Paul Ryan’s “New” Austerity Budget

By Jeffery Sommers a associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Cross posted from CounterPunch

America is currently plagued by people making bad personal choices. But, the worst decisions rendered are not those of everyday Americans treading water in order to keep their heads above water, but by politicians like Paul Ryan. Exhibit A: his latest budget.

As Mark Twain noted, while “history does not repeat itself, it does rhyme.” Congressman Ryan’s budget proposals echo the past in that they reprise the policies designed to fight the last ‘war’ (the economic crisis of the 1970s). Not all economic crises are created equally. Some are mostly supply-side (not enough resources, e.g., oil), such as the 1970s. Meanwhile, others are primarily demand-side (insufficient wages to purchase what can be made), such as in the Great Depression of the 1930s and now. Ryan’s budget proposal tenders supply-side solutions (austerity) to deal with a mostly demand-side crisis. It then further doubles-down on the austerity policies introduced in 2011 by Tea Party governors and congressmen. Such prescriptions have been like medieval medicine that bleeds an ailing patient. Then when said patient refuses to fully recover from previous rounds of austerity imposed, the pontiffs of austerity declare the patient’s virtue in question and prescribe a round of flagellation to get ‘his mind right.’

None of this has proved effective as an economic cure, but it relieves the austerians of the need to confront their policy failures, while simultaneously conferring the benefit of raining down ever more subsidies and tax cuts to their patrons (now able to give near unlimited campaign contributions in light of recent Supreme Court decisions).

Ryan’s budget contains many aspects of Reagan’s budgets, but with even more severe cuts to education, health and research, of which the last generates tomorrow’s innovations and economic growth. To be more accurate, Ryan’s budget combines the harshest Greek-style social cuts of recent years (far more draconian than Reagan’s), but combines those cuts with a Reagan-style ‘military Keynesianism’ that dramatically increases military spending. Ryan’s budget would add nearly a trillion of new military spending over the next decade. One would think we learned our lesson regarding tax cuts for the wealthy and simplistic supply-side nostrums that fueled Wall Street excesses and ultimately the biggest crash of our economy since the Great Depression. But, just as one takes solace that we finally learned from our past errors, like the movie Ground Hog Day, we seemed doomed to awake each morning and try the same failed policies, but only harsher with each incarnation.

Moreover, austerity simply does not work, as amply demonstrated by Greece. In Greece, the result of massive budget cutting proved to be a whopping 25% cut to national income.
Furthermore, Ryan’s budget fails to recognize simple math. Instead, we get Horatio Alger tropes that his budget “empowers recipients to get off the aid rolls and back on the payrolls.” But, with three job seekers existing for every really existing one job, Ryan fails to explain how this musical chairs game on his Titanic results in employment? One answer might be to offer a government as employer of last resort jobs program, but that assumes that his interest is actually in creating jobs and not just cutting taxes for his campaign contributors.

Worse yet is Ryan’s intellectual dishonesty. Ryan asserts his budget cuts are in fact small and don’t represent austerity at all. This slight of hand trick results from arguing the budget is only modestly cut, but this fails to mention that his cuts to health and research are massive. Thus, overall spending cuts are only smaller because of his massive proposed increase to military spending. Moreover, Ryan’s ‘orange-alert’ warnings about Medicare drowning in debt have to be re-thought in light of rapidly declining growth of healthcare costs. Indeed, the past five years have shown the slowest increase in health costs since records were kept.

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  1. Septeus7

    Quote: “Moreover, austerity simply does not work, as amply demonstrated by Greece. In Greece, the result of massive budget cutting proved to be a whopping 25% cut to national income.”

    I’m getting tired of people saying that austerity doesn’t work. Austerity does exactly what it is suppose to do i.e. increase the gap, disenfranchise the 99%, and consolidate the power the kleptocratic corporate elites who rule with the “invisible” iron hand of “free markets.”

    Quote: “One answer might be to offer a government as employer of last resort jobs program, but that assumes that his interest is actually in creating jobs and not just cutting taxes for his campaign contributors.”

    No one in the illegitimate foreign corporate occupation government in the District of Criminals will ever consider anything doesn’t serve the interest of the corporate plantation owners of America.

