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Posts Tagged ‘Fiscal Consolidation’

OECD goes public

In an attempt to prevent recession following the financial crisis of 2007–8, many countries adopted both expansionary monetary policy and expansionary fiscal policy – and with some success. It is likely that the recession would have been much deeper without such policies

But with growing public-sector deficits caused by the higher government expenditure and sluggish growth in tax receipts, many governments soon abandoned expansionary fiscal policy and relied on a mix of loose monetary policy (with ultra low interest rates and quantitative easing) but tight fiscal policy in an attempt to claw down the deficits.

But such ‘austerity’ policies made it much harder for loose monetary policy to boost aggregate demand. The problem was made worse by the attempt of both banks and individuals to ‘repair’ their balance sheets. In other words banks became more cautious about lending, seeking to build up reserves; and many individuals sought to reduce their debts by cutting down on spending. Both consumer spending and investment were slow to grow.

And yet government and central banks, despite the arguments of Keynesians, were reluctant to abandon their reliance solely on monetary policy as a means of boosting aggregate demand. But gradually, influential international institutions, such as the IMF (see also) and World Bank, have been arguing for an easing of austerity fiscal policies.

The latest international institution to take a distinctly more Keynesian stance has been the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In its November 2015 Economic Outlook it had advocated some use of public-sector investment (see What to do about slowing global growth?. But in its Interim Economic Outlook of February 2016, it goes much further. It argues that urgent action is needed to boost economic growth and that this should include co-ordinated fiscal policy. In introducing the report, Catherine L Mann, the OECD’s Chief Economist stated that:

“Across the board there are lower interest rates, except for the United States. It allows the authorities to undertake a fiscal action at very very low cost. So we did an exercise of what this fiscal action might look like and how it can contribute to global growth, but also maintain fiscal sustainability, because this is an essential ingredient in the longer term as well.

So we did an experiment of a two-year increase in public investment of half a percentage point of GDP per annum undertaken by all OECD countries. This is an important feature: it’s everybody doing it together – it’s a collective action, because it’s global growth that is at risk here – our downgrades [in growth forecasts] were across the board – they were not just centred on a couple of countries.

So what is the effect on GDP of a collective fiscal action of a half a percentage point of GDP [increase] in public investment in [high] quality projects. In the United States, the euro area, Canada and the UK, who are all contributors to this exercise, the increase in GDP is greater than the half percentage point [increase] in public expenditure that was undertaken. Even if other countries don’t undertake any fiscal expansion, they still get substantial increases in their growth rates…

Debt to GDP in fact falls. This is because the GDP effect of quality fiscal stimulus is significant enough to raise GDP (the denominator in the debt to GDP ratio), so that the overall fiscal sustainability [debt to GDP] improves.”

What is being argued is that co-ordinated fiscal policy targeted on high quality infrastructure spending will have a multiplier effect on GDP. What is more, the faster growth in GDP should outstrip the growth in government expenditure, thereby allowing debt/GDP ratios to fall, not rise.

This is a traditional Keynesian approach to tackling sluggish growth, but accompanied by a call for structural reforms to reduce inefficiency and waste and improve the supply-side of the economy.

Osborne urged to spend more on infrastructure by OECD Independent, Ben Chu (18/2/16)
OECD blasts reform fatigue, downgrades growth and calls for more rate cuts Financial Review (Australia), Jacob Greber (18/2/16)
OECD calls for less austerity and more public investment The Guardian, Larry Elliott (18/2/15)
What’s holding back the world economy? The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz and Hamid Rashid (8/2/16)
OECD calls for urgent action to combat flagging growth Financial Times, Emily Cadman (18/2/16)
Central bankers on the defensive as weird policy becomes even weirder The Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/2/16)
Keynes helped us through the crisis – but he’s still out of favour The Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/2/16)
G20 communique says monetary policy alone cannot bring balanced growth
Reuters (27/2/15)

OECD publications
Global Economic Outlook and Interim Economic Outlook OECD, Catherine L Mann (18/2/16)
Interim Economic Outlook OECD (18/2/16)


