Loving austerity

You’ve got to hand it to the Brits, as Anne Applebaum explains:

“Vicious cuts.” “Savage cuts.” “Swingeing cuts.” The language that the British use to describe their new government’s spending reduction policy is apocalyptic in the extreme. The ministers in charge of the country’s finances are known as “axe-wielders” who will be “hacking” away at the national budget. Articles about the nation’s finances are filled with talk of blood, knives and amputation.

And the British love it. Not only is “austerity” being touted as the solution to Britain’s economic woes, it is also being described as the answer to the country’s moral failings. On Oct. 20, the government will announce $128 billion worth of spending cuts, and many seem positively excited about it. . . For these voters, the very idea of instant gratification is anathema, in theory if not in practice. And they elected this government because they’ve convinced themselves that they’ve had enough of it.

Austerity, by contrast, has a deep appeal. Austerity is what made Britain great. Austerity is what won the war. It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that “remarkable year” of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship. One series, “Ration Book Britain” is even devoted to that era’s parsimonious cooking. “With bacon, eggs and sugar rationed, wartime cooks had to be jolly resourceful,” explains an advertisement for the show. Its host promises to “re-create the recipes that kept the country fighting fit.”

Sometimes the depth of the Anglo-American cultural divide reveals itself in unexpected ways, and this is one of those moments: No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States. Perhaps for similar reasons, nobody is talking about “austerity” in the United States either. On the contrary, Republicans are still gunning for tax cuts, and Democrats are still advocating higher spending. Almost nobody — not Paul Krugman, not Newt Gingrich — talks enthusiastically about budget cuts. Instead, our politicians use euphemisms about “eliminating waste” or “making government more efficient,” as if no one had ever thought of doing that before.

Despite the deep shock the United States supposedly experienced during the banking crisis of 2008 and the resulting recession, we are, in other words, still far from Clegg’s “long-termism.” Hardly anyone in America is talking about cuts in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, for example, the biggest budgetary items (even though “private” pensions now look a lot safer, even when taking stock market fluctuations into account, than those who will depend entirely on a bankrupt federal budget 20 years hence). In Britain, by contrast, everything is on the table: pensions, housing benefits, disability payments, tax breaks.

Politics explain some of this difference, but I reckon history explains more of it. The last period of real national hardship Americans might remember is the 1930s, too long ago for almost everyone alive today. But rationing in Britain lasted well into the 1950s, long enough to color the childhoods of many politicians now in power. Nostalgic Brits, longing to re-create their country’s finest hour, remember postwar scrimping and saving. Nostalgic Americans in search of their own country’s finest hour remember postwar abundance, the long consumer boom — and, yes, a time when even instant gratification wasn’t fast enough.

via Anne Applebaum – For the U.S., Britain’s austerity is a foreign concept.

The conventional wisdom is that politicians dare not ask Americans to make sacrifices of any kind.  Do you think Americans could come to love austerity?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Winston Smith

    Baby Boomers would embrace austerity if it were made to seem trendy and cool.

    Generation X would love austerity if it freed up some money to pay off their student loans.

    Millennials think austerity means being limited to 140 characters on Tweeter.

  • Winston Smith

    Baby Boomers would embrace austerity if it were made to seem trendy and cool.

    Generation X would love austerity if it freed up some money to pay off their student loans.

    Millennials think austerity means being limited to 140 characters on Tweeter.

  • Ken

    It would be a massive jolt to the psyche of many Americans. Being abandoned by the Baals of materialism might wake some up; it could put others into catatonia.

  • Ken

    It would be a massive jolt to the psyche of many Americans. Being abandoned by the Baals of materialism might wake some up; it could put others into catatonia.

  • Tom Hering

    “Do you think Americans could come to love austerity?”

    Sure, as long it’s the other guy who has to be austere.

  • Tom Hering

    “Do you think Americans could come to love austerity?”

    Sure, as long it’s the other guy who has to be austere.

  • Winston Smith

    Slightly off-topic, one sentence in the quoted article jumped out at me:

    “It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that ‘remarkable year’ of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship.”

    There is probably more of that kind of subtle conditioning by the media than most people realize. Was it a coincidence, for example, that a movie about a nuclear plant meltdown, “The China Syndrome,” came out just before the Three Mile Island accident in 1979? Perhaps more controversially, did anyone notice how many war movies came out in the fall of 2001, just after the invasion of Afghanistan? (“Black Hawk Down,’ “Hart’s War,” etc.). “Pearl Harbor,” a blockbuster film about an air attack on America, came out earlier in 2001.

    Did no one see “Wag The Dog?”

  • Winston Smith

    Slightly off-topic, one sentence in the quoted article jumped out at me:

    “It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that ‘remarkable year’ of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship.”

    There is probably more of that kind of subtle conditioning by the media than most people realize. Was it a coincidence, for example, that a movie about a nuclear plant meltdown, “The China Syndrome,” came out just before the Three Mile Island accident in 1979? Perhaps more controversially, did anyone notice how many war movies came out in the fall of 2001, just after the invasion of Afghanistan? (“Black Hawk Down,’ “Hart’s War,” etc.). “Pearl Harbor,” a blockbuster film about an air attack on America, came out earlier in 2001.

    Did no one see “Wag The Dog?”

  • Kirk

    “No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States. ”

    To be fair, I wouldn’t look to the Brits as a culinary model in even the fattest of times.

