Friday, October 1, 2010

Cutting edge: Does fiscal austerity boost short-term growth? A new IMF paper thinks not

September 30, 2010

Most people, among them the tens of thousands of workers who rallied in Brussels on September 29th, believe that fiscal austerity leads to a shrinking economy, at least in the short run. Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, disagrees. In June he said that “the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect.” Arguing that a credible fiscal-consolidation plan would restore confidence, he said: “I firmly believe that in the current circumstances, confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery.”

With rich-world budget deficits averaging about 9% of GDP in 2009—up from only 1% in 2007—and their average public-debt-to-GDP ratio expected to hit 100% by the end of this year, austerity is a bullet that few rich countries will be able to dodge. But is it right to claim, as Mr Trichet and other devotees of “expansionary fiscal consolidations” do, that belt-tightening can actually aid growth in the short term? The intellectual backing for these claims comes from a study by two Harvard economists, Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, which studied past fiscal adjustments in rich countries. They found that, more often than not, fiscal adjustments that relied on spending cuts boosted growth, even in the very short run. But a new study by economists at the IMF reckons that the Harvard study was seriously flawed.


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