  1. Draw an AD/AS diagram to illustrate the effect of a successful programme of public-sector infrastructure projects on GDP and prices.
  2. Draw a Keynesian 45° line diagram to illustrate the effect of a successful programme of public-sector infrastructure projects on actual and potential GDP.
  3. Why might an individual country benefit more from a co-ordinated expansionary fiscal policy of all OECD countries rather than being the only country to pursue such a policy?
  4. What determines the size of the multiplier effect of such policies?
  5. How might a new classical/neoliberal economist respond to the OECD’s recommendation?
  6. Why may monetary policy have ‘run out of steam’? Are there further monetary policy measures that could be adopted?
  7. Compare the relative effectiveness of increased government investment in infrastructure and tax cuts as alterative forms of expansionary fiscal policy.
  8. Should quantitative easing be directed at financing public-sector infrastructure projects? What are the benefits and problems of such a policy? (See the blog post People’s quantitative easing.)
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Abenomics – one year on

It is one year since the election of Shinzo Abe in Japan. He immediately embarked on a radical economic policy to stimulate the Japanese economy, which had suffered from years of stagnation. There have been three parts (or three arrows) to his policy: fiscal policy and monetary policy to stimulate aggregate demand and supply-side policy to increase productivity.

As the previous post explains:

“The first arrow is monetary policy. The Bank of Japan has engaged in extensive quantitative easing through bond purchases in order to drive down the exchange rate (see A J-curve for Japan?), stimulate expenditure and increase the rate of inflation. A target inflation rate of 2% has been set by the Bank of Japan. Part of the problem for the Japanese economy over the years has been stagnant or falling prices. Japanese consumers have got used to waiting to spend in the hope of being able to buy at lower prices. Similarly, Japanese businesses have often delayed stock purchase. By committing to bond purchases of whatever amount is necessary to achieve the 2% inflation target, the central bank hopes to break this cycle and encourage people to buy now rather than later.

The second arrow is fiscal policy. Despite having the highest debt to GDP ratio in the developed world, Japan is embarking on a large-scale programme of infrastructure investment and other public works. The package is worth over $100bn. The expansionary fiscal policy is accompanied by a longer-term plan for fiscal consolidation as economic growth picks up. In the short term, Japan should have no difficulty in financing the higher deficit, given that most of the borrowing is internal and denominated in yen.

The third arrow is supply-side policy. On 5 June, Shinzo Abe unveiled a series of goals his government would like to achieve in order to boost capacity and productivity. These include increasing private-sector investment (both domestic and inward), infrastructure expenditure (both private and public), increasing farmland, encouraging more women to work by improving day-care facilities for children, and deregulation of both goods, capital and labour markets. The prime minister, however, did not give details of the measures that would be introduced to achieve these objectives. More details will be announced in mid-June.”

In the webcast and article below, Linda Yueh, the BBC’s Chief Business Correspondent, considers how effective the policies are proving and the challenges that remain.

Has Abenomics fixed Japan’s economic fortunes? BBC News, Linda Yueh (16/12/13)

Why Abenomics holds lessons for the West BBC News, Linda Yueh (13/12/13)
Japanese business confidence hits six-year high, Tankan survey shows The Guardian (16/12/13)

World Economic Outlook Database IMF (Oct 2013)
Bank of Japan Statistics Bank of Japan
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OECD
Country statistical profile: Japan 2013 OECD (15/11/13)


  1. Demonstrate on (a) an aggregate demand and supply diagram and (b) a Keynesian 45° line diagram the effects of the three arrows (assuming they are successful) in meeting their objectives.
  2. Why has Japan found it so hard to achieve economic growth over the past 20 years?
  3. How has the Japanese economy performed over the past 12 months?
  4. What lessons can be learnt by the UK and eurozone countries from Japan’s three arrows?
  5. Why is the second arrow problematic, given the size of Japan’s general government debt? Does the proportion of Japanese debt owed overseas affect the argument?
  6. In what ways do the three arrows (a) support each other; (b) conflict with each other?
  7. Why is the structure of the labour market in Japan acting as a break on economic growth? What policies are being, or could be, pursued to tackle these structural problems?
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Japan’s three arrows

Since coming to office in December 2012, Shinzo Abe’s government has been determined to revive the Japanese economy. For the past 20 years, Japan’s growth has averaged only 0.8% per annum. This compares with 1.3% for Germany, 2.3% for the UK, 2.6% for the USA, 4.9% for South Korea and 10.4% for China.

Japanese real GDP per capita was only 14.5% higher in 2012 than 20 years earlier. This compares with figures for Germany, the UK, the USA, South Korea and China of 27%, 45%, 34%, 126% and 497% respectively.

So what has the Japanese government done to boost both short-term and long-term growth after years of stagnation? There are ‘three arrows’ to the policy, targeted at reviving and sustaining economic growth.

