UK Budget Cuts Ignite Riots, Gives Glimpse of USA Future

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 26th, 2011

Unruly Mobs Attack the Police…in London

The riots in the Middle East were ignited by high unemployment, high food prices and little government relief for either.  Some countries have all but degenerated into civil war.  But violent unrest is not limited to the Middle East.  Even some of the most advanced Western economies are having their problems (see TUC protest march: anarchists on the rampage in London by Patrick Sawer and David Barrett posted 3/26/2011 The Telegraph).

Police fought mobs of masked thugs who pelted officers with ammonia and fireworks loaded with coins.

The anti-capitalists started fires, smashed their way into banks, hotels and shops, bringing chaos to Britain’s busiest shopping street.

The violence began as Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, addressed a TUC rally of at least 250,000 peaceful protesters in Hyde Park who had marched from Westminster to demonstrate against government spending cuts.

Yeah, you read that right.  London, England.  Unbelievable, isn’t it?  The violence against the police?  And property?  Wow.  And look who’s doing it.  Bloody anti-capitalist anarchist thugs. 

After five hours of running battles, there were 75 arrests. At least 30 people, including five police officers, were injured. Police said the anti-capitalists threw lightbulbs filled with ammonia at them…

They ordered limited use of “kettling” to contain the rioters but admitted that such was the scale of the violence, they could not protect property.

The UK has big time budget problems.  High taxes are hurting the economy.  Ever increasing public benefits require more and more tax revenue.  And increases the debt.  They cannot sustain this spending without crashing the economy.  Or bankrupting the nation.  But the anarchists don’t care.  Because they’re anti-capitalists.  And simply don’t understand rudimentary economics.  Or numbers with a ‘£’ in front of them.

From Rich Empire to Bankrupt Nanny State

So just how bad are things in the UK?  Bad.  The country is at a crossroads.  It may forever change if it doesn’t change course.  During World War II it was the Nazis threatening their survival.  Today it’s their own spending (see Britain’s leaders should come clean on the true depth of the fiscal crisis by Liam Halligan posted 3/26/2011 on The Telegraph).

The UK’s fiscal crisis is of monumental historic importance. The future of the free world may not be at stake as it was in Churchill’s day. What is in the balance, though, is the prosperity of the British people for at least the next few decades and our status as a top-ranking nation.

This is a common theme among great nations that fall from greatness.  Out of control government spending.  It brought down the Roman Empire.  And the British Empire.  But the great nation that built it remains.  For now, at least.  But the government spending is burdening Britain more than her empire ever did.

Over the last 12 months, then, this country’s “on-balance-sheet” liabilities have risen by £147bn. That’s roughly what we spent on the NHS and defence combined in 2010 – and that was merely, during this last year of “austerity”, the incremental increase in what Britain has put “on tick”.

That’s my point – and I will keep making it until it fully enters the public discourse. It is the total debt numbers that Osborne, the Tories and our politicians in general should focus on, not the size of the annual deficit.

This is another common theme with great nations.  They have big military forces.  To protect what is theirs.  And to maintain the peace.  The Royal Navy built the British Empire.  And maintained world peace.  As did the Roman Legions.  That’s why there was a Pax Romana.  And a Pax Britannica.  These empires ushered in great periods of peace.  And their rule of law and free markets provided great prosperity.  But the prosperity led to entitlement.  And state benefits.  Such as the NHS (National Health Service).  State spending increases to meet the desires of voters.  And that spending is now unsustainable.  They have to cut something.  Because they just can’t borrow anymore.

In 2009, the UK spent £31bn – around 6pc of total tax receipts – on debt interest payments. That’s money down the drain. By 2015, we won’t have reached, in Churchill’s words, some “broad sunlit upland”. After four more years of deficits, debt services costs, according to last week’s Budget, will by then be £67bn a year – or almost 10pc of total tax receipts. These shocking numbers are also likely to be under-estimates, given the UK’s massive “off-balance-sheet” liabilities and the Treasury’s benign assumption of future gilt rates.

These interest costs are staggering.  Any meaningful cuts will have to be greater than the annual debt cost if they have any hope of bringing down deficits.  Or the debt.  And they were trying to make some meaningful cuts.  Almost £100bn.  And we saw what happened.  People took to the streets in violent protest.

All of us – politicians, commentators and voters – should compare the quality of our current national debate, its utter detachment from reality, with the statesmanship and candour of Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat“. For such hard truths inspired a nation, while winning Churchill untold respect.

