Adults in the Room



  • One of the great mysteries of life, at least of my life, is how susceptible good people are to this awful logic. In fact, personal finances are a terrible basis for understanding public finance, as I explained in response: In your life you have a wonderful independence between your expenses and your income. So when you cut down on your expenses, your income is not cut. But if the country as a whole goes [on] a major savings spree, then its total income is going to come down.’ The reason for this is that at a national level total expenditure and total income are precisely equal because whatever is earned has been spent by someone else. So if every person and business in the country is cutting back, the one thing the state must not do is cut back as well. If it does so, the abrupt fall in total expenditure means an equally abrupt fall in national income, which in turn leads to lower taxes for the Treasury and to austerity’s spectacular own goal: an ever-shrinking national income that makes the existing national debt unpayable. This is why austerity is absolutely the wrong solution.

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  • When that day comes, the Greeks may be able to address the rest of Europe by paraphrasing poet George Seferis: We who had nothing taught you tranquillity.’

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  • Let the victims’ heads turn towards Erebus [the deep darkness]: / We who had nothing will teach them tranquillity. / Let them not forget us.’ From a poem entitled Mythistorima’ in George Seferis, Poems (1989), Ikaros, Athens (my translation).

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