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The alchemy of austerity
John Clarke and Janet Newman Critical Social Policy 2012 32: 299 originally published online 24 May 2012 DOI: 10.1177/0261018312444405 The online version of this article can be found at:

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CSP32310.1177/0261018312444405Clarke & NewmanCritical Social Policy

Critical Social Policy


The alchemy of austerity
John Clarke and JaneT newman
The Open University, UK

Abstract The return of austerity has provoked social conflict, political controversy and academic disputes. In this article we explore some of these through the metaphor of an ‘alchemy of austerity’ that forms the foundation for strategies of state retrenchment through which the consent of populations is sought. We begin, in ‘Magical thinking’, by tracing some of the discursive repertoires that circulate in analyses of austerity, showing something of its significance as a key term being mobilized in different international and national political discourses. We then go on to explore political strategies, with a particular focus on the UK in ‘Sharing the pain’. However, we suggest that such a focus offers a limited conception of politics that fails to illuminate the contradictory field of political forces put into motion by austerity strategies. This field of forces, we go on to argue, crystallizes around the problem of securing consent. In ‘Austerity and the problem of consent’ we examine this further, pointing to the proliferation of different forms of dissent and their relationship to austerity measures. We end by tracing shifting articulations of the moral and the economic by revisiting E.P. Thompson’s concept of ‘moral economy’. Key words austerity, consent, cuts, disaffection, ideology, moral economy, politics, welfare
Corresponding author: John Clarke, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK. Email:
Critical Social Policy © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: DOI: 10.1177/0261018312444405 32(3) 299–319

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2012 . much contested: This new era of fiscal consolidation is based on two simple ideas. And it has been ideologically reworked. the UK is repositioning itself as a model of probity and good fiscal housekeeping. its current significance derives directly from the multiple and multilayered crisis of the financial system inaugurated in 2007–8. for example. This crisis has provided a remarkable display of ‘shape changing’ as its construction has been contested and reworked (Clarke and Newman. government budget deficits experienced today by many advanced countries are Downloaded from csp. paradoxically. One marker of the success of this ideological and political work is that austerity has become the dominant global wisdom for addressing the ‘problem of public debt’ (including the public debt that resulted from ‘rescuing’ private funds). is the result of intensive ideological work – work that we identify here through the image of the (political and financial) wizards attempting to find the alchemy that might turn disaster into triumph – the triumph being a new neo-liberal settlement. It has shifted from a crisis located in the banking and financial centres of the USA and UK to a global crisis in which. and Yeldan. 1993 and Ferguson. Canak. however. public spending and public services are all viewed as problems to be overcome (to liberate enterprise. Newman and Clarke. That history is a reminder about the controversial economics and politics associated with at University of East Anglia on July 30. 2009). (David Cameron. 2009a) Magical thinking: the alchemy of austerity Although austerity has a long and complicated history (to which we will return). The South has a rather longer (and harsher) exposure to its rigours (see. from an economic problem (how to ‘rescue’ the banks and restore market stability) to a political problem (how to allocate blame and responsibility for the crisis): a reworking that has focused on the unwieldy and expensive welfare state and public sector. however. The current dominant image of its locus has been moved from the private to the public sector (from the financial services industry to public spending). It has been transformed from a financial crisis to a fiscal crisis (centred on government debt).sagepub. 2010. 1995 on Latin America. that the global North is a relative latecomer to the regime of fiscal austerity. Adepoju. The currently dominant consensus about fiscal austerity continues an approach established in the International Monetary Fund’s ‘structural adjustment’ policies in which public debt. at least in the UK. This model of fiscal austerity is. we argue. First. 2001 on Turkey and the IMF). It should be remembered. This has been particularly evident across the European Union and the USA. 1989 and Lustig. 2006 on Africa. This shape changing. as the root cause of the crisis.300 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity. growth and development). rather than high risk strategies of banks.

fiscal consolidation measures are invariably expansionary. is itself part of the strategy for recovery. even when evidence of its success is (at best) equivocal. counter-intuitively. ‘fiscal consolidation can thus stimulate private consumption and investment even in the short term. produce expansionary effects in national economies. various forms of magical thinking are at work. 2011: 3). make it a potent force for ensuring the continued dominance of this austerity strategy. according to this hypothesis.’ (Krugman. Using an alternative methodology. combined with the political effects of its judgements on the state of national economies. However. the president of the European Central Bank. Paul Krugman nicely points to how such magical beliefs combine in the central role of the ‘confidence fairy’: But don’t worry: spending cuts may hurt.Clarke & Newman 301 unsustainable. most notably the IMF which has remained wedded to this conception of how national and global economies work for over thirty years. then. ‘The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect. they will come true (visible in most UK chancellors of the last few decades) and a touching faith in the power of good feelings (‘confidence’ among consumers and investors). it is important to remember that. the investment in magical beliefs. massive cuts in government expenditures and significant tax hikes have positive effects on output and employment. These include the belief that if one says things often enough. a phenomenon known as “expansionary fiscal contraction” or “expansionary austerity”’ (Guajardo et al. in a recent interview. In a recent working paper. and the evidence of its social costs is alarming. No policymaker around the world seems immune to them. that is. these ideas do not just circulate. (Fontana and Sawyer. Nevertheless. but the confidence fairy will take away the pain. The IMF’s own lending at University of East Anglia on July 30. 2011: 57–58) These two ideas circulate widely in global financial institutions. Second. is not just a matter of persuading the populace to adopt a form of ‘false consciousness’. At the heart of this austerity strategy is a belief that strategies of fiscal constraint can.sagepub. increasing private consumption and investment and producing growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). alchemy. they suggest that the effects of ‘fiscal consolidation’ are consistently ‘contractionary’ rather than expansionary: Downloaded from csp.. 2012 . they are also enforced by a variety of means. Their study is potentially significant because they challenge the empirical measures on which most investigations of ‘expansionary austerity’ have relied.’ declared Jean-Claude Trichet. Guajardo and his colleagues note that. even in the hard-nosed ‘real world’ of economics. These simple ideas are wrong but very powerful. 2011: 2) The alchemy of austerity. Why? Because ‘confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery. The European Central Bank has played a similar role in relation to ‘vulnerable’ European economies.