Of course, during Churchill’s time, there wasn’t a nanny state.  After enduring World War I and the Great Depression, austerity was an all too familiar way of life.  It isn’t like that today.  Today students protest if they don’t get a free college education.  It is questionable even if Winston Churchill himself could inspire today’s entitlement culture.  They’re just too spoiled, lazy and greedy.

A Look into America’s Future

All right, so that’s what’s happening in the UK.  How about the USA?  We have our problems.  But we’re not as bad off.  Obamacare is not quite the NHS.  Yet.  But we have the same entitlement culture.  Out of control state spending is plunging us into record deficits and debt.  High taxes and regulatory compliance has drawn out the Great Recession.  And when some governors start cutting their budgets to balance their budgets, the people protested.  Our day of reckoning is coming.  And N. Gregory Mankiw wrote how a future president might inspire the American people ala Churchill in 2026.  It’s an interesting look at what could very well be our future (see It’s 2026, and the Debt Is Due by N. Gregory Mankiw posted 3/26/2011 on The New York Times).

The seeds of this crisis were planted long ago, by previous generations. Our parents and grandparents had noble aims. They saw poverty among the elderly and created Social Security. They saw sickness and created Medicare and Medicaid. They saw Americans struggle to afford health insurance and embraced health care reform with subsidies for middle-class families.

But this expansion in government did not come cheap. Government spending has taken up an increasing share of our national income.

Today, most of the large baby-boom generation is retired. They are no longer working and paying taxes, but they are eligible for the many government benefits we offer the elderly.

Our efforts to control health care costs have failed. We must now acknowledge that rising costs are driven largely by technological advances in saving lives. These advances are welcome, but they are expensive nonetheless.

If we had chosen to tax ourselves to pay for this spending, our current problems could have been avoided. But no one likes paying taxes. Taxes not only take money out of our pockets, but they also distort incentives and reduce economic growth. So, instead, we borrowed increasing amounts to pay for these programs.

This part of the story we know.  It’s how we got here.  Or there, as it were, in this tale from the future.  Now comes the debt spiral.  Which will force us to act.  And make decisions no one wants to, or is willing to, now.  Which will be even more painful hence.

For years, the United States government borrowed on good terms. Investors both at home and abroad were confident that we would honor our debts. They were sure that when the time came, we would do the right thing and bring spending and taxes into line.

But over the last several years, as the ratio of our debt to gross domestic product reached ever-higher levels, investors started getting nervous. They demanded higher interest rates to compensate for the perceived risk. Higher interest rates increased the cost of servicing our debt, adding to the upward pressure on spending. We found ourselves in a vicious circle of rising budget deficits and falling investor confidence.

When the treasury tried to auction off some bonds in this tale there were few takers.  So this future president secured a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with some draconian strings.  The IMF required big cuts in spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and subsidies – farming, ethanol production, public broadcasting, energy conservation and trade promotion).  And big tax increases. 

We will raise taxes on all but the poorest Americans. We will do this primarily by broadening the tax base, eliminating deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. Employer-provided health insurance will hereafter be taxable compensation.

We will increase the gasoline tax by $2 a gallon. This will not only increase revenue, but will also address various social ills, from global climate change to local traffic congestion.

AS I have said, these changes are repellant to me. When you elected me, I promised to preserve the social safety net. I assured you that the budget deficit could be fixed by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, and by increasing taxes on only the richest Americans. But now we have little choice in the matter.

If only we had faced up to this problem a generation ago. The choices then would not have been easy, but they would have been less draconian than the sudden, nonnegotiable demands we now face. Americans would have come to rely less on government and more on themselves, and so would be better prepared today.

Even in the future presidents will be making the same promises that they cannot keep.  And make the same lament.  If only we continued the policies of Ronald Reagan.  Kept government small.  And relied on ourselves.  Had we, we’d never be in this financial mess now.  Or hence.

Dead People haven’t a Care in the World

Our own greed will do us in.  Insatiable want of government benefits kills great nations.  Even the UK and the USA are not immune from this.  But the easy political road is to pander to the people.  Give them what they want.  To get their votes.  They do this knowing full well they are destroying the future.  So why do they do it?  Because most of those in government are old.  And when it comes time to pay the piper, it will be a moot point.  Because they will be dead.  And dead people haven’t a care in the world.

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