  • Kirk

    “No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States. ”

    To be fair, I wouldn’t look to the Brits as a culinary model in even the fattest of times.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    There is something amiss about all this. This “austerity” idea would seem to go against the “bigger is better” and the “build it and they will come” “have the break you deserve today your way” fundamentals and all I was taught to hold dear about my own culture within this greatest and free-est of nations. I’ve never heard of this “austerity” before. Its hard to think about and doing so makes me feel very uncomfortable. It sounds like an extremely bad idea to me.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    There is something amiss about all this. This “austerity” idea would seem to go against the “bigger is better” and the “build it and they will come” “have the break you deserve today your way” fundamentals and all I was taught to hold dear about my own culture within this greatest and free-est of nations. I’ve never heard of this “austerity” before. Its hard to think about and doing so makes me feel very uncomfortable. It sounds like an extremely bad idea to me.

  • Orianna Laun

    America is a country of excesses. If austerity = moderation, or is at least similar, then we will have a hard time of it.

  • Orianna Laun

    America is a country of excesses. If austerity = moderation, or is at least similar, then we will have a hard time of it.

  • Orianna Laun

    It takes too much self-control. ( I was going to add that but clicked “submit” too quickly. Sorry.)

  • Orianna Laun

    It takes too much self-control. ( I was going to add that but clicked “submit” too quickly. Sorry.)

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Get your grubby communist paws off my Suburban, my prefab McMansion, my outrageously priced mall clothes, my smart phone, my reality tv show, my 7,000 calorie burger meal, my…

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Get your grubby communist paws off my Suburban, my prefab McMansion, my outrageously priced mall clothes, my smart phone, my reality tv show, my 7,000 calorie burger meal, my…

  • Louis

    I think, (although I’m not in the US, but in it’s northern neighbour, the similarities are strong), that people have gone from seeing the American Dream as the given oppurtunity that hard work will pay off, and bring happiness, ( flawed, but understandable), to one where a person is entitled to happiness, and happiness means stuff and services (excuse the long sentence).

    Entitlement. It is also the reason why I hear/see the phrase “I am angry with God” so much more – as if we are entitled to God’s blessings.

  • Louis

    I think, (although I’m not in the US, but in it’s northern neighbour, the similarities are strong), that people have gone from seeing the American Dream as the given oppurtunity that hard work will pay off, and bring happiness, ( flawed, but understandable), to one where a person is entitled to happiness, and happiness means stuff and services (excuse the long sentence).

    Entitlement. It is also the reason why I hear/see the phrase “I am angry with God” so much more – as if we are entitled to God’s blessings.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Orianna, 7 “we will have a hard time of it.”

    Well isn’t that the name of the austerity game?

    I’m wondering if the austerity that will be forced upon us by “natural” economic forces will be that much more evil than one that would be planned and take into consideration the need for human mercy (as well as seriously extending the austerity to also include those who are holding the strings).

    As a culture Americans have, as a whole, overbuilt and overextended ourselves. Is it not likely that a certain “austerity” is what some sectors are already to some extent experiencing. The natural answer for most of us is truly and deeply held and to push back against it, but perhaps this isn’t wise. The best answer is in working together to plan and guide austerity carefully, and help it along while protecting the poor (which there will be more of) until the cutting finally is deep enough to return to a viable economic equation? Austerity may just happen (whether we like it or plan it or not), though we might just then call it Bad Luck. But austerity needs mercy.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Orianna, 7 “we will have a hard time of it.”

    Well isn’t that the name of the austerity game?

    I’m wondering if the austerity that will be forced upon us by “natural” economic forces will be that much more evil than one that would be planned and take into consideration the need for human mercy (as well as seriously extending the austerity to also include those who are holding the strings).

    As a culture Americans have, as a whole, overbuilt and overextended ourselves. Is it not likely that a certain “austerity” is what some sectors are already to some extent experiencing. The natural answer for most of us is truly and deeply held and to push back against it, but perhaps this isn’t wise. The best answer is in working together to plan and guide austerity carefully, and help it along while protecting the poor (which there will be more of) until the cutting finally is deep enough to return to a viable economic equation? Austerity may just happen (whether we like it or plan it or not), though we might just then call it Bad Luck. But austerity needs mercy.

  • Porcell

    It’s a myth that Americans don’t want to get serious reforming entitlements to put them on a sustainable basis. The Baby Boomers, et al, have a large interest in this matter; when they take a close look at such hard-headed proposals as Ryan’s Roadmap for America, they will likely favor reform.

    The Tea Party Movement for all its faults has made it clear that a large and growing segment of the American public are well aware of the potential fiscal disaster at the federal and state government levels and are willing to tighten their belts to deal effectively with this.

    At the state level, Governors Christie of New Jersey, Daniels of Indiana, and McDonnell of Virginia are proving that the people of their states are solidly in favor of fiscal reform including the reigning in of out of control public employee salaries and benefits that have come about due to the influence of unions. Even some of the public employees can be won over with sensible reform.

    The people are ready for reform; what’s needed now are statesmen who can effectively and moderately deliver it. While it’s true the people get the governments they deserve, just now many of the people want far leaner government.

  • Porcell

    It’s a myth that Americans don’t want to get serious reforming entitlements to put them on a sustainable basis. The Baby Boomers, et al, have a large interest in this matter; when they take a close look at such hard-headed proposals as Ryan’s Roadmap for America, they will likely favor reform.

    The Tea Party Movement for all its faults has made it clear that a large and growing segment of the American public are well aware of the potential fiscal disaster at the federal and state government levels and are willing to tighten their belts to deal effectively with this.

    At the state level, Governors Christie of New Jersey, Daniels of Indiana, and McDonnell of Virginia are proving that the people of their states are solidly in favor of fiscal reform including the reigning in of out of control public employee salaries and benefits that have come about due to the influence of unions. Even some of the public employees can be won over with sensible reform.

    The people are ready for reform; what’s needed now are statesmen who can effectively and moderately deliver it. While it’s true the people get the governments they deserve, just now many of the people want far leaner government.

