Mark Steel: Austerity? Actually there is an alternative

Until now the argument has been that there's no alternative. We have to slash public spending and wages because there's so much debt that otherwise there'll be chaos. The joy of this is it saves having to make a case for your actions, so it ought to be used more often. Journalists accused of phone hacking could say: "I had no choice but to listen to a dead soldier's voicemail because otherwise there'd be chaos. Just look at Greece, they didn't hack any phones and look at the mess they're in."

So to stop the debt engulfing us we have to do things like shut down libraries. Because a glance at our economy tells you the biggest area of expenditure is libraries.

It was excessive lending that led to the credit crisis, and what are the only places that exists solely to lend – libraries.

Then this argument was applied to whole countries. The Greeks HAVE to accept cuts: there's no alternative. Most people must assume they were wantonly blowing all of Europe's money, saying: "Let's get Elton John to scrub the Parth-enon. He'll charge two million a day, but the Germans will cough up, so who cares."

But Greece has some of the poorest areas of Europe, which will be affected most by the bailout agreement, with reports that people might starve. So if they caused the crisis by not starving, what were they eating? Are there parts of Crete where villagers have been living off emerald flan? Do they say: "We thought the state-funded puddings made from grated Van Gogh paintings would go on forever?"

They must be told: "If you don't starve, there'll be chaos, so the quicker you start starving the better."

Maybe muggers will adopt this approach and instead of pushing pensioners against a wall they'll say: "Give me your wallet, otherwise Europe will fall apart and it will be your fault." But now across Europe it's being suggested the poor shouldn't be made to pay. In the UK, the national debt is equivalent to the sum the richest 1,000 have become richer by in the past four years. Presumably they can't be made to give it back, as they'd scream: "Please don't make us go back to the pitiful way we had to live in 2008, that's cruel." But there may be a way round that, by pointing out: "Sorry, Mr Ecclestone and Mr Abramovich: there's no alternative."