The first arrow is monetary policy. The Bank of Japan has engaged in extensive quantitative easing through bond purchases in order to drive down the exchange rate (see A J-curve for Japan?), stimulate expenditure and increase the rate of inflation. A target inflation rate of 2% has been set by the Bank of Japan. Part of the problem for the Japanese economy over the years has been stagnant or falling prices. Japanese consumers have got used to waiting to spend in the hope of being able to buy at lower prices. Similarly, Japanese businesses have often delayed stock purchase. By committing to bond purchases of whatever amount is necessary to achieve the 2% inflation target, the central bank hopes to break this cycle and encourage people to buy now rather than later.

The second arrow is fiscal policy. Despite having the highest debt to GDP ratio in the developed world, Japan is embarking on a large-scale programme of infrastructure investment and other public works. The package is worth over $100bn. The expansionary fiscal policy is accompanied by a longer-term plan for fiscal consolidation as economic growth picks up. In the short term, Japan should have no difficulty in financing the higher deficit, given that most of the borrowing is internal and denominated in yen.

The third arrow is supply-side policy. On 5 June, Shinzo Abe unveiled a series of goals his government would like to achieve in order to boost capacity and productivity. These include increasing private-sector investment (both domestic and inward), infrastructure expenditure (both private and public), increasing farmland, encouraging more women to work by improving day-care facilities for children, and deregulation of both goods, capital and labour markets. The prime minister, however, did not give details of the measures that would be introduced to achieve these objectives. More details will be announced in mid-June.

The following videos and articles look at the three arrows of Abenomics and the effects they are having on confidence and attitudes as well as on expenditure, output and the exchange rate. They also look at the crucial third arrow: at whether supply-side reforms will be enough to achieve a sustained increase in economic growth.

Abenomics an uncertain future for most Financial Times on YouTube, Ben McLannahan (30/5/13)
Assessing Abenomics NHK World (3/6/13)
Adam Posen on Abenomics NHK World (30/5/13)
Japanese concerned over ‘Abenomics’ AlJazeera on YouTube (30/5/13)
Abenomics – the cure for deflation? BBC News, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (10/5/13)
Japan PM’s economic speech ‘short on detail’ BBC News, Rupert Wingfield Hayes (5/6/13)
Pretty Positive on Abenomics Bloomberg, Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs (5/6/13)
Why Abenomics is Bonkers: Pro CNBC, Graeme Maxton, (27/5/13)
‘Abe’nomics Not About BOJ Printing Money Bloomberg, Derek Halpenny (31/5/13)
Abenomics Aims `Third Arrow’ at Business Rules Bloomberg, Willie Pesek (5/6/13)
Analysis on Abe’s Growth Plan NHK World (5/6/13)

Will three arrows find their target? On Line Opinion, Andrew Leigh (6/6/13)
Japan Fires ‘Third Arrow,’ but Will It Work? CNBC, Dhara Ranasinghe (5/6/13)
Japan’s ’3 Arrows’ May Run Into German Wall CNBC, Michael Ivanovitch (19/5/13)
Japan’s recovery – the power of Abe’s three arrows Commonwealth Bank, Australia, Melanie Timbrell (31/5/13)
So Far, the Battery Charger Is Working in Japan The New York Times, Jeff Sommer (18/5/13)
Abenomics Could Light A Fire Under The Japan Trade Again Business Insider, Matthew Boesler (4/6/13)
Japan’s New Prime Minister Unveils The ‘Most Important’ Plank Of Abenomics Business Insider (5/6/13)
Japan PM pledges to boost incomes by 30% Channel NewsAsia (5/6/13)
Abe’s growth strategy disappoints economists, investors The Asahi Shimbun (6/6/13)
Abenomics Won’t Be ’Magic Bullet’ for Japan, Says Johnson of MIT Bloomberg, Cordell Eddings (5/6/13)
Too soon to call time on Abenomics BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (19/6/13)
Abenomics: The objectives and the risks BBC News, Puneet Pal Singh (19/7/13)

World Economic Outlook Database IMF
Bank of Japan Statistics Bank of Japan
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OECD
Country statistical profile: Japan 2013 OECD


  1. Demonstrate on (a) an aggregate demand and supply diagram and (b) a Keynesian 45° line diagram the effects of the three arrows (assuming they are successful) in meeting their objectives.
  2. What will determine the effectiveness of the first two arrows in boosting short-term economic growth?
  3. Would you characterise the policies of the third arrow as interventionist or market-orientated, or as a mixture? Explain.
  4. What are the dangers in ‘Abenomics’?
  5. Find out what has been happening to Japanese bond rates. What are the implications of this for monetary policy?
  6. What are the ‘markets telling Abe’?
  7. In what ways will expectations influence the effectiveness of Abenomics?
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Backing to the edge of the fiscal cliff

At the start of 2013, the USA faces a ‘fiscal cliff’. By this is meant that, without agreement by Congress on new fiscal measures, the USA will be forced into tax rises and expenditure cuts of around $650 billion (over 4% of GDP). This would probably push the economy straight back into recession. This in turn would have a serious dampening effect on the global economy.

