The Real Cost of Fiscal Austerity – Social Conscience, Compassion and Common Sense

There is an argument ragging in America today, one that I believe is both specious and flawed. Specious in that it is superficially attractive, but actually has no real value for the majority of us on Planet Earth. And flawed in that it advances a proposition that will most certainly lead us down a path dangerous to our well-being as individuals and collectively to the survival of our democracy.

This argument is being played out with great vigor on what have become the increasingly disingenuous and tawdry stages of Washington, our state capitals and other capitals around the world. The topic is fiscal austerity, and while this topic may not, at first, appear to be of essential interest to those of us who come to Patheos for exploration and celebration of our spiritual and religious traditions, I believe it is. So if you will indulge for a few moments, I will do my best to prove my point.

This subject of fiscal austerity, masked under the topic of fiscal responsibility, is also being followed by some elements in the media – primarily the right-leaning talk show element – with the frenzy of a litter of small puppies desperately seeking their next meal. At the same time this topic is being avoided and disregarded by much of the main stream media are under strict do-not-tell orders from their corporate overloads.

Of course, Washington is not the only capital in the country or the world where this topic is being explored. Indeed, like some sort of pandemic misguided approaches to the subject of what do to do to provide support for the rapidly growing number of aging citizens, those who are reaching retirement age, disadvantage youth, the poor and those in ill health appear to be having their way in England, France, Greece, Spain and other countries in what we called the industrial world.

Fortunately, unlike here in America, efforts to impose fiscal austerity and muzzle attention by the media to the plight of these groups in these countries is meeting with serious and genuine resistance. Strikes, riots, protests from unions, pensioners, students and more are taking place. Do I celebrate this resistance? Yes. Am I in favor anarchy? No. But I must admit that unless we can find a way to return to the path of conscious, humane, sensible and constructive governance, to policies that support the well-being of the many over the special advantages of the few, unless we regain our commitment to fairness, truth and to genuine democracy then I could certainly be persuaded to explore ways to turn up the heat of public disapproval.

You see the argument that is being conducted in Washington and these other capitals is bogus. Framed as an economic stability argument and presented with great pomp and circumstance, this argument for fiscal austerity only advances the interest of these few and the continued subjugation of the many. “We must cut spending,” they say. “Stop waste, eliminate earmarks and get our nation out of debt.” On the surface very logical and reasonable positions! I mean who could disagree with being fiscally responsible and debt free! It’s like being opposed to Apple Pie and Motherhood!

But upon closer examination I believe we will ultimately find that this argument is not about economics and fiscal responsibility at all. It is about the accumulation of power and greater control. It is about greed and is a blatant ploy by the wealthiest and those who honor, protect and defend their interests to grab an even larger piece of the pie. For any argument that advances the need for major budget cuts and the elimination of debt without also advancing responsible, humane and conscious support of the commons and the greater good of the majority is simply not in the best interests of this or any other nation.

From my perspective nothing demonstrates this point better than budget cuts that are currently being implemented under was has been called The Sequester. A somewhat innocuous and indefinite term for a very serious and draconian effort to reduce the services our government provides to those who are aging, to disadvantaged youth, to the poor and, eventually, to those of us who recognize that public services delivered under what are called The Commons are essential to our well being.

This fact does not, however, seem to matter much to a number of folks in Washington and in some of our state capitals who are very well sheltered from the storm by their own wealth and by the very substantial salaries, benefits and perks we provide them. Indeed, these folks who we call our representatives have become so insulated from reality that I believe they no longer are able to see, hear or feel what is happening to the rest of us and to this great nation.

For many on both sides of the aisle in Congress this path of fiscal austerity that sees billions added to the national debt and billions more (perhaps trillions) lost from the national revenue side, hardly speaks to the integrity of their oath to serve the greater good. As for our President, what can one say! At best that he needs some serious starch in his shirt and some basic lessons in the art of negotiation and, at worst, that he is simply another who spins tall tales during the election cycle and then fails to deliver what the majority of us need during his term in office.

Why such disdain? It clearly does not speak to the principle of ‘turning the other cheek.” But quite frankly, I find the current situation beyond frustrating. And I find it almost impossible to believe that a majority of us – and especially those of us who celebrate the principles and values of spiritual and religious traditions – do not see this charade for what it is and find constructive and valuable ways to display our outrage!

It is possible that the tale of the tape from the Sequester and other draconian moves to impose fiscal austerity does not, like the proverbial tea leaves in the bottom of cup, disclose a clear enough picture to the majority of us of where this misguided story is leading us? Is it possible that we do not see that in the time ahead that those who advance, support or allow this misguided economic philosophy will only grow bolder in their efforts to advance their self-interest at our expense?

I can’t say for sure why we are so silent, but I do believe that unless those of us who weren’t born yesterday, and especially those of us who celebrate and practice fundamental religious and spiritual values, do not step up to the bar, this remarkable American experiment in democracy will continue to be diminished, the middle class will vanish, the support of the commons will disappear and the subjugation of the majority of us to lives of even greater economic servitude will increase.

Are there alternatives? Yes, I believe there are. And I leave you with a few questions that might lead you to explore some of them.

• Where in the Constitution is it written that elected representatives are elected to represent their own interests rather than those of the people?

• Who is it that pays the salaries of these elected representatives? Who provides them with very solid retirement plans and the best health care coverage in America? In short, who do they work for?

• Whose money are they playing with and whose debt is it that they are accumulating?

• Who among them would even be present in Washington if America had not once practiced the
spirit Emma Lazaraus captures in her poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

• Whose money is it that is deposited in the ‘too big to fail’ banks and brokerages houses and whose tax money bailed them out?

• Who buys the products and services from companies that are accumulating some of largest profits in history, failing to reinvest them in American jobs and plants and not paying their fair share of taxes?

• Who reads, listens to and watches the media sources that are owned by some of these same corporations and who rely on our reading, listening to and watching to accumulate audience numbers that justify their advertising revenues?

• And lastly, and most important, who decides what the value of money is, whether or not money needs to be associated with debt and who is advantaged and disadvantaged by this debt?


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