  • Louis

    Porcell – i hope you are right. Although I have seen some surveys etc, in it seems that even those in the Tea Party are loth to have their Social Security, Medicaid etc touched, and even more so of raising taxes. That leaves little room, as those things are the biggest items. It is one thing to say we don’t want any further unnecessary spending (a good thing) – but that is hardly austere. Now I’ll admit I haven’t read Ryan’s roadmap, so I can’t comment on that.

    I will recommend the blog of a friend of mine on these matters – and he is an Austrian in manners economical, not an ordoliberal ;) – but his analysis of the current situations is quite succint: http://jerkonomics.blogspot.com/

  • Louis

    Porcell – i hope you are right. Although I have seen some surveys etc, in it seems that even those in the Tea Party are loth to have their Social Security, Medicaid etc touched, and even more so of raising taxes. That leaves little room, as those things are the biggest items. It is one thing to say we don’t want any further unnecessary spending (a good thing) – but that is hardly austere. Now I’ll admit I haven’t read Ryan’s roadmap, so I can’t comment on that.

    I will recommend the blog of a friend of mine on these matters – and he is an Austrian in manners economical, not an ordoliberal ;) – but his analysis of the current situations is quite succint: http://jerkonomics.blogspot.com/

  • Tom Hering

    “… people have gone from seeing the American Dream as the given opportunity that hard work will pay off, and bring happiness … to one where a person is entitled to happiness, and happiness means stuff and services …” – Louis @ 10.

    Hard work will result in a layoff so your company’s stock will rise, or in production moving to Mexico. Both of which result in you needing services, at least for a while.

  • Tom Hering

    “… people have gone from seeing the American Dream as the given opportunity that hard work will pay off, and bring happiness … to one where a person is entitled to happiness, and happiness means stuff and services …” – Louis @ 10.

    Hard work will result in a layoff so your company’s stock will rise, or in production moving to Mexico. Both of which result in you needing services, at least for a while.

  • Porcell

    Louis, thanks, Mises, an economist whom I greatly respect, could be right on this. Though, just now the people in America and a few of their statesmen are showing signs that they want to rein in loose government spending.

    For an excellent article on the genesis and folly of “progressive” government spending policy, see an article today in the WSJ, article Glenn Beck, Progressives and Me
    The TV host has a point when he says a limitless view of state power is un-American.
    .

  • Porcell

    Louis, thanks, Mises, an economist whom I greatly respect, could be right on this. Though, just now the people in America and a few of their statesmen are showing signs that they want to rein in loose government spending.

    For an excellent article on the genesis and folly of “progressive” government spending policy, see an article today in the WSJ, article Glenn Beck, Progressives and Me
    The TV host has a point when he says a limitless view of state power is un-American.
    .

  • Porcell

    Sorry, that link is Here .

  • Porcell

    Sorry, that link is Here .

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Lots of Americans voluntarily practice austerity. They live within their means and save, a lot.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Lots of Americans voluntarily practice austerity. They live within their means and save, a lot.

  • DonS

    I don’t find the article compelling, because I think the American people are exhibiting the same kind of desire to rein in government spending and entitlements. It’s just that, to date, our government, unlike other world governments, is refusing to listen. The party presently in power is still of the mindset that if the budget is out of balance, the only option is to raise taxes. The spending programs remain sacrosanct. I think the election results last night well evidence that the voters are ready for a whole new mentality in Washington, D.C.

    The American people are ready to accept an increase in retirement age, as being necessary given our increased lifespans. Eligibility criteria for Social Security should be changed as well — at present you are eligible for full benefits after 40 quarters (only 10 years!) of full time work. Benefit schedules need to be graduated better to more closely correllate to amounts paid in. Automatic inflation increases need to be revised to reflect inflationary costs to seniors rather than wage increases. Social Security tax rates, and cap levels, should be decreased over time, as current ridiculous benefits costs subside, so that Americans have more take home pay to save for their own retirement. The goal should be to eventually convern Social Security primarily to a program aimed at lower income earners.

    The American people are well ready to jettison the Obamacare that was rammed down their throats by a Democratic Congress that did not care a whit for public opinion or a legitimate legislative process. We need less government involvement in health care, not more, because government subsidies distort the market, and worsen the cost curve (see higher education for another compelling example of this). The American people are ready to assume responsibility for their health care if they are given the tools to do so. This means more take home pay because of lower taxation, good comprehensive health insurance policies with high deductibles, and generous health savings accounts with government subsidies for low income people.

    No government benefits program, other than Social Security, should ever promise benefits to anyone beyond the current fiscal year. In other words, people CANNOT be entitled to benefits. Benefits criteria should be established each year based on available budget. Deficit spending should be outlawed, save for wartime. And then, repayment of any wartime deficit should be mandated within a certain number of years after the emergency, based on a GDP formula.

    The people are ready. All we need is a goverment ready to challenge them to be better.

  • DonS

    I don’t find the article compelling, because I think the American people are exhibiting the same kind of desire to rein in government spending and entitlements. It’s just that, to date, our government, unlike other world governments, is refusing to listen. The party presently in power is still of the mindset that if the budget is out of balance, the only option is to raise taxes. The spending programs remain sacrosanct. I think the election results last night well evidence that the voters are ready for a whole new mentality in Washington, D.C.

    The American people are ready to accept an increase in retirement age, as being necessary given our increased lifespans. Eligibility criteria for Social Security should be changed as well — at present you are eligible for full benefits after 40 quarters (only 10 years!) of full time work. Benefit schedules need to be graduated better to more closely correllate to amounts paid in. Automatic inflation increases need to be revised to reflect inflationary costs to seniors rather than wage increases. Social Security tax rates, and cap levels, should be decreased over time, as current ridiculous benefits costs subside, so that Americans have more take home pay to save for their own retirement. The goal should be to eventually convern Social Security primarily to a program aimed at lower income earners.

