Sunday, December 9, 2012

How the Fiscal Cliff Reveals That Nobody Really Believes in Austerity

The whole "fiscal cliff" business has really been wearing me out, and not just because the phrase itself is trite and misleading.  No, it has revealed, once and for all, that those claiming to be "fiscal conservatives"are anything but.  The same people who point their fingers of judgement at Europe, and shake their heads at protests over austerity are unwilling to actually implement austerity policies in this country.

Make no mistake, the provisions of the "fiscal cliff" are austerity, red in tooth and claw.  They involve both massive government cuts (including to sacred cows like defense) as well as sweeping tax increases.  If reducing the deficit is truly the quarry that the budget hawks on the right want to slay, then  they should be ecstatic with the "fiscal cliff," and simply allow it to happen.  If nothing is done to avert the oncoming austerity train, it would certainly cut the deficit significantly.

So why are so many Republicans opposed to letting this happen?  Mostly, it's because they actually aren't interested in austerity at all.  They certainly want to slash the social state, but have no interest in reducing our nation's bloated defense spending, and would like to see tax rates on the top brackets go down, rather than up. For over thirty years they have been selling the myth that cutting taxes on wealthy will release a cloud of libertarian faerie powder that will magically grow the economy so much that it will increase revenues.  Furthermore, they castigate any notion that government spending can have any positive effect on economic growth.  Of course, whenever defense is threatened, they crow about the loss of jobs, as if government only stimulates the economy when it buys missiles.  (This frame of mind is what Paul Krugman has dubbed "weaponized Keynesianism.")

Democrats can be awfully dishonest when it comes to facing the realities of the national debt, but at least they don't pretend to be something that they're not.  Until folks like Paul Ryan are willing to raise tax revenue and cut more than social and discretionary spending, they should not be called "deficit hawks" or "fiscal conservatives" in the media.  Furthermore, we should be referring to an "austerity bomb" or "austerity train" or even "austerity cliff" when it comes to the current crisis.

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