Anti-Austerity Study Group

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Neoliberalism has gone beyond the ‘boorish’ phase...[1] It has become so entrenched and comfortable in its place at the head of the table that neoliberalism has now turned abusive.
 

The Anti-Austerity Discussion Group is a series of discussions about how people locally and around the world are resisting austerity and building strong coalitions to protect access to public services, education, and a basic social safety net. Our goals are to educate ourselves, strengthen our relationships, and develop a shared analysis of austerity and a shared orientation to strategies that work.

Upcoming Study Group Event: TBA

Facebook Event Page: TBA
When: TBA
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Where: TBA
Topic: TBA
Don't Forget: This is a potluck event. Bring food!

Join us for the sixth in a series of discussions about how people locally and around the world are fighting elite-imposed austerity and building political and economic democracy from the grassroots.

Our goals are to educate ourselves, strengthen our relationships, and develop a shared analysis of austerity and strategies to fight back against economic tyranny.

We'll post links to reading material as our study group assignments become available. Have a suggestion? Please post it to our Facebook event page or under the Suggested Reading, Video, Audio.

We will start out with a potluck brunch and spend time getting to know each other. We'll have some discussion in the large group and then break into small groups for more in-depth conversations using the discussion questions provided as a starting point.

Agenda

Assignments

Discussion Questions

Suggested Reading, Video, Audio

Extra Credit

Upcoming Topic Proposals

Previous Topics

Notes of previous discussions located on our Discussion Group Archive page.

Quick Links
Previous discussions listed in reverse order.

Austerity Basics

Rapidly rising deficits at both the federal and state and local government levels, along with prospective long-term financing problems in the Social Security and Medicare programmes, have triggered a one-sided austerity-focused class war in the USA and around the globe. A coalition of the richest and most economically powerful segments of society, conservative politicians who represent their interests and right-wing populist groups like the Tea Party has demanded that deficits be eliminated by severe cuts at all levels of government in spending that either supports the poor and the middle class or funds crucial public investment. It also demands tax cuts for the rich and for business. These demands constitute a deliberate attempt to destroy the New Deal project, begun in the 1930s, whose goal was to subject capitalism to democratic control. (The current) deficit crisis is the result of a shift from the New Deal-based economic model of the early postwar period to today’s neoliberal, free-market model. The new model has generated slow growth, rising inequality and rising deficits. Rising deficits in turn created demands for austerity. After tracing the long-term evolution of our current deficit crisis, (the report's author argues) that this crisis should be resolved primarily by raising taxes on upper-income households and large corporations, cutting war spending and adopting a Canadian- or European-style health care system. Calls for massive government spending cuts should be seen as what they are—an attack by the rich and powerful against the basic interests of the American people.
Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal capitalist policies in many western nations, from the 1970s and to the present day, as resulting in a centralization of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth or land. These neoliberal policies are guided mainly by four practices: privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.

Global Austerity Crisis

We are looking at pushback against elite-imposed austerity in the countries listed below, either one country at a time, or in small groups of countries. We started with Spain:
France
Greece
Lessons for the U.S.: In fact we were struck by the contrast between SYRIZA, with its base in popular movements and its radical possibilities, and the Democratic Party in the U.S., which year after year corrals progressive movements into a party dominated by corporate interests incapable of fighting for progressive goals. In our country there has been plenty of direct action in the streets, in the public squares, on campuses, in workplaces. But unlike Greece, this has not been accompanied by direct action at the ballot box through a political party that is not beholden to big business and is clearly a party of the left. We think that the millions of Americans who are outraged by the ruthless pillaging of their society by arrogant elites desperately need an electoral movement like SYRIZA that is rooted in popular struggles and committed to winning and using political power to achieve progressive change.
Iceland
Iceland’s approach was the polar opposite of the U.S. and Europe, which rescued their banks and did little to aid indebted homeowners.
As retold by the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.
Iceland was the first place to suffer the fallout from over-zealous (male) bankers. Now the country is back on its feet. Why? Because women took over.
The people of Iceland forced their corrupt government to resign. A public assembly was created to rewrite the constitution. The banks were nationalized, it was decided not to pay the debt that PRIVATE banks created. All of this in a peaceful way... What would happen if the rest of the world took this as an example?
Ireland
Italy
Portugal
Spain
(See our archive page for the research and links compiled for our August 11th discussion on Spain.)

