What If The US Were Like The EU?

The corporate media propagandists have portrayed Greece as a debtor nation unable to get its fiscal house in order due to the laziness and greed of its people. They fail to report that Greece is only in its current situation largely as the result of the US-created mortgage crisis and the greed of huge international banks.

It’s more convenient to blame the Greek crisis on pensions and a bloated government.

But the fact is, prior to the mortgage crisis, the nation’s debt was roughly 8.3 percent of GDP. Then Goldman-Sachs…yes that Goldman-Sachs…”helped” Greece hide its debt through a risky, off-the-books derivative. When the world markets crashed in 2008, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio exploded to 100 percent of GDP. And that number continues to climb.


As many of the world’s most respected economists will tell you, increased debt is the inevitable result of extreme austerity. As Greece increases lay-offs of government employees, the unemployed workers have less to spend. As a result, small businesses suffer, which results in more lay-offs and lower tax revenues. The result is a downward spiral from which it is difficult to escape.

For example, Greece’s unemployment now stands at approximately 28 percent or roughly the same percentage as the US during the Great Depression! Worse, youth unemployment is nearly 50 percent. And 40 percent of Greece’s children now live in poverty. But pay no attention to those numbers…the international banks are profiting and, as long as Greece remains in the EU, most of the world’s stock markets are soaring.

The problem is that the EU has no form of wealth redistribution like that of the US. Imagine if we treated our poorest states in the same manner the EU is treating Greece. North Dakota now has a debt ratio of -89 percent. In other words, in 2014, North Dakota received $7.51 from the federal government for every $1.00 it contributed in federal income taxes. Many other states also routinely run in the red. Ironically, most of those are also politically red. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin all receive more from the federal government than they contribute. Should we then force austerity on them and force them to payback the difference with interest?

That’s what the EU is doing to Greece.

And what of California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, et al, who contribute far more in taxes than they receive? California contributes $236.5 billion more than it receives. That’s enough to single-handedly cover the deficits of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia combined. What if we had the EU system and California acted like Germany? Many of those states would now be facing excruciating austerity, skyrocketing unemployment and debilitating poverty.

Teapublicans are fond of saying that, unless we cut spending and cut taxes, the US will become another Greece. That’s simply not true. Economically, our nation has little in common with Greece. The only way our economy could begin to resemble Greece’s is if we resort to self-imposed austerity as the Teapublicans recommend.

Remembering The Greatest Economic Crash In History.

Looking back at the market crash of 2008, it’s difficult to believe that it represented a greater loss of stock and home equity than any previous crash in American history. Though we may be impatient for a full recovery of jobs and middle class incomes, we should take a few moments to recognize that the quick action by Congress and the Federal Reserve did, in fact, work. The same can be said for President Obama’s automotive bailouts and economic stimulus which were opposed and derided by Teapublicans.

So you have not yet been able to find the job you want? Or you feel that you are being undervalued and underpaid? Your frustration is understandable. But, when compared to the aftermath of lesser crashes, it could have been a whole lot worse. We were not relegated to soup lines and work camps as our parents and grandparents were following the stock market crash of 1929. But had President Obama not ignored the Teapublicans’ call for austerity measures, we well might have been.

To fully appreciate what I mean, you need to look at the extent of the losses in 2008.

The Dow Jones Industrials lost 778 points in one day – the greatest single day loss in history. It’s estimated that the market crash resulted in a $1.2 trillion loss of market equity. Looking at it another way, the Dow lost 33.8 percent for the full year – surpassed only by the bear markets of 1907 and 1931. Further, GDP contracted for more than a year. Unemployment rose from 5 percent to 10 percent before it began to drop. According to Zillow.com, $3.3 trillion in home equity was stripped from homeowners in 2008 as home values fell by 30 percent. Income levels fell, causing the net worth of households and non-profit organizations to fall by roughly $15 trillion. And the impact of the crash on retirement funds is virtually immeasurable. Indeed, those who were nearing retirement may never fully recover the money lost in their IRAs, 401ks and their defined benefit pension funds.

Despite all of that, our economy recovered remarkably quickly. If you don’t believe me, just look at the economies of many other advanced nations that are struggling with stagnation who mistakenly followed the advice of conservatives. By contrast, the GDP of the US is growing, our deficits have fallen at a dramatic rate and our national debt is now less than 3 percent of our GDP – and it would be much lower if Teapublicans hadn’t fought to give more tax breaks to corporations and the one percent. Certainly, income inequality is skyrocketing, but it was expanding long before the crash as a result of the Bush tax cuts. Yet rather than do something to address the issue, the GOP-led Congress has, instead, voted to eliminate estate taxes for the wealthiest 5,000 families in America!

Remember that the next time you hear someone claim that the GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility. It was GOP policies that led to the Great Recession. And, once again, it was Democratic leadership that led us out of it.

Stone Cold GOP.

I can think of no better way to describe Teapublicans’ failure to extend benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed. After all, these are people who, through no fault of their own, are hanging on by their fingernails. Instead of offering them a hand, Teapublicans seem unwilling to give them anything but some nail clippers.