    How many studies will it take before people wake up and understand that the only politics is the rich plantation owners versus the landless peasants and how many of which group has to be killed before people start acting?

    The anti-representative government of the United States of Corporate America will never listen to the people. It cannot be saved but must be crushed and torn down.

    The best weapon of the people is to humiliate, mock, denigrate, and shame any of these presstitutes, officials and so-called “representatives” claiming to be anything other than corporate whores that they are until common Americans understand that this government are nothing but appointed low level corporate “kleptocrats” whose positions are baseless and pointless as any of the castes and nobilities of the old world ever were.

    Time to start being honest with ourselves and laughing at anyone who believes that the republic is anything but a fantasy and dream of the past, and that only the decaying corpse of an empire of thieves remains. It’s the zombie politics apocalypse and it’s here to stay.

    Personally, I’m thinking of kind eugenics program for the rich scumbags since folks like Tom Perkins seem to be afraid of “Nazi” tendencies of critics of the kleptocracy. .perhaps he is unwitting telling us what has to be done to stop them.

    1. weinerdog43

      Pre 2008, I would have disagreed with you as a proud ‘Blue Team’ member blaming our country’s increasing descent into kleptocracy as something caused by Republicans. With only a little more gee whiz, let’s all sing kumbayah, we can whip this country into shape. Instead, we have a Democratic Party that is ‘15% less sucktastic’ than the elephants. Wooo-hooo!

      This time, I don’t see an FDR that will save the kleptocrats from themselves. That someone as deeply stupid or dishonest as Paul Ryan can be not only re-elected, but held out as someone with ‘vision’ is depressing beyond belief.

      1. GuyFawkes

        I hail you for claiming “blue team” status….and for recognizing that the Democrats aren’t any better.

        I’ve been a member of the “blue team” for quite some time….until this economic crisis hit. Their pathetic response to any prosecution has me voting for the other guy, you know, the one who’s currently not in office. These government goons are so incompetent that not only am I crying into my pillow, I’ve refused to care who I vote for (party-wise) as long as they are NOT the incumbent.

        1. allcoppedout

          In this part of USUK we can vote UKIP. This bunch of crypto-fascists have a sound economic policy – bring back smoking in pubs – and will probably win the Euro elections for the irrelevant EU parliament that has no power anyway. UKIP is at 30% in current polls. There may be a landslide unless there is a sex scandal involving young boys and lieder-hosen. When they win the EU elections will be dismissed as irrelevant; peculiar as the other parties all support EU membership.

        2. RUKidding

          Suggest voting what’s inaccurately called “Third Parties.” Except poss at State or Local level, I have low expectations of alternative party contenders winning, but they are trying to provide different viewpoints and other ideas. At least getting them more into the political conversation provides an outlet for citizens to consider other options. Voting for either branch of the UniParty is a Mug’s game, IMO. Might as well not vote, which is what I often do if no “third party” contender is on the ballot.

          I refuse to provide any show of support to any of these corporate-fascist whores, thankyewverymuch. That’s just me, of course.

        3. Dan Kervick

          Who you vote for as an individual doesn’t make much difference to anything, and voting is itself only a small part of democratic participation.

    2. RUKidding

      Well stated. It is still some source of amazement to me that the general populace is still not quite “getting it,” and I still witness some who have belief that things will one day experience a re-set to get back to “normal.” Well not if we continue in our sheep-like passivity and/or corporate-facist politician worship (Obots, etc).

      Sadly the great propaganda wurlitzer, plus demonization of “conspiracy theories,” has gotten the vast unwashed masses to believe just about any nonsense spewed forth, including comparing the Fed budget to your family’s budget, etc.

      I gave up my tv a long time ago, but when I happen to watch it here & there, I can see how insidious it is. A big fat lie machine that sucks in the unwitting and lulls them fast asleep. Unless or until there is a tipping point with the populace ignorning those lies, hype and spin, I think we, collectively, are pretty much screwed.

      People are rightly afraid, so they kow-tow to their masters so that they scrape together the means to subsist, if not survive… all whilst praising the mighty wealthy who “work so hard.”

      1. weinerdog43

        Ha ha… you said ‘Obots’. That will get you banned at the Great Orange Satan.

