Sunday, 11 May 2014

Austerity: Why It's Popular And Why We Should Oppose It

If the market is not free, how can it decide?
I've said this till I'm blue in the face: there's no such thing as a free market. The pretense that there is drives the Austerity programme that is causing people to struggle to afford the basics all over the world where this nonsense is applied. Don't ask for more than you get, you're told. There's always a choice. Well I've gone a bit mad making anti-austerity gifs to hit back at this notion. I see it's only people in double income households who say this. You never seem to hear it from the less well-off members of our society.

Why austerity is popular

Austerity and the "free market" nonsense that goes with it is popular among authoritarians and anyone who isn't suffering as a result of it. Readers of the right-wing press could be forgiven for thinking that Britain is awash with benefits claimants pretending to be sick, popping out a kid a year, and expecting the rest of us to pay for their indigent, indulgent lifestyle choices. It's great; you get targets to whack like piƱatas, pontificate about personal responsibility, and best of all, ignore the fact that your own choices are a part of the mess we're in at the moment.

I can't deny that benefits claimants who take the mickey exist. They do, and it's annoying. Seriously — why should I, who work a 40 hour week, pay for this family, who kept having kids even though none of them was working. Go on, look up "10 kids benefits" in your favourite search engine and let me know how you get on. Yes, you'll mostly find them in the right-wing press but the point is, they know that stories like this will annoy hard-working people like me. The right wingers sell austerity as a way of forcing the feckless to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices. They claim that these people are a burden on the likes of hard-working you and I, as if they sit around, swigging cheap booze all day, laughing at us for actually working like chumps. And that's the point at which austerity becomes popular.

The austerity cheerleaders have forgotten something: it's not just the scroungers who end up suffering; we do, too. As taxes on the rich fall, the burden of taxation must either fall on the rest of us or services must be cut. I rely on the NHS to keep me on my feet so I can work. When I can't see a GP or a hospital appointment is postponed because of cuts, there's only so much scapegoating that can be applied to soothe my ruffled feathers. At this point I remember that the money that is no longer there to pay for the services I need hasn't just gone to Ten Kids Tessa, they've gone on the surveillance state and tax breaks for people who have invested the money in the stock market, thank you very much. The tax breaks were for being rich, not creating jobs.

My own experience

Austerity: Market forces are at work
I've actually seen this from both sides. I'm in a job that pays a living wage commensurate with my experience and skillset so I'm not complaining. However, I've worked in trades that didn't pay quite so well. As a waitress I used to bob along on the minimum wage. When I got into admin the pay was better but imagine working for £12k a year... as an adult.

While my skillset and experience give me more options, I had to wait a while to get the job I've got now. I had to give up web design because the market for my trade is saturated and I can't program. Even those of us who can struggle to get work in an environment where everybody's cutting back. When their staff leave, they're not replaced, so why would they spend on a new website if their 17-year-old son or daughter can put one together for them? Mind you, my target market was small and startup businesses.

High-end ones pay more but they want more. The services provided to them are usually holistic — the web design is part of an overall marketing scheme and involves promises of floating merrily to the top of the search results, etc. I've never made such promises and, were I still in the trade, I never would. It's snake oil. Besides, even when I had work in it wasn't enough to survive on. I was lucky to get one site a month. One a week would barely have sufficed, to be honest. Well, I had a choice: try to make my business work or do something else. I did something else, but it still took a while.

Where I'm at, the staff in the room below us are leaving and not being replaced. We're not taking anyone on and staff who have left have not been replaced.

Why we should oppose austerity

While crime has fallen overall, we still have a huge number of CCTV cameras in our major towns and cities. They have got to be paid for. Other forms of surveillance, including internet and communications, don't come free. Manpower and data storage also have to be paid for. The £20 billion required for running the surveillance state is about half of what we spend on welfare. Who is paying for this? The taxpayer. Tell me again why Goldman Sachs and Bernie Ecclestone get let off their taxes while I have to pay for this. And arguably, the surveillance is for their benefit, not mine.

Essential services are being cut because there's not enough money in the national kitty to pay for it. The point of free market economics is that dropping taxes on the rich makes them feel all fuzzy and warm inside, which causes the Job Fairy to poof into existence. She waves her magic wand and suddenly, people find they've been employed, or something. At a wage so low, they have to go to food banks to feed their families. Meanwhile, the market forces that are supposed to drop living costs somehow fail to reach their mortgage lenders, landlords, the petrol stations, and anything to do with home repairs. Result: bills keep rising but there's less money to pay them with.

Those of us not affected by cuts now may find themselves facing them later on. They are not about scapegoat-bashing, they're about screwing the public to pay for benefits for the super-rich: the real scroungers. Those companies that are making a profit should share out those profits with the workers when they're handing out bonuses to the wealth creators. If the bosses were restricted to earning only 11x what their lowest-paid workers got, they would still be able to get bonuses, it's just that the workers would get them too. As for incentive, "Work or get fired" has always been effective for me. If poverty is character-building, I can see some people in dire need of it, stat.

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