    The American people are well ready to jettison the Obamacare that was rammed down their throats by a Democratic Congress that did not care a whit for public opinion or a legitimate legislative process. We need less government involvement in health care, not more, because government subsidies distort the market, and worsen the cost curve (see higher education for another compelling example of this). The American people are ready to assume responsibility for their health care if they are given the tools to do so. This means more take home pay because of lower taxation, good comprehensive health insurance policies with high deductibles, and generous health savings accounts with government subsidies for low income people.

    No government benefits program, other than Social Security, should ever promise benefits to anyone beyond the current fiscal year. In other words, people CANNOT be entitled to benefits. Benefits criteria should be established each year based on available budget. Deficit spending should be outlawed, save for wartime. And then, repayment of any wartime deficit should be mandated within a certain number of years after the emergency, based on a GDP formula.

    The people are ready. All we need is a goverment ready to challenge them to be better.

  • Cincinnatus

    Porcell: Baby-boomers are the least inclined to favor Paul Ryan’s plans. As they join the paranoid ranks of the AARP, as they retire, as they look to collect their dues (understandably) from a system into which they have contributed a substantial proportion of their salary for decades, they are not going to take kindly to the idea of reducing, privatizing (not in this economy), or eliminating the benefits to which they are entitled from SS and Medicare. Baby-boomers, like their parents who created Social Security, grew up integrating the assurance of government SS into their retirement plans.

    Should they be less selfish and more sacrificial? Sure, but let he who doesn’t want his rightful thousands from SS, etc., cast the first stone.

    Meanwhile, my generation (and others younger than the Baby Boomers) have grown up or grown accustomed to the impression that Social Security probably won’t be there by the time we retire. It’s foolish to think otherwise, and thus we are more inclined to assent to the notion that it would be better to overhaul (or destroy) the system now than to a) bankrupt future generations to sustain the present and b) continue to make us contribute thousands of dollars from our yearly paychecks to a system that is already doomed to failure.

    In short, I guarantee you that my twenty- and thirty-something friends are much more cynical regarding Social Security’s future (and thus more amenable to its reform or elimination) than my fifty- and sixty-something colleagues. You can’t scare a young person with the slogan “PAUL RYAN WANTS TO STEAL YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY,” but you can scare someone who is a mere decade or less from retirement.

  • Cincinnatus

    Porcell: Baby-boomers are the least inclined to favor Paul Ryan’s plans. As they join the paranoid ranks of the AARP, as they retire, as they look to collect their dues (understandably) from a system into which they have contributed a substantial proportion of their salary for decades, they are not going to take kindly to the idea of reducing, privatizing (not in this economy), or eliminating the benefits to which they are entitled from SS and Medicare. Baby-boomers, like their parents who created Social Security, grew up integrating the assurance of government SS into their retirement plans.

    Should they be less selfish and more sacrificial? Sure, but let he who doesn’t want his rightful thousands from SS, etc., cast the first stone.

    Meanwhile, my generation (and others younger than the Baby Boomers) have grown up or grown accustomed to the impression that Social Security probably won’t be there by the time we retire. It’s foolish to think otherwise, and thus we are more inclined to assent to the notion that it would be better to overhaul (or destroy) the system now than to a) bankrupt future generations to sustain the present and b) continue to make us contribute thousands of dollars from our yearly paychecks to a system that is already doomed to failure.

    In short, I guarantee you that my twenty- and thirty-something friends are much more cynical regarding Social Security’s future (and thus more amenable to its reform or elimination) than my fifty- and sixty-something colleagues. You can’t scare a young person with the slogan “PAUL RYAN WANTS TO STEAL YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY,” but you can scare someone who is a mere decade or less from retirement.

  • Louis

    DonS – you are an optimistc fellow. I myself tend to be more sceptical of human nature.

    I think in these debates we should keep cool heads. I’m still an Ordoliberal, but that doesn’t mean I’m unrealistic. I’m not against government medical schemes, but then you should be able to afford them. Government pensions are great too, but not if they consist of progressively increasing amounts of money. Sure, I want to help the poor family down the road. But I can’t give them what I don’t have.

    This is the point many of those on the left miss. They assume that austerity means you don’t care. Well, some might not. But on the other hand, one might have to be austere, simply for the fact that you actually do care – because if you are not austere, the alternative is much, much worse. And therein also lies the explanation for the behavious of the politicians: They often only care about themselves, because they do whatever will keep the populace happy in the short term, because that ensures them further job security. Thus you get pork barrel spending on both sides of the aisle, etc..

    As Tom says – for most, austerity is fine, as long as it is the other guy…..

  • Louis

    DonS – you are an optimistc fellow. I myself tend to be more sceptical of human nature.

    I think in these debates we should keep cool heads. I’m still an Ordoliberal, but that doesn’t mean I’m unrealistic. I’m not against government medical schemes, but then you should be able to afford them. Government pensions are great too, but not if they consist of progressively increasing amounts of money. Sure, I want to help the poor family down the road. But I can’t give them what I don’t have.

    This is the point many of those on the left miss. They assume that austerity means you don’t care. Well, some might not. But on the other hand, one might have to be austere, simply for the fact that you actually do care – because if you are not austere, the alternative is much, much worse. And therein also lies the explanation for the behavious of the politicians: They often only care about themselves, because they do whatever will keep the populace happy in the short term, because that ensures them further job security. Thus you get pork barrel spending on both sides of the aisle, etc..