But why would fiscal policy be automatically tightened? The first reason is that tax cuts given under the George W. Bush administration during 2001–3 (largely to the rich) are due to expire. Also a temporary cut in payroll taxes and an increase in tax credits given by President Obama are also due to end. These tax increases would form the bulk of the tightening. The average US household would pay an extra $3500 in taxes, reducing after-tax income by around 6%.

The second reason is that various government expenditure programmes are scheduled to be reduced. These reductions in expenditure amount to around $110 billion.

It is likely, however, that Congress will agree to delay or limit the tax increases or expenditure cuts; politicians on both sides want to avoid sending the economy back into recession. But what the agreement will be is not at all clear at this stage.

Republicans are taking a tougher line than Democrats on cutting the budget deficit; they are calling for considerably less restraint in implementing the government expenditure cuts. On the other hand, they are likely to be less willing to raise taxes.

But unless something is done, the consequences for 2013 could be dire. The fiscal cliff edge rapidly approaches.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans would see taxes rise if ‘fiscal cliff’ hits Washington Post, Lori Montgomery (1/10/12)
Fiscal cliff a serious threat, but unlikely CNN Money, Chris Isidore (1/10/12)
“Fiscal cliff” fears may impede faster job growth Chicago Tribute, Lucia Mutikani (1/10/12)
Avert Fiscal Cliff With Entitlement Cuts, Tax Increases Bloomberg (2/10/12)
‘Fiscal cliff’ to hit 90% of US families Financial Times, James Politi (1/10/12)
Investors don’t want the US to fall off the fiscal cliff The Telegraph, Tom Stevenson (22/9/12)
Gauging the fiscal cliff BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (27/9/12)
The US fiscal cliff – and the fiscal chasm BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (2/10/12)
US fiscal cliff threat fails to galvanise policymakers Guardian Economics blog, Mohamed el-Erian (1/10/12)
Multiplying Europe’s fiscal suicide (technical) The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (1/10/12)
Q&A: The US fiscal cliff BBC News (7/11/12)
US election: Four more years… of what? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/11/12)

United States fiscal cliff Wikipedia


  1. Explain what is meant by the ‘fiscal cliff’ and what is its magnitude.
  2. What would be the multiplier implications of the USA ‘falling off the cliff’ both for the USA and for the rest of the world?
  3. What factors determine the size of the government expenditure and tax multipliers? What would be the problems of (a) underestimating and (b) overestimating the size of these multipliers?
  4. How can a fiscal stimulus be reconciled with a policy of reducing the size of the budget deficit as a proportion of GDP over the longer term?
  5. In what ways can the actions of Democrats and Republicans be seen as game playing? What are the possible payoffs and risks to both sides?
  6. Is relying on export growth to bring the world economy out of recession a zero sum game?
  7. Explain which is likely to be more effective in stimulating short- and medium-term economic growth in the USA: fiscal policy or monetary policy.
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A gathering storm (Part 3)

In the third and final part of this blog, we look at the G8 summit at Camp David on 18 and 19 May 2012. Ways of averting the deepening global economic crisis were top of the agenda.

In terms of the global economy, the leaders agreed on three main things. The first was that they supported Greece remaining in the euro. According to the communiqué:

We agree on the importance of a strong and cohesive eurozone for global stability and recovery, and we affirm our interest in Greece remaining in the eurozone while respecting its commitments. We all have an interest in the success of specific measures to strengthen the resilience of the eurozone and growth in Europe

The second was a commitment to ‘fiscal responsibility’ and the clawing down of public-sector deficits.

We commit to fiscal responsibility and, in this context, we support sound and sustainable fiscal consolidation policies that take into account countries’ evolving economic conditions and underpin confidence and economic recovery.

The third was commitment to boosting economic growth. (Click on chart for a larger image.) On the supply side this would be through measures to stimulate productivity. On the demand side this would be through policies to stimulate investment.
(For a PowerPoint of the chart, click on the following link: Quarterly Growth.)

