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Public engagement and social science$
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Stella Maile and David Griffiths

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781447306863

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447306863.001.0001

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1976–the moral necessity of austerity

1976–the moral necessity of austerity

(p.69) Four 1976–the moral necessity of austerity
Public engagement and social science

Matthew Clement

Policy Press

Over the last few years, all political parties and virtually all media commentators have agreed that a regime of austerity and debt reduction is necessary to rescue the economy: There has been much dispute over the scale and speed of the measures to be taken by government, but little or no real disputing ‘the moral necessity of austerity’. Is this reaction to the economic crisis justified – or prompted by a moral panic whereby the manufacture of a consensus view seems to preclude the possibility of any alternative? Rather than speculate on the present situation, this paper reviews what happened the last time a UK government faced a financial impasse – the IMF crisis of 1976 – and discusses how necessary were the choices made and therefore whether the consequences could have been avoided. One of the purposes of creating ‘social science in the city’ is to gain a greater appreciation of what, why and how groups of people feel about these issues: in a small way, my sense of the initiative is to create a counter-hegemony to the dominant discourses. The media and the ruling politicians of Europe may remain convinced of the necessity of austerity, to them the ‘folk devils’ are those who dare to disagree, but arguably by understanding this phenomenon as a moral panic, publics can better undermine the myths that present no alternative to the current course.

Keywords:   moral panic, austerity, social democracy, neoliberalism, conspiracy theory

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