        You’re right about TV of course. Cable news is very carefully programmed to get you outraged over the latest minor kerfluffle the corporate masters think is important. Heaven forbid we get something other than infotainment. I will offer my kudos to the Millennial generation, however. They seem remarkably able to avoid TV and the other corporate nonsense. Not so much cynical, but perhaps better able to weed out the propaganda.

  2. Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    The underlying constant is that every proposal and every action is designed to widen the income/power gap between the upper .1% and the rest.

    The politicians have been bribed by campaign contributions (Thank you right wing Supreme Court) and promises of lucrative employment, later.
    The media are owned by the .1%
    The mainstream economists are employed by universities, beholden to the .1% for “charitable,” tax-deductible contributions

    Thus, every source of information to the public, is owned and controlled by the upper .1%, whose sole objective is to widen the gap, either by increasing their own wealth and power, or by decreasing the wealth and power of the 99.9% — or both.

    Think of just one of thousands of examples: Student loans. Impossible to pay, and an endless burden on the middle and lower classes — a perfect gap-widening ploy.

    The solution? See:

  3. allcoppedout

    You have it nailed Septeus7. Austerity is practised by social mice, even in good times, to keep the rabble down. Even Hegel recognised both a poor and rich rabble. I see the problem as biological. Broadly, if we kill off leaders, the system produces more of the creeps. There’s a default in this we don’t understand well. This rules out anarchy for me, though I support a levelling. What we aren’t good at is the afterwards.

    Karl Popper said something very important in that it matters less who does the leading and more how we control leadership. He didn’t develop this much. The problem is a minefield. Human societies do all sorts of institutional lunacy, from “elevating” women to uneducated lives in black bags, to Americans who have had “education” and would bomb Alaska to sort out Ukraine (Brit version – bomb Rio to sort out Argentina). Economics-politics needs to be grasped as a religious control fraud by people who can’t even admit religion itself is a fraud. Economics has learned to write before it can read.

    Austerity can be preached because multiple meanings mask its reality. I’d suggest these meanings vary from ones concerning brutal thievery to the pious. Extracting the protocols of people’s beliefs is very difficult. If we had a bullshit meter we’d end up listening for the odd silences. To speak against the establishment is to spit in the face of a violent brotherhood. Peaceful intent is rendered hostile, heretic madness. Economics is cruel and intellectually cowardly, though most practitioners see themselves as doing tough love. They avoid entry into best argument in favour of easily made ones.

    Somewhere in the future of any egalitarian argument is a point of practice in which we still have to get necessary work done without the current leadership complex. I think of stuff like this as ‘future memory’ – not futurology but something that should be in the open argument now, not lurking as spectral dark gravity. The right leave USUK foreign policy out of public economic policy, something now the neo-liberal norm. The history they use is perverted in the extreme, based on Attic tragedy not fact. This is an academic discipline? There isn’t even book-keeping we can rely on. Austerity and economic forecasting are based on rune stones and a weegie board that always points to ‘more groaf’.

    The alternative is obvious. World peace and a new constitution. Waiting for this is the ‘castle-in-the-air’ defence. One is a naive loon even to think of this. That’s naive as a denizen of USUK, floating on fictitious money and international looting (murder) and a dangerous rocking of the sinking ship. The voters of Dundee in 1924 had a choice between Churchill (pre-CiA US plant) and ED Morel (exposer of ‘Red Rubber’ and advocate of democratic foreign policy). They threw Churchill out. What’s happened to us since? Education not to see Tony Blair as Margaret Thatcher in drag?

    Austerity is a business practice like reducing already poverty wages in mine and factory. They cut so severely miners couldn’t even replace the calories of hewing with food. Austerity murders. But the big question is what to do after the “hangings”. Leadership is a failed paradigm, but what to replace it with? We have some ideas, but don’t marshal them at all well. For now we might ponder the “great leaders”. Class fishing exercises always produce these cranks in the West;
    Alexander the Great (barbarian butcher and all round toad)
    Winston Churchill (US spy, witty suppressor of workers, bungler)
    Adolf Hitler (built great roads, lost war a ginger kitten would have won)
    Margaret Thatcher (crazed loon, warmonger)
    Teddy Roosevelt (Millibore’s hero – warmonger)
    Napoleon (French men still shorter thanks to his cull of tall men in wars)
    Godswankers (various)

    How do we organise not to get these creeps?

