Q: How Can Spending 30 Percent More Be "Austerity"?


A: It can't, of course.

But in a nearly fact-free 4,000-word thumbsucker in The Nation, deep thinker Ari Berman manages to avoid any mention of how much the Federal government is actually spending. Instead, Berman draws on comments from some of the most discredited retreads in government to make the case that a vaguely defined "austerity class" is in control of the U.S. capital. 

Berman lets the deficit hawks have it right in the kisser: 

[H]ow, in the midst of a massive unemployment crisis — when it's painfully obvious that not enough jobs are being created and the public overwhelmingly wants policy-makers to focus on creating them — did the deficit emerge as the most pressing issue in the country? And why, when the global evidence clearly indicates that austerity measures will raise unemployment and hinder, not accelerate, growth, do advocates of austerity retain such distinction today?

An explanation can be found in the prominence of an influential and aggressive austerity class—an allegedly centrist coalition of politicians, wonks and pundits who are considered indisputably wise custodians of US economic policy. These "very serious people," as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wryly dubs them, have achieved what University of California, Berkeley, economist Brad DeLong calls "intellectual hegemony over the course of the debate in Washington, from 2009 until today."

Whoa, Krugman and DeLong are in agreement? Well that settles it! 

But Berman isn't finished working his way through the roster of the perpetually wrong. He also draws on such luminaries as former Council of Economic Advisers chairwoman Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden. Joe Stiglitz gets wheeled in as well. 

Now there's nothing wrong with citing Romer or Bernstein, because unlike nearly all the austerity hawks Berman alludes to, they actually held real power and were given a chance to put their ideas into action. If you've been reading the newspapers over the past three years, you know that their ideas failed. That's why the word "former" figures in both their titles. 

The iron test of reality, however, is not as attractive to Berman as the doubly hypothetical plan to eat Irish babies concocted by big nothing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). You'll remember that Ryan had a deficit reduction plan that would have balanced the budget in – I'm not making this up – the year 2063, the same year that humanity will make contact with Berman's Vulcan descendents. 

Berman, who wants to make our flesh creep, carefully avoids noting that Ryan's plan, like all the best-laid schemes of the austerity class, came to nothing. Here are total federal outlays [pdf] since the beginning of the long-overdue correction in real estate prices began: 

2008 $2.9 trillion 
2009 $3.5 trillion 
2010 $3.5 trillion 
2011 $3.8 trillion 

Here are revenues, spending and deficits, respectively, over the same period:

Do I expect the anti-austeritists to be persuaded by these facts? I do not. I predict the "austerity class" will become a popular trope, repeated with knowing nods among the 99 Percent.