Some politicians are calling for “the end of austerity.” It is a magical political phrase. To the general public it conveys generosity as opposed to austere, miserly scroogishness. To public servants it sounds hopeful; “Ooo, a possible pay rise or more jobs.”
I am a Scotsman, so no stereotypes please. I am torn two-ways on austerity. On the one hand, I want to be generous to hard working public servants and create more jobs for people. On the other hand, I am realistic about debt. I have been in personal debt and found it hard to get out. Since then, I have always avoided using debt, except for paying off my mortgage, which seemed to take forever.
I now teach people on the Christians Against Poverty money course, and I know the pain which debt causes many people. And so, I would like our nation to be a zero credit nation. I would like our budget to fit our tax income. I would also like to be generous.
I have lived in a few post-colonial nations, which have the same political systems which we built in Victorian Britain; the police, hospitals, schools, prisons. In these post-colonial countries, public sector pay is paltry and so encourages corruption. Anyone with power uses that power to enhance earnings. The policeman who catches someone on a mobile phone whilst driving or not wearing a seat belt or dropping litter can make life awkward unless you are willing to pay her off.
On the other hand, some nations make public officials very wealthy, taxing the nation hard and transferring the money to those in with the in-crowd.
The UK doesn’t fit either of the social models above, it’s neither corrupt nor nepatistic, though standars in public life are perceived by many to be slipping. We are, however, relatively generous. Public servants are, by and large, comfortable, and it is argued that pay is excessive in some cases.
So, austerity or generosity?
In our current situation, the ending of austerity will most probably mean bankruptcy, of the Greek variety. When it comes, salary and spending cuts are forced upon us. If we do avoid bankruptcy, then we still face decades of paying back the debt, with austerity passed to the next generation. My children and their children will be paying for my generosity.
Austerity is the choice to keep a lid on debt to avoid bankruptcy. Being generous at the wrong time is false generosity. We continue to spend 20% more than we pay in tax. We borrow an extra £107,000,000,000 each year on top of £1,560,000,000,000. It’s an eye watering amount of money.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, the apostle Paul encourages generosity. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
And the prophet Habakkuk warns the nation against piling up debt (Hab 2:6-7).
Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?—
and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be booty for them.
The foolish politician will borrow now and pay back later. The wise politician will show that debt is a problem and call the country to work together to pay down the debt for the sake of our children and our children’s children.