Part of the austerity narrative is the idea that the country is like a household and if you’d maxed out your credit cards you’d have to cut back on spending. Leaving aside the fact that country level economics do not have any resemblance to a household because the rules are different, let’s see how the austerity house might look.
Grandparent 1 owns the austerity house and grandparent 2 makes all the decisions about what happens in it. Parent one goes out to work and earns all the money to run the household. Parent 2 does all the cooking, cleaning, childcare, teaching, nursing, puts out fires… you get the idea. There are an unspecified number of children, and also a hamster. Now they’ve run up a big debt. How does austerity play out?
Well, that foster child they took on is 16 now, so they throw him out and give him no further financial support. That’s going to save some money. Rather than take all of parent 2’s work for free, parent 2 is told to go out and get a ‘proper’ job, while the grandparents pay privately for some of the services they want – nurses and a gardener although they expect parent 2 to keep teaching and putting out fires and suggest parent 2 could cut back on sleep.
Because other households are doing the same things, parent 1 is spending ever longer hours working for the same money, while the grandparents demand that parent 1 uses more of the income to pay off the debt. Parent 1 takes a second job, but that isn’t enough. Parent 1’s car is sold off for less than it costs to pay off the finance on it. The grandparents claim they are raising funds by selling off other household items for less than they are worth, but rather than spend this on the food budget for the household, they buy themselves takeaways, leaving the parents struggling with the expense and inconvenience caused by having key assets stripped away.
The youngest child fails to get good grades, and is denied food for 2 weeks as a consequence. The hamster disappears, presumed eaten. Parent 2 takes up prostitution in a desperate attempt to pay for the finance on the car that is no longer there and the rising cost of now necessary bus fares.
Annoyed by the neighbour’s cat crapping in the garden, the grandparents get on ebay and buy some small scale nuclear weapons from China, wiping out the household’s food budget for the next ten years. One of the children develops rickets, and the grandparents borrow money to buy themselves an enormous train set.
Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet our government is seriously considering putting vast amounts of public money into a nuclear submarine even the army doesn’t want, and a high speed rail project that merely shaves a bit of time off the London to Birmingham journey, while at the same time cutting funding for the poor and vulnerable. If a parent is hit by benefit sanctions for 2 weeks and can’t afford food, of course there are children not eating properly as well. And now they’re planning to sell off a nationally owned bank at an incredible loss.
There is no justice, no economic sense and no humanity in the current political program. What it delivers is misery. If the household analogy were true, we’d be handling this differently. A household that has maxed out its credit cards doesn’t save money by starving its children, it cuts luxuries first. Holidays, takeaways, new clothes, train sets. You pay your core bills and feed everyone, and if you have to sell assets, you aim to make a profit on them, not put yourself further in debt. If this country is like living in a household, then we have the economics that go with one family member being a secret crack addict.