Austerity is a word we hear a lot these days, and not as a result of a new interest in the works of Senecus or other stoicist philosophers from Antiquity or something. Let’s talk about it a bit, because… I don’t know, maybe it will do something.
Austerity is based on an ideology, neoliberalism. In the 1980s, governments like that of Thatcher (UK), Reagan (USA) or Gorbachev (USSR) decided that it would be a great idea to liberalize their economy and to reduce the size of the state, because reasons. So they decided to sell state property for next to nothing, reduced services, fought unions, etc. It was generally enforced with solid arguments like “Debt!” or “We cannot afford this anymore”, or with brilliant analogies describing the state as if it were a family — ooooh, identity between macrocosm and microcosm! Inevitably, in all these countries, the results were disastrous on all points of view. And so their ideas became super popular and everybody started thinking these people were great. No, it does not make sense. (For more historical context, watch the beginning of this documentary.)
Neoliberalism would have a much better future than other bad ideas of 1980s, such as neon legwarmers and shiny leggings. This ideology is one of the few things we inherited from the 1980s, with Madonna and Star Wars. But it was better preserved than either (especially Star Wars — God, wasn’t the new trilogy awful?), because it’s just as much a danger now as when “Like A Virgin” first aired. In fact, if I had to choose, I’d buy ten copies of Hard Candy or watch Phantom Menace through to The Revenge of the Sith non-stop if it could do anything against neoliberalism.
Austerity does not work. Never. Even the IMF agrees, and really, they’re well placed to know, as they’ve forced this thing on dozens of countries. Politicians usually sell it as a sacrifice now for a potential better future, but this future never happens. And because the last government’s future didn’t happen, the new one will say that we must go deeper. Basically, people who think this is good are stuck in the same logic as compulsive gamblers: “Yeah, I already sold my car because of this, but if I mortgage my house this time, I’ll make it up ten times!” It’s just, you know, in the case of austerity, the government is asking other people to throw away their money.
An important problem with austerity is that its measures, more often than not, strike marginalized people more than others. Let’s just look at some of the concrete measures that resulted from the present Quebec government’s austerity.
- In June, the Health minister talked about slashing the new program of assisted reproduction by imposing a model of “medical infertility” against “social infertility”, which is highly problematic, especially for same sex couples. It’s a new policy, so it’s not well established and therefore easy to cut. They also thought of cutting money for people with disabilities or for elders, etc. Equality programs are often like this: because they are recent achievements, people don’t necessarily care strongly about them, so the government can cut, cut cut. It does not bode well for we trans people, who have only some treatments provided for, and have had this for only a few years.
- In Fall, it transpired that schools were making cuts in student services, specifically those destined to fight intimidation and to help student with difficulties. Obviously they did, their budgets were widely cut for no reason. The government just cut the money without giving any solution, so peripheral services will be cut — or rather, delegated to the private sector, making them inaccessible for most.
- This week, the Finance Minister said that he’d like to “subcontract” government services to community organisms. This means that unionized employees will lose their jobs to organisms that usually function on the basis of volunteer workers with a small paid staff for coordination. The government is doing the opposite of its responsability. World-changing people deserve to be well-paid. Obviously, this proposal was not made with the approval of actual community groups, which quickly denounced it. (And another link.)
Oh, and the government charges more and more money to individuals for random purposes, while companies to wtf they want. And obviously, raising taxes on the rich is not an option. And so on.
Tomorrow is the big demonstration against austerity in Montreal. 11 am, McGill College and Sherbrooke.