Book review: Who Needs the Cuts?

We present a book review by member Olivier Tonneau, posted on our former blog in October 2013.

Taking responsibility

Barry Kushner and Saville Kushner. Who Needs The Cuts? Myths of the Economic Crisis.
London: Hesperus Press, 2013.

Do we want free healthcare at the point of use, welfare benefits for people unfortunate enough to have to depend on them, pensions for the elderly to live with the comfort of financial security and accessible education for our children and young people? If so then we need to fix our economic policy, taxation, spending, investment and borrowing to achieve our vision. Economics should not drive society, but rather society should drive economics.

We have heard it repeatedly: the UK is on the verge of bankruptcy. The debt has spiralled out of control due to irresponsible Labour policies and to our own lofty lifestyles. We have lived above our means for decades; the time has come to pay for the fun we had. The state cannot afford to finance the welfare state, and benefits must be drastically reduced, which will not only save money but force skivers to take responsibility for their lives and get back to work. That's the official story, and many people believe it. In Who Needs The Cuts? Kushner and Kushner argue that the story is false, despite its being continuously repeated in the media. They show how journalists (including Andrew Marr and Evan Davis) have deliberately hushed the voices of those – economists, political scientists – who disagree with this story. Then they proceed to re-examine the very terms in which the story is told. In a simple and accessible language, they do a wonderful job explaining concepts that are being used every day but never explained: What is public debt? Has it really never been as high as today? Who owns it? What is the deficit? What is a structural deficit? Who caused the mess we're in? Are Tory policies working?

Kushner and Kushner tell us that the UK's debt is perfectly manageable, and that the correct way of dealing with the crisis is investment, not cuts. They remind us that the UK's public debt was several times its current amount in the 1940s, when the welfare state was designed – including its centrepiece, the NHS. And finally, they remind us who caused the crisis: not the poor, but the fat bankers and greedy corporations who are still getting richer today, as the great bulk of the population is getting poorer. We all knew this back in 2008: how did we forget it? Kushner and Kushner's book is a welcome reminder that the solution to the current crisis is not squeezing the poor but taxing the rich in order to invest in health, education and affordable housing – thus creating jobs and improving people's lives.

Spending, not taxing: you have maybe guessed that Kushner and Kushner are dedicated followers of John Maynard Keynes. Indeed the last chapters of the book are a somewhat simplistic account of how Keynes created a wonderful world by regulating capitalism after WWII and how his work was undone by the ignominious Milton Friedman, who deregulated it. This is a story often told on the moderate Left, which is clearly where Kushner and Kushner stand – hence the praise they lavish on New Labour for investing generously in the NHS. Those who read George Monbiot's Captive State will probably cringe at this point. But don't let these minor issues turn you off Kushner and Kushner's short, pedagogical and highly readable introduction to austerity.

Olivier Tonneau

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