... But there's a big difference between running up a debt to fight a world war and running up a debt as a result of mainly welfare, as opposed to warfare. And that's, I think, another big difference. There was a sacrifice made there. People recognised that the debt at the end of 1918 was a part of that sacrifice and they sought not to inflate it away, nor to default on it. Our debt is different.
Said that Niall Ferguson on the radio this morning, tut-tutting about the immorality of governments spending money they don't have. After the First World War, he acknowledged, Britain was servicing an proportionally larger burden of debt than we are today. However, he was cool with that crippling level of spending, because at least we'd spent it on something useful, like the First World War, as opposed to frittering it away on social welfare.
Setting aside the argument about why we're in the mess we're in (too much public spending Vs the scarcely trivial sums spent on bank bailouts and the Eurozone omnishambles), this was an interesting little peek into the unspoken assumptions of a "post ideological" neoliberal cheerleader. Let's just say it out loud again:
- Money spent on killing and maiming millions in a massive, grinding war of attrition was money well spent or, at the very least, a necessary evil.
- Spending on health, education, housing and on sparing the elderly, the disabled and victims of unemployment from humiliation, destitution and hunger is money squandered to no good purpose.
If only we could just knuckle down and revel in the glorious sacrifice! Never mind rationality, this whole austerity thing makes a whole lot more sense when it's explained as a sacrificial offering being made by our high priests to appease the angry god, Mammon. History may not be repeating itself, but some of its dodgier slogans refuse to lie down and die: