When the global financial system came close to collapse a few years back, economists and politicians on the hard right claimed austerity would be the perfect medicine to restore the floundering economies of countries across the globe. No nation took more of the austerity elixir than Greece. It's now become clear that austerity -- and the attack on unions that always comes with it -- was not only bad medicine, it was close to toxic.
The downgrading of Greece's government debt in April of 2010 provided the IMF and right-wing politicians in Greece the crisis they needed to implement radical austerity reforms. What followed not only set Greece's economy back 20 years, but should have served as a warning, if not a line in the sand, for the champions of austerity across the globe.
Austerity has been nothing short of a disaster for Greece. Rather than encourage growth and produce jobs, it has left the Greek economy dangling on a ledge, threatening to prolong the recession and sending unemployment skyrocketing. While the debt-crisis to this day remains practically unaltered, unemployment rose like a meteor, climbing from 8.9 percent in January of 2009 to 27.2 percent in January of 2013.
But you don't have to look at Athens, Mykonos or Rhodes to see the damage that austerity can cause. You can find it in Appleton, Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin. Two years ago, Governor Scott Walker entered office promising to create jobs. Only after winning the election did he reveal that austerity would be his miracle brew. Wisconsin needed extreme reforms, he and his allies told the public, in order to be competitive in an ever-changing economic climate.
What followed is a tragic tale worthy of Greek mythology. Walker proceeded to sink the economy and turn Wisconsin into the new Greece.
Like the austerity promoters in Greece, Walker went after the public unions. The Governor's first move was to enact Act 10, which did away with fifty years of successful collective bargaining for fair wages, safe working conditions and increased job training between the State and local municipalities and their public workers. He drained $850 million from the state's economy by cutting the pay of the average public employee by 10 percent -- taking money out of shops, restaurants and businesses all across the state.
Then, he cut funding for public education by $1.6 billion. Wisconsin's invaluable technical college program that provides workers the training or re-training they need to prosper in an evolving economy was slashed. The safety net protecting seniors and the state's most vulnerable faced historic funding cuts.
Governor Walker then lavished tax breaks on his friends, the corporations and wealthy who funded his election.
What better way to pay them back for all their campaign contributions than to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy by $2.3 billion over two years, forcing the burden of austerity on the Badger State's working middle class.
When the federal government offered a helping hand, Walker turned back billions in funding for Badger Care and the state's rail systems. Nothing but austerity could produce growth, he claimed.
But in Wisconsin, as in Greece, austerity did nothing to bring about the changes promised. In Greece, unemployment rocketed an unfathomable 18.3 percent in a span of four years. In Wisconsin, the results are similar. In 2010, Wisconsin gained more than 24,000 jobs. A year later, under Walker, it led the nation in lost jobs. According to a March 2013 report last month from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin continues to falter, falling to 44th in the nation in private sector job creation.
Now Walker is traipsing around the country speaking to wealthy donors and right-wing audiences as he prepares a potential presidential run. He was in Stamford, Conn., earlier this week, hoping to build support for his destructive policies. AFSCME members were there too, protesting his slash-and-burn policies that destroyed jobs and workers' rights. We will not let his cavalier -- and clueless -- claims of Wisconsin prosperity go unanswered.
Before Wisconsin, Greece was seen as a case study of what not to do during troubled economic times. A safety net destroyed, public unions decimated and massive corporate tax breaks that did nothing to help their economy, leading only to skyrocketing unemployment and a faltering GDP. Now, Wisconsin sadly serves as a parallel study, with an economy sinking into severe long term job losses, far behind the national pace of job growth.
Scott Walker and his tea party cohorts bought the snake oil of austerity. They forced the Badger State to drink it. And Wisconsin's families are suffering because the governor ignored the evidence that it is a toxic brew.