The Death of the Confidence Fairy: 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.... 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…. Simulations of the IMF’s large-scale models suggest that the reduction in incomes may be more than twice as large as that shown in Chart 2 when central banks cannot cut interest rates and when many countries are carrying out consolidations at the same time….
Unfortunately, austerity programs are now the rule everywhere; even if the new Obama plan became law, which it won’t, it would only slow the pace of fiscal consolidation in America, and there’s nothing like it even on the table elsewhere.
Economic policy: we’re doing it wrong.