Cutting and Bleeding the Sick

Architecture professor Thomas De Monchaux, in a piece that has almost nothing to do with economic policy, helps to clarify thinking about the concept of austerity:

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.

Austerity has costs, De Monchaux tells us, in art, production, and yes, economics, such that we may not suspect them. But think about Apple, which well represents the austerity-in-design that I think De Monchaux would agree qualifies. In boiling everything down to raw necessities, Apple makes objects that are more expensive (often) and require greater sacrifices from those who built them (see Shenzhen).

People in desperate economic times, however, are not consumer products or art. Their lives and livelihoods ought not be “boiled down” to achieve some idealized notion of frugality, some platonic ideal that exists mainly in the minds of those who can always afford austere Apple objects.

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