I'm a little spent from the Atlas Shrugged opus on Monday so I will confine myself to a brief question today.

Obama has caved (stop me if you've heard that one before) and accepted the right-wing frame of the budget debate, thus the argument is no longer Austerity vs. Keynesian Growth but juvenile bickering over how to pursue austerity.
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This creates the necessary usual illusion of choice and debate in a political system that operates in a shockingly narrow intellectual and ideological envelope. As usual the right gets what it wants and all of the fuss amounts to rearranging deck chairs.

So remind me again how austerity is supposed to help. As Mike asks and I have asked before, let's say we have a magic wand that balances the budget for us; then what? What is the benefit? Do interest rates fall? They're already insanely low. Does unemployment fall? If so, how and why would we expect that? Are there businesses out there that want to hire but won't because of the budget deficit?
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This is what I get from the statements by Paul Ryan and like-minded conservatives: If we cut spending it will restore "confidence" to "the market" and suddenly the economy will start growing in leaps and bounds.

Phase One: Collect underpants / cut spending
Phase Two: ???
Phase Three: Economic growth / profits

I am sick to death of hearing about the deficit and austerity-as-panacea arguments that punt on the issue of what this is supposed to accomplish entirely. To hear Mitch McConnell tell the tale, we will cut entitlement programs and then, I guess, somehow, everything is just going to be better. Magical sparkleponies will appear in your front yard shitting glittery, low fat (but full flavored!) frozen yogurt with your favorite toppings.

See, it's not really the ends that matter to the right, because the means – cutting taxes, gutting the welfare state, etc.
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are the ends.


  • says:

    So, the Right has led a very successful 40 year campaign against the welfare state and social insurance. With it, we have seen the destruction of good jobs and, consequently, the Middle Class. The Right's solution to all this is to simply do more of the things that have eroded this country to begin with. Where does this all end up? I am writing from Flint, Michigan and the Wild Wild West culture here is truly frightening. I fear Flint is simply the tip of the iceberg, as the state is pealed back even further. Flint has little to no public safety, a nonexistent education infrastructure, and unemployment at near 44% (real unemployment). We've had 86 murders in 15 months. The only good jobs that are left are for drug dealers. With General Motors gone and the Right pealing back social services, where does that leave us? The rest of the country should take a long hard look at Flint and Detroit. I hope you have enjoyed your little respite, but you'll share our fate soon enough. Remember, you voted for it.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    I'm all for austerity, as long as we begin and end with the fucking Pentagon. I think our military adventures could benefit from some fiscal restraint (zombie Eisenhower agrees).

  • The Man, The Myth says:

    I guess you've asked the question quite well. I'm still baffled as to why it works so well. I know and have heard over and over that all Rs have to say are, "gods, gays/guns (interchangeable), and greed" – but still why? Dems do have facts on their side – why aren't people responsive to it? To me it doesn't make sense…

  • Thanks, I never understood this deficit jones either. The government owns the printing press and can print more money. It's not like we're going to run out. And with interest rates at insanely, ridiculously, historically low levels, doesn't it make sense to borrow money when it's cheap, and use it to invest in our country? As opposed to doing it the way Reagan did, which was borrow when interest rates were absurdly high?

    I mean, they keep telling us we need to run government like a business, like the way "American families fun their households." God forbid, I know, but aren't we always being told to borrow money when it's cheap? Isn't that the way it's done? "There's never a better time to buy a house …" yada yada?

  • The Man, The Myth says:

    Hell – what percentage of Americans are not in over their heads with credit card debt? I bet the answer is 50… Ed is right, for Republicans its just the same story all over again, lets make the Rich Richer…

  • Well, clearly the current economic slump is entirely the result of "the producers" going Galt because Obama said mean things about them – so cutting their taxes and dismantling the safety net might soothe their fee-fees. I mean, it couldn't *possibly* have anything to do with incredibly slack demand caused by real wages that haven't gone up in 30 years colliding with increasing commodity prices, amirite? ;)

    BTW, I wouldn't even call the policies the GOP is pushing "austerity"; as implemented in the UK and the EU, austerity involves GOP-style slashing of social services but also tax INCREASES. (not that that's worked out well for them at all – check the UK GDP projections) At best, whatever comes out of the Democrats will be "austerity"; the Ryan plan is just naked robber-baronism…

  • We pay about $400 billion in annual interest on the current national debt. That's more than 10% of the budget. Regardless of our priorities, all of us would rather spend that $400 billion on something else. At some point, we have to stop running up the tab.

