Academic journal article New Formations

Introduction: The Future of Austerity

Academic journal article New Formations

Introduction: The Future of Austerity

Article excerpt

There have been times over the last fi ve years, and particularly in the last year or two, when we have seemed to glimpse the beginning of the end of the austerity conjuncture in Europe. In these moments the perpetuation of austerity measures - the very future of austerity - has been called into question. In the run up to Greece's legislative election in January 2015 Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras campaigned on an anti-austerity platform, promising that 'our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity'. 1 Syriza's success opened up a route towards this alternative future, while the 'oxi' result in July's referendum, in which over sixty per cent of Greek voters rejected proposals made by Greece's creditors, looked like a further step towards its realisation. Tsipras's subsequent recommendation that the Greek government accept a euro13 billion package of austerity measures closed down this sense of possibility and of an alternative future. Once again, the end of the age of austerity - momentarily sighted - disappeared over the horizon.

This reckoning around austerity's prospects in European politics and macroeconomics constitutes one of the ways in which austerity can be construed as bound up with 'the future', as a policy measure: fi scal austerity has a future which has been the object of speculation in both alternative and mainstream news media. But while these macro-level predictions are clearly of immense signifi cance to all European citizens, austerity also works on the future in other ways. In the wake of the global fi nancial crisis, critics of the politics of austerity were quick to emphasise austerity's impact on the future as well as the present. The summoning of various publics 'who share interests, concerns, anxieties and will potentially inhabit a shared future'2 has been prevalent in austerity discourse, with the 'children of austerity' emerging as a particularly signifi cant focus of attention. 3 David Cameron's now-infamous pronouncement that 'we're all in this together' provides another defi nitive example.4 Those who seek to challenge austerity have vividly imagined the futures of austerity's casualties; in one commentator's estimation, 'the future of austerity's many victims in Britain, especially women, will be grim'.5 Taken in this sense, the 'future of austerity' refers to the future or futures that austerity has begun to install - it evokes both the material constraints that fi scal tightening endows the future and the ways in which people living with austerity have begun to imagine their own and others' futures.

This special issue explores some of the ways in which austerity can be construed as capturing, shaping, and (dis)organising the future. It addresses the futures that austerity has begun to assign to certain subjects and to embed in the societies they live in. It attends to the promises for the future that have unravelled in the austerity conjuncture, and the new modes of expectation that have been offered and embraced in their place. In a context of rising levels of household debt in the UK and other countries, particular attention is given to indebted imaginaries, and to Maurizio Lazzarato's claim that the debt economy is depriving workers of their very future.6

PROMISES FOR THE FUTURE

Regardless of the longevity of a response to the global fi nancial crisis and the Eurozone debt crisis that prioritises fi scal consolidation, austerity has already made its mark on European social democracy. Over and above its role as a tool of economic management, austerity is widely recognised by those on the political left as a process through which the state is being dismantled.7 On this account, austerity is best understood not as a temporary measure for dealing with government debt, but as an enduring commitment to reshape social relations. As James Meadway puts it, 'permanent austerity' involves the 'resetting of the relationship between state and citizens'.8 For some, this 'war on welfare' marks the end of the post-war social contract - the withdrawal, in effect, of the 'promise' for the future that the post-war conjuncture delivered. …

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