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Is austerity the best policy?

 

Enough is enough. It is time for conservatives in Europe and the United States to face the facts. Austerity is a failed idea.

It was announced this past week that the U.K. has slipped back into a recession. First-quarter 2012 growth was negative. A recession in the midst of a recovery from a recession is known as a double-dip recession. It was also announced this past week that Spain has slipped into its second recession in three years. These are both largely the result of a resurgence of fiscally conservative politics that has gained much momentum in recent years, both in Europe and in the United States.

The basic idea behind austerity is this: Cut government spending. Is the economy doing well? Cut government spending. Is the economy sputtering? Cut government spending. This short-sighted policy has created a crisis for the Eurozone and now has hurt the U.K. as well.

Why has austerity been so widely supported then? From an economic perspective, it makes little sense. It is as though Keynesian economics has been entirely disregarded. The argument made by countries like Germany and the U.K. (specifically Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party) is basically to ignore what had become generally accepted by many economists since World War I. However, in the latter half of the century, the world view has slowly shifted away from Keynesian ideas toward modern austerity. Their argument was that cutting government spending would lead to growth in the private sector which would outweigh the cuts of their substantial welfare state. There has rarely, if ever, been any historical evidence of this being true, and now there is evidence that their ideas were incorrect.

Even still, in recent years conservative Americans have become obsessed with cutting the United State’s budget deficit. Rather than focusing on sensible policies that can stabilize our debt and reduce our deficit in the long term, they have committed themselves to the swiftest answers possible. Tea Party Republicans want to cut as much federal spending as quickly as possible, using the hatchet rather than the scalpel. Unless the United States wants to follow in Europe’s footsteps and hurt our economy further, our country must learn from others’ mistakes.

As young people, we already face astoundingly high unemployment rates. Over half of college graduates under 25 are either unemployed or underemployed. A strong economy is what we want and need when we graduate. Policies that will cut spending blindly, rather than closely examining the budget and finding what can be cut, are detrimental to the economy and are the last thing we want as students. We must urge our leaders, both locally and nationally, to do what is best for us. Austerity is not the answer.

Jay Nogami is a public policy leadership sophomore from Denver, Colo. Follow him on Twitter @JayTNogami.