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Austerity Means A Spanking

April 23, 2013


You might have noticed, joyfully, the news last week about grad student Thomas Herndon and his epic takedown of one of the pillars of the global austerity movement. Herndon was examining a paper by Harvard professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff which has served to justify the imposition of cripplingly cruel austerity measures when he noticed that they had made an error in the simple mathematics at the very heart of their thesis- they forgot to include about ten cells of an Excel spreadsheet in the equation they were using to prove that high debt means greater chance of inflation and economic trouble. Herndon pointed this out and blew a big, ragged hole in the idea that debt means disaster. Author David Graeber has a great piece in the Guardian where he points out what Herndon’s insight means in the big context: when debt is seen as a moral problem instead of as a social relationship, economics functions like a pillory, where debtors go to get pelted with rotten tomatoes or worse. What’s been revealed here, says Graeber, is that “austerity was never really an economic policy: ultimately, it was always about morality…it’s never been particularly clear exactly what the original sin was: some combination, perhaps, of tax avoidance, laziness, benefit fraud and the election of irresponsible leaders. But in a larger sense, the message was that we were guilty of having dreamed of social security, humane working conditions, pensions, social and economic democracy.” Maybe in the aftermath of this spectacular unearthing of a tiny fiscal gremlin that has done so much to scupper so many people’s lives in the past five years we’ll see some new priorities, but don’t hold your breath. We’re only going to get what we take back for ourselves, or what we’re willing to give away for free.

AnarchismAnti-capitalismLaborSocial Movements

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