This is the first post in a series, The Revolution Will Not Be Actualized (RIP Gil Scott-Heron). This series is an evolving concept where I am discussing austerity policy and the movements against it. In the post What Is Austerity, I state that austerity is an economic policy that limits spending and eliminates public services with the purpose of reducing national budget deficits. The anti-austerity movements in Europe are very strong and have conducted general strikes in order to stop the austerity programs in their countries. These are very exciting times. However, we are not seeing the same kind of unrest in the United States. This series explores why.
We are not fighting against institutions, but rather, our struggle is against beliefs. It is no longer enough to simply boycott Nike for sweatshops in Vietnam. Egypt, Greece, Spain, Iceland and others are examples of a shift in perspective that requires us to struggle not only against the instruments of capitalism, but the very idea of capitalism itself. The people in these counties protest in order to force the society to reconsider how it wants to distribute resources, and preserving the private financial system at the cost of public services is no longer the default assumption.
The primary catalyst for the protests in these countries is rampant inequality. Yet, despite all this global transformation, I remain somewhat discouraged by the lack of unrest here in the United States. It is well demonstrated that we in the United States experience an extreme concentration of wealth. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz says that the people at the top are not only getting richer, but that, “they’re gaining, and everybody else is decreasing… And right now, we are worse than old Europe.” In fact, inequality in the United States is worse than Egypt, Spain, and Greece. While inequality is somewhat abstract, forcibly removing people from their homes during the mortgage crisis is a concrete reality for a staggering number of people.
As a people, we in the United States are generally aware of the home foreclosures, inadequate healthcare, unemployment, and dysfunctional pre-college education systems. However, we continue to trust the status quo wealth distribution and its concentration in corporate leaders. Beyond our comfort with wealth stratification, we also trust the idea of corporate power. For example, if you listen to leading Republicans, their approach to government is to make it run like a corporation. They want government to operate with the profit motive which would result in a budget surplus.
However, they avoid asking whether government should turn a profit. Many government services, like water, should not be profitable, but they are intended to lower the cost for everyone by having the government lose money. In reality, this is no simple oversight. The Republicans have executed a wonderful political maneuver. In Greece, the leftists are threatening to force the nation into default rather than give up public services. Conversely, here in the United States the conservatives are threatening to force the nation into default (by not raising the debt ceiling) in order to eliminate public services. By arguing for default, the Republicans have fractured any hope of a transatlantic anti-austerity movement. It is hard for me to believe that this political windfall was a mistake.