    @ Southern Beale:
    On interest rates, our average maturity is less than five years — we're basically carrying a variable rate mortgage and the rate will almost certainly go up in the near- to mid-term — then that $400 billion gets evern bigger. Loading up more debt just because it's cheap right now isn't really wise.

    "The government can just print more money"?. Historically, that's tended to have very bad outcomes both economically and politically.

  • Ed, I think you are overlooking the obvious. Republicans hate government and taxes and they are trying to get rid of both. That's it – that's the goal. They just managed to create a catastrophe big enough that people are willing to listen to them. I don't think it has anything to do with interest rates or employment or any of that shit.

  • @The Man, The Myth:

    People aren't responsive to facts because facts don't matter to them. There is a very good reason that the American right wing tends to have a larger proportion of hardcore religious types, and by the same token, that hardcore religious types tend to support the right wing over the left wing when asked about it in polls and the like.

    The answer, quite simply, is magical thinking. "Faith-based" belief. These people subscribe heavily to a system where the things you believe require no proof, no evidence of any kind, and any facts that contradict your belief are simply to be ignored. They are true purely because an authority figure said so, full stop.

    The right wing knows this, and exploits it to the fullest.

    I'll believe in "Austerity" when those preaching austerity are actually for austerity — to wit, that the DoD, one of the largest chunks of "Big Gub'mint Spending", is up on the chopping block for budget slashing.

  • Somewhere along the line taxes will have to be raised, not to the level they were under Nixon, even Reagan-era rates would help a lot. But that's only a stopgap, trade policy must be revisited, or the host will be insufficient to feed the parasites. BTW, what would John Galt's value as a producer be if he outsourced? My guess is not much.

  • America has enough money, but we spend it on the wrong things. The GOP and I agree on this. But the wealth of America is in the hands of the few, who are happy to keep the money out of circulation, sometimes out of the country altogether, and persuade the indigent Americans (“temporarily embarrassed millionaires” all) to vote for those who want to keep it that way. Impoverished Americans don’t count to the GOP other than as voting cattle, and persuading the poor to vote against their best interests has been the GOP’s crowning achievement since the Reagan years.

    Republicans don’t know how to be poor. Which means they have no clue how to stop being poor. The rules change. Things that normally would be a very bad idea, such as living on your credit cards for a while, are now appropriate measures to bridge the gap. It only works if employment is there at the end of the tunnel, but of course, the GOP is not interested in job creation, either. But it’s not complicated. If you are sick, and many of us are, you don’t cancel your health insurance. If you are in a place with no mass transit, you don’t sell your car (though you do trade down to a cheaper, fuel-efficient model.) You do cut what you don’t need. We do not need these expensive wars, and we do not need to support a bloated military industrial complex. The Right needs us to do so because it profits by it, and “fuck them, I got mine” is their motto.

  • Except for a brief post war boom after WW II, the US has always teetered on economic decline. It is monetary policy adjustments like lifting the gold standard during the Nixon administration and the "miraculous tweaking" of interest rates by the Maestro in the late 90s and early Naughties that have staved off disaster. Since the Carter presidency, the US has leap-frogged from bubble to financial bubble–from the military buildup during the 80s to the internet boom to the housing boom to the commodities boom. It is this last bubble that does not directly benefit growth in the middle class except for certain farming areas in the Midwest and carbon mining in the Dakotas. The old saw that the cure to higher prices is higher prices probably holds true today. So, just when you think it's time to start riding your bike to work, the oil spike which is currently fueling the commodities boom, will fall again just as it did in 2008.

    To answer your question regarding the outcome of austerity and its potential or not to spur growth, that answer is easy if you frame it in the context of what I stated above. The answer is no. No because the weight of austerity will be borne by the middle class and as such it will force the middle class, what’s left of it, to hunker down financially. This lack of spending by the middle class will not spur growth.

    As I’ve said before on this blog many times, in my opinion, what will truly spur growth would be an all out effort to cut energy costs combined with an educational reformation. It is our overly dependent and outdated carbon energy consumption methods combined with a rapidly dulling populace that is eroding the stability of this country. The current approach by the GOP to foist austerity measures upon the middle class is just another link in the chain of punitive puritanical ideology fostered by the legacy of ignorant scott-irish southern immigrants. And, overly compromising liberals have only been complicit in yielding political ground through the course of three decades of policy retreats. Long live the South.

    We should be two countries and, God willing, we will be soon enough because I don’t think that this country will be able to move forward as long as the southern yoke of backward economic practice continues to guide our economic engine.

  • Arslan Amirkhanov says:

    The idea that low government spending, balanced budgets, and ultra-low inflation leads to better economic growth is totally ahistorical. I suggest reading Ha Joon Chang's works Bad Samaritans and especially 23 Things they Don't Tell You About Capitalism for more info on this point. Of course hyperinflation is bad, but many countries have had good economic growth despite having high inflation; that is at least much higher than free-market ideologues like. It's also not a coincidence that the countries with the highest amount of welfare spending have the highest standards of living. Take Norway, for example.

  • The interest on the debt is not "huge." No intelligent person who knows anything about economics refers to the absolute debt interest in dollars and says it's huge. You also know what's huge? The US economy. The outlays of the US government. So, let's look at the debt as a percentage of GDP:

    I wonder why there has been a huge uptick in the debt/GDP ratio! Maybe it was a bunch automatic stabilizers kicking in! Maybe it was ARRA!

  • Paul W. Luscher says:

    Look, the whole Paul Ryan/Repub thing is just warmed-over Laffer-curve/Reaganomics stuff. Sour old wine in new bottles. It's how we ended up in the mess we're in now.

    The trouble is, the Repubs just refuse to admit to themselves that the economic prescriptions of St. Ronnie didn't work as advertised and were ultimately, in fact, a total failure ….

    …Just like the "balance the budget" thing. That was Herbert Hoover's solution to the Great Depression and it didn't work then. But Repubs apparently don't have the intellectual horsepower to try something other than the same tired solutions they always spout, which have failed and will fail.

    The Repubs remind me of the Communists: stubbornly clinging to the dictates of their faith, despite all the evidence showing that it just doesn't work…

  • As usual the right gets what it wants and all of the fuss amounts to rearranging deck chairs.

    Sorry, but this is ignoring an obvious fact. There isn't a magical glimmer-shitting "right" that wants this. The entire Federal electorate wants this (well, as part of getting re-elected and staying in power, but we know that this is a great way to do that). They've been rearranging deck chairs since 1980 since Reagan bought a new dining room set of spending and false promises.

  • Damn, I forgot to make my joke about the entire electorate being "both the Right AND the Left." since we know their can only be 2 positions on any argument even if both positions are 95% similar and would be considered part of a single party platform in any (other?) reasonable government.

    See Reagan and dining room set of bullshit ideals and policies for later politicians to rearrange on the deck without questioning why they're tacky, vinyl, and make my ass stick to them when sitting in the sun.

  • I mostly get the sense that the administration and most Democratic legislators lack any particular plans of their own and are just reacting to whatever comes their way, whether its the GOP's antics or whatever seems to have caught the media's fancy. It's a little hard to change the game when you aren't particularly in it, and staking out some major goal also means having to defend it and will cut into that "being all things to all people" thing that seems to have been fashionable for some years now. Wouldn't want those "independant voters" to think you're some kind of radical extremist.

    Whether quasi-aimlessly blundering from one crisis to the next without much thought to any particular endgame is better or worse than being secretly sympathetic to a lot of what the GOP is up to, I don't know. Couldn't this be an area where it might be worthwhile not to attribute to malice what is adequately explained by carelessness, incompetence or stupidity? Maybe some critical mass of legislative and presidential mindshare thinks the Sunday morning political news shows are still relevant to most of the public and there's something to all those dodgy polls?

    I'm certainly relieved that there seemed to be enough awareness available to kick off that at least theatrical showdown over the Ryan plan in last Wednesday's presidential speech, the budgetary vote nose-tweaking and the House GOP's bizzare "I told you I was hardcore" vote later last week, but I can't help but wonder how much that might have been due to very unabiguous pushback from legislators and the public over the everything's-on-the-table-including-medicare trial balloon floated a few days earlier.

    But that's just one instance of the clue train pulling in for a brief stop in a relatively short space of time – i'd like to see more indications that the plan isn't just relying on GOP overreach, and there are many areas where no particular plan seems to be visible at all.

    My guess is when the Dems could have actually implemented something useful, like a major infrastructural revamp, they just wrote it off as too difficult to sell and were too worried who'd take the fall if it was less successful than hoped. If that's how they saw it, there were far easier economic recovery metrics to juice, so why try harder and take chances?

  • Well, today I spoke to someone who said he's interested in the idea of a Trump presidency and wants to hear more.

    Yeah my head just about blew up.

    But here's the thing with folks like this. He believes that ALL politicians are lying scumbags, he thinks the Republicans are in bed with big money and corporate interests but he thinks the Democrats are too, and he thinks Obama is crooked and he thinks the Republicans are crooked. He thinks it's ridiculous to pretend you can balance the federal budget without raising taxes, he thinks corporations should pay their fair share, he liked Sarah Palin because of the Down's Syndrome kid (his own son is autistic) and he thinks the Tea Party is nuts. He watches Fox News AND MSNBC but says the only news he believes is the BBC.

    I would normally label this guy a conservative but he's disaffected with both parties so I guess he's that "mushy middle." And I suspect a whole ton of middle America is like this guy. He's not happy with anyone and he's mostly just pissed off about cultural changes like political correctness and not saying prayers in schools even though he's not religious himself. And I said, how would you feel if there was a Muslim prayer in the public school? Well he woudln't like it of course.

    Basically what it boils down to is that the last 25 years have seen a shitload of change in the country, and the human animal can't tolerate change. So this has created a deep feeling of fear and mistrust in the American psyche and NO ONE will pacify or please this group.

    I mean really. Donald Fucking Trump.

  • The "logic" of austerity, as others have noticed, is simple Reaganomics:

    Government spends less, eliminating deficit and showing a surplus. Government therefore has enough extra money that it can lower taxes. Private citizens use that untaxed money to grow their business, hire more workers, and spend more on local goods/services, further fueling happy times for all. Which means more private sector money goes towards providing the services now supplied by the government, which can now cut them. And the cycle begins, eventually eliminating the need for any kind of economically invested government.

    It's just that simple. And that's why it's an easy sell. It ignores facts (like, if the government stops paying for something that you need, you're going to have to start spending in order to get it, and private enterprise will charge the living shit out of you to provide it) and established patterns of behavior (like the tendency of private enterprise to invest its money overseas, fueling foreign economies to the detriment of our own) and human nature (that people will always choose greed over altruism.) But so what? It's simple, like all good fairy tales, and is therefore appealing to people who think of themselves as overtaxed (i.e., everyone), and who can always be persuaded that the government is spending its money frivolously (which it is, but not by funding NPR.)

    Democratic policy and ideology is complex. It's diverse. And it is often incoherent. Such are the inherent flaws of liberalism. And it's why it will never be as popular in this country as the GOP and conservatism. But what's the alternative? Drink the Kool-aid?* I think not.

    *Yes, I know that the Jonestown flock actually drank Flavor-aid. The idiom demands factual error to be rhetorically effective. Which means that I am a hypocrite. Fair enough.

  • "they keep telling us we need to run government like a business, like the way "American families run their households."

    Yeah, you gotta love the Republican vision of running the place like a "family".

