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The "Austerity Myth": Gain without Pain?

  • Perotti, Roberto
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    As governments around the world contemplate slashing budget deficits, the "expansionary fiscal consolidation hypothesis" is back in vogue. I argue that, as a statement about the short run, it should be taken with caution. Alesina and Perotti (1995) and Alesina and Ardagna (2010) (AAP) show that fiscal consolidations may be expansionary if implemented mainly by cutting government spending. IMF (2010) criticizes the data and methodology used by AAP, and reach opposite conclusions. I argue that because of the multi-year nature of the large fiscal consolidations, which are precisely the most informative ones, using yearly panels of fiscal policy is limiting. I present four detailed case studies, two -- Denmark and Ireland -- undertaken under fixed exchange rates (the most relevant case for many Eurozone countries today) and two -- Finland and Sweden -- after floating the currency. All four episodes were associated with an expansion; but only in Denmark the driver of growth was internal demand. However, after three years a long slump set in as the economy lost competitiveness. In all the others for a long time the main driver of growth was exports. In Ireland this occurred because the sterling coincidentally appreciated. In Finland and Sweden the currency experienced an extremely large depreciation after floating. In all consolidations interest rate fell fast, and wage moderation played a key role in generating a gain in competitiveness and a decline in interest rates. Wage moderation was facilitated by the direct intervention of the government in the wage negotiation process. In Finland and Sweden, the adoption of inflation targeting at the same time of the consolidation helped the decline in interest rates. These results cast doubt on at least some versions of the expansionary fiscal consolidations hypothesis, and on its applicability to many countries in the present circumstances. A depreciation is not available to EMU members today (except vis à vis countries outside the Eurozone). A net export boom is not feasible for the world as a whole. A further decline in interest rates is unlikely in the current situation. And incomes policies are not popular nowadays; moreover, international experience, and the Danish case, suggest that they are ineffective after a few years.

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    Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 8658.

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    Date of creation: Nov 2011
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    Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8658
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    1. Stéphanie Guichard & Mike Kennedy & Eckhard Wurzel & Christophe André, 2007. "What Promotes Fiscal Consolidation: OECD Country Experiences," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 553, OECD Publishing.
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