I saved this article almost a year ago, but I came back to it while thinking of how things in Europe have unfolded over that year, and how austerity has become a more loaded term across the Atlantic, even as it . Cowell begins by lamenting (I think, his tone is hard to gauge) that Europeans of Tony Judt’s generation were accustomed to austerity measures in the aftermath of World War II: rationed food, clothing, and furniture. A shared sense of sacrifice made more palatable by the fact of the war’s end.
The language of austerity now both draws from and contrasts with that notion of austerity. Today, it is not war that we need to recover from, but “profligate” spending, a padded welfare state, a “fool’s paradise,” as Cowell calls it. But apart from disagreeing with the picture painted of what brought us to this point (Cowell mentions bankers only toward the end), I think the idea that people are outraged at losing a lifestyle that couldn’t be afforded in the first place is wrong. I think people are outraged that this iteration of austerity offers no notion of a brighter future, nor of a collective sacrifice.
In Mr. Judt’s day, austerity guaranteed a minimum level of access to basic supplies, the harbinger of better days; now, austerity is about the removal or diminution of jobs, pensions, comforts and benefits that have accrued since then — the herald, thus, of much darker times.
Although Americans (both we the people and our representatives) are still unwilling to talk openly about austerity as a national policy, I think we are equally guided by our own postwar history. My generation, for the first time in U.S. history, can expect to have less financial security (and perhaps even a lower life expectancy) than our parents, the children who grew up in the emerging affluence of post-WWII America.