Entry from November 7, 2013

A propos of my New Criterion piece of last June,”Theories of Relativity,” after a brief quiescence, the left’s furious campaign against “austerity” continues, and nowhere more vehemently than in the pages of The Guardian. My recent favorite, which must take the prize for the most far-fetched reason to hate the austerocrats, whoever they may be, comes from that paper, whose headline to an article by Hugh Muir read: “Coverage of Prince George’s christening is a 24-hour austerity anaesthetic.” Typical royals! Always throwing up their feel-good smokescreens to make us forget about their jackboots on our necks! For who can doubt that they are prominent among the otherwise obscure conspirators behind the hated austerity régime?

Then came Richard Wolff in the same pages, having another go at smoking the devious bad guys out as he inveighed against “The Great Austerity Shell Game.” In good Marxist fashion, Mr Wolff manages to blame those he calls “capitalists” both for the excessive borrowing of certain other anti-austerians whom he prefers not to identify and for the austerians’ opposition to excessive borrowing, since both are really nothing but techniques for avoiding the much higher taxes that governments less in thrall to “capitalists” would naturally be imposing on them.

Capitalism’s way of dealing with its recurring crises is thus a remarkable two-step hustle. In step one, massive borrowing funds stimulus and bailout programs. In step two, austerity pays for the borrowing. This hustle shifts most of the costs of capitalist crises onto the backs of middle- and lower-income people. The shift occurs through the higher unemployment, lower wages, and reduced government services achieved by austerity programs. It occurs as well in the sustained minimization of tax increases — especially on corporations and the rich.

Diabolically clever, isn’t it, this devious strategy of the capitalists? And yet Mr Wolff seems unable to name a single member of their dark conspiracy against the rest of us. Of course, it hardly seems possible that such well-known anti-austerians as Barack Obama and Paul Krugman should not be among them, though perhaps he would say that they are unwitting accomplices of the capitalists.

I don’t know. It’s hard to read Professor Krugman’s scolding of the Germans for being too economically successful and too reluctant to give away their superflluous Euros to the ne’er-do-wells of Southern Europe as being all part of the capitalist smokescreen. Mr Wolff himself is oddly reticent about his answer to the question that, he insists, should be brought before us, “demanding discussion, debate, and democratic decision” — namely, “can’t we do better than capitalism?” Maybe he just forgot to mention that he thinks we can do better, presumably with what the British left used to call — perhaps they still do in their more candid moments — “full-blooded socialism.” That is to say, not the half-breed kind of socialism that the Labour Party was forever lapsing into before it gave up its avowed commitment to socialism altogether. Or maybe, like many socialists these days, Mr Wolff simply finds that his belief in socialism is somewhat less robust than his belief in the capitalist conspiracy that makes some alternative, any alternative, necessary. Doesn’t it?

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