    As Tom says – for most, austerity is fine, as long as it is the other guy…..

  • Louis

    Kirk , an aside: That is a common statement, but I give you the following: Mince pies, pork pies, lots of (handheld) meat pies, ales, stouts, porters, cider and perry, sausages galore, stilton, Wensleydale, Lancashire Cheese, Cheddar, Cheshire cheese, Creme Anglais (ie custard), roast goose, Queen of puddings, fish and chips, Bacon from Berkshire pigs, lamb chops and mutton chops, roast beef sandwiches, the very concept of sandwiches……

    Bad press can hide a lot of good…..

  • Louis

    Kirk , an aside: That is a common statement, but I give you the following: Mince pies, pork pies, lots of (handheld) meat pies, ales, stouts, porters, cider and perry, sausages galore, stilton, Wensleydale, Lancashire Cheese, Cheddar, Cheshire cheese, Creme Anglais (ie custard), roast goose, Queen of puddings, fish and chips, Bacon from Berkshire pigs, lamb chops and mutton chops, roast beef sandwiches, the very concept of sandwiches……

    Bad press can hide a lot of good…..

  • DonS

    Louis @ 20: I am optimistic that, on a level playing field, with strong leadership, the American people would do what is right. Though I am a conservative, I believe in a safety net for those truly in need because of unfortunate circumstances, and I hate the fact that so many of our resources are diverted away from worthy programs into rich pensions for relatively wealthy government workers (whatever happened to civil “servants”, anyway?), as well as the extreme administrative waste in our education bureaucracy, where it today costs, in most states, between $11,000 and 20,000 per student in the public schools. I also hate what has happened to medical care costs in this country because of extreme government involvement and bureaucratic and byzantine paperwork requirements imposed on our providers. It’s not just that our government has grown ridiculously expensive, but also that it provides horrible service for that expense.

    What tends to trip up any real effort at reform, however, is a hostile media that is beholden to the existing elite establishment, and will undermine change with a drumbeat of anecdotal, poorly researched and supported, stories of “suffering” because of these “vicious cuts”. Then, politicians begin to lose their nerve, and we continue our path to greater ruination in the future.

    The American people are good, hard-working reasonable people, who understand the meaning of a budget and good money management, for the most part. But whether they will once again be sabotaged by the elites who control the levers of power remains to be seen.

  • DonS

    Louis @ 20: I am optimistic that, on a level playing field, with strong leadership, the American people would do what is right. Though I am a conservative, I believe in a safety net for those truly in need because of unfortunate circumstances, and I hate the fact that so many of our resources are diverted away from worthy programs into rich pensions for relatively wealthy government workers (whatever happened to civil “servants”, anyway?), as well as the extreme administrative waste in our education bureaucracy, where it today costs, in most states, between $11,000 and 20,000 per student in the public schools. I also hate what has happened to medical care costs in this country because of extreme government involvement and bureaucratic and byzantine paperwork requirements imposed on our providers. It’s not just that our government has grown ridiculously expensive, but also that it provides horrible service for that expense.

    What tends to trip up any real effort at reform, however, is a hostile media that is beholden to the existing elite establishment, and will undermine change with a drumbeat of anecdotal, poorly researched and supported, stories of “suffering” because of these “vicious cuts”. Then, politicians begin to lose their nerve, and we continue our path to greater ruination in the future.

    The American people are good, hard-working reasonable people, who understand the meaning of a budget and good money management, for the most part. But whether they will once again be sabotaged by the elites who control the levers of power remains to be seen.

  • Louis

    DonS: I understand your argument. But I don’t share your optimism about human nature, and especially mass psychology. That is why I’m not a Libertarian.

  • Louis

    DonS: I understand your argument. But I don’t share your optimism about human nature, and especially mass psychology. That is why I’m not a Libertarian.

  • DonS

    Louis: I’m not sure we disagree all that much, unless you are saying that people cannot be led well. Good leadership inspires people to do the right thing. And this attitude is infectious, as we saw in the days following 9/11.

  • DonS

    Louis: I’m not sure we disagree all that much, unless you are saying that people cannot be led well. Good leadership inspires people to do the right thing. And this attitude is infectious, as we saw in the days following 9/11.

  • Louis

    I think to find a good leader, you might need some conjuring powers :)

  • Louis

    I think to find a good leader, you might need some conjuring powers :)

  • DonS

    I believe that this crisis has finally awoken some good people and stimulated them to run in this election cycle. It’s their turn to give it a go! Time for the establishment elites, who have caused the current ruin, to get out of the way.

  • DonS

    I believe that this crisis has finally awoken some good people and stimulated them to run in this election cycle. It’s their turn to give it a go! Time for the establishment elites, who have caused the current ruin, to get out of the way.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Are good leaders electable?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Are good leaders electable?

  • Louis

    sg – actually a good question, because they can’t indulge in the trappings of oligarchy, they have to make decisions and have policies which will upset people – so it is an open question. Unless they have tremendouse personality / cult appeal. In South Africa, when the Great Depression arose, the leaders of the two great parties at the time came together to form a Government of National Unity to deal with it, which lasted till 1939 when SA declared war against Germany. But I think those days might be over….

  • Louis

    sg – actually a good question, because they can’t indulge in the trappings of oligarchy, they have to make decisions and have policies which will upset people – so it is an open question. Unless they have tremendouse personality / cult appeal. In South Africa, when the Great Depression arose, the leaders of the two great parties at the time came together to form a Government of National Unity to deal with it, which lasted till 1939 when SA declared war against Germany. But I think those days might be over….

