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Helicopter Money Is in the Air

LONDON – Fiscal policy is edging back into fashion, after years, if not decades, in purdah. The reason is simple: the incomplete recovery from the global crash of 2008.

Europe is the worst off in this regard: its GDP has hardly grown in the last four years, and GDP per capita is still less than it was in 2007. Moreover, growth forecasts are gloomy. In July, the European Central Bank published a report suggesting that the negative output gap in the eurozone was 6%, four percentage points higher than previously thought. “A possible implication of this finding,” the ECB concluded, “is that policies aimed at stimulating aggregate demand (including fiscal and monetary policies) should play an even more important role in the economic policy mix.” Strong words from a central bank.

Fiscal policy has been effectively disabled since 2010, as the slump saddled governments with unprecedented postwar deficits and steeply rising debt-to-GDP ratios. Austerity became the only game in town.

This left monetary policy the only available stimulus tool. The Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve injected huge amounts of cash into their economies through “quantitative easing” (QE) – massive purchases of long-term government and corporate securities. In 2015, the ECB also started an asset-buying program, which ECB President Mario Draghi promised to continue “until we see a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation.”