Ireland and the World of the 1950s
‘Austerity’ is a word which has re-entered the cultural lexicon over the past few years. We in the West are now told, by many of our governments and journalists, that ‘a period of austerity’, a severe curtailing of personal and public expenditure, is the only hope we have of getting ourselves out of the financial crisis which has devastated world economies from 2007. Other voices, including many prominent economists and public intellectuals, argue quite the opposite: that the only way out of our crisis is to rediscover Keynesian economics, systematically marginalized in the Anglophone political world since the late 1970s. Austerity, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman asserts, along with many others, is not the solu- tion. It is the problem.1 We have been here before. In 2007, just before the crisis hit, the distin- guished social and economic historian David Kynaston published a book entitled Austerity Britain.2 As we write this in 2012, it is hard to imagine that, even five years ago, ‘austerity’ had only one dominant historical ref- erent, the postwar years of the late 1940s and early 1950s (and Kynaston’s book is subtitled 1945–51). In its postwar context, ‘austerity’ referred to the political climate of rationing, scarcity and deprivation in the immedi- ate aftermath of the Second World War, as the West struggled to rebuild, structurally, infrastructurally, economically and socially. The means by which this rebuilding was achieved became known as the ‘postwar settle- ment’, a consensus across the US, the UK and most Western...
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