while real GDP declines by 0. and how consent for such strategies is secured.sagepub. also had to revise and deepen their programmes in order to meet the targets imposed on them. apparent failure leads not to reconsideration and reassessment but the imposition of more of the same. (Guajardo et al.302 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) Based on the fiscal actions thus identified.. in part. between 2007 and 2010. and the commensurate Downloaded from csp.62 percent. and its installation as the dominant global wisdom has involved some remarkable political work. major changes of discursive framing were accomplished: The rapidity of the current turn from rescue to exit strategies. Indeed. of the effects that austerity measures had on the ‘real’ economy (of production. as governments cease countercyclical spending policies that were employed in the early years of the worldwide economic crisis that began in 2007. Assumptions of growth were constantly undershot because. Theodoropoulou and Watt (2011) have argued that the early experiences of fiscal austerity within the EU indicate that the process is likely to be prolonged. not least the UK’s enthusiastic ‘early adopters’. for example. It also indicates that the protracted character of the current economic crisis owes something to the choice of remedy that has been promoted globally and adopted (more or less willingly) by many national governments. In particular. that is are effective in reducing debt and fostering growth. even large spending-based fiscal retrenchments are contractionary. despite unprecedented austerity measures. consumption and trading). Such studies clearly pose the question of whether austerity measures ‘work’. as are fiscal consolidations occurring in economies with a high perceived sovereign default risk. our baseline specification implies that a 1 percent of GDP fiscal consolidation reduces real private consumption by 0. The baseline results survive a battery of robustness tests. Our main finding that fiscal consolidation is contractionary holds up in cases where one would most expect fiscal consolidation to raise private domestic demand. But this is not our focus here: rather. 2011) This suggests that the confidence fairy’s wand may need some repair. They also show how Greece and Portugal. we want to explore further the political consequences of austerity as the object of ‘magical thinking’: how. Certainly the construction of public debt and public austerity looks very much like an example of magical thinking. see also Fontana and Sawyer. 2012 . which made meeting the targets of fiscal consolidation very at University of East Anglia on July 30. As Evans and Hussey note. precisely because of the ‘contractionary’ effects. 2011: 29.75 percent within two years. They draw on the experience of early adopters of austerity measures – Latvia and Hungary – to show how programmes were frequently revised and extended over time in order to meet changed conditions set for financial recovery.

sagepub. Downloaded from csp. and we will get through this together. 2011: 37) We do not have room here to explore the shifting and contested constructions of crisis that have been in play globally and nationally (but see Clarke. and public sector workers in particular. The UK has taken something of a vanguard position on austerity under the 2010 Coalition government. has been nothing less than astonishing. national governments have found different accommodations. forces and possibilities. 2012 . Political rationalizations of the programme have moved uncomfortably between the ‘economic necessity’ claim and a more moral and social vocabulary of responsibility and interdependence (as in the brief flirtation with the idea of a Big Society.Clarke & Newman 303 shifting of blame and cost to the public sector. Anyone who tells you these choices can be avoided is not telling you the truth. 2010a. Sharing the pain: The contradictory politics of austerity As the pressures for austerity grew. Certainly. 2010). The two elements are further connected by a recurrent trope of collective painsharing. as floated by Chancellor-to-be George Osborne in his speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2009: ‘These are the honest choices in the world in which we live and we have made them at University of East Anglia on July 30. b. and currently pursued through a series of localization measures that deflect and decentralize responsibility for care and welfare). At each moment. ranging from ‘blame avoidance’ (attributing causes to global forces or supra-national organizations such as the EU or IMF) through ‘credit claiming’ (‘putting things right’) and even righteous zeal (the Tea Party influenced Republicans in the USA).bbc. they have required intense political-cultural labour to capture the future and to control the meanings of crisis in the midst of profoundly contradictory tendencies. We are all in this together’ (http://news. Clarke and Newman. claiming both that austerity is necessary and that its adoption by the Coalition represents an act of political virtue (by contrast with the UK opposition and eurozone countries). We will carry out Britain’s unavoidable deficit reduction plan in a way that strengthens and unites the country. this is the collective imagery that the Coalition has tried to summon up – a nation united in the face of adversity: We are all in this (Evans and Hussey. cutting deeper and harder than most EU Clarke (forthcoming) argues that the Coalition has developed a paradoxical position of ‘virtuous necessity’.stm).

