A note from the Editor…

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A note from the Editor…

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As a tuition-paying student of one of the Vermont State Colleges — and having spent a great deal of time these past two weeks thinking about the coming merger between Johnson and Lyndon — I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the Vermont legislature.
It’s upsetting, though unsurprising, that our state politicians give the VSC the proverbial ‘cold shoulder.’ That attitude is reflective of larger national and global attitudes toward social programs backed by government funding.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking about political economy. I was a day-one participant in Burlington’s iteration of Occupy Wall Street because I was frustrated that the political class of this country wasn’t doing anything beyond light wrist-slaps to punish the financial elite who were responsible for the 2007 – 2008 financial crisis and the consequent “Great Recession,” of which we are still feeling the after-effects.
During the decline and collapse of Occupy, many of us who had participated began to read heavily and think about why this country is so screwed up and — seemingly — so difficult to fix. In that period I learned of two terms that I think are highly applicable to the situation that the students and employees of the Vermont State Colleges currently find themselves: ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘austerity.’
These two terms are related, but not identical. Neoliberalism is best thought of as an overarching ideology, and austerity as its practical application.
The essence of neoliberalism is the idea that economic policy is best handled by the unhindered operation of the market and that the government has no business interfering with its operations. Typically this attitude does not extend to the forceful bodies of the government (the police and the military), which are viewed as necessary for maintaining the stability of markets on the local and global levels.
Austerity usually comes into play during periods of crisis, but also can be implemented slowly over time. Government programs that interfere with the market are privatized, slashed or done away with altogether. This could be anything from media supported by government funding (think PBS) to things like minimum wage laws, welfare, social security, public health care and government-funded education (primary, secondary and higher-ed) which at first appear necessary and politically untouchable, but become less and less so over time. For an extreme example of this, you can read my article, “Crisis at the Acropolis,” at basementmedicine.com, about the situation in Greece as of 2015.
As I see it, the United States has fully embraced neoliberal ideology over the past several decades and is now in the process of implementing austerity in many different spheres of social life. I would make the claim that the constant proportional drop funding for the VSC by the Vermont legislature is a straightforward example of this. For more details on that you can read my article on page 2 of this issue of Basement Medicine.
A common argument deployed by the of proponents of austerity is that “the money just isn’t there.” We are told that the government is cash-strapped and that it’s no longer “realistic” to expect it to fund things as it did in the past. Of course, the unspoken side of this is that government income is now relatively lower than it used to be in the Keynesian age because we don’t tax rich individuals and corporations at the rates we did in the past. This is directly related to the extreme levels of inequality present in modern American society.
Another way to think of neoliberalism is as a form of class warfare, waged by the wealthy against the rest of society. After all, people with lots of money don’t really have a need for most government programs. In fact, I would argue that the wealthy think it’s a net positive for those programs to be cut because a demoralized and defunded population is more docile in the political sphere and at the point of production. People who lack education and work multiple low-wage jobs aren’t in a position to understand the political process or advocate for themselves in the workplace. As far as I can tell, these are the trends that are largely responsible for both our incredibly low voting participation and the declining fortunes of organized labor in this country.
It’s not as though the people who bear the brunt of austerity measures don’t try to resist — they do. That’s precisely what the movement behind Bernie Sanders represented. Donald Trump’s anti-free-trade platform is also a sign that these attitudes have mass appeal, though in his case it’s little more than opportunistic rhetoric. He has stated, after all, his intention to dramatically slash the corporate tax rate.
Yet, the uncomfortable reality is that our post-Citizens United elections are now so corrupted by monied interests that reversing the losses through the officially sanctioned political channels becomes more difficult with every passing year.

 

 

–Sam Hartley, Editor-in-Chief

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