Austerity for the gander

JW Mason relays a pathetic argument for austerity out in the Financial Times. The basic thrust of the argument, as Mason’s title mockingly summarizes, is that austerity is good for the soul.

Austerity, which here just means having less, will lead to better health by limiting food access. It will promote “common purpose and comradeship.” It will draw our attention to the good things in life — presumably things like personal relationships — which do not cost anything. In short, having to do with less will lead to living more simply, a life which is actually more fulfilling, healthy, and enjoyable than one encumbered by material vices.

This is an interesting move as far as austerity arguments go. Usually austerity proponents admit that it is pain they are imposing, but that it is pain we must endure for some other greater end (balanced budgets and such). Here the pain itself is good. This should mean that austerity is good just generally, not only when certain economic conditions present themselves. If the author, Grayling, truly believes in this stuff, then I’d presume he advocates at all times policies that leave people materially worse off, a fringe political notion.

But more than that, if austerity is itself a good, then really it should be good for everyone. Let’s not be too selfish and impose it only on the poor. Surely the upper-half deserves to be made less materially well off in order to reap the benefits such deprivation apparently generates for their souls. In fact, it would seem like austerity should primarily fall upon those in the upper half as they have the most to gain from it: those on the bottom are already living nearer to basic necessities as it is. The marginal utility of soul-satisfying austerity presumably diminishes in the opposite direction than we usually imagine: the poorer you are, the less good more austerity can do for you. So our pro-austerity agenda should impose dramatic tax hikes on the top and even wealth expropriation while we are at. Surely the best way to make sure the top gets the soothing effects of austerity is to leave them with only a fraction of what they now have!

Besides, the upper-income must deserve the greatness of austerity more than the lower-income. As we know, the lower-income are not deserving of anything, being lazy bums and whatnot. So why would we direct something that is apparently very good, austerity, at those lower-income folks? The most meritorious in society surely deserve the wonderfulness that comes with austerity the most, and so let’s give it to them!