Almost two months ago I wrote a post here that frugality is the new black. I see that fellow TED-ster Juan Enriquez has an OpEd in today’s Boston Globe saying something very similar — he thinks we need to talk a lot more about "austerity" on our way to a major economic restructuring in the U.S. It is highly persuasive.
Many politicians decided reelection depended on cutting taxes and offering more benefits. Increase Medicare, postpone Social Security reform, hire more bureaucrats, and pay for a two-front war. Debt grew to pay for this party. These were not true tax cuts, just postponed debt; now we owe more and the bill has come due with interest.
Complicating this crisis is US economic hegemony. There were few places to park a lot of money. Despite the euro, European policies on debts and deficits are not much to brag about. So foreigners have gorged on US debt. The United States continues importing more than it exports. Middle Easterners and Asians who save and invest bought dollars for decades, but some of this money is now fleeing. The dollar has dropped sharply. Gold and oil have skyrocketed. In financial crises, huge pools of capital cross borders very quickly; a few can make a great deal of money shorting the country’s currency.
The United States requires a massive restructuring to address its debt, cutting back on its borrowing, spending, and wars. The bailout package is essential to keep the credit markets open. But absent sentences that include the word austerity all the bailout will accomplish is a temporary postponement. Bailout and stimulus are a stopgap.
A solution requires the country to begin to spend what it earns, reduce its mountainous debt, and address massive liabilities, restructure Social Security, pension deficits, military, and Medicare. No wonder politicians would rather spend more of your money now rather than address these problems. Because we have been spending 5 to 7 percent more each year than we earn, a forced restructuring, triggered by a currency collapse, would have the same effect on wages and purchasing power that the housing collapse had on housing prices. So let’s learn from our Latin and Asian friends and act before it is too late.