What's up, Europe? The austerity edition

Medical workers cut signs decorated with scissors, symbolizing the country's spending cuts, as they attend a protest against government health austerity cuts at the Vall D'Hebron hospital in Barcelona on December 12, 2012.

What it's going to feel like once our budget cuts really kick in?

We might be able to find a few clues from Europe.

The Europeans call it austerity, and -- yes -- it's more severe than what the United States is about to experience, but there may be a few object lessons to be learned from the European Union.

Take Ireland. That country has been subject to strong austerity measures since 2008. One problem, according to Dublin-based journalist Louise Williams, is that it takes quite a while to get a grasp on the true amount of pain the country's headed towards.

"Quite radical cuts are announced and then very intense lobbying takes place, then what we shift into is a process of negotiations and deliberations and then kind of a gentle chopping away of services."

Williams says that uncertainy makes a recovery more difficult.

"This shifting sands makes it very difficult for us, even as a nation, to know what's next."  

Spain has faced steep budget cuts more recently. Some of its citizens have reacted angrily and protested in the streets. Miguel-Anxo Murado, a journalist in Madrid, says that austerity affects more than peoples' pocketbooks.

"The fact that it is the government, the state that is affecting this austerity agenda, has caused many people to lose confidence in the government, in the state."

And those big, national mood shifts might be around to stay. Even after 5 years of austerity in Ireland, Williams says that things are still grim.

"I know we're moving into spring time [...] but you don't feel it here, you really don't. There's a paring back of public services and there's a sense that it'll never end."

But, Murado continues, the U.S. may be in a better position than these European countries.

"We don't have that autonomy in deciding our own economy, because we're part of the European Union. And in Spain even when the politicians of a country --  the elected representatives --  don't want something to happen, it happens anyway. That's quite a different sort of problem."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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