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Hullabaloo


Monday, May 14, 2012

 
Austerity geniuses

by David Atkins

Looks like even the brilliant minds at the Wall Street Journal have figured out what the rest of us did long ago: cutting government jobs during an unemployment crisis is bad for the economy.

One reason the unemployment rate may have remained persistently high: The sharp cuts in state and local government spending in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the layoffs those cuts wrought.

The Labor Department’s establishment survey of employers — the jobs count that it bases its payroll figures on — shows that the government has been steadily shedding workers since the crisis struck, with 586,000 fewer jobs than in December 2008. Friday’s employment report showed the cuts continued in April, with 15,000 government jobs lost.

But the survey of households that the unemployment rate is based on suggests the government job cuts have been much, much worse.

No kidding. They even have a nifty chart.



But, you can already hear conservative whines, "what about the deficit?" Yeah, um, about that:



And this is why people who know the first thing about public policy laugh at the bipartisanship fetishists and the people who insist that "both parties have gotten too extreme." The facts are pretty one-sided here. They suggest that if anything, the President and the mainstream Democratic Party in the United States are too far to the right and too beholden to the austerity mavens, and the Republicans are living on a extremist conservative moon base with Newt Gingrich. This isn't a problem that more bipartisanship will solve. Rather, it's a situation where any "bipartisan" solution is almost guaranteed to do more damage than simply doing nothing. If Fiscal Doctor "D" is prescribing a diet of real medicine mixed with fingernails and lint, and Fiscal Doctor "R" is prescribing a diet of arsenic and plutonium, mixing the two prescriptions is a terrible idea.

This stuff doesn't take a genius to figure out, which is why so many progressives come off as so cynical and angry in our writing. The problems are mostly obvious. The solutions are even more so. It's clear that the only possible explanations for our collective plight are corruption and/or stupidity.

Which is worse? Well, corruption is theoretically easier to fix: throw the bums out and tighten the rules. Stupidity, groupthink, deer-in-the-headlights mentality and collective hysteria are much harder to deal with. And sadly, the more I see of the people who actually make policy, the more convinced I am that the latter problem far outweighs the former. The way the entire world has embraced austerity bespeaks far more than corruption. It indicates a herd mentality that evidently doesn't escape policymakers around the world at even the very highest levels.


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