welfare states were being remade rather than merely retrenched or abandoned. people will suffer and our national interest will suffer. In contrast to Downloaded from csp. Writing a decade ago. the Coalition programme ‘takes the country in a new direction. cutting or dismantling many publicly provided services and benefits. 2010: 5) Of note here is the rather neat reversal in which it is argued that suffering is not a consequence of austerity measures but will arise if such measures are avoided.304 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) We are not doing this because we want to. and they are the values that will drive our efforts to deal with our debts and turn this economy around So yes. ( at University of East Anglia on July 30. which have often combined the ‘need for austerity’ with promises to modernize welfare provision (whether to avoid ‘dependency’ or to make it ‘fit for purpose’ in new times). Freedom.sagepub. has been a long running theme in the social policy literature. We also want to highlight the ways in which the extract deploys notions of ‘truth’. fairness. driven by the urgent truth that unless we do. it will be tough. driven by theory or ideology. The end of the welfare state. We are doing this because we have to. This is the latest in a series of projects to ‘reform’ welfare. He identified three dynamics of reform that combined differently in specific welfare regimes: re-commodification. As Taylor-Gooby and Stoker (2011) note. responsibility: those are the values that drive this government. stretching back to the 1970s. It also promises a more ‘radical’ reform of the welfare state. But this government will not cut this deficit in a way that hurts those we most need to help… …that divides the country… …or that undermines the spirit and ethos of our public services. But we will get through this together – and Britain will come out stronger on the other side. however. of course. the political scientist Paul Pierson was arguing that a ‘new politics’ of welfare states was taking shape ‘against a backdrop of both intense pressures for austerity and enduring popularity’ (2001: 410). he argued. however. 2012 . As many have argued. a point to which we return later. the programme of austerity and reform goes far beyond fiscal book balancing (even if it has been enthusiastically endorsed by the IMF). cost-containment and recalibration. removing the claims from the field of potential contestation. and of ‘values’ – values which open up moral vocabularies of justification. rolling back the state to a level of intervention below that in the United States – something which is unprecedented’ (2011: 14). In the process.

the impact of these austerity strategies is unequally distributed in profound ways and is likely to produce ‘new landscapes of inequality’ (the phrase is borrowed from Collins et al. public sector workers were bearing the brunt of the cuts. a gender effect to the disadvantage of women may be expected in those countries where service cuts play an important role (e. UK). The reasons have already been outlined. and the institutional arrangements which favour defenders of the status quo make a frontal assault on the welfare state politically suicidal in most countries. Downloaded from csp. 2012 . Huber. 2010). The broad scale of public support. In France. Theodoropoulou and Watt show how. Spain.g..Clarke & Newman 305 claims about the ‘end of the welfare state’. And they also show how the cuts disproportionately impact on women: In most countries. while others point to how the differential impact on women’s labour has profound consequences for particular local economies (Green. or abolition. so the focus on public sector cuts can be expected to affect women disproportionately. 2001: 416) Such institutionalist or ‘path dependency’ approaches made considerably more empirical sense than apocalyptic claims about the end of the welfare state. (Theodoropoulou and Watt. in a substantial number of countries. Almost nowhere have politicians been able to assemble and sustain majority coalitions for a far-reaching contraction of social policy (Stephens. for instance. As they go on to argue. make women on average more reliant on public services than men. and Ray 1999). A recent survey of European nations (Theodoropoulou and Watt. etc. Ireland. either through a shrinking of the public sector or through (direct or indirect) wage cuts that bypassed collective bargaining processes. 2001: 23) This is a finding replicated in UK-specific studies (e. public sector employment is predominantly female. To the extent that gendered roles in caring for elderly dependants. Nevertheless across the EU. the extent to which a variety of actors (including employers) have adapted to the existing contours of the social market economy. 2011) indicates that most of the national governments were cutting – or planning to cut – public expenditures between 2010 and 2013 with a strong emphasis on reductions in social protection programmes and public administration. Women’s Budget Group. of welfare states unlikely: There are strong grounds for scepticism about the prospect for any radical revision of the welfare state in most countries. children.g. the debate on pension reform has focused on gender issues (different retirement ages and life expectancy). he suggested that a variety of factors coalesced to make radical revision. 2008). the intensity of preferences among programme at University of East Anglia on July 30. (Pierson. welfare and public services have been a main target for austerity packages.sagepub.

