Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Austerity and Unemployment

Paul Krugman has been waging a fairly lonely war against the notion that austerity is the cure for what ails us. He now has more empirical ammunition, thanks to a comprehnsive review of past episodes of austerity by economists at the IMF.

In the first half of last year a strange delusion swept much of the policy elite on both sides of the Atlantic — the belief that cutting spending in the face of high unemployment would actually create jobs. I went after this stuff early and hard (I suspect that the confidence fairy will be one of my lasting contributions to economic discourse); still, it’s good to have a steadily mounting weight of evidence about just how wrong that view was.

The latest entry is a comprehensive review of past episodes of austerity by economists at the IMF, from which the figure above is taken. Yes, contractionary policy is contractionary. And as the authors point out, it’s probably even more contractionary than usual under current conditions:
The reduction in incomes from fiscal consolidations is even larger if central banks do not or cannot blunt some of the pain through a monetary policy stimulus. The fall in interest rates associated with monetary stimulus supports investment and consumption, and the concomitant depreciation of the currency boosts net exports. Ireland in 1987 and Finland and Italy in 1992 are examples of countries that undertook fiscal consolidations, but where large depreciations of the currency helped provide a boost to net exports.

Unfortunately, these pain relievers are not easy to come by in today’s environment. In many economies, central banks can provide only a limited monetary stimulus because policy interest rates are already near zero (see “Unconventional Behavior” in this issue of F&D)...

Wolfgang and Lee, you wanted evidence - what do you say?