Whatever got accomplished at the recent Toronto G-8 summit remains to be seen, but one thing is clear — austerity measures designed to address this country’s anemic economy aren’t going to work.

President Obama’s team of experts urged other countries not to abandon economic stimulus programs, while at home he was still having one heck of a time getting the U.S. Senate to approve even modest sums to extend the expiring unemployment insurance for millions of workers, as well as his $23 billion request for emergency aid to states to circumvent a potential 300,000 teacher layoffs.

The British, Germans and Canadians are focusing on major budget cuts, while smaller European nations are initiating even more severe cuts in exchange for guarantees of their government debt. Countless nations are cutting back, but won’t this all hurt the possibility of economic recovery in the long run?

In his article, “Americans Care About Jobs, Not Deficits — When Will Obama Listen,” published on the Huffington Post blogsite, Robert Kuttner writes: “In part, this general outbreak of austerity is the price that Obama is paying for giving too much attention to deficit reduction at home, and not enough to jobs.”

Kuttner further contends that this administration’s freeze on domestic spending after this fiscal year, as well as Obama’s fiscal commission “gives ammunition to Senate Republicans and Democratic deficit hawks who refuse to appropriate another dime for jobs measures that are not paid for by tax increases or other spending cuts.

“Yes, you can poll respondents to say that the deficit is a serious concern, but it’s a far less salient one than worries about losing your job, your health insurance, your pension, or the value of your home,” writes Kuttner, author of “A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama’s Promise, Wall Street Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future.”

What this administration faces is largely unprecedented; a dramatically underperforming economy in which almost 10 percent of the workforce is without jobs and income.

Businesses are simply not going out of their way to hire new employers or reinstate old ones. How is a society supposed to thrive when people’s very livelihood is increasingly doubtful or nonexistent?

In the face of this perilous dilemma, our current administration and a Democratic Congress are so terrified by large federal deficits that they are literally immobilized to take action that was even part of Keynesian economics 101, such as pumping up federal spending to force-feed a stronger economic recovery.

The biggest losers from this political inertia are the millions of struggling families that we read and hear about on a daily basis.

“This represents a failure in politics, not of Keynesian logic,” writes William Greider, in a recent article appearing in The Nation. “But the distinction hardly matters to ordinary folk The losses will last longer and multiply more so long as Washington declines to act more forcibly Politicians are failing Keynes on downside — declining to force-feed the injured economy when it desperately needs government help.”

Greider, along with many other economic analysts, that the current administration and Congress will be the scapegoat if this recession is allowed to persist for more years, thereby forfeiting potential production as well as jobs and incomes.

Many believe that deficits are indeed a cure, not a disease, and that no political party has ever lost a national election based on the deficit issue.

According to a recent America Speaks poll, conducted with a grant from the conservative Peter G. Peterson Foundation, 85 percent of Americans wanted to raise the cap earnings subject to Social Security taxes, far more than the percent that wanted to reduce benefits or raise the retirement age. Also, 85 percent wanted to cut military spending, 64 percent wanted a carbon tax, 61 percent welcomed a financial transactions tax and 58 percent favored a new higher tax bracket for millionaires.

President Obama, his administration, Congress and, most importantly, the American people cannot afford to have it both ways. We can’t have sporadic economic stimulus packages that fall short of what is needed, and then jump over to the other side of the fence with the deficit hawks, bemoaning red ink and considering cutting Social Security.

Sending out mixed messages won’t work. Cozing up with Blue Dog Democrats and right-wing Republicans at the expense of generating income for hard-working citizens does not make for clear economic strategy and legislation that will save our ailing economy.

In his book, “A President in Peril,” Kuttner writes about how, in the summer and fall of 1948, when Republicans controlled Congress. President Harry Truman, widely considered a goner, sent housing and jobs legislation to “the do-nothing 80th Congress” knowing they would defeat the bills, in order to demonstrate the stark differences between his programs and the Republicans’.

He went on to win re-election in November.


Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer and a New York Times Fellow at the International Longevity Center USA. He can be contacted at: [email protected]