inter alia. this view tends to understate the combined effects of the three dynamics identified by Pierson in remaking the character of welfare and the form of the state (Clarke. Those who use public services or whose incomes derive from social protection programmes are also in line to suffer disproportionately from austerity programmes. 2010: 19) Second. grasping it as processes of electoral competition between established parties. They suggest that some parties have the capacity to gain electoral advantage by promising to impose austerity measures. the institutionalist approach takes too narrow a view of politics. are able to claim credit for cutting social policy. The exacerbation of inequality points to something of the contradictory politics of austerity. 2011. 2012 . Duménil and Lévy. This points to the ways in which new landscapes of inequality get mapped on to existing ones. liberal and religious parties can win votes from retrenching the welfare state. However. It is not enough. Hall.sagepub. 2005 for a more complex discussion of the relationship between neo-liberalism and welfare states). 2008 and see also Hartmann. 2011). and not enough on what Giger and Nelson (2010) call ‘credit claiming’. in turn. since both public service use and benefits are already (largely) ‘targeted’ on vulnerable and impoverished groups. 2011. Crouch. (Giger and Nelson. we want to suggest. Can ideology bridge the gap? Does magical thinking work? Among whom? And what happens when it doesn’t? Austerity and the problem of consent The institutionalist view of welfare politics traced in the previous section has tended to dominate political science at University of East Anglia on July 30.306 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) forthcoming). However. rather than avoiding blame. which. we want to insist that politics does not only involve party Downloaded from csp. focuses analytical attention too much on tactics of ‘blame avoidance’ in political discourse. In particular. First. Plans for further ‘targeting’ will increase vulnerability as benefits become more conditional and services become increasingly means tested and difficult to access. The promise of growth has always appeared rather ephemeral against the promised pain and suffering of the austere present and immediate future. with their study revealing that the electoral consequences of retrenchment differ according to party family and that some parties. Our argument about the ‘alchemy’ of austerity – and the proliferation of different forms of ‘magical thinking’ – suggest the need to engage with the problem of consent. emphasizing the political problems facing parties or governments seeking to radically reform welfare states. to point to the intensification of neo-liberalism or even a shift to new hyper-liberal forms (see. it may overstate popular/electoral attachment to welfare states.

these conditions seem a little less reliable in the current conjuncture. The purpose of austerity is. 2011 on the ‘feral rich’. On the contrary. In an article for The Guardian in 2010. there is little perceived equity of sacrifice. The promise of hardship sits uncomfortably alongside the glittering culture of consumption elaborated during the last three decades. He traced four conditions that had enabled post-war austerity to command popular assent (although not enthusiastic support): a sense of shared purpose. 2011). 2012). ordinary people being sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed by a ‘feral elite’ (for example. He argued that creating the political will for austerity among a post-war public was ‘a hard sell then’ but it is considerably harder in the present.economist. in public spaces and on the streets (Jerram. see also Charles Moore. Kynaston offered a comparative account of the two austerities (while managing to avoid the phrase ‘first time as tragedy. Politics also takes place outside official political settings.sagepub. Is austerity a punishment for excess? Has over-consumption – won at the cost of increasing public and private indebtedness – turned on us? Is there a (puritanical) penalty to be paid for those dubious pleasures? Did we. This is. Despite the Coalition’s commitment to ‘we are all in this together’. the rapid restoration of banking bonuses (and the accompanying lack of shame) has consistently dramatized the profound – and deepening – inequalities of sacrifice. the Compass. despite the gesture to cut Child Benefit to some of the middle classes. at best. shared on a sort of grudging acquiescence about the condition of the global economy. then. In the present. Perhaps not everyone needs to suffer? Alternatively. second time as farce’). consumption might be reworked around ‘austerity chic’ or what the Economist in 2009 nicely termed ‘ostentatious parsimony’ (http://www. and a culture of restraint (perhaps on the way to building a ‘new Jerusalem’). Austerity in the context of British political at University of East Anglia on July 30. see also Newman. 2011a. 2012 . and Peter Oborne. a perceived equity of sacrifice. 2007) and a collective memory of rationing. evokes two sorts of political sensibility: the promise of hardship and the memory of post-war collective solidarities. the public debt and the ‘necessity’ of tough measures (producing echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s claim that ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) which typically evoked grudging compliance rather than enthusiastic support). suspect that ‘having it so good’ was too good to be true? Austerity thus produces an odd politics of affect in a society dominated by the promises of growth and everexpanding consumption. The two are combined. Of course. as commentators of both left and right have observed.Clarke & Newman 307 attachment and electoral behaviour (not least because they look less and less ‘popular’). 2011. indeed. Austerity in the UK necessarily invites echoes of ‘Austerity Britain’ (Kynaston. although not very stably. ‘In the Public Interest’ there are both uneven distribution and bizarre reconciliations of conflicting desires to take into account. making do and mending. Downloaded from csp. an aura of hope and a degree of public confidence in the political class.

