An Antidote to "Austerity Chic"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Over at Spiked Online is a fascinating book review by Neil Davenport of Austerity Britain: 1945-51, by David Kynaston. The last paragraph should be enough to show you why I recommend it:

The best thing about Austerity Britain is that Kynaston provides the winning arguments for having the exact opposite of austerity. By exposing the suffering, the degradation and the desperation of the majority of people in the mid- to-late 1940s, Kynaston also helps to expose the poisonous mindset of today’s austerity cheerleaders. Who in his right mind would want anyone to return to ration-era Britain? As Kynaston reminds us: ‘Britain in 1945. No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food, no flavoured crisps, no vinyl, no CDs, no computers, no mobile phones, no Pill, no trainers, no Starbucks.’ If they had their way, environmentalists and well-to-do commentators would make sure that the vast majority of people didn’t enjoy access to any of these comforts, either. This is why, as millions of people fear for their jobs and livelihoods, they are hoping that the worst recession in 30 years will do that job for them. If you want to know why they are wrong, and morally warped, read this book about the last time austerity ruled Britain, when it did not liberate us or make us more spiritual, but rather punished, degraded and alienated working people across the country. [bold added]
Read the whole thing, and remember it the next time some you hear some hippie or some fundie -- or some fundie hippie -- gushing about how "good" our economic crisis could be for everyone.

-- CAV

This post was composed in advance and scheduled for publication at 5:00 A.M. on February 12, 2009.


Jasmine said...


I am a new reader of your blog.
I have been reading up on some of your recent posts and enjoying and loving them. Thank you for keeping the good stuff coming.
Thanks for blogging on this review -I definitely would not have known of this review otherwise.
I just love it when someone takes the bull by the horns, name what is unnamed and bring the issue out in the open without guilt, pain or fear -like the heroes of Atlas Shrugged.
Suffering and pain is the inconsequential and cannot be taken seriously.
No, really, seriously!!
P.S. I took the office quiz and turned out to be a whiteboard!!!

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Jasmine!

BTW, I'm glad to see that I'm reaching the whiteboards out there!

Michael Labeit said...

That the triumph over the all-encompassing fact of scarcity requires the production of wealth - one of the most "holy" economic truisms - that the moral equivalent of the above statement must be defended today is unfortunate.

Usually, with active-minded non-Objectivists it is enough to argue for individual rights on the basis that rights are necessary for the sustenance of life and happiness. Rarely does one have to regress back to arguing why one should care about life and happiness in the first place. As if agony were somehow preferable under some situation or context.

dismuke said...

Austerity is a wonderful thing - but only if YOU get to benefit by having the money you otherwise would have blown on unimportant stuff available to things which are more important to you.

I have a sneaking suspicion why austerity is suddenly "chic" now: Trendy Leftist types often have more money than sense and blow it on the most idiotic stuff. Just look at some of the stuff you will find in places trendy Leftists shop - and look at the sort of appearances that trendy Leftists are under pressure to keep up in order to ensure the world that they are NOT among the peasantry who drinks the sort of coffee served in truck stops and gas stations.

The problem for the trendy Leftist is that, each month, when he balances his bank statement and bills, even he is not able to completely evade that the long term trend is towards financial disaster. Part of him WANTS to be more thrifty - but what would other people think? And, beyond fear over what other people think, trendy Leftists have a profound feeling of entitlement and feel that the world ought to revolve around their sacrosanct whims. And, of course, anytime a Leftist is denied his whims, it is the fault of that omnipresent mystical goblin known as "The Man." So he continues to spend out of fear of disapproval and in defiance of that tyrant "The Man."

Now, suddenly, many Leftists have NO CHOICE but to be thrifty. To them, this is frightening new territory not just for the normal and obvious reasons but also because it suddenly gives them common ground with Wal-mart shoppers and other types who drink truck stop and gas station coffee that they have spent their lives looking down on.

Austerity chic is basically a way that elitist Leftist types can save face in the midst of their new and necessary frugality. It is the rationalization that enables them to practice the exact same behavior that a year ago they sneered at and looked down upon as "low class." Go to any lower middle class/working class neighborhood and you are likely to find plenty of people who have been frugal their entire lives out of necessity. You won't see any Leftist elitists seeking to emulate such people or wanting anything to do with them outside of election days.

For many Leftists, the primary value of prosperity and wealth is that it enables them to maintain appearances of superiority over others - and many have a genuine dislike for the enormous pressure they feel to stay in careers they hate in order to maintain that level of prosperity and thus preserve appearances and their sense of superiority. If the whole game could suddenly be called off and there was still a way that they could maintain their membership among the "smart" set they would be enormously relieved. Austerity chic enables them to do this.

It IS possible for Leftists to maintain their sense of superiority without being affluent. All they seek is RELATIVE affluence. In countries such as the Soviet Union, the counterparts to America's Leftist elitist types lived in apartments that were dingy by our standards and had few options open to them in terms of buying clothes, electronics or anything else. But that class, which included professors, "intellectuals" "journalists" etc. had access to apartments and shopping opportunities which were BETTER than was available to the rabble and that was all it took to keep them happy and profoundly loyal to the regime.

Of course, there are those who preach austerity for environmentalist reasons. Basically, there are two types of Leftists: those who wear deodorant and those who do not. The latter group includes hard core environmentalists. My comments are primarily about the former group - who are more than happy to use environmental arguments in order to further justify austerity beyond the things I mentioned.

Gus Van Horn said...


"Usually, with active-minded non-Objectivists it is enough to argue for individual rights on the basis that rights are necessary for the sustenance of life and happiness."

That is true, but perhaps for some (mostly younger) people who may not quite understand what austerity can mean, something like this may be good to hold in reserve.

That said, you remind me of a point I should have made when I posted: That article will make no difference to a committed altruist. Only in terms of showing what his morality can mean to someone else still persuadable is it really an "antidote".


Oh, yes. There is certainly that. The more I consider the though processes of modern leftists, the less I expect of them.