Posts Tagged ‘austerity’
So people are casting about for the means to protect themselves against that insecurity. They are looking for a way to not only afford decent housing but to buy the house in the neighborhood that feeds into the good k-12 schools that will give their own kids a better chance at a life not marred by the insecurity that keeps them up nights. They are looking for a way to be respected at work, to be respected in their communities, to locate their position in the larger social structure and to find it congruent with their ideal selves. They are looking for dignity and rest. That we have constructed the only means for achieving those things as credential hoarding can be understood as “market demand” but I would call it mass insecurity. Again, language, tools, kings and masters.
If we accept my story of profit and higher education market we get to different kinds of questions that lead to different kinds of policies. Rather than disrupting higher education because it does not serve the needs of the market we can ask the market why it does not serve the interests of human beings. Why, as corporations increasingly use their moral authority and political will to limit their tax exposure and their contribution to social institutions like k-12 schools, why is public education being refashioned to provide them the “human capital” they require to continue their abdication of the greater social good?
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Profit, HigherEd and Lessons on the Prestige Cartel
Elias Isquith has put together an interesting group of people to comment on the State of the Union, and surprisingly I’m one of them. I’ll be adding the links on this post at they come up. Check it out and maybe even comment. We are…not of the same mind on this thing.
Here’s my opening: “The fact that people have such different readings of this speech isn’t that surprising. It reads to me like it was designed to do just that – let each of us hear what we want to hear.”
The State of Austerity (Elias Isquith)
[Update: 2-15-13 a.m.]
[Update: 2-20-13 a.m.]
The State of the Union’s Quiet Radicalism (Elias Isquith)
[Update 2-26-13 p.m.]
The State of the Union’s Crises (Alan Kantz)
In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men [sic] in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.
Franklin Roosevelt, Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)
By Wing-Chi Poon [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
[Update: Turns out the House may not be interested in rubber stamping these deal. Also, see Matt Stoller's Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR.]
The deal to avoid the misnamed ‘fiscal cliff’ the self-imposed crisis (i.e. shock doctrine) designed to impose austerity on a public that is overwhelmingly opposed to it justified by fake concern over deficits and debt sheds important light on the state of our political system. I’ll have more to say later, but to start, I wanted to mention the sham that has become of the legislative process. The deal was negotiated between Vice President (and former Senator) Joe Biden and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a process that excluded the other 99 members of the lame duck Senate and the entire House of Representatives. As the Washington Post reported:
“There are two people in a [metaphorical] room deciding incredibly consequential issues for this country, while 99 other United States senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives — elected by their constituencies to come to Washington — are on the sidelines,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)said on the Senate floor in the afternoon.
…Thune was right that legislators had, essentially, been cut out of the legislative process. By the time a deal was announced, about 8:45 p.m. Monday night, there was little time for anything but a vote.“At least we would have had an opportunity to debate this, instead of waiting now until the eleventh hour,” Thune said.
Monday marked the third time in two years that a congressional cliffhanger had ended with a bargain struck by McConnell and Biden. The first time came in late 2010, during a year-end showdown over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The second was in August 2011, during the fight over the debt ceiling.
It should go without saying that when all those high level federal officials are cut out of the process, the people are too. But for the moment, I want to point out how our models for understanding politics are often inadequate. Members of Congress aren’t deciding anything here – they are ratifying a decision made elsewhere. Now it’s true that Biden and McConnell were not free of political constrains, but then again, no one ever is. It’s generally a bad idea to assume that those who hold the power according to civics textbooks are those who actually hold the power. The Constitution was supposed to make the House the main driver of fiscal policy, secondarily the Senate, and lastly the President. (The Supreme Court was intended to have little to no role, yet that didn’t stop Chief Justice Roberts, a ‘neutral umpire,’ from making it the main theme of his report [pdf] on the state of the judiciary.)
I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not representative democracy. And it’s not legislative decision-making.
