We haven't seen anything like this since the last time.
The problem with the rhetoric is that there is no actual "cliff" -- fiscal or otherwise; to be uncharitable about it, we went over The Cliff, the real one, a long time ago, and we haven't begun to crawl back up the precipice. Oh no. Far from it. There is still debris yet to make its way down.
Of course The Fiscal Cliff is supposed to refer to the basket of tax increases and spending cuts that will be required by law beginning January 1, 2013, if nothing is done. The horror!
In this economy, the tax increases on the middle and working classes could be crippling -- $200 a month or so for many. That's not chump change when you're on the brink. If the increases were to take place, many -- perhaps millions -- would wind up in a bad place without succor or recourse. That's because so many people these days have no economic flexibility whatever. They are in such a rigid income/expense situation that the slightest increase on the expense side is liable to push them into insolvency; any increase in income for most winds up servicing the enormous levels of household debt accumulated during the decades of wage stagnation and price inflation.
On the other hand, the mandatory spending cuts that would take place have a less direct effect on households, though there would be impacts down the line. The defense and security budgets would be impacted significantly, but it is hard to say that they would be "devastated" or "eviscerated," as their defenders want to claim. The issue is that both defense and security budgets are so obscenely bloated that even the trillion dollar cuts which would take place were the sequestration provisions taken seriously (they won't be) would be hardly noticeable -- and they would not lead to a fundamental reassessment of American military and internal security posture. Not on a bet.
The other discretionary spending cuts demanded by lawmakers in setting up this Rube Goldberg contraption to raise the debt ceiling last year (oh, yes, it all goes back to that), would have profound effects on programs for various constituencies, cutting their budgets or eliminating them altogether by the great gross, but the effects on most households would be subtle and would take quite a while to be felt.
The only reason put forth for the tax increases and spending cuts that are supposed to take place once we go over The (Non-Existent) Fiscal Cliff is to reduce the level of public debt. The reason for doing that in this economy (which is effectively a Depression economy for the vast majority of Americans who have lost almost all the little bit of wealth they were able to squirrel away during the boom-times, while the wealthy have made out like bandits) is unclear at best. Obviously somebody would benefit, but who? Not you or me, that's for sure. But somebody would. Who that would be is almost never mentioned, even sotto voce, because if people knew who benefits from conditions of low or no public debt, they would rise in rebellion and revolution.
The whole situation arose because a radical cabal in Congress decided to hold the debt limit hostage until and unless they got their way on spending cuts. The deal they got was wonky to say the least, in that not only did they get their spending cuts (deferred, of course), but they got big ol' tax increases as well (something they weren't bargaining for). That they got a deal at all was astonishing, and that they were allowed to drive the nation's economic bus in such an irresponsible manner was appalling. But there you are, that's Washington politics today.
Comes now we have a situation where what they agreed to to git 'er done back in the day is coming due, and they deeply resent the fact that what they agreed to is not what they or the People want.
So this is what they want to do to avoid the alleged Cliff this time:
- Increase spending on military and security
- Reduce taxes even further on the upper end (by eliminating, for example, the inheritance tax)
- Increase tax burdens on the working and middle classes (by limiting/eliminating such frivolities as the Earned Income Tax Credit and other deductions and credits)
- "Reform" the entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare by further increasing the eligibility age and reducing benefit levels
- Institutionalize the Cliff through debt ceiling shenanigans. In other words, do this over and over and over again until it becomes the norm.
The point here is to shift the burden of paying for government and services from those who have the most onto those who are seeing their incomes decline and their futures evaporate. It's the New American Way, one that is being implemented regardless of the overwhelming public rejection of these policies.
Too bad, so sad, they're gonna happen anyway. For the People no longer have a say in these matters.
How did Bush the Lesser put it? "We had an accountability moment; that was the ... election."
Indeed, you put the people who are intent on these policies back in office, and guess what? They pursue them! Golll-lee! Who'dathunk?
Of course in our system, campaigns are not run on the basis of what the candidates will actually do when they are elected. Pshaw! Instead, they are run on the basis of what they think the People want to hear. "Cliff" policies were sidestepped for the most part, leaving it to the Lame Duck session now underway to hammer out the details.
The focus is almost entirely on how to "reform" entitlements to meet the objectives of making them harder to access, less beneficial to recipients, and ultimately to turn them over to private interests to exploit for profit.
And we are being propagandized relentlessly to believe that only by making these "reforms" can the programs be "saved" -- a total lie -- and that further, it's the only way to avoid going over the Cliff.
It's a neat propaganda package, one that is universally accepted, even by the opponents to the particular "reforms" being proposed (ie: raising the eligibility age and reducing benefit levels; eventually privatizing).
The correct approach, on the other hand, is almost never acknowledged let alone addressed.
That would be: expanding the programs by lowering the eligibility age, increasing benefit levels, and rejecting privatization.
Simple. Almost unheard of.
And it has nothing to do with avoiding going over any alleged "Cliff."
What it would do is start our climb up from the bottom where the People have been for years and years. But that's why you don't hear about doing the correct thing: the people and interests on top benefit from keeping the rest of us down. They benefit enormously. Beyond their wildest dreams. You bet.
The relentless propaganda has been so effective that it's become nearly impossible to even suggest there may be another and more appropriate way to handle economic issues that affect the masses. No, one is limited by the deliberate rhetorical confusion of the propagandists. The framework of discussion is entirely theirs. It is confused in that there is no acknowledgement within that framework that the interests being served are exclusively among the rich. The lie is that the People are being served.
There is no framework for the correct approach.
Then there's the whole problem of Names: "entitlements," "Fiscal Cliff," and "reform" being the three biggies, none of which mean what most people think they mean.
- "Entitlements" are not a bad thing.
- The "Fiscal Cliff" is not real.
- "Reform" does not mean reducing benefits and services to the People.