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John Hughes

Can Obama match Britain's guts on budget cuts?

Amid widespread frustration over government spending, US politicians should heed British Prime Minister David Cameron's frank talk on debt – and his plan to spend only what his government takes in.

By John Hughes / October 21, 2010

When Cuba conceded that its economy had gone down the tubes, it sent delegations to far-off China, Vietnam, and Russia to learn how they ran their changing economies.

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American politicians need not travel so far for some tips to ease their own struggling economy. A quick trip across the Atlantic to Britain these days would offer some intriguing hints.

There, a conservative new prime minister, speaking with almost Churchillian directness in a time of challenge, is calling on Britons to drastically curb the national debt, slashing the government budget by 19 percent, with a massive transfer of power “from the state to citizens, politicians to people, government to society.”

David Cameron, whose Conservative Party succeeded in ousting the left-wing Labour Party and forming a coalition with the minority Liberal Democrats, promises a total transformation from the old ways of doing things: from a “high-spending, all-controlling, heavy-handed state,” to “national unity and purpose, from big government to the big society.”

He says volunteers can handle some programs currently carried out by government. He says local authorities should take over many of its functions. He says Britons “who can work but won’t work” should not get unemployment benefits. He says Britons should be defined not by “what they consume, but by what they contribute.” He says the affluent should help the less-affluent.

All this might sound refreshing to many Americans as they air their disgust for increasingly big government and bloated spending in Washington, while they try to balance their personal budgets between essential expenditure and eroded incomes amid economic downturn.

But the tough-sounding policies that Prime Minister Cameron espouses will put Britons’ mettle sorely to the test after years of entitlement under a welfare state.


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