2012 . how much more instability should we expect? (Ponticelli and Voth. political assassinations. and in the resentments against migrants and others who do not belong and are therefore not entitled. with high levels of instability and unrest tending to be associated with periods of fiscal consolidation. A recent historical study of the relationship between government austerity measures and social and political unrest in Europe explores the likelihood of instability and dissent: We use a long panel dataset covering almost a century. In terms of outcome variables. The causes. It is played out in the form of riots among the dispossessed (or those denied their right to consume). the frequency of incidents appears to rise particularly fast as expenditure cuts pass the 3% threshold’ (Ponticelli and Voth. and from frequently troubled economic conditions to prosperity. and then ask – for every percentage cut in government spending. They explicitly link the issue of unrest back to narrower politicalgovernmental calculations.sagepub. and general strikes rises monotonically with the scale of cuts. It leads to both withdrawal from politics and the rise of populist ‘anti-political’ parties and movements. consent is not assured. In sum. 2011: 3). social and political conditions. assassinations. 2011: 2) This is not the place to go into the methodological approach taken by Ponticelli and Voth (though it may be worth noting that the acronym for their index of unrest is CHAOS). These span the full range of forms of unrest. and for all types of unrest’ (Ponticelli and Voth. government crises. and attempted revolutions. forms and effects of disaffection are multiple. and in the demonstrations. Expenditure cuts carry a significant risk Downloaded from csp. It produces increasing cynicism and scepticism alongside new forms of commitment and mobilization. 1919 to 2009. In the case of demonstrations. They conclude that ‘[t]he frequency of demonstrations. Only in the case of riots is there a small decline for the biggest cut-backs. This paper suggests one possible reason why austerity measures are often avoided – fear of instability and unrest. at University of East Anglia on July 30. It can be found in almost all sub-periods.308 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) However. but their study tries to track in a close way the relationship between specific government spending decisions and forms of social action. from relatively minor disturbances to armed attempts to overthrow the established political order. marches and occupations across European cities against austerity. We compile a new index that summarizes these variables. The continent went from high levels of instability in the first half of the 20th century to relatively low ones in the second. 2011: 26). It thus provides a rich laboratory of changing economic. It is manifested in the persistent outrage about bankers’ bonuses and MPs’ expenses. we focus on riots. they argue that a ‘general pattern of association between unrest and budget cuts holds in Europe for the period 1919-2009. focusing on Europe.

demonstrations and riots to suggest that austerity is not entirely popular. 2011: 25–26) To date. and attempts at revolutionary overthrow of the established order. While these are low-probability events in normal years. ranging. 2010a. we explore one particular terrain on which consent is being sought – and contested: the various imaginings of morality that occupy the spaces between economy and society in the present. political assassinations. 2012 . Some of the EU states have been experiencing similar processes of disaffection as they implement austerity packages (whether externally demanded or not). though there have certainly been enough strikes. Hall. called ‘disaffected consent’ – a contradictory and unstable mixture in which disaffection of various kinds seems to be becoming stronger (see also Clarke. as we will show. anti-government demonstrations. Kynaston’s four foundations for the post-war popular participation in austerity look – at best – somewhat shaky and unstable in the present. other articulations of morality and economy have also been in play. 2011). and rioting in particular) through attempts to imagine a re-moralized capitalism to unstable popular sentiments of the relationships between social and economic justice. to a sense of collective obligation). the contemporary politics of austerity combines an economic logic with a particular moral appeal (to shared sacrifice and suffering. the combination of external pressures and domestic expectations could stress the relationships between people and government to breaking point. The contested moral economies of austerity In this final section. to fairness and freedom. … High levels of instability show a particularly clear connection with fiscal consolidation. in a thought-provoking contribution to an event on ‘Culture (and Cultural Studies) after the Crunch’ in February 2009. Nevertheless. This may act as a potent brake on governments. They may enable a degree of acquiescence to ‘economic necessity’ but this is a form of ‘passive consent’ rather than a popular mobilization. from the attempt to force a separation between the moral and the economic (in the moral authoritarian view of crime. In this section we borrow the idea of ‘moral economies’ Downloaded from csp. As African and Latin American governments found when trying to manage the structural adjustments demanded by the IMF. This partial and unevenly distributed acquiescence resembles what Jeremy Gilbert. It is certainly hard to tell who believes that we really are ‘all in this together’. (Ponticelli and Voth.Clarke & Newman 309 of increasing the frequency of riots. the European (and North American) reaction to austerity has been uneven.sagepub. As we have at University of East Anglia on July 30. general strikes. they become much more common as austerity measures are implemented. blame and responsibility.

