Thursday, January 03, 2013

Economist's View on the Deal

What do economists think of the deal? Mark Thoma collects views from Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, Jeff Sachs, and Greg Mankiw and one more from Tim Duy.

Jim Tankersley wrote in the Washington Post, ‘Fiscal cliff’ deal falls short under three economic theories. "Economists generally offer three theories for what’s hampering the still-sluggish U.S. economy: the Keynesian theory, which would like to see lower taxes or more government spending; the spending/debt theory, which would like to see both of those reined in; and the uncertainty theory. Under none of them can the deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” be considered an economic success."

Reporter Brad Plumer points out the U.S. now on pace for European levels of austerity in 2013.


William K. Black made the case against austerity in Kill the 'Fiscal Cliff' Instead of the Economy.

"Austerity is a policy of raising taxes and/or cutting governmental spending for the purported purpose of cutting the deficit. If one raises overall taxes in response to the Great Recession the result is a reduction in private sector demand. If one cuts governmental spending the result is a reduction in public sector demand. The result of reducing private and public sector demand in the recovery phase from the Great Recession, where overall demand is already grossly inadequate, is to throw the nation back into recession or even a depression. That causes the budget deficit to grow. A policy of austerity undertaken under the claim that it will reduce the deficit causes a gratuitous recession that leads to a massive loss of wealth, far higher unemployment, and in increased deficit. That is why austerity is a policy that is the self-destructive economic analogy to the medical insanity of bleeding patients.

We have known that austerity is an idiotic response to a severe crisis for 75 years. The U.S. was in the midst of a strong recovery from the Great Depression until FDR's neo-liberal economists convinced him in 1937 that is was essential that the U.S. adopt an austerity program to reduce the federal deficit. Austerity forced our economy back into a Great Depression.

It was only the stimulus of federal spending in World War II that brought the U.S. out of the depression. During World War II and for the remainder of that decade the ratio of debt-to-GDP was at or near historically record levels. The result was the greatest industrial expansion in history, full employment (including a massive influx of women), strong economic growth, and sharply declining deficits and debt-to-GDP ratio because the growth led to large increases in revenue and the low unemployment greatly reduced spending on the unemployed. We also defeated the Axis powers, created Social Security and the GI Bill, and began an extraordinary expansion of our housing stock to house the baby boom.

We learned many lessons from the catastrophic failure of austerity and the extraordinary success of stimulus in this era. The U.S. adopted a fiscal system of 'automatic stabilizers.' These are counter-cyclical (they push in the opposite direction of the business cycle) fiscal effects that are designed into the system and do not require new legislation once the recession or inflation begins. The result of these automatic stabilizers has been to reduce the severity and duration of recessions. Indeed, studies show that the larger the national governmental role in the economy, the less volatile the economy. This makes sense because the stabilization function should be more effective if the stabilizers are larger relative to the economy."

Update: And it seems the IMF is starting to understand that austerity doesn't work. An amazing mea culpa from the IMF’s chief economist on austerity.

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