No. 7: Austerity Forever

Economic austerity has been the constant of my life. Since the age of political awakening austerity has been the order of my age. Back in the early eighties school children as young as 8 were having the term economic austerity explained to them by their school teachers in British Columbia. At that time it meant no more subsidised hot dog days, and the beginning of cost recovery for all non-essential educational activities like day trips into Vancouver to the planetarium. Chilliwack Central was a largely working class elementary school at that time with a large contingent of children who today we would say lived in poverty. Back in those days there was still enough social solidarity kicking around that the end of subsidised hot dog days and the beginning of cost recovery did not mean the end of hot dogs and field trips for the poor children. Between the teachers and the parents ways were found to share out austerity in a more egalitarian manner.

By the end of eighties and the early nineties we were once again officially practising austerity. Yet by that time full cost recovery for non-educationally essential activities had already been implemented: poor kids simply did not join the senior-high ski-club. Austerity looked more like going through the curriculum and deciding which classes were non-essential like art, photography, metal shop etc., and then implementing user fees such that if you did not have cash you could not take the class. To my knowledge there were no mechanisms in place to make sure that poor working class students had access to art or shop classes for that matter. I am told that after I graduated, some years later, these classes were simply cut out of the offerings altogether.

Indeed since becoming concious, it seems that the political economy of late capitalism has been characterised by a permanent austerity in the public space. The latest economic crisis, caused by the elite of capitalism, aka, finance, has become just another opportunity to practice more austerity in the public space. The irony here is that thirty years of austerity is, as is starting to become understood and accepted, one of the leading candidates for the contradiction at the heart of neoliberalism as an accumulation and growth strategy. I will let Mark Blyth take it from here.


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