Austerity is Not a Solution: Why the Deficit Hawks are Wrong
Wall Street hyper-speculation brought the global economy to its knees in 2008-09. To prevent a 1930s-level Depression at that time, economic policymakers throughout the world enacted extraordinary measures. These included large-scale fiscal stimulus programs, financed by major expansions in central government fiscal deficits. In the U.S., the fiscal deficit reached 9.9 percent of GDP in 2009, and is projected at 10.3 percent of GDP in 2010. But roughly 18 months after these measures were introduced, a new wave of opposition to large-scale fiscal deficits has emerged. This paper reviews the arguments developed by various leading deficit hawks. In fact, they are not advancing one main argument or even a unified set of positions, but rather four distinct claims: 1) Large fiscal deficits will cause high interest rates, large government debts, and inflation; 2) Even if the current deficits have not caused high interest rates and inflation, they are eroding business confidence; 3) The multiplier for fiscal stimulus policies is always close to zero and has been so with the current measures; and 4) Regardless of short-term considerations, we are courting disaster in the long run with structural deficits that the recession only worsened. This paper argues that none of these deficit hawk positions stand up to scrutiny. I also argue that through critiquing the four deficit-hawk positions, we can also bring greater clarity toward developing a workable recovery program. This will include fiscal deficits that can stabilize state and local government budgets; maintain sufficient funds for unemployment insurance; and continue support for long-term investments in traditional infrastructure and clean energy. But such fiscal policies also need to combine with credit-market measures that are capable of ‘pulling on a string’—i.e. creating strong enough incentives for both lenders and borrowers to unlock credit markets.
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