Pundits can’t make up their minds about the spending cuts to be announced today by British Chancellor, George Osborne. Will they simply put us ‘back on track’ after a short sharp shock, do they herald a new age of continuing austerity or do they represent a redefinition of the role of government in western society?
Whichever interpretation you choose, it is generally agreed that these cuts will simply put Government spending back to where it was in 2006/07. Which means that the austerity programme is effectively paying for the extra debt taken on board by the government during this on-going financial crisis.
UK tax payers have been framed. Here is the frame: “We have all lived beyond our means. We borrowed too much. Now the good times are over and we must pay. There must be cuts because we have run out of money. We must protect education and health so let’s discuss where it is most acceptable that the cuts in public spending should take place.”
Osborne’s message to the British tax payers is: “It is all your fault. We must cut these services because there is no money to pay for them. There is no alternative. And by the way, look over there at that benefit stealing scrounger lying in bed while you go off to a hard days work – he is the real problem.”
For my non-British audience I must tell you that this message neatly taps into residual Victorian guilt amongst older Brits (“neither a borrower nor a lender be!”) and the English desire not to make a fuss.
It’s clever and it works but it is still a frame. It centres the debate upon where and how quickly we should make the cuts. But while the economists and pundits sit in the frame, contemplating it’s dimensions, they do not step outside and ask how we got here, who should pay or where has the money gone?
Remember, money is debt. The debt which tax-payers will repay represents money shoveled into the back pockets of corporations and bankers via tax breaks, dividends and bonuses.
The government’s fiscal waistline has expanded to bursting point, and now they are trying to tighten their belts by dumping the debt and defecating on the man in the street.