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When Austerity Isn’t Austere

October 1, 2014

By Theodore Dalrymple

What’s in a word? Sometimes, I think, quite a lot. The use of a single word can amount to a subtle lie. Reading French newspapers, I’m struck by how often the word “austerity” appears to discuss current economic policy in Europe, particularly in France. I am not concerned here with whether the policies that European countries have followed are wise or foolish, or whether deflation is a greater danger than inflation. When you find yourself in an impossible situation, all policies have their dangers. But misleading language that goes uncorrected is always dangerous.

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, austerity means “severe self-discipline, abstinence, asceticism.” Is that the word to describe the policy of, say, the French government?

Suppose that, for a number of years, my spending had been larger than my income, so that I had accumulated a large debt. Suppose also that I had nothing to show for my excess expenditure, which has all gone to increase my level of current consumption. Interest payments on my debt now exceed my outlays on such items as food, clothing, and shelter. The bank to whom I owe the money tells me that things cannot continue like this…

Read the full article at City Journal: When Austerity Isn’t Austere

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