Jun 222011

Politics, as the saying goes, is always local. So while at the national level, tea party righties and socialist lefties have begun to join forces in battle against conservative and liberal coalitions over things like auditing the fed and stopping the illegal Obama war in Libya (and Yemen…and Afghanistan), things are bending at the state and city levels, too.

As has happened in many cities where expensive campaigns dictate the narrow range of candidate options (and thought), we Lexington residents elected a wealthy, unabashedly pro-business head honcho of a corporate, global construction firm to the office of city mayor, and we did it by somehow claiming him as a progressive, a clear alternative to the non local-first, big-business friendly then-current mayor (who has now started his own online city newspaper).

Residents are beginning to get a sense of what it means to have a progressive mayor who wants to run the city as efficiently as a good global corporation. Last week, city council submitted a $273.9 million budget to Mayor Jim Gray, which prompted a sharp rebuke from the businessman. Gray claimed that the council’s budget, which added $2.8 million to the mayor’s originally submitted $271.1 million proposal, was a challenge to his “philosophy that right-sizing and outsourcing and eliminating certain programs and positions is essential in restoring financial responsibility to our city government,” calling such positions “solutions that people in business have been dealing with ever since this great recession hit us.” One local outlet has framed the story, “Jim Gray cuts, Lexington council spends.”

All politics may be local, but most of our rhetoric (and thought) is national, top-down. “Right-sizing,” “outsourcing,” and the elimination of public programs in the name of “financial responsibility” have all been the words of austerity on the global (and now national) stage, the words of, well, big-business and, for the last 40 years, oligarchy governments. With a deep history of use in South American and African countries, austerity solutions are currently being used in Greece, in the UK, in Washington D.C., in Wisconsin, and, yup, right here in Lexington. Such debates are usually framed by depictions of “good guy” cutters standing firm against “bad guy” spenders. Austerity is always sold as disciplining government through the use of good business practice.

At the national level that Gray invokes, big business solutions have been anything but successful. They have proven both ineffective and inefficient.

To be sure, some sectors have reaped benefits. Stocks, luxury goods and highly capitalized big businesses with global reaches have prospered through our country’s latest national financial depression (which, it should be noted, big business itself caused). Under the pro-business guise of financial responsibility, the federal government has given away over $3 trillion dollars to many of these same business people, on the pretense of restoring financial responsibility to the “global market.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the country is still mired in a depression, their housing prices still plummeting, their college and health care and food and leisure costs all going up. The big business solution of out-sourcing has resulted in lost jobs and falling wages. Its efforts to right-size government have barely moved short term unemployment, had no effect on long-term unemployment rolls, and a negative effect on consumer and small business spending.

Both nationally and globally, Gray’s business/austerity solutions have clearly not worked.Shouldn’t that be something the city—its elected officials and fourth estate, its bar patrons and college-going students and teachers, its residents of every color—be debating, possibly even challenging?

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