are of course ignored. as consisting of a selfish form of individualism.P. and increasing general at University of East Anglia on July 30. crime and riot have always been understood as abnormal disruptions of an imagined stable social order: they are precisely grasped as ‘disorderly conduct’. and its resolution. fighting inequality. centres on an attempt to separate the social and the economic. 2010: 26–27) This separation – accomplished through a very distinctive anti-statism – was at the heart of David Cameron’s major speech on the Big Society (the 2009 Hugo Young Lecture). Indeed there is a worrying paradox that because of its effect on personal and social responsibility. the argument identified the sort of ‘demoralization’ that Conservative critics (from Gertrude Himmelfarb to Charles Murray) have recurrently viewed as the result of dependency-inducing statism and welfarism. in which he argued that the size. the recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity. More precisely.sagepub. protest. conditions. 2012 . Victorian fears and fantasies about the disorderly. but selfishness and individualism… (Cameron. forms of unrest. Cameron returned to this landscape (the social as moral). because of which people refuse to take responsibility for themselves. In this articulation of the moral and the economic. (Finlayson. This time he identified the ‘broken society’ as the result of moral. But his analysis of the sources of this selfishness focuses on the deleterious effects of the socialdemocratic state upon self-reliance … Causes to which the left might draw attention. 2009b: 1) Following the 2011 ‘riots’. the feckless and the workshy). So too there is a long history of understanding them as the result of moral failings. It names the crisis as moral. As Alan Finlayson has observed. including the effects of neoliberal competitiveness and inequality. at the core of this is an effort to refute claims that economic processes (in particular. each other or their society. economic inequalities) have social effects: Cameron’s is a fairly well-developed argument about the nature of the current crisis facing Britain. not advancing the progressive aims of reducing poverty. dangerous and depraved lower orders have uncomfortable similarities with contemporary obsessions with the urban ‘underclass’ in its many guises (hoodies. chavs. single mothers. The Conservative position. Just as Victorian investigators intrepidly made their way into ‘Darkest England’ and brought back alarming reports about the deprived Downloaded from csp. rather than economic. Certainly. which has dominated the Coalition’s policy and discourse. scope and role of government in Britain has reached a point where it is now inhibiting.310 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) from the work of E. Thompson and others to illuminate the contested articulations of moral and economic.

of course. 1978). It includes other sorts of enemies of the righteous. Only ‘worklessness’ threatens to connect the two domains – and in a troubling way. Obviously. (Cameron. 5). readily juxtaposed to the ‘law-abiding’ majority: People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets and make them safe for the law-abiding.) We have. It is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated…. The sustained onslaught on welfare benefits Downloaded from csp. p. 18 August 2011. 2011) But the law abiding is not a simple category. 2010). criminals. I have this very clear message for those people who are responsible: you will feel the full force of the law and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishment.sagepub. 2012 . vandalising. the Coalition has been marking out the moral terrain: identifying the varieties of the ‘enemy within’. but left us wondering what ‘impure’ criminality might look like. This sort of turn to a moral authoritarianism seems deeply rooted in the political culture (as does its racializing tendency). with some of the highest rates of unemployment (see The Guardian. In practice.. the proclamation of austerity seems to have given this authoritarianism an extra boost in which a huge emphasis is placed on ‘responsibility’ and the failures of responsibility that lead to crime and disorder (Clarke. moral character and the possibilities of moral rescue or reformation. despite the English riots of 2011 occurring in some of the most economically deprived areas of the country. so we have a contemporary fascination with ‘poverty porn’ (Mooney and at University of East Anglia on July 30. thieving and robbing. In a series of moves that seem endemic to this sort of moral authoritarianism. (This hyperinflation of criminality was presumably intended to be emphatic. worklessness is typically named as a problem of ‘character’ (the alter-ego of the moral dimension) or the legacies of ineffective state interference rather than the economy itself.Clarke & Newman 311 and depraved. Scenes of people looting. been here before: the UK has proved recurrently vulnerable to such ‘law and order’ politics and the temptation to ‘police the crisis’ seems irresistible (Hall et al. rioters. However. thugs and the like provide a dramaturgical starting point. So. forthcoming). This particular articulation of the economic and the moral enables a profound denial of issues of socio-economic inequality and their social effects. This obsession always turns on questions of morality. These are sickening scenes. looters. political leaders insisted that what had occurred was ‘pure’ or ‘sheer’ criminality and needed to be met by the full force of the law.

while it is virtuous to put people into work (and only fair to those already in work). the latter orchestrated through the governmental repertoire of fairness. demanding alternatives to neo-liberal austerity. There has been a proliferating array of critiques of financial institutions.312 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) during 2011 and 2012 has involved excluding the welfare dependant from the nation of ‘hard-working. Downloaded from at University of East Anglia on July 30. Despite this. Here the morality of ‘fairness’ has been reworked to insist that it is ‘unfair’ for benefit recipients to receive more than their hard-working equivalents (justifying the imposition of a ‘benefit cap’). responsible families’. then. can be viewed as the enactment of consumer identities in conditions of poverty and disaffection: disaffected consumers rather than disaffected citizens? Meanwhile Occupy UK and UK Uncut engaged in political struggles in – and about – public space. the brave fire fighter) and resentment about the privileges enjoyed across the public–private division. from such diverse institutions such as the Work Foundation. the disturbances in English cities in the summer of 2011. substantial public service union mobilizations took place through 2011 and 2012 and 2012 opened with a major private sector pension dispute (Unilever). Disaffection.sagepub. Here the paradox of ‘virtuous necessity’ appears again: we can no longer afford ‘excessive’ welfare benefits. and disconnection found some sort of expression. The public sector pensions dispute of 2011–12 in particular opened up new lines of perceived inequality and blame as those with private sector or no pension oscillated between solidaristic support for public sector workers (the ‘angelic’ nurse. Here too the alchemic combination of virtuous necessity seems to have been effective: we must do this because we cannot afford it. bankers’ bonuses. As we noted earlier. and excessive corporate pay in the media. Not everyone is signed up to the austerity package. Such mobilizations also gave voice to alternative articulations of morality and economy. and analyses of the deficiencies of current forms of capitalism from within the academy. in which popular sensibilities of justice. (ir) responsibility. where shop windows were smashed and goods looted. The Coalition has also sustained a campaign of vilification against public sector workers (source of a major drain on public finances as employees) and public sector trade unionists (source of an unfair drain on public resources as holders of excessive pension rights). In the end. we must do this because it would be morally right. 2012 . the Coalition appeared to successfully mobilize public opinion around the twin track of ‘unaffordable’ and ‘unfair’ (in comparison with the private sector) public pensions. The question of how to conceptualize the paradox of simultaneous acceptance and dissent of the Coalition’s alchemic austerity is posed in Gilbert’s notion of ‘disaffected consent’. the Church of England and from political think-tanks such as Compass – the latter going so far as to develop an alternative plan (Plan B) to regenerate the UK economy (Compass. can be performed in multiple ways and does not necessarily imply passive compliance. 2011b).

