From Athens, Greece to Stockton, California and Detroit, bankers feast while citizens and workers starve.
The diet takes many forms. But the basic idea behind it is that the only way to save our government is to starve it, cut services to those who need them most, and above all, keep the big bondholders and wealthy political contributors happy.
Meanwhile, beyond the government halls and bankers’ offices, the austerity diet causes real suffering.
In Greece, the bankers have exacted a painful price, with tax hikes, and layoffs that pushed unemployment over 27 percent, including 50 percent youth unemployment, in exchange for $310 billion in aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
And of course the money doesn’t go to the Greeks. It goes to the too big to fail bankers who the Greek government borrowed from.
Meanwhile the health consequences of austerity-related cuts to the social safety net amid extended recession across U.S. and are widespread and dire. Oxford and Stanford University researchers found that the U.S. suicide rate jumped during the 2007-2009 recession, with 4,750 “excess deaths” – beyond what pre-existing trends would predict, with the highest increases in the states that experienced the most job losses.
In Greece, suicide rates have skyrocketed, increasing 26 percent over the past year. The Oxford and Stanford University researchers found that, with cuts to HIV prevention and a huge increase in youth unemployment and drug abuse, the rate of the infection has risen 200 percent, while the country has seen its first malaria outbreak in decades after mosquito-spraying programs were cut.
In the U.S., more than 5 million Americans have lost access to health care – including Stockton’s retired city employees. Millions of long-term unemployed Americans will see their unemployment benefits slashed or eliminated as a result of the congressionally-approved sequester budget cuts. Meanwhile, in England, austerity policies have thrown 10,000 British families have been thrown into homelessness.
“The harms we have found include HIV and malaria outbreaks, shortages of essential medicines, lost healthcare access, and an avoidable epidemic of alcohol abuse, depression and suicide,” David Stuckler, Oxford researcher and co-author of “The Body Economic: Austerity Kills,” said. “Austerity is having a devastating effect.”
With no end in sight. In the U.S. Senate, it’s not just Republicans who are enthusiastically getting behInd austerity. Democrats supported a $4.1 billion cut to the nation’s food stamp program, the Nation’s Greg Kaufman reported.
In addition, while debating the farm bill, Democrats supported a draconian measure that would bar the families of those convicted of certain violent crimes from receiving food stamps – ever.
For his part, President Obama himself who has advocated cuts to Social Security (which will do nothing to bring down the deficit) in his budget earlier this year. His supporters say the president is just trying to appear more reasonable in budget negotiations than intransigent Republicans, and that the president would never cut Social Security. But they ignore the fact that when President Obama appointed a task force to make recommendations on entitlements in 2010, he stacked it with austerity hawks from both parties bent on cutting Social Security, like former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson. While that commission failed to agree on specific recommendations, the president has continued to pursue proposals that would reduce Social Security benefits.
Austerity’s proponents don’t even pretend that that the majority supports it. The bankers and the politicians assure us they know what’s best, then try to sell their noxious cutbacks through fear and demonization – of the undeserving poor, overpaid government workers and others characterized by losing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as the “47 percent” who get assistance from the government.
Sanjay Basu, the Stanford researcher who worked with Stuckler, insisted that the negative health affects of recession are worsened by austerity. The researchers found the negative health affects and the anguish that accompanies them aren’t inevitable. The citizens of European countries that chose stimulus and maintained social safety nets, like Germany, Iceland and Sweden, fared much better than countries that imposed austerity, like Spain, Italy and Greece.
We don’t have to swallow the austerity diet. But we will have to fight to get a menu that doesn’t include it.
“Ultimately what we show is that worsening health is not an inevitable consequence of economic recessions,” Basu said. “It's a political choice."