What is it?
A new era of restraint, sobriety and scarcity is upon us. Says who? Why, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, no less. There is no money left (at least in the government coffers) and that has implications for us all, whether we work in the public or private sectors. Belt-tightening in one part of the economy can cut off the circulation in other delicate parts too. It's like acupuncture gone wrong.
Where did it come from?
Long story. A decade of growth made Britain seem a sunny and hopeful place. But it now looks as if the Government was spending a lot more than it should have, so when the great financial crisis struck, the public finances were already overstretched. The massive bail-outs of the banks turned a molehill of debt into a mountain. But Britain has been here before - in almost every decade since the end of WWI - and coped. It should do so again ...
Where is it going?
The new austerity is in fact a great big economic experiment. The Treasury and Bank of England are arguing that unless the extreme budget deficit is tackled aggressively and quickly, worse trouble will ensue: interest rates will rise and the Government will find it harder to borrow in the international markets. But what if rising unemployment and social unrest drag the economy down? Is there a Plan B? 'Plan B,' one official said, 'is to make Plan A work.'
Gradient? Vertiginous (ie bloody steep).