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Amy Traub

Austerity, Plutocracy, and 300,000 Teacher Layoffs

The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that as many as one out of every 15 teachers nationwide could be laid off this year. In an op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post, CEA Chair Cristina Roemer made the point that “Additional federal aid targeted at preventing these layoffs can play a critical role in combating the crisis.” And “such aid would be very cost-effective.” The Administration is calling for $23 billion to preserve education and save jobs. But so far, Congress isn’t listening. David Dayen at FireDogLake argues that the White House is doing a poor job of getting them to listen.

Whoever's to blame, the results are clear: In New York City alone, 6,414 teachers and other school personnel stand to lose their jobs. Los Angeles plans to lay off 1,000 teachers, blessedly less than the cuts the city had been contemplating. Cleveland will lose 545 teachers and 100 principals. A thousand school workers in Atlanta will be laid off. In Milwaukee, the number is 850.

Few have argued against the idea that public education is the most powerful and effective investment we can make in the future of our country, from its informed citizenry to its economic competitiveness. Instead, fiscal conservatives in Congress simply insist that shoring up our children's schools is unaffordable. In his column yesterday, Paul Krugman dissected the flawed fiscal logic behind the new push for austerity (which is also, disastrously, costing families their unemployment benefits.) Yet it’s the Institute for Policy Studies’ newsletter Too Much that gets at the bigger picture:

An old word is creeping back into our political discourse. Austerity. In troubled times, we’re lectured, government at all levels simply must learn how to make do with less. Much less. We must accept overcrowded classrooms and library shutdowns and endless waits between buses because we can no longer afford, as a society, anything better.

Nonsense. Our society is swimming in treasure, even amid these troubled times. But this treasure sits in precious few pockets.

We do, fortunately, have another old word that aptly describes this dangerous phenomenon. Plutocracy. But this particular old word has yet to creep onto our political center stage. That needs to change. The longer we go, as a society, without confronting plutocracy, the deeper our austerity will go.

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Posted at 1:03 PM, Jun 01, 2010 in Cities | Education | Employment | Fiscal Responsibility
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