In defence of austerity

Ruaridh Frize

Since the start of the coalition, the very idea of deep spending cuts and austerity has become gradually more popular to demonize and protest against. All students at this university have, at some point, been exposed to the anti-austerity rhetoric that is employed by the overwhelming majority of student activists. In fact, in my first week of summer school back in 2011 before entering first year, the first thing I was invited to was a protest against the cuts. For something that has become so strongly opposed with such vitriol, the austerity measures are actually built on a foundation of not just fiscal responsibility, but good old-fashioned – and underrated – common sense.

There’s really not much to say about the common-sense aspect of cutting public spending other than the obvious fact that is still overlooked;  the most efficient way of cutting our deficit is by cutting public spending. It would be the same as a person saying, “I’ve decided to save money by spending less,” – and who would tell this person that they are wrong? The solid logic of this common-sense is evident in the current uproar over the cuts; those who oppose them are incapable of disproving the common-sense behind it so instead they have a habit of pulling out the victim card. After all, the best method of destroying the legitimacy of a government is attempting to smear it as tyrannical and oppressive; and most anti-austerity protesters have done this to a worryingly effective extent. Despite the fact that the increase in tuition fees in England to £9,000 a year back in 2010 was unavoidable, the protests against them still included a level of violence and rage we hadn’t seen for years. And then we had the riots of 2011 which some extremely misinformed people tried to portray as a rebellion of the working class and the unemployed against the mean Tory government, when it was really nothing but mindless violence; it had absolutely nothing to do with the cuts.

However, there is no denying that these cuts do affect a vast variety of public services. Because of the large-scale of the cuts, most activists and protesters like to use the power of the demographic; students against the cuts, the unemployed, etc. But putting people into these boxes does not help their argument. Look no further than your typical student activist – although I’ll admit there is the occasional extremely rare exception – to see a prime example of selfishness and irrationality. From speaking to friends and fellow students I’ve heard many so-called arguments against the cuts that all seem to rest on more or less the same point; we’re students, we’re more important than everyone else. In fact, a recent NUS poster for an anti-austerity demonstration proclaimed “For free education, tax the rich.” Now this is all fine and well when it’s aimed at uninformed people who still falsely believe that the Tories are letting the rich pay mere pennies in taxes, but that’s not the case. ‘The rich’ are already paying higher taxes than everyone else under our current tax system, which places the tax burden firmly on those on a higher income. The government takes 40% off of earnings over £34,000 a year and 50% off of earnings over £150,000. Either the NUS are exploiting the ill-informed, or are making the ridiculous suggestion that we increase the tax rate for the rich even further solely to fund students’ education.

And it is that point which leads me again to the main reason why the majority of these activists are not winning me over: selfishness. Even as a student myself – who could not afford to pay tuition fees – I’m ashamed to have the likes of the NUS represent me. Even though my University education is extremely important to me, how exactly is it more important than the future of our country? If these austerity measures are not continued, the deficit will not be cut but will instead be passed on to future generations. As important as my University education is to me, I would never ask for it to be at the expense of tomorrow’s generation; that would be nothing but greed, which is, ironically. something the Tories are often accused of.

More importantly, if these anti-austerity protesters had their way with public spending, future generations would have to pay even more, considering just how much these activists would be willing to take from their government whilst giving precious little in return; after all, they do believe that the tax burden should be shifted onto the rich just so they can get free tuition. And on that note I would have to ask; how is this any more selfish than a rich person wanting to keep their own money?