    The family in question routinely denies food, healthcare, and shelter to anyone who can't work, including grandma, grandpa and any family members unlucky enough to be disabled (hopefully, they

  • "they keep telling us we need to run government like a business, like the way "American families run their households."

    Yeah, you gotta love the Republican vision of running the place like a "family".

    The family in question routinely denies food, healthcare, and shelter to anyone who can't work, including grandma, grandpa and any family members unlucky enough to be disabled (hopefully, they’ll die off soon). If the kiddies want an education, they can pay for it themselves – but they can't, so they're totally ignorant. The family has long since disowned the gay kid (he fled to the city, and when last heard from was actually doing a lot better, thanks!), and constantly demonize the kid who questions the family's religion (she's not really speaking to them much anymore either). Another daughter left home at 18 and never went back, because when she was 14, she got raped, and they blamed her for it and forced her to carry the pregnancy to term. The family lives in a filthy home where they never do any repairs, so the house is falling down. They bitch about the cost of cleanliness and home repair, but spend a bunch of money on guns and ammunition. They periodically attack families in other neighborhoods, regularly threaten to lynch the black family down the street, and take pot shots at the Hispanic family on the other side of the backyard fence. There is a strong suspicion that the family is, in fact, deeply involved in organized crime, which would explain the payments to the crime bosses.

    Every Sunday, they go to church, and complain about the lack of moral values they see around them.

  • Drat, I don't know WHY every time I try to post, it half-posts my comment, THEN post the whole thing! I'm not doing it on purpose, I swear!

  • I have struggled to frame the "balance the budget 'debate'" in reasonable terms that include my understanding of typical DC debates. I believe we often improperly frame this debate. It is not about domestic politics although the T Party insists as much. It is more appropriately a foreign policy debate framed under the MAD paradigm. If I may make an argument for my R colleagues, they believe that teh chyneez R gonna make fizcal poli-c for the US. There is no evidence that China wants anything other than a gluttonous US borrowing policy. The likelihood of that changing in the short term rivals the likelihood of a Trump presidency. Therefore, we are served by viewing our foreign national debt in similar terms to a nuclear deterrent, sure they have one but so do we.

  • @SouthernBeale: "he thinks the Republicans are in bed with big money and corporate interests but he thinks the Democrats are too"

    I really can't understand people who take this approach. It's like saying that the guy who wants to hold you down so he and his buddies can sh*t in your mouth is just the same as the guy who can't muster any more opposition to said sh*tting than, "hey guys, that's mean". Yes, the second guy sucks and you still get sh*t on, but there's a noticeable difference.

  • …but stop bitin Reagan's shit, yaknowhatI'msayin?
    Come from your own heart with this shit!
    And all y'all senators, stop biting from my poor niggaz
    Marx told y'all niggaz back on the fucking Cuban Linx album

  • Austerity by the Government will lead to confidence and spending by the middle class.

    We do not have to gut our social programs in order to achieve austerity, neither do we have to gut our military. Both need to be overhauled to recognize the changing face of the US economy and populace. When Social Security was introduced it was a stopgap for people who lived beyond the projected lifespan of 65. As our average lifespan increases so does the age at which we should need that stopgap. If we then stop using Federal funds to force State behavior on all social issues we can get rid of a lot of our bloated Federal bureaucracy. Revoke the 17th amendment and give the states representation in Congress.

    Our military's purpose is to protect our borders. That is all. We need to size it accordingly, and then use it to protect our borders. Change the immigration laws to pre-Ted insanity and use our armed forced to make sure they are enforced. This will result in a massive decrease in the size and scope of our military and its cost.

    Now all the unemployed bureaucrats and military personnel can outsource to developing industrial age societies and bring them up to our level of sophistication.

    After all it is not a zero sum game.

  • Austerity by the Government will lead to confidence and spending by the middle class.

    1. Steal underpants.
    2. ????
    3. Profit!

    You seem to have wandered over from fantasyland by mistake. You are devoid of an understanding of what it's like to be either poor or old, unaware that border security does not end at borders and involves factors that take place outside of our borders, like, you know, OIL SUPPLIES, and are under the delusion that force can fix an immigration problem exacerbated by the mistakes of free trade.

