more of the same is the only way forward.

I am a Emergency Department Nurse in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. My e-mail is bobhroz@gmail.com

Robert Hrozencik

Comments

U.S. Version of Tahrir Square

Bob, what I am wating for is the American equivalent of what we have witnessed in Cairo for the past 18 days.

Your right about the "land of plenty." The problem is a delusion that many have in that we can ALL be millionaires.

Unfortunately, even Joe the Plumber during the '08 campaign showed this delusionary thinking that he could be rich in America.

While it is nice to dream, and a nice shot of Irish Whiskey always helps the process, the reality for the vast majority of us is that the million dollars we DO make will be cumulative over a 40 year period of toiling for someone else. If you don't have wealthy family members waiting to die, win the lottery, or have deep connections with someone else and their $$, you will NEVER have to worry about hitting that coveted $250k income threshold.

So while the rich country club members of the Chamber continue to attack working folks and their unions, the rest of us seem content in our own little cloistered worlds. It reminds me of the book, "1984."

So just where is our Tharir Square moment and when does it begin? Can we possibly stop watching Glee, American Idol and the Biggest Loser, get off our collective asses and demand REAL change?

Notice that I haven't placed this blame soley on the GOP. There are just as many Democrats here and nationally that have jumped into bed with the corporations that we can't differentiate the two, except of course when they want our pennies, sweat, and vote!

We have our Hosni Murbaraks here too. I hope that the Egyptians will come together and create their own version of democracy, as ours isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Michael J. Gould, MS, FIOPL
Member, SEANC Board of Governors
Member, NDP SEC