Defining “austerity”

I’ve complained a few times that opponents of austerity refuse to define what they’re opposed to.

Naively, I’d assumed that austerity meant that governments were cutting spending. Actually, it turns out governments continue to spend more money during period of austerity and even periods of “crippling austerity.”

I’ve done some investigation and I now believe I can define “austerity.” Here goes:

Austerity is when more than half of a country’s working age population has to . . . wait for it . . . seriously, I hope you’re sitting down for this . . . go to work at an actual job every day.*

Bonus definition!:

“Crippling austerity” is a special case of austerity in which those people who actually have to work have to do so for more than 25 years (meaning that someone who starts working at 25 years old may have to work beyond their 50th birthday).

Obviously this is intolerable. I wonder if there’s somewhere I can go to donate money to the people undergoing this terrible hardship.

* This of course excludes six weeks of holiday.

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10 Responses to Defining “austerity”

  1. spandrell says:

    hey hey. You Americans are overworked slaves of capitalisme who don’t know how to enjoy ze life.

    I actually thought the 35 hours were a good idea.

  2. Matt says:

    I thought austerity was a 5% cut in the rate of spending increase, with crippling austerity being a 15% cut. Naturally, inflation is taken into account in both situations.

  3. Nick B Steves says:

    More than [WHAT] of a country’s working age population? Half? One-third?? It’s a definition… so it’s kinda important.

  4. James James says:

    I thought austerity was where the government raised taxes instead of cutting spending.

  5. Handle says:

    Part of the problem here is a bit of a linguistic trick regarding the different ways the word is understood, and what it connotes, in the US vs in Europe (and even in different languages which use the same word)

    Across the pond the word “austerity” can be a bit more gentle and positive, meaning basically “economizing”, “thrift”, or “frugality” or even “restraint” as in “discipline and self-control”. In American English, it comes across as “severe” and “harsh”, and even “brutal”.

    At any rate, the easiest way to define a word that people use in an purposefully elusive way is to see whether it has a well-defined opposite, and then reverse that. (It’s easier to define “unreasonable” than “reasonable”, for example).

    And in this case it depends on which version of “austerity” you’re choosing. The opposite could “profligate”, “lavish”, “indulgent” or even “dissolute”. In the alternative, “generous”, “benevolent”, or “magnanimous”

    It’s the ultimate dog-whistle-politics word.

    As for me, I think “austerity” is being used in a way that means “any downward departure from previously promised trends of public expenditure”. Notice we really don’t have an appropriate word for the opposite, more common, phenomenon of upward departures. “Stimulus” doesn’t really work.

    • Foseti says:

      The problem with referencing “previously promised trends of public expenditure” is that it’s basically an infinite figure.

      • Handle says:

        Naturally. That’s why it’ll always be both “who? whom?” and “austerity” forever. The war against arithmetic never goes well, but they never stop fighting. Like a lot of other endless “wars against X”.

  6. […] Foseti – Selections from The Dark Enlightenment, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, Open Borders, Be More Like Berlin, Defining Austerity […]

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