England: You're Doing it Wrong — Lessons from London for the Super Committee

England certainly seems like a long ways away my friends, both in terms of miles (or kilometers) and humor. And perhaps that’s a good thing considering the onerous prison sentences doled out as a result of the recent London riots. But as many of you on our Facebook page have been hinting at, the UK may actually be a little closer than we think…

Much of the news media cited the slaying of Mark Duggan, a black man, by London police as the cause of the riots. However, as many people who spend their days thinking about these sorts of things have pointed out, economic inequality has become a far more pressing concern for England than racial inequality.  Right now in England, the unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 is about 20%. That’s up from 14% just three years ago, and is personal worst for the country that brought us such timeless inventions as Herman’s Hermits and the steam engine. Additionally, The British government has enacted a series of spending cuts to social programs to help balance its budget. Students bore some of the brunt, losing out on the subsidies that make college (and thus class mobility) affordable. People living on the margins of society also face a deep impact as welfare programs across the board face cuts. Faced with Austerity measures, over 250,000 Britons took to the streets in protest back in March, an event most of us seemed to miss…

...mainly because of this man here.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Well it should. Here in the ol’ U.S. of A the unemployment rate for young people is a whopping 25% on average. Subsidized loans for grad students were cut as a part of the recent debt-ceiling deal. And the new Super Committee charged with cutting the federal deficit by approximately $1.5 trillion? Well every single Republican member of the committee has signed on to Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.  So if the Super Committee doesn’t include revenues in its proposal, that $1.5 trillion has to come entirely from spending cuts — largely to social programs that benefit the least enfranchised. What’s worse is that if the committee fails to produce a plan that gets passed by Congress, then automatic, across the board spending cuts take effect, even to entitlement programs like Medicaid. This is sort of like using an axe to perform endoscopic surgery.

“…and so after the surgery I’ll be felling a tree
and fashioning it into a kayak. Any questions?”

There are stark differences between U.S. and British society, though. Differences that make what happened in London seem very unlikely to happen here. However, when you combine high unemployment and austerity measures that disproportionately impact the poor and disenfranchised you get something perhaps equally as destructive: a loss of social cohesion.

Times are already tough, and making further cuts to social programs will only exacerbate the situation. As the government is less able to support the worse off among us in economic downtimes, our nation becomes worse off as a whole (remember that saying about the weakest link). Economic inequality becomes more pronounced, chances at upward mobility diminish, and people just generally feel ticked off at each other.

So we stop working together. Tensions arise, blame is cast, and nothing really gets done to improve our situation. Hyperpartisan, populist politics paralyze effective governance. This can lead to social unrest (See: London), but it can also lead to widespread apathy and disengagement, making it even less likely that Washington will feel pressure to get something done (See: debt-ceiling debate).

Drastic spending cuts to social programs are not the solution. What we need from the Super Committee is a plan that will grow the economy, invest in our country and our people, and setup following generations to be better educated, better employed, and better off than current ones. Take heed from the events in London: cutting domestic investments will only divide our country and set it further back.

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Friends: I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my “Ask Kyle” series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. I’m sad to report though that my time here at the National Priorities Project will soon be winding down. “Ask Kyle” isn’t really going away though…it’s just entering a new phase — sort of like when Sammy Hagar joined Van Halen. Sure, things were a little different after Diamond Dave left the band, but they still laid down years worth of solid ballads and fundamental rock music. What I’m trying to say is: fear not my departure, for the great team here at the National Priorities Project will continue answering your questions and filling you in federal budget matters for months and years to come. See you all next post! - K

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Want to “Ask Kyle” a question on this or anything else? Send it to questions@nationalpriorities.org or post your “Ask Kyle” questions on Facebook at facebook.com/nationalpriorities. You can also reach us on Twitter @natpriorities