Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Euro Voters Reject Austerity

Voters in Greece, France and even in local elections in Germany rejected enforced austerity in recent polls. French voters narrowly elected the Socialist Francois Hollande on a platform demanding renegotiation of austerity measures demanded by the European Union. Taxes are already high in France so he’ll have his work cut out for him raising taxes enough to make a difference. At least if he can put people to work the country won’t dive deeper into debt and deficit.
In Greece the two main pro-austerity parties, who between themselves have governed the country for the last 40 years, together received less than 32% of the vote. The anti’s however, divided between the far left and right, will probably not be able to agree amongst each other to form a government so new elections are likely soon. But that means they won’t be eligible for additional bailout money and will likely default, though since they’ve already forced creditors to take substantial haircuts, to all intents and purposes they’re already in default. It’s no more than a pretense to think otherwise.
If they knuckle under and accept IMF and ECB austerity - the leftist candidate called those international bodies loan sharks - there’ll be 5 to 10 years of economic pain. If they default, they’re basically facing the same 5 to 10 years of wrenching changes and economic dislocations, but at least their pain won’t be for the benefit of the banksters and 1%.
The one percent’s mania for austerity for everybody but themselves is diving economies ever deeper into recession. If people aren’t working they aren’t paying taxes but are requiring government help for survival. Cutting is the wrong thing to do when a country is in recession, however, if a country runs big deficits in good times there’s no leeway for additional spending during downturns. As mentioned previously, the half of Keynesianism that governments have conveniently overlooked is the need to build surpluses during boom times. It’s too easy to prop up economies and make everything look good by spending money you don’t have. It’s too easy to think you can rely on growth or inflation or something to come along in the future to make the debt easy to manage, because as we are seeing it doesn’t always work that way.
 In any case, almost everybody is missing the point. Last year greenhouse gas emissions grew faster than ever before. Just imagine what would’ve happened if many parts of the world were not in recession and there was no effort whatever to curb emissions. Those record emissions might’ve been doubled. So while my heart goes out to those developed world people in America and Europe who are jobless and suffering, I have to say to those same people, Thank you for being poor and not being able to consume.
What’s needed is a new paradigm where slackers are tolerated if not appreciated and those who live simply by choice are honored; where growth is reserved strictly for non-material plane efforts: knowledge, intellect, beauty and spirituality. The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is promoting a Gross Happiness Index in place of Gross National Product which includes everything that is bad for us as well as good… every time an auto accident causes personal or property damage, it gets added to GNP. You want to help the economy? Get cancer.
We have to retrench. If somebody really doesn’t want to work (and so much of what’s classified as work today is so demeaning and undesirable, who can blame them) why not give them the minimum for survival and thank them for not consuming. Nixon had the right idea with his guaranteed annual income, which, if I remember correctly was pegged at $4000 per year. With a little casual work on the side, that’d be enough (in today’s dollars) to live a simple but decent life. We also need to take France’s lead and shorten the work week along with encouraging deflation to make life cheaper. It’s already happened in the housing market. It’s now much more possible for an average person with a job to afford a home.
Shortening the work week has the added great advantage of tremendously reducing rush hour traffic. Some people would work shorter hours five days a week, others would work a day less. Either way, all transportation systems would have much lighter burdens. Now most people are forced by the eight hour day to come and go at the same time. Shortening the work week would also give people the time to get involved in society and community, not to mention family, self -improvement and pleasure.
The way to deflate the economy is to tax the rich, really tax them, tax the shit out of them. Nothing good comes from the wealthy having too much money. If they have less money to throw around, prices would be forced down. This is especially true in places like New York which are magnets for vast wealth. If people can no longer afford sky high prices for purchasing or renting housing, then their prices will go down, and all real estate prices will follow, benefiting everybody (but the landed wealthy) in the long run.
The current system is top heavy. BBC interviewed a bankster asshole a while back who kept repeating how important the financial community was to the UK and predicting doom and disaster if a small stock transaction tax were imposed. He conveniently ignored the hundreds of billions of dollars the banksters cost the people in bailouts. A majority of people in a UK survey working for the banks said they were there strictly for the money and that they didn’t think they deserved to earn as much as they did. With so many people in finance earning upwards of half million a year, they’ve turned once middle class London neighborhoods into enclaves where only the upper classes can afford to live and by extension have raised the cost of housing for everybody in the city.
The other major change that needs to happen to save the world is to tax advertising, exempting only small businesses. I’m convinced that marketing is the root of all evil, not money. Money, after all, can do good things, while the sole purpose of marketing is to convince people to buy things they might not need or are possibly bad for them. Even if what they are encouraged to purchase through adverts isn’t necessarily bad, the act of consuming is going to consume our planet and people need to be encouraged to hold back, to not indulge, to buy only what they really need. The present path is not sustainable, let alone healthy.
Admittedly I’m way out of synch with prevailing philosophy (it’s not the first time). The idea of applauding slackers and promoting deflation and reduction in place of growth is about as likely in the present political climate as encouraging pedophilia and welcoming pollution-caused cancers, nonetheless that’s where the world needs to go. That it can’t possibly go that way is a sad commentary on the state of our only planet and its inevitable downward slide into catastrophe.  

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