Austerity: Sternness or severity of manner or attitude (New Oxford American Dictionary
I don't really understand why modern movements to reign in government spending are referred to as "austerity" movements. Personally, I've never seen them as austere as much as good old fashioned common sense. What doesn't make sense are the people who riot and protest over legislation specifically designed to restore financial viability to their nations.
We've seen it in Greece several times over the past couple of years. Greece is perhaps the ultimate example in the modern world, as theirs was one of the first governments to face truly serious financial troubles, but the riots have not been limited to that nation. It wasn't that long ago that England was facing their own spate of riots, and over what? A measure requiring that students pay a higher percentage of their college tuition. A lot of the angst expressed in those riots was over the fact that the politicians who were raising tuition rates had the benefit of a fully state-funded education, but when you get right down to it, what are you supposed to do if the state cannot afford it? I can understand the concerns of young people in England, but let's face it: reality is reality. England has been living a fantasy for too long, assuming that they could pay for health care and higher education and anything else their citizens need with no consequences.
A similar debate is going on here in America. We have two behemoth programs: Medicare and Social Security. It's been apparent for more than a decade that these programs are unsustainable, yet they remain the "third rail" of American politics. Each and every time a politician tries to reform one of these programs, the demagoguery begins all over again, and nothing is done about them.
Take, for instance, the Ryan plan. Congressman Paul Ryan has previously put forward a plan to keep the Medicare system in business over the long-term...and by long-term, I mean that the goal is to have Medicare available for me when I'm old enough, and for my daughter when she is old enough... and hopefully for her children, as well. But it's impossible to extend the longevity of Medicare without a trade-off, and in this case, the trade-off will be decreased services.
Now, according to the Democrats, decreasing services is a problem. The line I have heard over and over again is that we have a "moral obligation" to continue providing Medicare and Social Security. If that truly is the case, however, do we not have a moral obligation to make those programs financially viable so that the programs don't go bankrupt in ten or twenty years? How are we meeting that moral obligation if the programs become insolvent and we can no longer afford to provide any benefits to anyone?
Programs like Medicare and Social Security present complex issues, but it is a very simple fact that if our nation, like other Western nations, continue down the course we are on, all of the government programs we have grown so used to over the past several decades will dry up and die, and we won't be able to do a thing about it. We definitely need to resolve some underlying issues in the health care industry, but in the meantime, we still need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to just what our nation can and cannot afford to provie.
This is the danger of an entitlement society: government grows and grows, and just keeps on growing until finally, government spending becomes unsustainable. That is the situation throughout the socialist West, and that is the true reason so many Western governments are suddenly becoming so "austere."
Just look at the recent protests in Wisconsin when the newly-elected Republican governor and Congress tried to reign in the out-of-control public employee unions. Even after the governor's measure, public employees were still set to get better compensation and better benefits than the vast majority of private-sector workers, they were still portrayed as victims by the Left and their media allies. We call them "public servants," but when the servants make more than the masters, who is serving whom?
Even without the current economic situation, our government's current fiscal policy is dangerous. The government is spending more money than ever before - and even without pointing fingers as to whether it is the fault of President Obama, or a result of what he "inherited" from President Bush, it is a problem...and now, instead of pulling back militarily to try and help our fiscal situation, we are sending our military into even more nations. Instead of reigning in spending to try to keep our government solvent, programs continue to expand, and now we are sending aid money to Egypt and talking about a bail-out for Greece.
The real question is, is it austere, or is it realistic to cut government spending in the face of impending default and bankruptcy? We live in a society where people enter our nation illegally and then protest in the streets if they don't get their government cheese. We're paying for so many things for so many people, pretty soon we won't be able to pay for anything for anyone.
The bizarre thing is that the situation is pretty plain to see for anyone who is paying attention, yet those in power - the people who are supposed to have the information and are supposed to be able to make informed decisions - are the very same people who only seem to know how to make the decision worse.
We need to stop judging our society's capacity for compassion by our government's ability to dole out dollars, if only because our government doesn't have the dollars to dole out anymore. We are living on borrowed time, and no extensions of the debt ceiling or news stories about Anthony Weiner's sexting scandal will change that.