Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's Okay, Freeze Our Pay pt. 2

Isaac responds:

Instead, we have a Right Wing party that exploded the deficit and wrecked our economy teaming up with the "centrists" who have made it more and more unfair and deregulated over the last twenty years to call on the most vulnerable members of our society to "Sacrifice." And indeed, the fetishization of "sacrifice," as some kind of inherently Good and Noble thing is in the air (et tu, Culturefuture? A GS-1 federal government employee makes under $20,000 a year unless they live in one of a handful of cities.)
Let's see what I said. Do I think that it's a good thing that people are being asked to make this sacrifice?
I was not hugely happy to hear about the federal pay freeze this week, because I'm not convinced that it would have much of an impact, nor do I think that it's particularly just. After all, the people who made the poor decisions are voters, and the people who are losing out are federal employees.
Yup, it's a bad idea to freeze their pay. GS-1 government employees and many of their higher-paid colleagues should not have their pay frozen. It's a bad idea, and a disservice to them.

However, I went on to say:
If we can't get those who should make sacrifices to make them, let's start by having those who are willing. Hopefully shame is contagious.
Let's take a trip in the wayback machine to 2008, when the crisis was going on. The banks were in trouble. They needed money. We decided to give them money in a huge way, through the TARP Bail-out.

I think we all knew at the time that it wouldn't be the Banks who would pay for the bail-out, nor would it be the Fortune 500 or America's crop of billionaires. It was going to be precisely those people who were least culpable. And there was a damn lot of anger, and we did it anyway, and it saved our country.

Now, the budget is an important thing. I think I may be in the over-emphasizing-the-budget crowd because I come from California, where I saw that if you don't make steps to trim the budget, not only are those GS-1 employees not making $20,000 a year, they're getting IOU's from the government, or having needed services slashed. We went from one of the strongest economies in the world to having rolling black-outs, like Kabul.

That's a bit of a doomsday scenario. But as Ireland as shown, the only thing that prevents doomsday scenarios is that people don't let them happen. They balance the budget. They either do that by punting the problem ahead a generation, or they make sacrifices now.

Maybe I've got a fetish for sacrifice. Or maybe it turns out sacrifice means doing things that are unfair or painful because they're the only thing that will happen. Like Isaac, I think there are plenty of progressive approaches to handling the deficit. And Isaac is skeptical about Simpson-Bowles, as I am.

But you know what? Nobody is talking about Simpson-Bowles. It's not going to happen. Certainly I have little faith in any of those progressive approaches getting through. The most significant budget-balancing measure was already put into place: Pay-Go.

So to return to my point: if the right people aren't going to make the sacrifice, we're going to have to start with the willing. Because really, if someone forces you to sacrifice, it's not a sacrifice: it's just a punishment.

In fact, what would be more to my taste is that instead of making a mandatory pay freeze, there should be a voluntary pay freeze. Say, "We're not going to make you sacrifice. We're going to ask those of you who can to help the country."

For instance: we're in two wars. We need soldiers. We don't have a draft, because forcing people to go to war isn't a sacrifice, it's just senseless. Instead, we ask. And those people who rise to the challenge: we honor them and respect them.

So let's start creating the invitation and the space for people to contribute to solving the country's problems. And if some Federal Workers think that's embracing onerous pay freezes, then I respect them for that.

1 comment:

isaac butler said...

I'm glad to have spawned a series!

Seriously, tho, my issue is more with sentimentalizing sacrifice as opposed to looking at who is being asked to sacrifice and why and what our priorities are as a culture and nation. Bill Clinton (who I'm not a big fan of, but...) also talked of sacrifice in the context of raising most people's taxes. That sacrifice had to do with us all coming together to contribute to the greater good as enacted through the Government. It wasn't voluntary. Nor were many of the sacrifices during WWII voluntary (rationing, for example.)

The "sacrifice" being called for now invariably involves either the poor or the elderly having to make do with less or stupid cosmetic gestures like this federal pay freeze. The freeze not only doesn't save much money (it saves less than 10% of what would be earned by repealing the Bush tax cuts) but it will make Obama and the Democrat's agenda harder to implement.

Once the Republicans get into power, most of the action of the Dems agenda is going to have to happen through regulatory agencies in the Executive branch. Indeed, pretty much every step of Health Care reform delegates some decision to a regulatory body, many of which don't exist yet. Obama has just made it more difficult to recruit and retain the people who will be doing this.

It's also bad politics. No one will care about this pay freeze in two years. They will care about how the economy is doing. Meanwhile, Obama has managed to piss off his base and fuck with one of the Democrats' core constituencies. And for what? What did he get from the Republicans with this preemptice compromise? Nothing, because they can't take credit for anything. This is exactly what happened with the Stimulus, and he's on record as saying he regrets doing it, so why is he doing it again?

I know you probably agree with the above, but I want to explain where my hostility to sacrifice rhetoric is coming from. We're living in an age now where-- globally, and actually especially in Europe-- the weakest members of society get "austerity measures" while the strongest get bailouts. It's disgusting.