The Spectacle Blog

Austerity Saves Great Britain

By on 4.24.14 | 3:37PM

All right, not quite. But knowing how much heartburn Paul Krugman will suffer if he reads that headline makes it worthwhile.

I’ve noted before how Britain’s supposed fiscal austerity is nothing of the sort, consisting of tax increases and mere cuts to the rate of spending. In 2013, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne decided to try real spending cuts for a change, sending Europe’s financial establishment into a tizzy. Now the results are in, and Francis Menton surveys them in a delicious blog post:

[H]orror of horrors, Osborne didn't listen to these know-it-alls and went ahead and cut spending. According to data at ukpublicspending.co.uk, total government spending in the U.K., having leveled off in 2012, actually went down in 2013. Spending was 694 billion pounds, 46% of GDP, in 2011; 694 billion pounds, 45% of GDP, in 2012, and 675 billion pounds, 43% of GDP, in 2013. And suddenly, according to the BBC, the U.K. turned in its best year of economic growth since 2007. OK, it's only a growth of 1.7%. But compare that, for example, to high-"stimulus" France, where the government spends 55% or more of GDP. They claim to have had "growth" of 0.1 - 0.2% in 2013. Pitiful.

This comes only two months after the OECD admitted it had thoroughly miscalculated the economic recovery in part because it was focused on ringing the austerity bell and missed other key factors. Britain’s sudden growth spurt should come as welcome news to David Cameron’s Tory government, besieged by UKIP and several recent missteps. Austerity is, of course, a highly subjective and fluid term that never seems to include things like, for example, cutting the military. In his post, Menton puts quotation marks around Austerity. Let me go one step further and recall something I wrote in February:

In his great essay on political language, George Orwell wrote: “The word Fascism now has no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” The same is true of Austerity. As the military prepares to decommission jets, maybe it’s time for political writers to decommission the A-word—and not fly into buzzword-fueled histrionics every time someone proposes budget cuts.

Then again, here we are, back talking about austerity. The A-word lives on, though it has little meaning and its users have not a shred of credibility.

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