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Ending the Austerity Pandemic

A wave of austerity is building as governments return to the tried-and-failed belt-tightening policies of the past, rather than exploring alternative means of creating fiscal space. Unless this policy contagion is contained, the coming years will be even more painful than the era following the 2008 financial crisis.

NEW YORK – The world is confronting multiple, compounding crises, from COVID-19, energy, inflation, debt, and climate shocks to unaffordable living costs and political instability. The need for ambitious action cannot be greater. However, the return of failed policies such as austerity, now called “fiscal restraint” or “fiscal consolidation,” and a lack of effective taxation and debt-reduction initiatives threaten to exacerbate the macroeconomic instability and daily hardships that billions of people are facing. Unless policymakers change course, an “austerity pandemic” will make global economic recovery even more difficult.

As we show in a recent report, the looming wave of austerity will be even more premature and severe than the one that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. An analysis of IMF expenditure projections indicates that 143 governments will cut spending (as a share of GDP) in 2023, affecting more than 6.7 billion people – or 85% of the world population. In fact, most governments started scaling back public spending in 2021, and the number of countries slashing budgets is expected to rise through 2025. With average spending cuts of 3.5% of GDP in 2021, this contraction has already been much bigger than in earlier shocks.

Even more worryingly, upwards of 50 countries are adopting excessive cuts, meaning their spending has fallen below their (already low) pre-pandemic levels. This cohort contains many countries – including Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Guyana, Liberia, Libya, Sudan, Suriname, and Yemen – with large unmet development needs.