Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can austerity be self-defeating?

by Daniel Gros


November 29, 2011

With European governments cutting back on spending, many are asking whether this could make matters worse. In the UK for instance, recent OECD estimates suggest that ‘austerity’ will lead to another recession, which in turn may lead to a higher debt-to-GDP ratio than before. As the debate heats up, this column provides some cool economic logic.

Could ‘austerity’ be self-defeating? Could a reduction in government expenditure lead to such a strong fall in activity that fiscal performance indicators actually get worse?

It is sometimes argued that a cut in expenditure (or an increase in taxes) would be self-defeating because it reduces demand so much that tax revenues fall so strongly that as a result the deficit actually increases. In standard models this is kind of ‘Laffer curve’ effect is actually not possible. Moreover, if it were true, it would follow that an increase in expenditure could actually lead to lower deficits because higher growth could increase tax revenues so much that they outweigh the increase in expenditure. This proposition has been tested several times in the US, and always found failing.

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