Around the country, cutbacks are being proposed and pushed through with great speed, as a kind of shock therapy to the economy, as Naomi Klein describes in her book Shock Doctrine. But hold on—progressive groups, inspired by recent events in Cairo and Madison, are rising to the occasion and calling for a sane, reasoned, and equitable approach to the crisis at hand.
On Saturday, February 26, groups around the United States will engage in actions that demonstrate the will of the people to protect essential programs and services from cutbacks and to demand that such services be paid for by the banks and other mega-corporations that currently dodge taxes and dominate economic policy. A newly-emerging organization called US Uncut, modeled on UK Uncut, is planning autonomous but coordinated actions in over 30 locations nation-wide. (see http://www.usuncut.org/ )
These actions are in response to legislatures in Washington and in various states that are proposing “austerity measures” such as those imposed on developing nations by the IMF for decades. State and federal tax cuts threaten to shrink middle class benefits, dismantle social safety nets, and undo labor and environmental protections that we have taken for granted. These cuts constitute a massive transfer of our country’s wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, pushed through by corporate power.
At the same time, tax cuts for the wealthy have been extended, profits and stocks of bailed out banks have been rising, and CEO bonuses are sky high. Bank of America and other banks continue to evade taxes in offshore accounts and off-balance sheet accounting. These financial institutions, which played fast and loose with our money, are helping to shape economic and social policies to prevent regulations that would limit their power.
Remember, it’s not just out of the blue that we find ourselves in tight economic circumstances. The financial Ponzi scheme, with its layers and layers of highly leveraged, complex securities built upon subprime mortgages, collapsed in 2008, taking the global economy with it. This could only happen because the regulations that had safeguarded the financial system since the Great Depression were discarded under pressure from financial institutions that wanted freedom to engage in risky speculation as well as government insurance through the FDIC. The wanted both, and they got it. Government free-market ideologues helped this deregulation along at every stage, and are escalating their efforts today.
The poisonous eruption of “toxic assets” came to a head in 2008. Trillions of dollars of phantom wealth evaporated, along with much of society’s real wealth, which is still being siphoned up to the top as foreclosures rise and services are cut. The $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout was a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of tax dollars spent by Treasury and the Federal Reserve in order to bail out the banks and save the financial system, though rescue efforts clearly did not extend to the people.
Ironically, the US government injected money into banks and bought those toxic assets at face value, to buoy up Wall Street, without placing conditions that would help people on Main Street. Now we and our grandchildren are on the hook for trillions of dollars in debt, and these financial monsters, rather than coming clean and paying their fair share of taxes, are pushing legislators to cut any programs that could empower the people or relieve their pain.
In Wisconsin and Ohio, people are rising up against legislation that would take away the right of public employees to organize. This legislative push is part of an ongoing effort, paid for by the billionaire Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and other wealthy free market libertarians who think that their day has come. They seem to agree with Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Taxpayer Reform, who said "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Shrinking government means cutting corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy. It means cutting back the benevolent role of government to protect the common good, but expanding the authoritarian role of government to enforce contracts and provide police, prison, and military power. It also means disempowering labor, which often votes Democratic, and which provides the primary countervailing power to absolute corporate rule.
This coming Saturday and in future days, we can resist the shock therapy of cutbacks and demand that banks pay their fair share. “Cut CEO bonuses, not Social Security.” “Bail out the schools, not the banks.” “Corporate tax dodgers, pay your fair share.” If we join together nonviolently, as workers and unemployed, students and pensioners, immigrants and citizens, homeowners and homeless, rich and poor together, without scapegoats or enemies, we have power, not the power of domination but of cooperation and moral persuasion. As we rouse ourselves from apathy and take action together, for the children’s sake and for the sake of the future, we are upheld and uphold each other through the power of community—people power. Another world is possible! The time is now.