The consensus is turning against austerity

The global organisations who supported Osborne are now warning against excessive austerity.

In making the case for his deficit reduction programme, George Osborne has often leaned heavily on arguments from authority. Here, from his speech to the 2010 Conservative conference, is a typical example:

On one side there is the IMF, the OECD, the credit rating agencies, the bond markets, the European Commission, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Governor of the Bank of England, most of British business, two of our great historic political parties, one of the Miliband brothers, Tony Blair, and the British people.

On the other side is Ed Miliband and the trade union leaders who put him where he is.

But even in October 2010, when the austerity consensus was at its height, this was to understate the opposition. As Mehdi pointed out at the time, those on the other side also included Barack Obama, US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, FT columnists Martin Wolf and Samuel Brittan, Keynes's biographer Robert Skidelsky. One could add that 53 per cent of the "the British people" voted for parties opposed to the Conservatives' economic programme.

Still, Osborne could comfort himself with the thought that much of the political and economic establishment was on his side. What he forgot was that throughout history the economic consensus has often proved disastrously wrong. Now, after austerity has comprehensively failed in Britain and Europe, the intellectual tide is beginning to turn.

In a statement ahead of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos next week, the heads of the IMF, the OECD, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank have all warned against too fast a pace of deficit reduction. They declare that fiscal consolidation should be used "to promote rather than reduce prospects for growth and employment" and should be applied "in a socially responsible manner."

Of course, none of these institutions is calling for deficit reduction to be abandoned. They're merely recognising the need for a more balanced approach of the kind that Labour has consistently argued for. Even the credit rating agenices now recognise the risks of too great a pace of austerity. Explaining its decision to downgrade the credit ratings of nine eurozone countries including France, Standard & Poor's - hitherto an advocate of extreme fiscal tightening - cited concerns over growth, not borrowing. "A reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating," it warned, "as domestic demand falls in line with consumers' rising concerns about job security."

That the consensus has begun to shift is unsurprising. In Europe, austerity has increased, rather than diminished, the threat of a Greek default and the collapse of the single currency. In Britain, Osborne's programme has entirely failed to deliver the growth and jobs that he promised. The Chancellor told the House of Commons in November 2010 that private sector job creation would "far outweigh" the job losses in the public sector. But the number of public sector jobs lost in the last year (276,000) now exceeds the number of private sector jobs created (262,000). In the last quarter, 67,000 public sector jobs were lost but just 5,000 private sector jobs were created. Moreover, if we reclassify RBS and Lloyds as private sector institutions, there were 3,000 job losses in the private sector.

Delivering his emergency Budget in June 2010, Osborne told the Commons: "Some have suggested that there is a choice between dealing with our debts and going for growth. That is a false choice. The crisis in the Eurozone shows that unless we deal with our debts there will be no growth."But rather than stimulating growth, Osborne's policies have strangled it. Over the last year, Britain has grown at a slower rate than ever EU country except Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovenia and Denmark (see the final column on this Eurostat chart).

For all this, it is the Tories, not Labour, who enjoy a three-point lead in the latest YouGov poll. At the very moment that Ed Balls has been vindicated on the economy, it is his party that is losing the political battle. Labour is learning, to its horror, that you can combine austerity and popularity.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.