#c4news Toby Young informs us that austerity is a myth because national debt has increased
This is how stupid this man is
— Albert Trigg (@alberttrigg) June 18, 2017
I didn’t see Toby Young on the Channel 4 news, so I have no idea what the context of his “austerity is a myth” statement might have been. It’s possible Mr. Young was attempting to defend tory policy by insisting things “aren’t as bad as they say”. Perhaps he claimed the consistent increase in national debt, every year since the tories came to power in 2010, indicates that public services have not been cut… that the welfare state and NHS have not been dangerously undermined by a government ideologically hell-bent on slashing the services upon which the poor and vulnerable rely.
In which case, the word “stupid” is an apt choice.
However, I myself made exactly this point recently… that the tories cannot possibly “end austerity” because they never actually implemented it. And I stand by it. I certainly don’t think it’s a ‘stupid’ point.
The reason there may be some confusion is a result of the two different definitions of “austerity” in play. And I think both of those definitions are useful in their own contexts. Moreover, I think it’s actually quite important that people in the UK highlight the fact that the tories never implemented “austerity” (at least, not in the sense they claimed they would do). It’s arguably the most damning indictment of them.
For most of us, the word “austerity” is more or less synonymous with “hardship” or “tightening of belts” or “cut-backs”. And let’s be under no illusion, the ordinary people of the UK have been dealt that form of austerity in buckets since 2010. UK public spending has been cut. The welfare state, NHS, fire service and a thousand other items have been recklessly and viciously attacked by a tory government gripped by greed and ideology and the ordinary people of Britain are suffering as a consequence.
But it hasn’t been “austerity” under the other definition.
The Other Definition
Austerity is supposed to be an economic policy whereby — simultaneously — public spending is cut and taxes either frozen or raised so that a nation runs a current account surplus which is then used to pay down the national debt. It’s all about debt reduction. Nothing else.
However, a simple glance at the publicly available economic figures demonstrate that UK debt has risen every year the tories have been in power this century.
Why? Because far from cutting services and raising taxes to pay off debt; the tories have cut services and lowered taxes for corporations and the wealthy. And they were talking about slashing those taxes again (the post-Brexit tax-haven fantasy of the tory inner circle), long before this talk of “dropping austerity” began.
“Austerity” is not an economic policy I agree with (though I’m sure specific hypothetical “edge cases” could be described whereby it makes sense). But I can at least acknowledge there’s a coherent argument in its favour when it’s actually used to reduce debt. Which is why using that term to describe the dreadful tory policies of the past 7 years gives them far more respectability than they merit.
It hasn’t been austerity. It’s been wealth redistribution.