  • DonS

    SG — they would be electable if we actually had a media that reported honestly on the shortcomings, waste, and tyranny of most government programs. Why would we ever assume that poor leaders can, merely by grabbing confiscatory levels of private assets from their citizens, create wonderful and efficient magical programs that can alleviate every condition of human suffering?

  • DonS

    SG — they would be electable if we actually had a media that reported honestly on the shortcomings, waste, and tyranny of most government programs. Why would we ever assume that poor leaders can, merely by grabbing confiscatory levels of private assets from their citizens, create wonderful and efficient magical programs that can alleviate every condition of human suffering?

  • DonS

    Nice one, Mark. You know what I mean. Obviously, I am excluding earned benefits, such as those accrued by federal employees and military. But, good effort at avoiding a substantive discussion of the real issues.

  • DonS

    Nice one, Mark. You know what I mean. Obviously, I am excluding earned benefits, such as those accrued by federal employees and military. But, good effort at avoiding a substantive discussion of the real issues.

  • DonS

    But, Mark, further to clarify the issue, earned benefits, including Social Security, federal employee benefits, and veterans benefits, should be prefunded using the same standards that ERISA applies to private companies. Does the government do this? NO. Why not? Because it would substantially worsen the deficit and force the government to reduce its spending obligations.

    Like I said, we sorely need good leadership. And we need to stop trusting the horrible leadership we have with ever more responsibilities.

  • DonS

    But, Mark, further to clarify the issue, earned benefits, including Social Security, federal employee benefits, and veterans benefits, should be prefunded using the same standards that ERISA applies to private companies. Does the government do this? NO. Why not? Because it would substantially worsen the deficit and force the government to reduce its spending obligations.

    Like I said, we sorely need good leadership. And we need to stop trusting the horrible leadership we have with ever more responsibilities.

  • DonS

    Mark @ 32: Then kindly benefit our discussion with your obviously vast knowledge.

  • DonS

    Mark @ 32: Then kindly benefit our discussion with your obviously vast knowledge.

  • Joe

    I am not sure I can support the idea that Social Security is an earned benefit. Its the tax version of a ponzi scheme. It is sold as some kind of an earned benefit, but its just a tax.

  • Joe

    I am not sure I can support the idea that Social Security is an earned benefit. Its the tax version of a ponzi scheme. It is sold as some kind of an earned benefit, but its just a tax.

  • DonS

    Joe @ 35: I agree with you that the program has been permitted to devolve into a ponzi scheme. But, the fact remains that people pay in excess of 15% of their wages in exchange for a promise of benefits in their old age or if they become disabled. That is why changes to the program have to be done gradually, to give people time to arrange alternative supplemental retirement income. You cannot fairly simply eliminate promised benefits, as you conceivably can with unearned “entitlements”, by changing the law. We need to move toward a true retirement pension system with whatever is left of Social Security after it is changed, which includes appropriate pre-funding standards.

  • DonS

    Joe @ 35: I agree with you that the program has been permitted to devolve into a ponzi scheme. But, the fact remains that people pay in excess of 15% of their wages in exchange for a promise of benefits in their old age or if they become disabled. That is why changes to the program have to be done gradually, to give people time to arrange alternative supplemental retirement income. You cannot fairly simply eliminate promised benefits, as you conceivably can with unearned “entitlements”, by changing the law. We need to move toward a true retirement pension system with whatever is left of Social Security after it is changed, which includes appropriate pre-funding standards.

  • Louis

    Another good link, to the same fellow: To those who love to ascribe the current mess to “radical left policies of the Obama administration”, read this synopsis:

    http://jerkonomics.blogspot.com/2010/09/some-historical-perspective.html

    As some admitted here, the current crisis is the result of many decades of , hmm, the opposite of austerity.

  • Louis

    Another good link, to the same fellow: To those who love to ascribe the current mess to “radical left policies of the Obama administration”, read this synopsis:

    http://jerkonomics.blogspot.com/2010/09/some-historical-perspective.html

    As some admitted here, the current crisis is the result of many decades of , hmm, the opposite of austerity.

  • LAJ

    During WWII the American people accepted rationing and most did their part to aid in the war effort. Perhaps Bush 2 missed an opportunity to get the people behind the wars in he started by not asking for help from the people. I’m not saying rationing was needed, but something. I think people are tired of living beyond their means if they only knew it and would welcome some fiscal restraint in themselves and the government. Do you really think we are as bad as Greece in expecting entitlements?

  • LAJ

    During WWII the American people accepted rationing and most did their part to aid in the war effort. Perhaps Bush 2 missed an opportunity to get the people behind the wars in he started by not asking for help from the people. I’m not saying rationing was needed, but something. I think people are tired of living beyond their means if they only knew it and would welcome some fiscal restraint in themselves and the government. Do you really think we are as bad as Greece in expecting entitlements?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I don’t know about Americans in general, but I know that when I was unemployed last year, it was actually quite fun to see how much one could do with the things we already had in our house. You would be amazed how much you can do with the food/house projects/etc.. you didn’t really even know you had. It was a delight to see closets empty out as I wore out clothes that….well, you know, I guess I really didn’t need those, did I? Even though I’ve been reemployed for over a year now,

    And to the political side of things, I would be very happy if people took the GAO/CBO estimates of unfunded liabilities for Socialist Insecurity and Mediscare seriously and started to make some serious changes to these programs. Better a little austerity now than abject poverty in 20 years.

    Nix on the tax increases, though; it’s time for austerity to apply to government, too. We can talk about government being underfunded when government employees’ pay isn’t about twice private sector pay, OK?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I don’t know about Americans in general, but I know that when I was unemployed last year, it was actually quite fun to see how much one could do with the things we already had in our house. You would be amazed how much you can do with the food/house projects/etc.. you didn’t really even know you had. It was a delight to see closets empty out as I wore out clothes that….well, you know, I guess I really didn’t need those, did I? Even though I’ve been reemployed for over a year now,

    And to the political side of things, I would be very happy if people took the GAO/CBO estimates of unfunded liabilities for Socialist Insecurity and Mediscare seriously and started to make some serious changes to these programs. Better a little austerity now than abject poverty in 20 years.

