Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Miserism

Aditya Chakrabortty has written an excellent article for Comment is Free in which he correctly writes: "austerity is just code for the transfer of wealth and power into ever fewer hands"; and advocates taxation of what he terms the idle rich. (The case for a Wealth Tax).

Austerity is a clearly inaccurate phrase. It clearly doesn't apply the wealthy beneficiaries of publicly-funded bailouts, implicit quantitative easing subsidies, and tax cuts. There is nor no labour involved in the accumulation of hoarded capital accumulating with interest.

It would be more insightful to refer to so-called austerity as miserism. A term I want to get into circulation, referring to the ideology of the exorbitantly wealthy lecturing the masses on the need for frugality. The majority of cabinet ministers within Britain's austerity-imposing coalition goverment are, afterall, millionaires (and white, male, private school and Oxbridge attendees).

Miserism derives from historical figures with extreme exorbitance in terms of capital, yet who in some cases lived in abject destitution, and not even for the purpose of selflessness.  An example includes John Elwes, a man with the modern equivalent of £19 million, who bathed in the River Thames, wore rags, ate vermin and rotten animal carcasses, and all in order to cling onto the bulk of his monetary inheritance. The miser is also a literary archetype, with the most famous example obviously being Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dickens's Christmas Carol (another includes Charles Montgomery Burns in Matt Groening's The Simpsons). Such a stereotype is easily amusing given its self-evident absurdity. It is art imitating life when would be austerian miser and multi-millionaire Mitt Romney's public statements are indistinguishable from those of Mr. Burns.

Of course, in "austerity" as we know it, those subject to miserly conditions are those within the fabric of wider society, rather than the ideological misers themselves. But miserism is still a far more accurate phrase than the perverse notion of its universal fiscal stringency.

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