Austerity: You First
In politics, the word of the season is “austerity.”
Meaning: The country’s broke, Bub. So we’ve all gotta tighten our belts.
Which is one of those things that sounds reasonable at first — until you realize that when the politicos and pundits say “we”, they really mean “you.”
That realization, in part, is what has made the protests by union workers in Wisconsin resonate across the nation. You can’t watch millionaires on TV screaming that the only way to balance the budget is to squeeze the dough out of schoolteachers and cops without sensing the absurdity of the demand.
If “we all” have to sacrifice, after all, then surely if “we” includes teachers in Wisconsin (whose maximum potential salary is $60,000 a year), it includes the wealthy too. That’s what “we” means — all of us.
The same people who are so strident in their demands that the middle class get off the gravy train are as quiet as the grave when it comes to how the better-off can contribute. Nobody in the chattering classes will seriously discuss asking the rich — even the very richest of the rich — to pay one cent more in taxes to help their country. Not even in an age when the top 1% of the population holds 34% of the nation’s wealth.
If our leaders aren’t going to put this issue on the table, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. To that end, I offer the following proposal.
From this day forward, any would-be leader — any politician, any pundit, any banker, any billionaire — who says that the solution to our economic problems is “austerity” should be asked one simple question: what they, personally, would be giving up.
It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask. If you want to be a leader, you have to be willing to lead. And in this case, that means that if you want to tell people who struggle every day just to make ends meet that they have to “tighten their belts,” then you have to tighten your own belt first.
So if you want to lead people into “austerity,” then put your money where your mouth is. Show us that we should take you seriously. Show us that you’re willing to sacrifice right alongside the rest of us.
You wouldn’t ask the rest of America to do something you weren’t willing to do yourself, right?