Austerity Forever!

Greg Sargent offers an important reminder today of a certain item that is being heavily ignored in MSM coverage of the fiscal talks:

The $1.6 trillion in tax hikes in the White House’s fiscal cliff proposal is the main focus of the political argument right now, but the plan also contained an array of economic stimulus measures, such as $50 billion in infrastructure spending to create jobs. And Republicans are balking not just at the tax hikes on the rich, but at the call for more stimulus spending, too, claiming that more spending to create jobs will widen the deficit.

So perhaps it’s time for a reminder: This election wasn’t just about taxes and the deficit. It was also about whether government should invest more in job creation. And the electorate’s verdict was: Yes, it should.

But this is not just a matter of making sure the conversation includes stimulus proposals from the White House. It’s also essential to the Big Picture. Before, during and after the Great Recession, the GOP’s fiscal agenda has been focused on austerity. Yes, they’ve promoted tax cuts and have railed against Pentagon cuts, but not for any reason having to do with the short-term fate of the economy; they are for lower taxes and higher defense spending in all seasons. Beyond that, the GOP’s jobs agenda always has been and presumably always will be based on the magical argument that lower domestic spending will “free up” resources which the private sector will quickly turn into Boom Times (which would be more compelling if said private sector wasn’t already sitting on vast resources in the form of unrecycled profits), and the even more magical argument that the dynamism of the economy is being inhibited by excessive regulation and by po’ folks who’ve decided to live on “welfare” instead of helping the job-creators out by working for minimum wages. With the exception of Ramesh Ponnuru, moreover, virtually every Republican thinker and policy-maker in site also believes in tight money.

Since Republicans are promoting the eternal Republican formula for their idea of economic growth, is there any particular reason to think (a) it’s particularly appropriate for economic conditions like today’s, or (b) that they’re open to other job-producing ideas? No. When it comes to public-sector economic activism, it’s austerity today, austerity tomorrow, austerity forever!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.