‘crony capitalism’ while Norman himself was turning to the idea of ‘fake capitalism’. even when injected with the spice of nationalist populism (against the EU or perhaps Argentina). the latter about how to change the way in which business – especially financial business – is conducted. Nick Clegg attacked what he termed.. has not yet stabilized popular support or consent. In other words. Andrew Rawnsley (2012) argued that they amounted to little: what mattered. in autumn 2011. in 2009. Scott. E. short termist. had warned against the domination of a debt fuelled. As the effects of austerity became more marked as the cuts deepened in late 2011 and early 2012.sagepub. Thompson used the term to describe the set of Downloaded from csp. Nevertheless we think that the emergence of increasingly ‘moral’ framings of the economy is significant. Edelman. in the minds of the voters. so we saw increasing emphasis in political discourse on moral and ethical concerns. Thompson and other writers on moral economy (e. In arguing this we look back to the work of E. 1971).com at University of East Anglia on July 30. uncertain about direction. Cameron had.g. The Coalition’s separation of the economic from the moral has left them vulnerable to counter-claims that economies should be moral. 2012 . the eruptions of the Occupy movement nationally and globally and the continued failure of the ‘expansionary contraction’ model of austerity have created a troubled landscape in which to conduct politics. and engagements with the ethical and moral conduct of capitalism in general and financial and some corporate institutions in particular.Clarke & Newman 313 Somewhere in the problematic articulation of the moral and the economic. 2005. was which party would be viewed as most competent in managing the economy. following Jesse Norman. Thompson articulated the idea of a ‘moral economy’ in an analysis of food riots in 18th century England as a way of resisting both simple determinism and moral judgements of disorder. between engagements with how best the economy should be managed to restore growth (and by implication which parties – or technocratic agents – are best placed to govern those processes).P. Vince Cable. This is despite the implosion of the main political opposition. spoken of ‘moral markets’ and later turned to ideas of ‘responsible capitalism’. we want to suggest. The alchemic combination of austerity with moral authoritarianism. Thompson. divided capitalism between ‘good producers’ and ‘bad predators’. reckless and unsustainable version of capitalism. 1976. Reviewing these different interventions. the struggle for consent is being fought out. Ed Miliband. There is a deep fault-line. The former is structured through a narrative of how best to restore ‘business as usual’. It is clear that the combined effects of popular doubt and suspicion. the restoration of ‘business as usual’ would retain its dominance over any popular – and populist – interventions to rein in the excesses of capitalism. strategy or even tactics. in 2010.P. not least in offering a counterpoint to the moral framings of ‘deficient’ populations noted earlier.

But as Edelman has argued. Instead. First. contracts and legal identities but also by less formal norms. calculations and judgements of social actors. equity. 2008). their popular persistence suggests two at University of East Anglia on July 30. when economic practices become detached from their moral economy. it appears to induce a fantastic projection: that anyone could – and indeed should – be able to do Downloaded from csp. subsistence and forms of social solidarity. discontent. Nevertheless. rightness and fairness continue to circulate as significant organizing principles in social and political life despite the dominance of neo-liberal politics (see also Newman and Yeates. more widely). forced disconnections between established moral economies and economic practice. Second. but persistent. 1976) is similarly addressed to forms of shared popular understandings of economy. There are of course difficulties about borrowing this concept in ways that detach it from a set of specific historical and geographical settings and applying it to the present urban post-industrial context. by Scott. many of the central elements of ‘moral economy’ have a widespread contemporary resonance across movements in different parts of the global South. The capacity of the rich to insulate themselves from everyday experiences diminishes their sense of moral connectedness to the rest (see. in different ways. Toynbee and Walker. social justice. These disjunctures have proved resistant to attempts to inject the ideological glue of the Big Society (and earlier attempts to humanize or socialize neo-liberalism). We are struck by the uneven and imperfect. outrage and disorder are likely to result.sagepub. Ideas of justice. echoes of these conceptions in contemporary Britain (and Europe. 2012 . expectations and ideas of obligation and entitlement. even apparently ‘disembedded’ economies have a social and moral dimension through which they are embedded in the everyday expectations. The different overlaid developments of globalizing corporate capitalism in the last three decades have. deepening social inequalities have induced both discomfort and discontent – making the claim that ‘we are all in this together’ implausible. The use of this idea in peasant studies (for example. Thin claims about ‘fairness’ and shared sacrifices sound ‘merely rhetorical’ and tend to be seen as moralizing rather than moral. following Thompson. whose breach – in times of dearth and crisis – provoked popular action against those who sought to exploit the crisis about which he was writing (the ‘food riots’ of 18th century England). Indeed. all economies are also moral economies: they are organized not merely by explicit rules of exchange. These ideas are certainly contested. often contradictory and may not constitute the widely shared sensibility or structure of feeling that is described by Thompson (that connects different social classes and strata in norms of solidarity). Instead. That is. Thompson himself borrowed the term from Chartist and other critics of capitalism who used it as a contrast to the dominant figures of laissez-faire political economy.314 C r i t i c a l S o c i a l P o l i c y 32(3) shared understandings (‘norms and obligations’) of how an economy should work. for example. 2008).