    Nix on the tax increases, though; it’s time for austerity to apply to government, too. We can talk about government being underfunded when government employees’ pay isn’t about twice private sector pay, OK?

  • DonS

    I agree with you, LAJ. Bush was wrong to pursue his “compassionate conservativism” (so-called), further increasing entitlements while we had returned to deficit spending. The problem we currently have is that the citizens have adopted fiscal restraint (consumer debt is falling at a phenomenal historical rate), but our governments are not following suit. In fact, they are further promoting long discredited theories that increased deficit spending by governments actually provides long term help to an economy.

  • DonS

    I agree with you, LAJ. Bush was wrong to pursue his “compassionate conservativism” (so-called), further increasing entitlements while we had returned to deficit spending. The problem we currently have is that the citizens have adopted fiscal restraint (consumer debt is falling at a phenomenal historical rate), but our governments are not following suit. In fact, they are further promoting long discredited theories that increased deficit spending by governments actually provides long term help to an economy.

  • Porcell

    Joe: It [Social Security] is sold as some kind of an earned benefit, but its just a tax.

    Exactly. Individuals and employers chip in together 12.4 % of their income up to a limit. If people could understand the compounded increase, using ordinary index funds, of 12.4% of their income, for most workers this would amount to $millions of capital savings and appreciation over a working lifetime.

    For a good fairly short piece on this see the Cato study, Retiring with Dignity: Social Security vs. Private Markets

    Joe is right, Social Security is the mother of all Ponzi schemes that makes Bernie Madoff a mere amateur.

    Ideally, Americans would be far better off rejecting both Social security and Medicare, leaving welfare and health care dependency to truly disabled people along with widows and orphans. The reality is, however, that most Americans are incapable of saving and investing funds for retirement.

    As to health-care, most people who take good care of themselves are best off with catastrophic health-care insurance policies. If government would allow insurance companies to, across state lines, charge a premium for people who smoke, drink excessively, are overweight, or don’t take medicine for high-blood pressure, catastrophic health insurance would be inexpensive.

    Meanwhile, the political class and their government employee minions
    will fight to the bitter end to protect their prerogatives. Just now, I’m encouraged by political events, though realistic about any great expectations, knowing that the American people in the long run get the government they deserve.

  • Porcell

    Joe: It [Social Security] is sold as some kind of an earned benefit, but its just a tax.

    Exactly. Individuals and employers chip in together 12.4 % of their income up to a limit. If people could understand the compounded increase, using ordinary index funds, of 12.4% of their income, for most workers this would amount to $millions of capital savings and appreciation over a working lifetime.

    For a good fairly short piece on this see the Cato study, Retiring with Dignity: Social Security vs. Private Markets

    Joe is right, Social Security is the mother of all Ponzi schemes that makes Bernie Madoff a mere amateur.

    Ideally, Americans would be far better off rejecting both Social security and Medicare, leaving welfare and health care dependency to truly disabled people along with widows and orphans. The reality is, however, that most Americans are incapable of saving and investing funds for retirement.

    As to health-care, most people who take good care of themselves are best off with catastrophic health-care insurance policies. If government would allow insurance companies to, across state lines, charge a premium for people who smoke, drink excessively, are overweight, or don’t take medicine for high-blood pressure, catastrophic health insurance would be inexpensive.

    Meanwhile, the political class and their government employee minions
    will fight to the bitter end to protect their prerogatives. Just now, I’m encouraged by political events, though realistic about any great expectations, knowing that the American people in the long run get the government they deserve.

  • DonS

    Porcell @ 40: Thank you for the correction to my post @ 36. Indeed the Social Security Ponzi scheme “only” consumes 12.4 % of our wage income, while it is the separate Medicare Ponzi scheme which consumes the other 2.9%, totaling over 15%.

  • DonS

    Porcell @ 40: Thank you for the correction to my post @ 36. Indeed the Social Security Ponzi scheme “only” consumes 12.4 % of our wage income, while it is the separate Medicare Ponzi scheme which consumes the other 2.9%, totaling over 15%.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    My family learned to love austerity while I was unemployed in 2009–it is amazing how much you can find to do in terms of unfinished projects for which you’ve already bought supplies, cooking the stuff in the back of the cupboard (or sometimes throwing it away), wearing out the clothes in the back of the closet, and so on. We’re continuing, even though I’m now employed. There is simply too much freedom to be had in not having a lot of stuff—never mind the fact that a lot of people will hand things off just to get it out of the house. Not a lot of need to buy a whole lot, thankfully.

    And tax hikes as a form of austerity? Sorry, but government types need the lesson, too, and they’re earning WAY more than the rest of us. Put differently, people in marble buildings with guaranteed pensions and raises with virtually zero chance of being laid off really ought not be paid a whole lot more to boot, even though they’ve made the DC area one of the most overpriced real estate areas in the country.

    Cut spending instead, starting by reducing the cost of living adjustments to the rate of inflation for Social Security and then reducing the maximum pension 1-2% each year.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    My family learned to love austerity while I was unemployed in 2009–it is amazing how much you can find to do in terms of unfinished projects for which you’ve already bought supplies, cooking the stuff in the back of the cupboard (or sometimes throwing it away), wearing out the clothes in the back of the closet, and so on. We’re continuing, even though I’m now employed. There is simply too much freedom to be had in not having a lot of stuff—never mind the fact that a lot of people will hand things off just to get it out of the house. Not a lot of need to buy a whole lot, thankfully.

