difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce a budget
deficit, esp. by reducing public expenditure: a period of austerity | [ as modifier ] : austerity measures.
The purpose of austerity is not to fix the systemic structural problems of the economy (or broken political process), nor to hold those who created the financial crisis accountable, nor to improve the lives of working people; rather it is to transfer the financial risk, debt burden and economic pain to the public sector (aka us). It is the final chapter in capitalism’s self-destructive crusade to crush the economic/social paradigm of the last 70 years and eliminate the social programs and safety nets that helped create, then establish the middle class as we knew it.
Capitalism as practiced today bears no resemblance to Adam Smith’s seminal work, “The Wealth of Nation.” Despite what the acolytes of the current system believe, there is no such thing as the “invisible hand” of the marketplace. It has been corrupted into a joint venture between the state and corporations, where growth and profit, the legal mandates of the corporation, trump the needs of society and the environment. The benefits are privatized (profits to a minority) and the costs (aka “externalities” — damage to the environment and social infrastructure) are passed on and paid unwittingly by the public. It was not always like this, but we have allowed it to happen through complacency and ignorance. Let’s be clear: We are not talking about local businesses (although they sometimes seek advantage over the common good); they are more likely to combine just rewards for entrepreneurial risk with economic equality and civic-minded action and activism. We are talking about the corporate globalization of the world’s economies and the destruction of social order, local and indigenous cultures, collective welfare and ultimately the natural world that we inhabit and rely on for survival.
We are witness to nothing less than a crisis that pits fundamentalist free-market capitalism against the survival of the planet. If you doubt this you have not been paying attention. We are all complicit in a game that we are losing. The easy fruits of capitalism have been harvested. We are now faced with undeniable realities.
Peak oil: (modern economies run on petroleum. Period.) — we are not running out, but we are on the downslope of the world’s supply; fracking and the illusion of energy independence is corporate propaganda.
Climate change: Human activities are having a disastrous impact on weather patterns and the ecosystems that sustain us. We cannot escape the immutable laws of nature.
Population: The world’s population will soon reach 7 billion souls; this growth would never have been possible without oil and its byproducts that created the “green revolution” in agriculture. This reliance, total dependence, on oil will soon end. Consumerism: The habits and patterns of our middle-class consumption will change as economies and social constructs contract in response to declining natural resources that are fought over in the great resource wars that are now under way.
Capitalism once served a purpose in a world that seemed to have unlimited possibilities. We now know that there are physical limits to exponential and unlimited growth, the oxygen of modern capitalism. Capitalism is like an eating disorder. It cannot help itself in its hunger to devour everything in sight. If it does not, it dies.
What, you ask, does this have to do with austerity? Capitalism brokers no competition (whether it be socialism, local sustainable economies, etc.). The “public sector” or people’s market is no exception. We have already seen how the easy money was made. The common wealth of the public sector has always been the jewel in the crown sought after by radical free market ideologues. By driving communities into debt the mega-banks and corporations hold us hostage and require us to sell off our assets. Privatize. Privatize. Schools, health care, Social Security, infrastructure — anything that could turn a profit at the expense of the working people of America.
This in a nutshell is what austerity is all about. Shifting wealth and power from the majority to a minority. They may succeed, but at what cost?
David Tesar lives in Newburyport.