It is very strange that austerity has come to have negative connotations. According to Webster, austerity is the “quality of being austere,” or “showing strict self-discipline and self-denial.”
If ever a time cried out for those qualities, it is now. I believe there are few Americans who do not believe they possess those attributes, and we have demonstrated them in abundance before. There must be something standing in the way of our doing so again.
I believe that something is an unwillingness to be the one who gets the ball rolling. Nobody wants to park their car in the garage and walk to the store when their neighbor fires up their SUV to carry them three houses down the block. Nobody is willing to be the only “loser” who gives up their home in a gated community to move into a trailer park until they get back on solid ground.
Americans will gladly band together for a common cause and share in the sacrifice, however, if the need for such action is made apparent. There is no better example of that than the days of WWII. With so many young men overseas fighting, unprecedented numbers of women put aside their traditional role of housewife to man the factories. Scarce resources were rationed with little complaint. Everyone was working for the common welfare.
The threat we face today is no less immediate and no less dire than the war, but is far less visible and understandable. A government has the duty to keep its citizens informed of the dangers they face and to motivate its people to combat them. And it must also set the example for them to follow.
Austerity must necessarily begin at the top. People cannot be expected to deny themselves of comforts when those above them fail to do the same. With the disparity in wealth existing today the sacrifice need not be proportionate; even a symbolic willing gesture might suffice. But above all, people cannot be expected to do with less when their government will not do the same.
We all dug this hole together in the absence of self-discipline and self-denial. Only austerity will let us fill it back in.