Noah Smith recently offered an interesting take on the real reasons austerity garners so much support from elites, no matter hw badly it fails in practice. Elites, he argues, see economic distress as an opportunity to push through “reforms” — which basically means changes they want, which may or may not actually serve the interest of promoting economic growth — and oppose any policies that might mitigate crisis without the need for these changes…
I always thought the bad-faith of those pushing for austerity was evidenced by one simple fact: they, almost to a person, suggest budgets be balanced through cuts, or increases in sales taxes when the obvious, least painful, way of balancing the books would be to raise income taxes, particularly at the top. That this never seems to be a significant part of the austerity package suggests to me it’s never really been about balanced budgets. Cutting social spending, which will increase the odds of lower taxes in the future, is the order of the day. Naked self interest posing as policy. Charming.
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, discussion of evidence from the book ‘The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills’:
In a powerful new book, The Body Economic, Stuckler and his colleague Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiologist at Stanford University, show that austerity is now having a “devastating effect” on public health in Europe and North America.
The mass of data they have mined reveals that more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression have been recorded across the two continents since governments started introducing austerity programmes in the aftermath of the crisis.
In the United States, more than five million Americans have lost access to healthcare since the recession began, essentially because when they lost their jobs, they also lost their health insurance. And in the UK, the authors say, 10,000 families have been pushed into homelessness following housing benefit cuts.
…The consequences [in Greece] have been dramatic. Cuts in HIV-prevention budgets have coincided with a 200% increase in the virus in Greece, driven by a sharp rise in intravenous drug use against the background of a youth unemployment rate now running at more than 50% and a spike in homelessness of around a quarter. The World Health Organisation, Stuckler says, recommends a supply of 200 clean needles a year for each intravenous drug user; groups that work with users in Athens estimate the current number available is about three.
In terms of “economic” suicides, “Greece has gone from one extreme to the other. It used to have one of Europe’s lowest suicide rates; it has seen a more than 60% rise.”