What is austerity? A dictionary definition will provide you with the definition of a “strict economy.” It will also provide you with an antonym: leniency. Although the current austerity practices in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere certainly match those definitions, the implications of enforcing these measures against the will of the majority population — and imposing them as a rational solution to the socioeconomic problems we face — are far graver, dangerous and outright scary.
Let’s examine the conditions of the loans aimed at getting countries (like Greece and Spain) out of debt: they want to raise the retirement age, increase the work day and have people work for lower wages, cut funding to education, maintenance and other important public sector areas, cut Social Security, cut pensions, and even privatize the municipal water and electric systems.
But at least the measures are democratic, right? Wrong. These austerity policies have been entered into and implemented despite resounding political opposition. Almost weekly protests all over Europe have been gathering outside centers of governmental power with signs like “No Nos Representan” (They Don’t Represent Us), or scissors with a slash through it, or the European Union flag peeled away to reveal the flag of Nazi Germany, or “No es la Crisis, es el Sistema” (It’s not a crisis, it’s the System). And many just plain and simply read: NO. And you call this government by the people’s consent?
When austerity measures were first introduced in Greece, George Papandreou, the prime minister at the time, attempted to hold a referendum for the acceptance of the bailout deal but was pressured to resign. He was replaced almost immediately by Lucas Papademos, who was governor of the Bank of Greece from 1994 to 2002 and became vice president of the European Central Bank from 2002 to 2010.
Thus in Greece, the “cradle of democracy” was robbed by bankers. And what does Christine Lagarde, head of the cleverly re-named International Mafia Foundation (IMF), have to say about it? “Pay your taxes. I have more sympathy for children in sub-Saharan Africa.”
A similar situation happened in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, who was sentenced last week to four years in prison for tax fraud, proposed a referendum to accept the austerity package that was proposed in his country at the time. Under pressure from Congress and from population, he resigned and was replaced by Mario Monti, former European Commissioner from 1995 to 2004, and the minister of economy and finance for two years. The austerity measures were implemented.
One result of these austerity measures is that they give rise to dangerous, desperate and misguided ideologies just as the situations are becoming more unsustainable in those countries. For example, the Golden Dawn, an ultra-right, ultra-nationalist party that rails against immigrants now has approximately 14 percent of Greeks’ support, twice as much as it did in June when Greece elected 18 of its party members to Parliament.
It’s sometimes difficult to understand how economic instability in Europe affects us in the United States; easier to dismiss them as being across the Atlantic, and left to solve their own problems. But their actions do affect us, they can have severe consequences, and vice versa. The LIBOR scandal, for example, should be the number one story of this year. The key banks that receive the LIBOR rate were manipulating that basic interest rate upon which student loans, car and credit card loans are based all over the world; they knew which way the rates would go, then made bets on them.
Essentially, the crisis “over there” has great parallels to our own in the U.S., where a few major banks knowingly sold sub-prime mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, treating them as AAA products when they were far from it, and insured these securities with institutions such as AIG. When the housing bubble burst, the bankers didn’t want to pay for their lost bets and insurances so they created a scheme to dump it on the taxpayers. To a large extent they’ve succeeded because of our compliance and refusal to study the issue.
Let’s be clear: there is no easy way out of the so-called crisis. The euro has lasted but 10 years. Under our current rigid, unforgiving, global dynasties of bankers and corporations that comprise the economic and political elite, the solution will always be to remove money from the public sector and the working person, to print more increasingly worthless electronic money, to sign away people’s sovereignty and basic human rights, and to centralize power.
But if we, the people, choose to actually look at and study the problem, it isn’t that there aren’t enough funds. It’s that our money is being allocated and distributed in bluntly unethical ways, funneling toward fewer and fewer people while populations bail out the very criminal enterprises that took us down.
And what’s most frightening and discouraging is that these policies — the ethics of austerity — are being entered into undemocratically, that is, without the support of the citizens they are ostensibly being designed to serve. So let’s say it like it is. Let’s call a spade a spade: through “austerity,” international bankers and corporations are imposing economic neo-feudalism on us all, by seizing the governmental levers of power and using that power to craft legislation and social policy that benefit those corporations and bankers, while rendering the everyday citizen powerless.
The question is, once we understand and openly recognize this truth, what are we going to do about it?