Nevertheless, Democrats have refused to give up on the unemployed. Not only have they called for an extension of benefits, they have pushed numerous bills that would result in job creation. In response, Teapublicans not only refused to act. They demanded more cuts which, according to most economists, would result in even more unemployed. Worse, as the benefits were expiring, Teapublicans took to the airwaves to blame the victims for their plight and to call them moochers!

By contrast, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy spent a day with the homeless in order to better understand their situation. His “guide” was a homeless man who had overcome a difficult childhood with a drug-addicted father. Having worked many years in sales, he lost his job and his home. He now spends his days looking for work and just trying to survive.

Such stories are not uncommon.

Very few of the homeless are lazy layabouts. Many are addicted or mentally ill. And many others are ordinary people who worked hard, played by the rules and found themselves in financial trouble after losing their jobs or encountering medical problems that they couldn’t afford…often despite having insurance.

For example, one of my friends contracted throat cancer resulting in laryngectomy (removal of the voice box) and causing him to lose his job as a telemarketer. That, in turn, caused him to lose his home. An Army veteran, he was too proud to accept offers to stay in friends’ homes. Instead, he survived by showering and changing clothes at the YMCA, using computers at the public library to apply for jobs, reading, visiting the offices of friends, and riding the buses at night. (The bus became his bedroom.) Once a month, he treated himself to a room at a inexpensive motel. His only source of income was a small (very small) check for a military disability. He wasn’t even eligible for SSI.

My friend despised the stench, noise and prostelityzing of church-sponsored shelters. He thought homeless camps were dangerous. So he lived this way for more than a year before he finally received additional disability compensation from the VA.

Tell me, Teapublicans, exactly what made my friend a moocher? What made him so undeserving in your minds that you would deny him, and people like him, unemployment benefits or other forms of help? What would you have him do? He couldn’t ask for job interviews over the phone. He had no phone, anyway. He couldn’t apply in person. As a black man with no ability to speak, most of those he encountered turned away from him. If he handed them a note, they assumed he was trying to rob them!

Aside from his few friends, the only people who would engage him were children. They were fascinated with his stoma (the hole where his larynx used to be) and with the electrolarnyx (the electronic wand that can be used to produce a robotic-like voice).

My friend’s story was worse than most (he has since passed away), but the point is the same. Most of the people who are now without unemployment benefits have similar stories. And Teapublicans seem to think they are disposable.

The Austerity Fraud.

For more than 30 years, conservatives have pushed for smaller government. Their battle cry is to “Starve the Beast,” the beast being our federal government. They have demanded more and more tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, and they finally got them under President George W. Bush. Yet, when the tax cuts led to large deficits, Richard “The Dick” Cheney and other conservatives famously stated that “deficits don’t matter.”

Of course, when President Obama took office, their attitude suddenly changed.

Despite having driven our economy off a cliff, conservatives demanded that the new administration cut spending in order to bring the deficit and debt under control. To prove their point that these were the biggest challenges facing our nation (bigger than rampant unemployment, the housing crisis, losses by pension funds and the depressed stock markets), conservatives cited a Harvard University study by Reinhart and Rogoff which stated that economies suffer whenever a nation’s debt surpasses 90 percent of GDP.

This study was cited over and over by conservative politicians and conservative media.

Unfortunately for conservatives, it was recently debunked by a graduate student who found numerous statistical and computational inaccuracies which completely altered the study’s conclusions. Turns out, there were numerous exceptions to the Reinhart-Rogoff rule.

As for the effects of austerity measures, one need only look to Europe to see what happens when concern over deficits and debt trump job creation. Following strict austerity measures in both Greece and Spain, unemployment among young people now exceeds 60 and 50 percent, respectively. Both countries are facing major upheaval as the unemployed have taken to the streets to riot. In England, France and Italy, the effects of austerity have been less dramatic. Nevertheless, austerity has pushed their economies back into recession.

Had President Obama followed the advice of conservatives, we, too, could be struggling through another deep recession. Despite conservative claims to the contrary, the economic stimulus worked. For the past 3 years, we have not only recovered the jobs lost as the result of the Bush recession. We have added 1.5 additional jobs, and we would have added many more if not for layoffs in the public sector forced by Republican-controlled state houses.

We might well be back on the road to full recovery had the Teapublicans not taken  control of the House in 2011.

Virtually every economist has stated that the budget restraints imposed by our Teapublican Congress have hampered our economic recovery. Indeed, a recent article in The New York Times states that deficit reduction has already cost our economy at least 2 percent growth and 1 percent employment. And the budget cuts forced by sequestration have yet to fully take hold!

But don’t look for conservatives to give up on austerity any time soon. Despite our fragile recovery, they’re still demanding severe cuts to federal programs. They have proposed cuts to “entitlements” such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They want to eliminate or severely reduce unemployment insurance, SNAP (food stamps), Pell grants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They even want to cut or eliminate the United States Postal Service!

During the last election, Teapublican candidates said they would target entire departments for elimination, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department, the Commerce Department and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. Some want to get rid of the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard.

Given a limited (and false) understanding of history and our Constitution, today’s conservatives believe that the only constitutionally-allowed functions of the federal government are defense, homeland security, border security and highway construction. For everything else, you’re on your own.

It’s easy to see what these policies would do to our nation. Just look at Somalia.