    And tax hikes as a form of austerity? Sorry, but government types need the lesson, too, and they’re earning WAY more than the rest of us. Put differently, people in marble buildings with guaranteed pensions and raises with virtually zero chance of being laid off really ought not be paid a whole lot more to boot, even though they’ve made the DC area one of the most overpriced real estate areas in the country.

    Cut spending instead, starting by reducing the cost of living adjustments to the rate of inflation for Social Security and then reducing the maximum pension 1-2% each year.

  • Porcell

    BibeBubba, thanks very much; your family basically did what my paternal grandparents did toughing it out in the Depression, during which my grandfather lost his job and, refusing demeaning “welfare”, my grandmother, a superb cook, produced baked goods that my grandfather sold door to door; later they opened a very successful local baked goods store. Eventually, these sturdy folk managed to send my father to Harvard sans financial aid and his brother to M.I.T. , both of whom continued the tradition and became quite successful, while never forsaking the Christian religion that brought their ancestors to the country in 1635.

  • Porcell

    BibeBubba, thanks very much; your family basically did what my paternal grandparents did toughing it out in the Depression, during which my grandfather lost his job and, refusing demeaning “welfare”, my grandmother, a superb cook, produced baked goods that my grandfather sold door to door; later they opened a very successful local baked goods store. Eventually, these sturdy folk managed to send my father to Harvard sans financial aid and his brother to M.I.T. , both of whom continued the tradition and became quite successful, while never forsaking the Christian religion that brought their ancestors to the country in 1635.

  • DonS

    I also thank you for your comment, BB. It emphasizes the point that most Americans have already adopted austerity, not necessarily by choice, and it is time for our government and “civil servants” to follow suit.

  • DonS

    I also thank you for your comment, BB. It emphasizes the point that most Americans have already adopted austerity, not necessarily by choice, and it is time for our government and “civil servants” to follow suit.

  • kerner

    I probably don’t speak for my generation, but I was born in 1955, which puts me right in the middle of the baby boom.

    I support Paul Ryan’s plan. For one thingI just turned 55, and the SS benefits of people over 55 are not affected under the plan. But I wouldn’t object if they were. For example, if I had to wait for an additional year to collect full benefits, or if COLA increases were reduced or eliminated, I would live with that. Simple things like that would make the system solvent while long term changes were put into effect.

    I realize that a lot of people my age would rebel, but there must be other people like me who don’t want to bankrupt the country.

  • kerner

    I probably don’t speak for my generation, but I was born in 1955, which puts me right in the middle of the baby boom.

    I support Paul Ryan’s plan. For one thingI just turned 55, and the SS benefits of people over 55 are not affected under the plan. But I wouldn’t object if they were. For example, if I had to wait for an additional year to collect full benefits, or if COLA increases were reduced or eliminated, I would live with that. Simple things like that would make the system solvent while long term changes were put into effect.

    I realize that a lot of people my age would rebel, but there must be other people like me who don’t want to bankrupt the country.

  • http://simonpotamos.wordpress.com/ Tapani Simojoki

    Don’t get too excited. There’s plenty of unhappiness here in the UK about the government’s plans. Even within the cabinet. The current govt got voted in, true, but it was also the case of voting the previous one out.

  • http://simonpotamos.wordpress.com/ Tapani Simojoki

    Don’t get too excited. There’s plenty of unhappiness here in the UK about the government’s plans. Even within the cabinet. The current govt got voted in, true, but it was also the case of voting the previous one out.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Porcell, thank you for the compliment, but I don’t know that my family’s experience ranks quite up there with yours! :^)

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Porcell, thank you for the compliment, but I don’t know that my family’s experience ranks quite up there with yours! :^)

  • http://mrsmksmusings.blogspot.com MrsMK

    I was raised in a self-employed, single-income family, so I have never been used to the excesses of the middle class in America. Now as the home-maker in my own self-employed, single-income family that has been hit hard by the recession (and by exorbitant medical bills!!) I am practicing my own type of austerity. Call it simple living, call it making do…..it is just a necessity.

    This is what our brand of austerity looks like:
    *my husband making do with his old truck….with 275k miles
    *cooking from scratch, including all our own whole wheat bread, and eating lots more basic foods: grains, legumes, and vegetables
    *gardening, then freezing and preserving the harvest
    *making our own cleaning supplies and laundry detergent
    *buying ALL our clothing and shoes used….and utilizing hand-me-downs and clothing exchanges for the kids’ clothes.
    *there is lots more, but I won’t bore you with the gritty details!

    Most of these things I had been doing anyway, but recently I’ve become even more viligant about the money goes out of our pocket.

  • http://mrsmksmusings.blogspot.com MrsMK

    I was raised in a self-employed, single-income family, so I have never been used to the excesses of the middle class in America. Now as the home-maker in my own self-employed, single-income family that has been hit hard by the recession (and by exorbitant medical bills!!) I am practicing my own type of austerity. Call it simple living, call it making do…..it is just a necessity.

    This is what our brand of austerity looks like:
    *my husband making do with his old truck….with 275k miles
    *cooking from scratch, including all our own whole wheat bread, and eating lots more basic foods: grains, legumes, and vegetables
    *gardening, then freezing and preserving the harvest
    *making our own cleaning supplies and laundry detergent
    *buying ALL our clothing and shoes used….and utilizing hand-me-downs and clothing exchanges for the kids’ clothes.
    *there is lots more, but I won’t bore you with the gritty details!

    Most of these things I had been doing anyway, but recently I’ve become even more viligant about the money goes out of our pocket.


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