Has Austerity Failed in Europe?

If the purpose of austerity in Europe was to reduce public-debt levels, its critics are right: fiscal belt-tightening has clearly failed, because debt/GDP ratios continue to rise. But the goal of austerity was not just to stabilize debt ratios.

BRUSSELS – Although many European governments have announced expenditure cuts and tax hikes, their debt/GDP ratios continue to deteriorate. So, if the purpose of austerity was to reduce debt levels, its critics are right: fiscal belt-tightening has failed. But the goal of austerity was not just to stabilize debt ratios.

In fact, austerity has worked as advertised in some cases. Germany’s fiscal deficit temporarily increased by about 2.5 percentage points of GDP during the global recession of 2009; subsequent rapid deficit reduction had no significant negative impact on growth. So it is possible to reduce deficits and keep the debt/GDP ratio in check – provided that the economy does not start out with large imbalances, and that the financial system is working properly. Obviously, the countries on the eurozone’s periphery do not meet these conditions.

Countries whose governments have either lost access to normal market financing (like Greece, Ireland, and Portugal), or face very high risk premia (like Italy and Spain in 2011-2012) simply do not have a choice: they must reduce their expenditures or get financing from some official body like the International Monetary Fund or the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). But foreign official financing will always be subject to lenders’ conditions – and lenders see no reason to finance ongoing spending at levels that previously led a country into trouble.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/ZX0lS20;
  1. Trump & Turkey ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images.

    A Tax Plan that’s All Stuffing?

    US President Donald Trump has set a Christmas deadline for enacting the Republican tax plan, and economic observers are virtually unanimous in judging it a turkey. A scheme that squeezes the middle class and blows out the fiscal and current-account deficits may pass, but it will never fly. 

  2. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  3. Trump at UN Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    The Dangers of Nuclear Bombast

    US President Donald Trump has refused to recertify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that he once predicted would "lead to a nuclear holocaust." Unfortunately, by creating more perverse incentives for hostile regimes to pursue nuclear armaments at all costs, Trump has made the nightmare scenario he fears even more likely.

  4. Adam Michnik Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Europe’s New Eastern Question

    interviews

    Insider Interview

    • With right-wing populists ascendant in Poland and Hungary, and gaining ground elsewhere in the European Union, politics in some parts of the West looks increasingly like politics in Russia.

    • Sławomir Sierakowski, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw interviews Adam Michnik, one of the intellectual architects of Solidarity and of the transition from communism in Central Europe, on Europe's illiberal turn.
  5. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  6. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  7. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.