Earlier this week I sat through a very two dimensional discussion of austerity politics. I believe we do disservice when we describe neoliberalism as benefit cuts to the social state. I believe it is much more.
I suppose that in the arguments about "austerity" necessitating more cuts is in large part a response to successful challenges in the limitations to access to benefits enacted by neoliberal governments.
Neoliberal rhetoric argues that "big government" and "high taxation" strangles economic growth. They also assert that The public sector is bloated and inefficient. Therefore in order to facilitate economic growth they argue for the need to cut the size of the social state.
At the same time the more successful nail liberals do not simply argue cut the social state. They argue that social programs are necessary but that there are many scammers on those programs. Therefore in order to preserve these programs it is necessary to ensure that only the truly deserving receive benefits. This approach lead directly to things like snitch lines and making application processes more document intensive.
Since the mid-80s academics pointed out that the neoliberal dilemma was that the programs that were most expensive also have the highest degree of social support. The civil states most expensive programsare related to age and health. There is a great deal of public support to provide benefits to sick old people and two sick children. The problem is that if you cut welfare by 20% the absolute cost of the civil state did not stay reduced because as the population ages there is greater demands from benefit programs. Put more simply as the population ages it needs more support from the healthcare system and from the monied system to support people either through pension or different forms of benefit continuance
As a result the costs of the civil state keep rising. Since the mid 1098s researchers have pointed out that to keep the social state cheaper neoliberals needed to keep people off benefit programs entirely. This is called controlling the uptake rate.
Pierson(Harvard) and others pointed that by changing regulation and redesigning the administrative procedures it was possible to limit the growth of the numbers of people who went on benefits. This systemic logic lead to increased use of barriers to ask us to application as a message for limiting the growth of the social state. Some describe this as "denial by process". In legal Theory called bureaucratic disentitlement. Essentially by creating many more hoop for an applicant had to jump through a predictably proportion of potential applicants failed to complete the application process.
However this increased denial by bureaucracy and regulatory change was resisted by communities and challenged by legal activists. A significant proportion of these campaigns and court cases were successful. One of the important court challenges in Canada was brought by LAO against the Harris governments exclusion of addiction as a ground for eligibility for ODSP. This victory opened the door for ODSP eligibility to thousands of individuals who live with severe addictions. Coupled with the growing recognition of the fundamental validity of mental health disabilities The numbers of people accepted by ODSP as severely disabled grew exponentially.
Similar struggles over the definition and boundaries of entitlement have occurred through out Canada in relationship to every social programs. From Significant increases in the number of people appealing CPPD denials to the successful campaigns to force WSIB/ WCB systems to recognize the legitimacy of chronic pain challenges to neoliberal restrictions have opened the doors to coverage to people the neoliberals wanted to exclude from the social safety net.
Then neoliberal greed facilitated through unrestricted unregulated mortgage systems lead to the stock market crash. This crash leads to a global recession which in turn becomes the neoliberal justification for the need for "public austerity".
However neoliberal so using the "austerity" argument both to justify slashing spending in general and to reinforce the idea that there are too many scammers on public benefit systems. In essence they are using the austerity arguments to try to counter the earlier successes in campaigns against neoliberal restructuring of the social state.
It seems to me that it is useful to recognize austerity as another tool of neoliberals to limit the uptake of social programs. I believe it is important to demystify austerity and to re-situated in its proper place as another tool of neoliberal rhetoric.
My mother has always argued that everyone should consider themselves cause if they are the late Roman empire. We are always being invaded by barbarian hordes. Therefore instead of saying OH MY GOD I AM BEING INVADED BY A BARBARIAN HORDE! , we should face the problem and I say to ourselves oh, this is today's barbarian horde. I propose we do the same thing with austerity rhetoric. Instead of say OH MY GOD WE ARE BEING ATTACKED BY NEOLIBERAL RHETORIC! , we should say oh more attacked by neoliberals, let's go on and fight the battles.