Why does a fiscal cliff sound so much better than austerity? There is something so terribly final about a cliff. Once you fall, it’s over. According to definition, austerity is nothing final, nothing so tragic. Yet a more apt metaphor for the current situation is that of a parent abandoning their children. Drawn thin by difficult tribulations, momdad decides to move along. The state has been realigning its purposes for years, and soon we will see it close the door in the face of the public good.
Privatization is de rigueur in the United States. Prisons, highways, trash collection, utilities, parking meters, schools, police, medical care, armies, disaster relief – nearly everything the federal government can do can seemingly be done by a private company for profit. Journalists like Matt Taibbi have done good work on exploring the corrupt relationships between private business and the government in recent years. The City of Chicago sold its parking meters for a paltry $1.16b and caused a stir. Interest groups and Katrina spurred the charter school movement, even getting a movie made for the purpose of spreading the idea that kids are better educated for profit. Courts all over the country stand accused of “selling” prisoners to private prisons. The scramble to profit off America’s crumbling is sad and pathetic, if not just desserts. The American public, cowed into submission by terrorist attacks, plummeting stocks, disappearing assets and widespread unemployment can only sit by and pull out their hair while watching congress bicker its way into the meat grinder.
The round of austerity rapidly approaching is popularly painted as a Spielberg movie gone bad, something that could be avoided if only everyone could come to the right compromise. When it comes to austerity, the compromise is supposed to be struck between two positions: will we lose both arms, or both legs? Will the fox eat us, or the wolf? Hard decisions.
At the end of the day, while agonizing over the method of demise for our state, it seems we no longer have a choice about whether this will happen.
The matter really to be decided, rather, is when and how it will happen, and who will profit? The double-whammy of raising taxes (disproportionately on the poor, of course) and cutting social spending will tenderize even greater numbers of the American public into a desperate workforce begging hat-in-hand for even a part time job. The reserve army of labor will swell in rank. Unions are being shut down in their last strongholds, the average consumer is still swimming in debt, and the last bastion of America’s spending power – the consumer/retail economy – is poised to collapse.
This is a slow process, though. The cuts and tax hikes will come gradually, so as to lessen the shock of it all. Even the slow pace of the folding-up of Greece caused massive civil unrest, and with 360 million Americans facing a dour future, care needs to be taken to ease us all into our final resting place. Meanwhile, the private sector, still flush with taxpayer money and record profits earnings, will gallantly step in and rescue us all from total societal collapse by gobbling up more state functions and turning them into for-profit ventures. The state will still exist, no doubt, but will continue its warp into a giant police truncheon that is used to collect taxes and squeeze labor. A drip-line of “entitlement” will still come through, just enough to keep everyone alive and functioning, but things will get much worse.
Herein we can see the contradictions intensify. While the Spectator says we can continue to grow our economies with little concern as to when we will all be tapped out and dead, I do not believe this to be the case. There is a breaking point. The “industries of the mind” that employ so many marketers, Apple Store programmers and social media experts will dry up when consumer demand plummets. We were never pulling money out of thin air – it was coming from somewhere, and that somewhere is running out.