Charles Woolfson, Professor of Labour Studies, REMESO, Linköping University

Austerity as ‘the new normal’: myths, migration and contradictions – lessons from Europe’s periphery

Austerity is the ‘new normal’. Among these costs are significant increases in poverty, growing social, political and industrial ‘disenfranchisement’, labour market segmentation, as well as unprecedented and continuing emigration of a new austeriat. The paper offers a cautionary message to austerity governments seeking to restore economic growth and pursue fiscal rectitude at the expense of labour in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Drawing on the experience of the imposition of radical austerity measures in the Baltic states, so-called ‘internal devaluation, the paper challenges the myth that austerity can be achieved with popular consent, and in a socially and economically ‘costless’ manner. Baltic-style austerity has now become a template for the international financial community, for the European Commission and more widely. The paper argues that, contra the myth of ‘success’, austerity is compromising the longer-run sustainability of societies which follow this path whilst simultaneously undermining prospects for European integration and the wider transference of a European Social Model.

Charles Woolfson is Professor of labour studies, Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University, Sweden. Between 1999 and 2009 he was resident in the Baltic states, and was for three years (2004-2007) a European Commission ‘Marie Curie Chair’ at the Univesity of Latvia. Together with Jeffrey Sommers, he is co-editor of The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-Economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

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