People are in the habit of talking about the Government as if it was a corporate entity that exists on its own, independent of us and apart from us, like General Motors or Bank of America, and that like those actual corporate entities it has its own interests, independent and apart from ours, if not actually hostile to ours, which it pursues on its own, independently and apart from what we want it to do.
This is reasonable, since it seems that way a lot of times, that the Government is, if not acting against us, not exactly acting for us.
But what we’re really talking about is not an actual entity called the Government, but the politicians and bureaucrats who run it on our behalf and seem to have forgotten who pays them to do that job.
Sometimes we’re talking about the people who happen to have outvoted us in the last election and according to whose new instructions the politicians and bureaucrats are now acting.
Blaming the Government for something is a better way of keeping the peace with our neighbors than blaming them for what they’ve voted to tell the politicians and bureaucrats to do.
But, a point I glanced at in my previous post, the Government isn’t an entity, it’s an arrangement. It’s the way we’ve agreed upon to provide ourselves with certain goods and services we can’t provide individually and on our own.
Our loyal and stalwart comrade in blogging, actor212, also known as Carl of Simply Left Behind, noted on my post from last week on the passing of New York state’s services-slashing and in effect taxes on the middle and working class-increasing budget, Mad at Hatters, that I don’t usually drop the f-bomb here and yet there it was twice in one post.
He observed, rather dryly, that I must have been “upset.”
You bet I was upset. I still am. There’s a lot to be upset about, not least of them is that the budget was drafted and foisted upon us by a supposed liberal Democrat.
Democrats are supposed to know that cutting spending and laying off workers during economic hard times is, to put it mildly, counterproductive.
Our governor, Andrew Cuomo, had to present a balanced budget. That’s the law. There wasn’t a chance he could do this by raising taxes all around. He could have raised some people’s taxes---millionaires’ and billionaires’---but he didn’t bother to try or even apologize for it; in fact, he talked as if he had done it. Lots of shared sacrifice bilge came out of every politician in Albany’s mouth during the process even though the people who could easiest afford a little more sacrificing were conspicuously not included in the sharing. That was maddening enough.
What really “upset” me, though, was the way Cuomo seemed to want us all to be grateful to him for what he’d accomplished. He clearly thought he’d pulled off something deserving of universal applause. Instead of treating his budget as regretfully painful but necessary, he acted as if he’d just passed universal health care. The New York Times described his public appearances after the agreements that made the budget a done deal were finalized as a “victory lap.”
Yeah. I was a little upset.
Then I found out that Cuomo was using a trope that I think should get the mouth of any Democrat who uses it washed out with soap.
He was talking about how in these hard times the government needs to tighten its belt. He didn’t add “just like families” have had to do. But given how many times that stupid phrase has been spouted by Democrats who should know to cut off their tongues before they spout it, and that includes the President, he didn’t have to say it. We get the point by now and…excuse me….
And fuck him!
First off, a Democrat is supposed to know instinctively that there is no such thing as the Government apart from the People. The Government is us. What the Government does, we do.
It’s disgusting enough when Republicans talk about the virtues of belt-tightening and the need for “shared” sacrifice. But everybody knows, or ought to know by now, that they don’t mean it. They’re only concerned with their base, which, sorry Tea Partiers, ain’t you, it’s the corporate rich, whose belts it’s the Republicans’ job to not just not tighten but to let out, whose “sacrifices” are to be kept to a pure abstraction, a morally improving sentiment best honored by increasing the actual sacrifices of the rest of us.
Republicans sacrifice the way they practice all their virtues, vicariously.
But Democrats are supposed to know better or, at least, they’re supposed to be concerned about their base.
There are ways that not governments but the bureaucracies---made up of politicians and various types and paygrades of people who are all basically clerks----that run things on behalf of the government---that is, on our behalf---can tighten their belts. They can put off giving themselves raises. They can cut their own pay. They can buy cheaper copy paper. They can put off remodeling their offices or hiring another secretary or buying a new police car or snow plow or tank. And as long as those “sacrifices” don’t inconvenience anyone but the bureaucrats and politicians themselves then it can be said with some truth that the government is tightening its belt.
But if we, the people, need a new police car because the old one keeps breaking down and is too often unavailable when we have to call for it, or if we need a new snowplow because the town where we live has expanded and the new roads are impassable on snowy days when we have to get to work or the store or the doctor, or if we need the town hall to hire another secretary because the ones in the offices are overworked and can’t keep up with paperwork we have to have completed quickly in order to buy a house, get married, or file our property taxes on time, then not buying the police car or snow plow and not hiring the secretary isn’t a case of the government tightening its belt. It’s the case of our having to go without a necessary service or our having to inconvenience ourselves in order to get an already inconvenient task accomplished.
The usual way the Government tightens its belt is by cutting spending on goods and services that are the reasons we have a government.
In other words, when the government tightens its belt, it’s not the case of some corporate entity doing without. It’s the case that we, the people, have to do without.
When the government tightens its belt, it’s not the case that the government is saving itself or the taxpayers money. It’s almost always the case that we, the people, now have to spend money on top of the taxes we’re paying to provide ourselves with those goods and services or, again, do without them.
When the government tightens its belt, it’s not the case that IT is being like virtuous families who have had to tighten their belts. It’s the case that the belts of actual families have to get even tighter.
The government tightens its belt by tightening ours.
Democrats are supposed to understand that this is bad. It’s bad economics, it’s bad policy, and it’s bad politics.
In hard times, people tighten their belts, all right. They stop spending as much money as they had been spending because they don’t have as much to spend anymore. This makes the hard times harder because now businesses are making even less money, so their owners tighten their belts and stop hiring and start firing. When governments tighten their belts they stop spending money on our behalf, which has exactly the same effect as our stopping spending our money directly on our behalf. The hard times get harder because now more businesses are making even less money so they tighten their belts another couple of notches.
So we have more people out of work, more people doing with less and paying more for what they can’t do without, more businesses shutting down…
Happy days are here again.
Government-enforced belt-tightening doesn’t work to make things better or more bearable. It makes things worse. And it makes voters mad.
Democrats are supposed to understand this. But they should know just based on common sense that when voters are mad at you they don’t vote for you.
If most Americans prefer a liberal government---and polls show they do, even when they’re voting in ways that actually deny themselves the things they want the government to do for them---then if you offer them a choice between a conservative government run by Democrats and a conservative government run by Republicans a great many of them are going to choose…neither.
With apologies to Harry Truman, it’s not that they will vote for a true Republican over a Democrat who acts like one. It’s that they won’t vote at all. They’ll stay home on election day.
Which is what just fucking happened, Andrew!