    1. Rosario

      Good insight, I agree completely. On the upside, unavoidable catastrophes do a pretty good job of forcing us out of an ideological deadlock. Unfortunately, we are ALL crammed in the same ideological pen and we can’t seem to stop defecating where we eat.

  4. washunate

    I would continue my one-man crusade against the word ‘austerity’ :)

    It’s a useless, counterproductive term that simply suits the Blue Team vs. Red Team cultural warfare dynamic that is so wrong with our political discourse.

  5. Paul Tioxon

    I can only be heartened by the small amount of commentary and the condemnation of the Ryan Austerity budget. The US House of Representatives has voted to assassinate the middle class with its slaughter of Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security etc. and any worthwhile effort at substantive analysis is beneath the intellect because the budget is beneath contempt.

    1. washunate

      Are you implying that the US Senate and the President are on the side of the middle class?

      1. James Levy

        They are not on the side of the middling sorts, but they do at times think it wise to placate the masses and keep them solvent. This is not much, but it is not nothing.

        1. Paul Tioxon

          The fanatical denouncing is emblematic political analysis. It is flawed. The people are not in their denouncing, but their analysis frequently is. In a world system such as capitalism, which is systemic in structure, where are you supposed to stand outside of the system? How are never not part of it?

          If I want to build a network to influence, to build alliances to get some political outcome, to do anything, I will usually find my self working with people who have some measure of power to influence in the face of organized opposition. That can make you a target for being an obomabot, pathetically deluded to the real nature of our oppression, and blah, blah, blah, blah. And then there are those who denounce you for having a “messianic complex”. You can never seem to be pure enough, smart enough or good enough for this one or that one. Let’s see what this response implies in political incorrectness once my corrupt language is properly deconstructed for even minute traces of voting for democrats, being foolish enough to ever get a job with benefits that derive from profits or not agreeing with everyone all the time to just to get along.

          The republicans for the most part represent the sure fire death of the social safety net. The democrats do not even come close to shutting it down. Thanks to websites, I can read the plans and see the outcomes and there is a difference. There is no plan for a socialist revolution, both parties are the parities of capitalism. But that does not mean politics in America is an undifferentiated mass of actors. As I’ve said before, the safety net is a safety valve that protects against unmanageable social change. The social order is only possible under certain circumstances and the Ryan budget succeeds in destroying all of the preventative measure for massive social unrest. To actually pass such a budget in Congress is beyond all belief as far as I am concerned because the safety net keeps the wealthy safe with their wealth intact from the rest of us. The far right of the liberal spectrum does not and never did get it.

          As much as the social security and other similar government programs makes my and many others life much better, it also coincides with maintaining the social order. It is this mutual benefit that the democrats have struck to everyone’s benefits. The erosion of these benefits no matter how incremental, results in disastrous outcomes for too many otherwise powerless and poorer citizens. But, it still maintains the social order. The republicans with the Ryan budget does not do anything but completely destroy it. And for the simplistic choice of the lesser of 2 evils I have this to say, the world is completely evil when it comes to political choices. That is why we choose among evils, lesser or greater. Let me know when there is no choosing at all. That would be a problem for me. As long as I am denounced for choosing the lesser evil, I will be able to still have some choice as a coping mechanism which for me is a good thing.

          Social change is inevitable, and the safety net can control the rate the social order moves from one state to another. Conservative liberals, want to keep things as they are. But, they can not make time stand still. Our relations to one another keep changing and by managing the extent of that change, rioting, revolutions, civil wars, and other blood shedding social eruptions can be reduced. The more or less placid middle class life of America that is on the way out will usher in more violence than we can digest. The
          Ryan budget will magnify and expand the social unrest. The placating moves of the democrats will erode buffering effects of New Deal/Great Society legislation to preserve dwindling capitalist profits in search of a mix of spending that will not create revolutionary change but preserve the social order of having billionaires and the people who labor for them, with a small fraction of the material wealth without rioting in the streets and burning everything in sight to the ground. .

  6. Larry Barber

    “Worse yet is Ryan’s intellectual dishonesty.”

    No, not really. Before one can be intellectually dishonest, one must have an intellect.

  7. Jackrabbit

    Obama will adopt 90% of Ryans’s proposals while snidely smearing “those who let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”/snark?

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