    I'd recommend for a community of the similarly delusional.

  • Oh yeah, that 17th Amendment thing. Hilariously stupid. Direct election of Senators is a bad idea. OK. Sure.

  • Yes Cromartie, direct election of Senators is a horrible idea. Populist Senators have done more damage to the long term outlook of this country than any other single government entity. Since the 17th was passed we have seen states rights erode to the point that there is no differentiation between state and Federal rights and a K street that can influence (buy) their special interests the legislation they need for the price of a few Senators that are only nominally responsible to answer to the state and electorate they represent.

  • Arslan Amirkhanov says:

    "Austerity by the Government will lead to confidence and spending by the middle class."

    Goddamn, that other guy was FAR too generous to this quote. Please tell me WHEN has this EVER happened, and why it would happen?

  • Like every other myth perpetuated by conservatives, the "let's change the 17th Amendment" movement only seems to rear it's head when Democrats control the Senate.

    Kind of like "States Rights", "Home Rule" and "Throw the Rascals Out" movements only manifest themselves when Democrats control the House, sate houses, and Congress, respectively.

    No legislative body should be appointed. Not in the US, or Canada (where, ironically, it's a coalition of western conservatives and the NDP that are campaigning to make the Senate an elected body rather than an appointed one.)

  • Like every other myth perpetuated by conservatives, the "let's change the 17th Amendment" movement only seems to rear it's head when Democrats control the Senate.

    Kind of like "States Rights", "Home Rule" and "Throw the Rascals Out" movements only manifest themselves when Democrats control the House, sate houses, and Congress, respectively.

    The arrogance and paternalism in the repealers is morally repugnant, "Sure, you can elect House members, but you aren't intelligent enough to vote for Senators. That should be left to adults." (Although, a clear case could be made in Oklahoma).

    No legislative body should be appointed. Ever. Not in the US, or Canada (where, ironically, it's a coalition of western conservatives and the NDP that are campaigning to make the Senate an elected body rather than an appointed one.)

  • "Austerity by the Government will lead to confidence and spending by the middle class."

    Goddamn, that other guy was FAR too generous to this quote. Please tell me WHEN has this EVER happened, and why it would happen?

    Despite my double posting prowess, I'll take a very cynical shot at this for you.

    If by government austerity we assume cuts to social programs and infrastructure, we have what remains of a middle class making very confident spending decisions on health care (because it is no longer subsidized) repairs to vehicles (because of the deterioration of roads) alternative modes of transportation such as rail and airplane transport (because roads are impassible) and an overall increased investment in goods, because they become more difficult to acquire due to a decline in said infrastructure.

    Further, you could argue that an overall decline in infrastructure would lead to a rise in the localvore movement as non processed foods become more difficult to acquire. This increases lower class employment as it shifts to agriculture.

    Are any of these developments good? For economists, libertarians and their believers, this makes no difference. For example, NAFTA supporters like to cite a statistic where they argue that free trade took 290 million jobs and created 400 million, but they make no conclusion on the quality of the jobs being destroyed versus created, nor their impacts on various geographies.

  • WhiskeyTango says:

    Phase One: Collect underpants / cut spending
    Phase Two: ???
    Phase Three: Economic growth / profits

    I'm SHOCKED that no one here has pointed out that Phase Two is:

    "A miracle occurs."

  • So if default isn't an option, and printing money to the point where Obama's portrait is on the $1,000,000,000,000 bill then what are we going to do?

    Do you really believe that either party is going to allow somebody to get elected that is going to curtail corporate power through lobbying reform and end our involvement in the middle east and trim that $663b defense budget?

    Do you really believe that either party will allow us to elect somebody serious about balancing our rapidly declining revenues and rapidly expanding expenditures? One party cut $38b out of the $3.5t budget, the other party wanted to cut $66b. It's all a sick joke.

    Even if you're naive to believe that either party is going to allow the country to return to a sustainable fiscal sanity, there's still going to be an enormous amount of catharsis in the US financial markets.

    We're so far beyond the point where electing somebody sane can make a real difference.

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