In the wake of the Great Recession, a contentious debate has erupted over whether austerity is helpful or harmful for economic growth. This column compares the experiences of the East Asian countries – whose leaders responded to the East Asian financial crisis with expansionary fiscal policy – with those of the European periphery countries during the Great Recession. The authors argue that it was a mistake for the European periphery countries to pivot from fiscal expansion to consolidation before their economies had recovered.
Anusha Chari, Peter Blair Henry, 06 March 2015
Peter Temin, David Vines, 14 November 2014
The current debate on the efficacy of Keynesian stimulus mirrors the resistance Keynes met with when initially advocating his theory. This column explains the original controversy and casts today’s policy debate in that context. Now that concepts of Ricardian equivalence and the fiscal multiplier are formally defined, we are better able to frame the arguments. The authors argue that a simple model of the short-run economy can substantiate the argument for stimulus.
Jean Pisani-Ferry, 07 November 2014
A triple-dip recession in the Eurozone is now a distinct possibility. This column argues that additional monetary stimulus is unlikely to be effective, that the scope for further fiscal stimulus is limited, and that some structural reforms may actually hurt growth in the short run by adding to disinflationary pressures in a liquidity trap. The author advocates using tax incentives and tighter regulations to encourage firms to replace environmentally inefficient capital.
Hugh Rockoff, 04 October 2014
World War I profoundly altered the structure of the US economy and its role in the world economy. However, this column argues that the US learnt the wrong lessons from the war, partly because a halo of victory surrounded wartime policies and personalities. The methods used for dealing with shortages during the war were simply inappropriate for dealing with the Great Depression, and American isolationism in the 1930s had devastating consequences for world peace.
Roberto Perotti, 13 September 2014
There is a growing consensus that austerity is contributing to the Eurozone’s macroeconomic malaise, but also that spending cuts are needed in the long run to achieve fiscal sustainability. Some commentators have advocated a temporary tax cut financed by unsterilised ECB purchases of long-term public debt, accompanied by a commitment to future spending cuts. This column argues that such commitments are simply not credible – especially given the moral hazard problem created by central bank monetisation of debts.
Mark Hoekstra, Steve Puller, Jeremy West, 03 September 2014
‘Cash for Clunkers’ was billed as a stimulus programme that would boost sales to the ailing US auto industry in 2009. This column shows that the design of the programme actually caused it to reduce revenues to the industry it was designed to help. The authors estimate that the entire increase in sales during the programme would have happened anyway in the following eight months. Moreover, since more fuel-efficient cars tend to be less expensive, the fuel economy requirement of the programme incentivised households to buy cheaper cars.
Barry Eichengreen, Kevin Hjortshøj O’Rourke, Miguel Almunia, Agustín S. Bénétrix, Gisela Rua, 18 November 2009
There is one important source of information on the effectiveness of monetary and fiscal stimulus in an environment of near-zero interest rates, dysfunctional banking systems and heightened risk aversion that has not been fully exploited: the 1930s. This column gathers data on growth, budgets and central bank policy rates for 27 countries covering the period 1925-39 and shows that where fiscal policy was tried, it was effective.
Robert Barro, Charles Redlick, 30 October 2009
The recent global recession has made the efficacy of fiscal-stimulus packages one of the most prominent policy debates in economics today. This column finds that the multiplier of defence spending falls in a range of 0.6 to 0.8 and argues that non-defence multipliers are unlikely to be larger. It says we should be sceptical when policymakers claim government-spending multipliers in excess of one and suggests tax cuts may be preferable to spending increases.
Volker Wieland, 05 September 2009
Eurozone governments have engaged in substantial fiscal stimulus. This column argues against further fiscal measures, claiming that forward-looking firms and households will cut their expenditure in response to governmental expansions. It warns that further fiscal efforts risk eroding financial and monetary policies that are combating the crisis.
J. Bradford DeLong, 16 March 2009
There are legitimate reasons to fear that deficit-spending fiscal boost programs will not work well enough and have high enough longer-term costs to be not worth doing. This column says we do not need to fear bottleneck-driven inflation, capital flight-driven inflation, crowding-out of investment spending, nor reaching the limits of debt capacity because we will see them coming in time.
Richard Clarida, 16 March 2009
Policymakers have committed substantial sums to addressing the global recession and the global financial crisis, but there is real doubt about their effectiveness. This column explains why the fiscal stimulus might fail.
Axel Leijonhufvud, 13 February 2009
This recession is different. Balance sheets of consumers, firms, and banks are under strain. The private sector is bent on reducing debt and this offsets Keynesian stimulus more than standard flow calculations would suggest. Bank deleveraging is by far the most dangerous. Fiscal stimulus will not have much effect as long as the financial system is deleveraging.