Thursday, June 21, 2012

Choosing Austerity

Menzie Chinn says the austerity being imposed on Greece, Spain etc is self-defeating, while in the US the states are voluntarily choosing austerity, to their own GDP detriment, in order to reduce the state for political reasons.  More:
...the approach of muddling through, dealing on an ad hoc basis with each crisis with aid conditioned on fiscal consolidation, is not working. It's not working partly because in the demand determined models we teach in intermediate macro work cutting government spending and raising taxes tends to depress output, as highlighted in this post. But when the countries affected are closely linked by trade, then the total effect of the contractionary policies conducted in individual countries results in even greater contraction.
Had these economies been on floating exchange rates, the contractionary effects might have been mitigated by depreciated currencies. But membership in the eurozone meant that shock absorber was gone. That is why the prospect of an expansionary fiscal contraction was never very plausible in the case of the GIIPS. But as long as the rest of the eurozone countries were unwilling to provide substantially more financing or transfers to the GIIPS, these governments had little alternative to fiscal consolidation. That is the fate of many, many countries that have faced IMF stabilization packages in earlier decades.
In contrast, the U.S. has currency flexibility so it can save itself, but the states chose austerity, and Chinn shows this has led to lower GDP growth.  Chinn says:
In contrast to Europe, the choice to slash spending and taxes was unforced. In the absence of tax cuts, spending could have been maintained at higher levels. Furthermore, the Federal government had the resources to further support the state and local governments. 
...Truly, much of the distress at the state and local level is essentially a self-inflicted wound, that allows a push for smaller government to proceed under the guise of austerity. 
Charts and more analysis at the link.

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