for example. the rise of cynicism. Instead. the exclusions associated with worklessness. the precarity or unpredictability of employment. scepticism and anti-politics: the privatization of disaffection rather than its public and political mobilization. profoundly problematic relationships between desert and reward. we have had failed projects – not in terms of the reworking of the British economy into a global form (and the denationalization of British capital?) – but in terms of being able to cement a strong political bloc. This condition of disaffectedness may have many sources. 2009). It may. Moral economies are sensibilities or what Raymond Williams (1977) called ‘structures of feeling’. disgruntled and. 2012 . it draws on residual sensibilities and discourses of belonging. withdrawal. But this consent is conditional and grudging. institutionalize a hegemonic political-cultural formation of the modern. Each of these has the capacity to increase ‘disaffection’ as the implied moral economy of the new capitalism fails. At other points. It suggests a delicate balance in which consent is (still) being given: there is only limited dissent and active counter-mobilization (though perhaps more of it now than under New Labour rule). In a longer view. In many of its forms. hegemony has not quite been restored since the multiple crises of the 1970s. Meanwhile. more depressingly.sagepub. rather than enthusiastic. point to disengagement. These promises produce multiple sites of antagonism and resentment: unfulfilled desires as work. entitlement and ‘order’. perhaps. The play of contradictions. and stabilize a new social settlement. Karen Ho’s analysis of liquidity. it comes to voice through emergent formations – the sensibility that another world is possible. uncommitted. It may be compliant (and even calculating). and the degradations of authoritarian post-welfarism. it explores the ‘broken promises’ of both older moral economies and the new order of mass consumption. It certainly appears at many different sites and takes many different forms. wealth and consumption are practically within everyone’s grasp. But it is certainly characterized by forms of ‘disaffectedness’: unsatisfied. It points to incomplete hegemonic projects and to the sources and resources on which people might draw and around which they might mobilize. desirable and imaginable.Clarke & Newman 315 this (see. It is precisely this complex condition – the unfinished and unsettled field that Gilbert’s idea of ‘disaffected consent’ points to so effectively. disengaged. real or material character that we normally attribute to economies and economics. They stand in sharp contrast to the at University of East Anglia on July 30. promises of growth have claimed that work. Downloaded from csp. despite the rise and fall of different political projects – Thatcherism and New Labour – that promised to construct new settlements and new hegemonic formations. antagonisms and tensions across this field of possible articulations of the moral and the economic leaves an unfinished political problem. And elsewhere. wealth or the pleasures of consumption do not materialize. liquidation and liquid lives in her study of Wall Street.

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Sullivan. September [http:// ssrn. political and organizational change. with particular attention to the roles played by managerialism and consumerism. Publications include Working the Spaces of Power: Feminism.Clarke & Newman 319 Yeldan AE (2001) ‘On the IMF-directed Disinflation Program in Turkey: A Program for Stabilization and Austerity or a Recipe for Impoverishment and Financial Chaos?’. Summoning the Active Citizen: Responsibility. 2009). Policy and Society (SAGE. Nick Smith. 2007). Politics and Power (with Janet Newman. 2012).. Social Science Research Network. Recent publications include Creating Citizen-Consumers (with Janet Newman. accessed 28 January 2012. SAGE. Politics and Power (with John Clarke. Janet newman is Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Social Science at the Open University. 2001). Choice and Participation (with E. Activism and Neo-liberalism (Bloomsbury. Participation and Political Renewal (with M. Publics. SAGE. and the remaking of publics and publicness. 2012]. Creating Citizen-Consumers (with John Clarke et al. Her research interests include new formations of at University of East Anglia on July 30. SAGE. Power. Amsterdam University Press. 2009). Policy Press. Barnes and H. Downloaded from csp. He is currently working on international projects on citizenship and processes of governing schooling through inspection. 2011). where he has worked for over thirty years. and Modernising Governance: New Labour. Elizabeth Vidler and Louise Westmarland. SAGE. His work explores the political and cultural conflicts over the relationships between welfare. Tonkens. 2007). Author Biographies John Clarke is a Professor of Social Policy at the Open University. 2007) and Publics. state and nation.

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