If “economics” is isolated from other aspects of social life, then the criterion for policymakers becomes the simple one of efficiency. Expenditure, and government policy generally, is to be viewed in terms of whether or not a program pays, whether it creates incentives for the private sector to expand output and employment. In a market economy [sic], government must depend on tax collection, and this in turn depends on the level of economic activity–which depends on the expectation of profit. In the economist’s view, if tax incentives can attract or retain business, they should be granted. The income redistribution effects [sic] of such policies may be regressive but this is simply an unavoidable consequence of a market economy: government can step in after production decisions are made and through tax expenditure policies rectify any damage that may have resulted. How much and what type of action it will take will be decided in the political arena.
Yet government, especially at the local level, in under constant pressure not to redistribute from the rich to the poor.
–William K. Tabb, The Long Default : New York City and the Urban Fiscal Crisis.
Josh Eidelson has a story on Richard Trumka’s post-election analysis. The AFL-CIO chief insists “We won’t be taken for granted,” pointing to labor’s essential role in the reelection on Barack Obama, as well as helping key progressives win their Senate races. As a negotiating tactic, making demands after you’re provided support is not ideal.
Trumka takes a stronger stance when it comes to what he wants regarding Social Security and Medicare than some others have, but his reading of where the president has been on this is overly optimistic.
“If any bipartisan deal includes cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or extends the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent,” Trumka pledged, “we will oppose it.” Asked about “chained CPI” – a way to slow Social Security’s growth that Sen. Bernie Sanders has warned could be part of a bipartisan deal – Trumka said, “That is definitely a cut to Social Security benefits.” Asked if he’s confident Obama would hold the line against cutting social insurance or extending all of the Bush tax cuts, Trumka answered, “I think so. He’s been pretty clear about that.” (In a September MSNBC appearance, top Obama adviser David Axelrod mentioned both “raise the cap” and “adjust the growth of the program” as elements of a Social Security “discussion worth having.”)
As always, near the top of the list is comprehensive labor law legislation. I’d say the odds of any labor law legislation is close to zero, while the odds of legislation that is both comprehensive and positive is in fact zero. (As an aside, I don’t understand our general insistence that reform legislation should be comprehensive. That usually means that it will be seriously flawed, since progressive forces are usually the weaker ones in our present political climate, a weakness that, as I’ve argued before, is not a product of lack of popular support. What we need is legislation that creates a positive feedback loop.) Hopefully the false promise of labor law reform won’t keep people from fighting tooth and nail against cuts in social insurance.
But legislation is not the only way to improve the situation for labor rights. Eidelson continues:
Meanwhile, there’s plenty the Obama administration could do – and so far hasn’t – without Congress. With an executive order, the president could change federal contracting to exclude more union-busting companies. With regulations, his Labor Department could restrict the use of dangerous equipment by teenagers working on factory farms, or extend basic overtime protections to domestic workers.
Trumka called for swift action on a long-delayed OSHA regulation regarding silica dust. Asked how quickly it should move, Trumka answered, “Last year.” As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks currently underway, Trumka said, “They have to make sure they negotiate a deal that actually helps in-sourcing rather than promotes outsourcing. That’s a position that he stood for throughout this election, and I feel confident that he will follow through on that.”
In fact, the Obama White House had drafted a fair contracting rule prior to the 2010 election, but didn’t issue it after the Republicans took the House.
I recognize that legislation is more long-lasting, but since there’s no reason for us to push for other things as well. To be clear, I’m not laying all the blame for inaction on the feet of the White House – there has been very little discussion of the possibility anywhere. Until we push for it, it’s on us.
One more thought. Not all workers are covered by federal labor law. State employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers are all outside the NLRB’s jurisdiction. States could extend protections to those workers. I wrote before about government enforcing labor standards on government assisted businesses and those with government contacts at the local level to protect workers. And despite the fact that it didn’t pass in Michigan, the idea of seeking a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining rights. There are numerous ways that protections can be sought. The tendency to focus on legislation draws out attention away from that.