More About The Global Austerity Crisis

Five years since the "great recession" started, the failed policy of austerity has left a legacy of extreme levels of unemployment, rising inequality, the marginalization of a generation of young people and the desperation of a growing informal sector where rules simply don't apply.
Austerity kills -- radical cuts destroy economies and lives, and the honest numbers and economics keep proving it
There have been more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression across Europe and the United States since governments started introducing austerity programs in the aftermath of the economic crisis.
The correlation between unemployment and suicide has been observed since the 19th century. People looking for work are about twice as likely to end their lives as those who have jobs. If suicides were an unavoidable consequence of economic downturns, this would just be another story about the human toll of the Great Recession. But it isn’t so. Countries that slashed health and social protection budgets, like Greece, Italy and Spain, have seen starkly worse health outcomes than nations like Germany, Iceland and Sweden, which maintained their social safety nets and opted for stimulus over austerity. (Germany preaches the virtues of austerity — for others.)
Why a Bad Idea Won Over the West
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff,"[2] Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
The best cure for moral hazard is the proverbial ounce of prevention. Moral hazard was rampant in the run-up to the crash because the financial industry was allowed to make wildly speculative bets and to pass along risks to the rest of the society. Yet in its aftermath, this financial crisis is being treated more as an object lesson in personal improvidence than as a case for drastic financial reform.
The European debt crisis, and the ensuing austerity-fueled chaos, can seem to Americans like a distant battle that portends a dark future. Yet a closer look reveals that the future is already here. American austerity has largely taken the form of municipal budget crises precipitated by predatory Wall Street lending practices. The debt financing of U.S. cities and towns, a neoliberal economic model that long precedes the current recession, has inflicted deep and growing suffering on communities across the country.
As Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and now even France impose another senseless round of crushing cuts and tax hikes, hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets to shout "No!" What do they know that their governments and EU bureaucrats don't? That Europe's failed "austeria" craze isn't just cruel – it also poses a threat to political stability in southern Europe.
Lots of good material focused on anti-austerity fightback.
Why would the Catalans or the Basques elect to continue to be a part of Spain, when the government in Madrid has nothing to offer but empty coffers? Why would they let others decide for them when that brings them no economic advantages? Any charismatic leader might convince them that they would be better off as a separate unit. And that leader might be right...[3]
Political Fallout
"Incumbency plus austerity equals political death."
Global Political Awakening
1) Invest in people, don't hobble them with austerity: The stubborn attachment of European leaders to the bankrupt austerity mania is doing more to undermine security, stability and peace than just about anything else in Europe right now.
Elites attempting to implement austerity measures and other unpopular budget programs will need to “deliver a convincing story about the sharing of burdens,” for if they do not, it would “guarantee that a bad situation gets very ugly, very fast.”[4]
For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.

Language Barriers: How does the 1% think and how should we interpret it?

Like Greece, Spain has an economy that is not competitive. It is burdened by industry restrictions and labor laws that tend to retard growth. It faces a long restructuring process of its social services and its business markets that will test the fortitude of its people. The real estate collapse has led to thousands of jobless construction workers who must be retrained[5] before the economy can recover. One problem is that countries like Italy and Greece already have what are generally considered to be bloated government agencies that burden business with paperwork and regulations and impede job creation.
 
— Excerpts from “The Euro Zone Crisis: A Primer
Trudy's Translations

Owellian business and economic language--terms, "competitive," "restructuring," "labor flexibility," "public-private partnerships," "creativity", etc.--tends to obscure what's actually going on. Let's decipher a few of the phrases used in the article quoted above from sterile economic and business "code" and put it into ordinary language.

“not competitive”

TT: Even though we elites were the cause of the economic collapse, we can easily blame the victims--those who lost their jobs, were tossed out of their homes, etc.--for their lack of competitiveness.

“burdened by industry restrictions and labor laws”

TT: This is a terrific opportunity to shift not only the blame, but the costs too, by removing all burdensome private sector regulations and job-killing labor protections. (BwwaaahhhaaaahaaaahaaaHah!)

“long restructuring process”

TT: More austerity measures will gut public assets to the degree that we can snap them up at a bargain basement price and at the same time crush the will of the now surplus labor force, who will "happily" work for shit wages.

“bloated government agencies that burden business”

TT: Once we own everything that the middle class used to own collectively, and once all labor protections are rolled back, we’ll be even freer than we are now to outsource labor and hire locals on contract, with no benefits. Yay, we win again!"

Links & Info

Above all, the austerity agenda attacks women, the poor, people of colour, working people, and public services. It blames the most oppressed for the crimes of the most privileged. The global capitalist austerity agenda has attacked working people from Sudan to Britain, France to Canada, Latvia to the United States. The shock doctrine of IMF structural adjustment programs previously suffered by people of the Global South has, in the austerity agenda, been turned on the Global North. The last bastions of organized labour in the industrialized world are falling to austerity shock doctrine, and it is up to working people to create new kinds of solidarity, new forms of struggle, new understandings of the Leviathan called capitalism that is now killing everything on this planet.[6]
Capitalism Is The Crisis: Radical Politics in the Age of Austerity examines the ideological roots of the "austerity" agenda and proposes revolutionary paths out of the current crisis. The film features original interviews with Chris Hedges, Derrick Jensen, Michael Hardt, Peter Gelderloos, Leo Panitch, David McNally, Richard J.F. Day, Imre Szeman, Wayne Price, and many more!

Discussion Notes

Related Events

See Also

References

  1. The Shock Doctrine: a discussion
  2. Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogo�ff
  3. (Tae Page)
  4. The world teeters on the brink of a new age of rage - Financial Times (Requires registration.)
  5. 1 Job for Every 3.4 Jobless Workers—Skills Shortage Isn't the Problem - “By far the main cause of today’s persistent high unemployment is a broad-based lack of demand for workers—and not, as is often claimed, available workers lacking the skills needed for the sectors with job openings.”
  6. Michael Truscello, Director, Capitalism Is The Crisis