New York Times correspondent Alan Cowell issued a moralistic “Memo from London” on Monday on the humble joys of post-World War II austerity compared to today, where the "have-nots" are tempted by things they cannot have: “As the riots in London and elsewhere in August seemed to show, the profound gulf between haves and have-nots has been magnified by the inequalities and envies of a society that has built its newest altars to consumption and greed.”
Cowell used the memoir of a left-wing intellectual to make his point in Monday’s “New Austerity Incites a Bitterness the Postwar Generation Did Without.”
Before he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2010, the historian Tony Judt recalled childhood days just after World War II in a debilitated Britain that was slowly ceding its empire and its pre-eminence.
“Clothes were rationed until 1949, cheap and simple ‘utility furniture’ until 1952, food until 1954,” he wrote in a memoir, concluding that austerity in “that bare-bones age” was “not just an economic condition: it aspired to a public ethic.”
It was not just in Britain.
The difference now is that the taste for wealth, the aspiration to automatic betterment and the assumption of ever-expanding horizons have become universal, cemented by the growth of the European Union and the adoption of a single currency, the euro, that has spread a leavening of prosperity among the 17 countries in the union that use it.
In Mr. Judt’s early days, after the grinding deprivation of a world war, austerity trumped global conflict. Now, the point of departure is prosperity, a fool’s paradise in which Europeans came to see affluence as a state of being, a birthright.
As the riots in London and elsewhere in August seemed to show, the profound gulf between haves and have-nots has been magnified by the inequalities and envies of a society that has built its newest altars to consumption and greed.
In Mr. Judt’s day, austerity guaranteed a minimum level of access to basic supplies, the harbinger of better days; now, austerity is about the removal or diminution of jobs, pensions, comforts and benefits that have accrued since then -- the herald, thus, of much darker times.
Previously, the London-based Cowell has used his reporting to flash his personal opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.