It’s not a “fiscal cliff” — it’s an “austerity bomb”

Framing alert, lefties. I’m serious. The so-called “fiscal cliff” really is an “austerity bomb” and there’s a ton of reasons to use that phrasing — or something, at least, not dictated by the mainstream who wants it (my Twitter friend @cybrestrike likes Grand Betrayal; so do I).

Also, accuracy alert. “Austerity bomb” really does describe both the cause and the effect. The Professor (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo seems to have been the first to use the phrase “austerity bomb” for what’s scheduled to happen at the end of the year. It’s a much better term than “fiscal cliff”.

The cliff stuff makes people imagine that it’s a problem of excessive deficits when it’s actually about the risk that the deficit will be too small; also and relatedly, the fiscal cliff stuff enables a bait and switch in which people say “so, this means that we need to enact Bowles-Simpson and raise the retirement age!” which have nothing at all to do with it.

I talked about the bait-and-switch here:

There are no serious deficit hawks in Washington; just serious safety net killers. The “fiscal cliff” wasn’t designed to force budget changes. It was designed to force scary budget changes as a cover for safety net reductions.

Back to Krugman:

And it can’t be emphasized enough that everyone who shrieks about the dangers of the austerity bomb is in effect acknowledging that the Keynesians were right all along, that slashing spending and raising taxes on ordinary workers is destructive in a depressed economy, and that we should actually be doing the opposite.

Yes. And there’s a nice chart of what the austerity bomb is doing to unemployment in Europe. Click to see; up is bad.

Look, there’s only one bottom line here. This is a Demand Depression. The economy is depressed because no one is buying — lack of demand. If it were a Supply Depression — a depression caused by a lack of a supply of goods — we’d be out of it already. We’ve handed money hand over fist to the “job creators,” and they’ve given us nada in the way of ramped-up production. If there were money to be made by producing, they’d be making it — in this country, the one actual Americans care about.

‘Nuff said? Or do I need to go on about how those internationalist “job creators” don’t give an actual damn about the country of their origin — so long as their next pile of megalomaniacal cash comes from somewhere. (Hello from China, Mr. Romney; make yourself right at home. Your table is ready.)

OK, I lied. There really is a second bottom line. Progressive writers — austerity bomb, not “fiscal cliff”. Grand Betrayal works as well.

Can we do this? Can we coordinate some reframing? Yes, I think we can (heh).


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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8 Responses to “It’s not a “fiscal cliff” — it’s an “austerity bomb””

  1. A reader in Colorado says:

    And I understand your point, but disagree. It’s more important to have an accurate measure of the true state of employment than it is to genuflect to the image of political parties and politicians. People suffer when they’re made invisible, when they aren’t counted and when politicians make believe they don’t exist. They become a permanent underclass. This is vastly more important than the IMAGE of a political party or a politician.

    It is putting parties and politicians before people that has been getting us in this mess in the first place. It’s time to start putting people first.

    When you look at this graph, no, there really hasn’t been any kind of modest improvement at all during Obama’s term in office, except in the media-accepted unemployment rate itself. This is what I’m talking about. The trend in employment participation is a jagged one, but the general direction is down over the last few years. The measuring stick itself is flawed. It’s time to not sweep people under the rug; remove the FLAW. It’s not BLS being dishonest, and the fact of the flaw in unemployed people not being properly counted is not Barack Obama’s fault. But the FLAW is in need of addressing.

    Now, you can argue very convincingly that unemployment itself isn’t Obama’s fault and is all the Republicans’ fault, but this is an entirely different argument. The bragged about jobs improvement is an illusion and always has been. Unemployment only looks to have eased due to millions of people having been swept under the rug.

    But they cannot remain swept under. And to the degree it is tried to keep them invisible, this will only get worse for all parties and politicians to keep this problem suppressed.

    Perhaps, the election being over, this can now be admitted and we can start talking about what to do about the long term unemployed who aren’t counted.

  2. Jimbo says:

    Can you point to any example where your preferred policy response has been successfully employed? With a couple thousand years of economic history to look back on surely this has been done before. How does it work out when put in place?

