Thomas de Monchaux on “austerity,” the word and concept, in the New York Times, hinting at the multiple implications of austerity (including a sort of implicit luxury):
Economically, austerity — which the Germans, among others, are intent on forcing upon their southern brethren — can sound like a good idea, but might actually exacerbate the conditions it ostensibly ameliorates. One day, we might look back on cuts in public services and infrastructure during a downturn with the same disbelief with which today’s doctors recall the medieval medicine of deliberately cutting and bleeding the sick.
And yet austerity, the beautiful word alone, is simply irresistible. It feels decadent and vulgar to ask one’s government, or oneself, not to be austere.
Despite a preference for austerity in architecture (de Monchaux’s central topic), the term austerity has never built the same kind of popular resonance in American political discourse. I think it has something to do with the need to avoid implying that Americans must be restricted or deprived in any way (although as de Monchaux points out, politicians are also artfully avoiding mentioning the fact that depriving their governments will have consequences that can only be described as austere.)