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Austerity Can Kill You


In 1962 the RCP (Royal College of Physicians) published a Report on Smoking and health in the UK. Using research by Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford Hill, the Report established conclusively the link between smoking - including passive smoking - and lung cancer, other lung diseases, heart disease and gastrointestinal illnesses. It caused a sensation, and received an ambivalent, often hostile response from the media, governments and society. In 1962 tobacco "smoking was omnipresent, accepted, established." "[In the UK] around 70% of men and 40% of women smoked". It was "a world suffocated by the swirling clouds of tobacco" - "in pubs, cinemas, trains, buses, on the streets, and even in hospitals and schools." [from the RCP-Royal College of Physicians report on Fifty years since Smoking and Health – progress, lessons and priorities for a smoke-free UK, 2012].
Gradually government action reduced this phenomenon. By 2012 "... smoking is no longer the norm. Our schools, hospitals, pubs, cinemas and public transport are subject to smoke-free legislation. [In the UK] Only 21% of the population smokes. Government, media and society have largely accepted the need to protect people, particularly children, from much of the harm associated with tobacco smoke." Still, in the UK it took fifty years to achieve such a large reduction in smoking incidence. Smokers are still 21% of the population too many, they represent glaring evidence of either irrationality or addiction or both, and the persistence of vested interests by tobacco and cigarettes producers.
Austerity - aiming at a balanced government budget, reducing expenditure and raising taxation even in the middle of an economic recession - also has been the norm for a very long time, and still is enshrined in the statutory policies of EU and EMU, of IMF and ECB. Yet we have known at least since 1936 (with the publication of Keynes' General Theory), indeed since 1933-35 (the dates of Michal Kalecki's anticipations of Keynesian propositions, see Robinson 1976 and Nuti 2004) that austerity can cause unnecessary, involuntary unemployment of labour and irreversible losses of income and consumption.
In our time and age austerity is more incomprehensible than smoking, were it not for the irrational fear of inflation in the middle of a recession, the generalised addiction to hyper-liberal ideologies and the vested interests of those who think they benefit from labour unemployment keeping workers "in their place". What is worse, austerity today is much more widespread than smoking, it is on the rise and is officially supported by our national and international authorities more than it ever was, while at least smoking is steadily declining not least because of progressive health policies worldwide.

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