  3. condew says:

    I get your point about accurate measures of unemployment, and we do admit the uncounted “discourage workers” in discussions of the uptick in unemployment when things actually improve; but it is more important to apply the same measure to unemployment under various administrations.

    We certainly don’t want to change the measure under a Democratic administration so that we make the numbers look worse; we don’t want to give Republicans the campaign line that, say, unemployment was 8% when Obama took office, and 25% when he left, when in fact there has been modest improvement.

  4. A reader in Colorado says:

    Oh, and now that the election is over, and the Washington DC politicians’ jobs are secure. which is doubtless the most important thing in the entire world, can we finally talk about how the official unemployment rate really is a sham, and how the millions and millions of people who have given up looking for work, or aren’t registered for unemployment because they have no chance of getting unemployment, aren’t counted?

    How we need to start counting ALL of the unemployed to talk about anything real?

    The 7.9% official rate is a SHAM. It’s not Obama’s fault, and it’s not BLS jiggying with the numbers. It’s still a SHAM. Millions and millions of people aren’t counted, and within that sham, the lack of good jobs isn’t counted. The official unemployment rate is designed to paint an overly optimistic state of the American workforce.

    That was true before Obama came into office, but it’s especially absurd now and unreflective of the real situation.

    We need real unemployment statistics that reflect the real pain of Americans, and we need them now.

    And we need another number – the insufficiently employed. Those who have work, no matter how insufficient to live, are not counted as unemployed. This is wrong, and paints an inaccurate picture of the state of America.

  5. A reader in Colorado says:

    Buried somewhere in there is the acknowledgement that this is another Great Depression, and we’re still in it, denials during the election to the contrary.

    That deserved its very own paragraph, instead of a sidebar, especially on a site like this – wha, now you’re admitting after the election, this is still a Depression? Now?

    During the election, the 14 to 25 million people without work or without sufficient work to live got ignored. Instead, we got treated to pablum talk about proposals to put a bandaid on a gushing tear to the gut of America.

    People fell off the unemployment rolls and weren’t replaced, Now it’s time to start talking about the jobless again. That talk should never have stopped, and shame on those people who played “Happy Days are Here Again” while the American people burned with what is still an out of control, raging fire of unemployment..

  6. GaiusPublius says:

    From your mouth to someone’s ear, Russ. I don’t think they see it that way. Emerging markets, in their minds, will fill the gap and then some. Foxconn wants a plant in the US (no doubt a right-to-work state). Redefines “white sharecropper” for sure, but the white sharecroppers of old chomped hard on the racist bit and pulled the aristocrat’s wagon. I’m sure they (southern whites) are up for the internationalist round of that game. Sad that, but likely true. Good comment!


  7. BeccaM says:

    Indeed, framing matters. For example, we lost the war on the anti-labor laws now commonly called ‘Right to Work.’

    This is why I keep harping on the need to separate “raise taxes on the rich and restoring progressivity to the tax code” versus “deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, veterans health care, education grants, gov’t and military pensions, and much more.”

    I mean, sure, part of what’ll happen on 1/1/2013 if Congress does nothing is people’s take-home pay will get hit a little due to the expiration of all the tax cuts and temporary stimulus measures. What they’re not telling us is the ‘Grand Betrayal’ alternative is to take that hit and transfer it completely to retirees (both current and future), the disabled, and young people trying to go to college. Oh, and forget about Saturday mail delivery, and first-class mail will soon take 3-4 days rather than 1-2 in a given metropolitan area.

    Meanwhile, the deep austerity-driven cuts will further depress demand — and that’s a far greater risk factor for causing another recession in this economic Depression we still haven’t climbed up out of.

  8. Russ Wellen says:

    Will try to remember to use those expressions. Re Demand Depression: so strange that 1% doesn’t care that consumers can’t afford to buy. They think they can move along to other countries and profit from consumers in emerging markets. But there will never be a middle class with the buying power that America once enjoyed. They’re cutting their own throats.

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