Aug 02, 2011 12:26 PM GMT
An interesting perspective from the UK:
For British conservatives, the US debt deal is a thing of beauty. Under the terms of the deal, the federal government will cut spending by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years and there won’t be any corresponding increase in taxation. That is to say, the American Government has agreed to tackle its deficit by spending cuts alone. The British Government, by contrast, is planning to cut its deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax rises – and it’s cutting it by a smaller amount.
Even if the Tory Party had won an overall majority at the last election, it’s hard to imagine it adopting such a bold fiscal policy. Yet the American Government is on the verge of adopting this plan in spite of the fact that the Democrats control the Senate and the White House. A year ago, American conservatives were showering David Cameron with praise for adopting such a radical approach to reducing Britain’s deficit and contrasting him unfavourably with their own spendthrift President. Now, our Prime Minister looks like a weak-kneed liberal in contrast to the hard-headed Obama. Whatever happened to the stimulus?
Most pundits are crediting this U-turn to the political muscle of the Tea Party and it’s true that President Obama would never have agreed to this deal if the Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives hadn’t engaged in the brinkmanship of the past few weeks. But to focus on the Tea Party is to ignore the tectonic political shift that’s taken place, not just in America but across Europe. The majority of citizens in nearly all the world’s most developed countries simply aren’t prepared to tolerate the degree of borrowing required to sustain generous welfare programmes any longer.
For believers in redistributive taxation and egalitarian social programmes like David Miliband, Obama was the last great hope. Here was a centre left politician capable of building the kind of electoral coalition that underpinned the massive expansions of state power in Britain and America, from Attlee’s post-war Labour Government to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. That is, a coalition of the white working class, minorities and middle class liberals. Yet in spite of sweeping to power in 2008 and ensuring the Democrats won in both the House and the Senate, Obama has proved unable to sustain that coalition. Last night’s debt deal represents the moment when he acknowledged that trying to maintain the levels of public spending required to fund ambitious welfare programmes is political suicide. Which is why the deal has been greated with cries of impotent rage by the British Left.
In both Britain and America, the Left has been reduced to hoping that cutting public spending on this scale will snuff out economic growth and plunge our respective economies back into recession. Not only will the Coalition be turfed out as a consequence, but if Obama can somehow blame the Tea Party for the “double dip” he might be able to persuade the people to grant him four more years. What the Left hasn’t grasped – and what Obama has – is that for the foreseeable future no political candidate or party will be able to increase public spending and win re-election. Socialist welfare programmes have become politically toxic. A sea change has taken place within the West’s most developed countries and last night’s debt deal is a reflection of that.