Can't Pay, Won't Pay: Debt, the Myth of Austerity and the Failure of Green Investment

There is a false consensus around austerity, which prevents investment into supporting a sustainable economy. This report proposes establishing a Citizen's Audit to explore debt, its consequences and alternatives to repayment.

This report is taken from chapter 5 of Green House's book The Post-Growth Project: How the End of Economic Growth Could Bring a Fairer and Happier Society published in 2014.

This paper presents a liberating idea: the idea that we are not burdened down with unpayable debts that presage a decade of low growth, hard work and a miserable existence. Rather we live in a rich and vibrant society but one which is disfigured by an exploitative and iniquitous financial system. As a society, we need to face our debts head on and make an intelligent political decision about what to do about them. The decision to prioritise the repayment of debts no matter what the cost to public services is a political rather than an economic decision. It is thus not only valid but necessary to challenge the false consensus around the politics of austerity. The period of austerity we are living through also prevents the investment in the infrastructure to support a sustainable economy that is urgently necessary. To achieve a participatory and engaged debate about these issues the paper proposes the establishment of a Citizens’ Audit which will seek to explore the size of our debt, who it is owed to, the consequences of repaying it, and alternatives to repayment. As in Latin America, the debt Audit will be focused around the concept of odious debt: when citizens are not clear that they are acquiring responsibility for debts then they cannot be held responsible for them.

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