What We Can Afford

cross-posted from Questioning Transphobia

Just wanted to note this post by Adam Kotsko about the climate of austerity cuts and the dubious justifications employed by governments and bureaucrats, especially in the light of the devastating budget cuts on education in the UK (I mean, surely the judgment of the former head of BP can be trusted to understand education?  Surely *snerk).  Adam points out that:

  • If we can afford to spend billions of dollars on weapons systems we will almost certainly never use, we can afford to have a system where a dedicated tax stream pays for some bare-bones retirement and disability benefits, with no more overhead than it costs to print and mail the checks.
  • If we can afford to endlessly occupy two countries for no apparent reason, surely we can afford to help people get health insurance.
  • If we can summon up $700 billion out of thin air to bail out banks, surely we can afford to fill in the state and local budget gaps that would lead to firing people who provide essential services.
  • If we can afford high-tech laboratories to do scientific research the results of which we will basically give away to corporate interests for nothing, then we can afford humanities instruction, which requires a teacher, a chalkboard, and enough chairs for all the students.
  • Again, if universities can afford to run money-losing athletic programs, then they can afford to provide the minimal research support funds humanities people require — basically time off to focus on research and maybe the occasional plane ticket, since the other resources they need consist of little more than the pre-existing infrastructure of a good library that you’d need for the university anyway.
  • The pattern is the same again and again and again: the thing that actually costs not too much money is denounced as unaffordable, while the insanely expensive thing is never even questioned. It’s like if I overdrew my checking account and decided I needed to start buying store-brand cereal while never questioning if I can afford that Lexus.

It is amazing indeed as the comments point out that the governments of the world could instantly summon capital and action for the “crisis” of finance but not for any kind of human needs – which is somehow implausibly “idealistic” next to the raw “need” of capitalist realism.  Indeed, in the United States what was clear in the way the bailout was handed out was the way in which finance is not remotely subject to the same degree of disciplining that those in the public sectors or on welfare are  – even when finance is requiring the most substantial bailout of any industry just about ever.

Imagine the education sector, which is also “too big too fail” given the number of students, teachers and office staff employed, being handed 700 billion with barely any conditions.  No fucking way.  And then imagine that higher education the very next year responded by giving its executives the highest number of bonuses ever (or any for that matter) – as Wall Street just has.  There’d be riots in the streets, and justly so.

There is no human right to finance, no human need which requires the bulk of the population to subsidise the immoral and often illegal speculations of the ruling class.  No, it is time as Digby said recently, to start the prosecutions, to treat the financial elites as the criminals they undoubtedly are, and to stop disciplining the wrong industries and begin putting money into the vital areas which are not merely useful but fulfill universal needs – health, education, public works.

Anything else is simply idealism of the worst kind – the idealism of a capitalism which is failing on every possible score, even its own ability to make money (the only legitimating quality it is suggested to need).  It is realism to treat human rights first and capital second.  Austerity cuts are simply doing the short-term work of the financial/political ruling class themselves, and it will profit no-one – not even they themselves – in the long run, because as the 2008 crash and the Louisiana oil spill have both proven,  capitalism can not be trusted to do even basic care to prevent a disaster if there is the shortest of short term profits involved.  And the rest of us will pay the price, again.

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