political-economic policy aiming to reduce government budget deficits through spending cuts or tax increases

Austerity is a set of economic policies implemented with the aim of reducing government budget deficits. Policies grouped under the term 'austerity measures' may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both, and may be undertaken to demonstrate the government's fiscal discipline to creditors and credit rating agencies by bringing revenues closer to expenditures.


  • Austerity is not new, nor is it a product of the so-called Neoliberal Era that began in the 1970s. Outside, perhaps, of the less than three booming decades that followed World War II, austerity has been the mainstay of capitalism. It has been true throughout history that where capitalism exists, crisis follows. Where austerity has proven wildly effective is in insulating capitalist hierarchies from harm during these moments of would-be social change. Austerity is capitalism's protector, popular among states for its effectiveness and billed as a means of "fixing" economies by increasing their "efficiency"—short-term readjustments for long-term gains.
  • When I refer to a crisis of capitalism, I do not mean an economic crisis—say, slowdown in growth or an uptick in inflation. Capitalism is in crisis when its core relationship (the sale of production for profit) and its two enabling pillars (private property in the means of production and wage relations between owners and workers) are contested by the public, in particular by the workers who make capitalism run. As part of these expressions of unhappiness, people have historically demanded alternative forms of social organization. indeed . . . austerity's primary utility over the last century has been to silence such calls and foreclose alternatives to capitalism. Mostly austerity serves to quash public outcry and worker strikes—not, as is advertised, to spontaneously improve country's economic indicators by practicing greater economic discipline.
    • Clara E. Mattei, The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism. University of Chicago Press (2022). ISBN 978-0226818399 pp. 3-4
  • Austerity as we know it today emerged after World War I as a method for preventing capitalism's collapse: economists in political positions used policy levers to make all classes of society more invested in private, capitalist production, even when these changes amounted to profound (if also involuntary) personal sacrifices. In the early 1920s, austerity functioned as a powerful counteroffensive to strikes and other forms of social unrest that exploded on an unprecedented scale after the war—a period traditionally, and oddly, overlooked by political and economic scholars who study austerity. The timing of austerity's invention reflects its animating motivations. Of greater importance than austerity's purported economic efficacy was its ability to guard catalyst relations of production during a time of unprecedented social organizing and public agitation from working classes.
    • Clara E. Mattei, The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism. University of Chicago Press (2022). ISBN 978-0226818399 p. 4
  • Finally, and very importantly, the cause of necessary economic reforms has not been served by confounding that necessity with the policy of austerity. Indeed, serious consideration of the kinds of reform that are needed has been hampered, rather than aided, by the loss of clarity about the distinction between reform of bad administrative arrangements (such as people evading taxes, government servants using favoritism, banks being exempt from necessary discipline, or—for that matter—preserving a nonviable system of early retiring ages), and austerity in the form of ruthless cuts in public services and basic social security. The requirements for alleged financial discipline have tended to amalgamate the two, even though any analysis of social justice would view policies for necessary reform in an altogether different way from drastic cuts in important public services. Even if that distinction may have been lost in rather crude financial thinking, opportunities for adequate public reasoning, in “government by discussion,” could have brought out its relevance clearly enough.
    Europe has been extraordinarily important for the world, which has learned so much from it. It can remain globally important by setting its own house in order—economically, politically, and socially. The first step is to understand properly, with some clarity, the policy challenges that Europe faces today. A failure to do so will reverberate far beyond Europe’s own borders.
    • Amartya Sen, "What Happened to Europe?", New Republic (August 2, 2012)

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