“Happy” new year, readers! In these straitened times, it is nice to gaze upon the glistering hoard of Unspeak that surrounds the financial crisis and its aftermath, isn’t it?
Take austerity measures, of the sort that “must” be imposed on countries by their own or other governments. Austerity implies a severe self-discipline of the kind that is laudable, virtuous in its serious asceticism. But who exactly is being austere in this picture? The Financial Times lexicon entry for “austerity measure” is, perhaps pointedly, ambivalent:
An official action taken by a government in order to reduce the amount of money that it spends or the amount that people spend.
Of course, these things are not unrelated, but a government that increases tax rates as part of its “austerity” programme is in the first instance asking people to spend more money – on it. I could be considerably more austere, in the sense of saving money, by refusing to pay my tax bill as well as not buying quite so many crisps. Naturally, though, we can see why a government proposing austerity measures would not want to call them “Give Us More Of Your Money And We’ll Spend It On Fewer Of The Things That You Want Measures”, or, I don’t know, wallet-fucking measures.
Conceivably, too, the connotations of admirably severe virtue in austerity measures might be cunningly employed to cloak or euphemize or Unspeak a pre-existing ideological commitment to cutting spending on public welfare, education, and all those other prissy little things that the “austere” can very well live without (or perhaps just the rich can; or perhaps the austere are the rich, which is how come they got so rich?).
What is perhaps worse, even so, is the implicit demand in austerity measures that citizens not only acquiesce to the policies in question, but actually agree that they are good for them, and meekly thank their masters for the condign punishment. That might remain a little hard to swallow, even for those people who still have jobs.
What other crisis Unspeak irritates you, readers?