To raise productivity and growth potential in our economies, we support structural reforms, and investments in education and in modern infrastructure, as appropriate. Investment initiatives can be financed using a range of mechanisms, including leveraging the private sector. Sound financial measures, to which we are committed, should build stronger systems over time while not choking off near-term credit growth. We commit to promote investment to underpin demand, including support for small businesses and public-private partnerships.

But the communiqué was short on details. How will fiscal consolidation be achieved? Does this mean a continuation of austerity measures? And if so, what will be the impact on aggregate demand? Or if fiscal consolidation is slowed down, what will be the impact on financial markets?

If a growth in investment is central to the policy, what will be the precise mechanisms to encourage it? Will they be enough to combat the deflationary effect on demand of the fiscal measures?

And how will productivity increases be achieved? What supply-side measures will be introduced? And will productivity increases be encouraged or discouraged by continuing austerity measures?

Lots of questions – questions raised by the articles below.

Capitalism at a crossroads Independent (19/5/12)
Barack Obama warns eurozone to focus on jobs and growth The Telegraph (20/5/12)
G8 Summit: World leaders push for Greece to stay in the eurozone The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (19/5/12)
Obama sees ‘emerging consensus’ on crisis Sydney Morning Herald, Ben Feller and Jim Kuhnhenn (20/5/12)
G8 leaders tout economic growth, fiscal responsibility CNN (20/5/12)
G8 focuses on Eurozone Gulf News (20/5/12)
G8 leaders back Greece amid tensions France 24 (20/5/12)
G8 splits over stimulus versus austerity Financial TimesRichard McGregor and Kiran Stacey (19/5/12)
Cameron is consigning the UK to stagnation Financial Times, Martin Wolf (17/5/12)
Time to end ‘Camerkozy’ economics Financial Times, Ed Miliband (18/5/12)
Obama: Eurozone ‘must focus on jobs and growth’ BBC News (20/5/12)
World leaders back Greece, vow to combat financial turmoil Reuters, Jeff Mason and Laura MacInnis (19/5/12)
Germany isolated over euro crisis plan at G8 meeting in Camp David Guardian, Patrick Wintour (19/5/12)
G8 leaders end summit with pledge to keep Greece in eurozone Guardian, Ewen MacAskill (19/5/12)
G8 summit ends with few tangible results Xinhua, Sun Hao (20/5/12)

Final communiqué
Camp David DeclarationG8 (19/5/12)


  1. To what extent are economic growth and fiscal consolidation (a) compatible; (b) incompatible objectives? How might a Keynesian and a new classical economist respond to these questions?
  2. What supply-side measures could be introduced by the EU?
  3. Why might dangers of protectionism increase in the coming months?
  4. What would be the impact of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone on other eurozone economies?
  5. What monetary policy changes could be introduced by the eurozone governments and the ECB in order to ease the sovereign debt crisis of countries such as Grecce, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland?
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Time for a Plan B?

The government is sticking to its deficit reduction plan. But with worries about a lack of economic recovery, or even a double dip recession, some economists are calling for a Plan B. They back up their arguments by referring to the lack of consumer confidence, falling real incomes and rising commodity prices. Without a slowing down in cuts and tax rises, the lack of aggregate demand, they claim, will prevent a recovery.

The government maintains that sticking to the cuts and tax rises helps maintain international confidence and thereby helps to keep interest rates low. Also, it argues, if the economy does slow down, then automatic stabilisers will come into play. Finally, even though fiscal policy is tight, monetary policy is relatively loose, with historically low interest rates.

But will there be enough confidence to sustain a recovery? Economists are clearly divided. But at least the IMF seems to think so. In its latest assessment of the UK economy, although it has cut the growth forecast for 2011 from 2% to 1.5%, that is still a positive figure and thus represents a recovery, albeit a rather fragile one.

Coalition’s spending plans simply don’t add up Observer letters, 52 economists (5/6/11)
Is George Osborne losing his grip on Britain’s economic recovery? Guardian, Heather Stewart and Daniel Boffey (4/6/11)
George Osborne plan isn’t working, say top UK economists Guardian, Heather Stewart and Daniel Boffey (4/6/11)
How are the Coalition fixing the economy? The Telegraph, Tim Montgomerie (28/5/11)
Cameron’s new cuts narrative The Spectator, Fraser Nelson (27/5/11)
The changing narrative of Chancellor George Orborne Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (17/5/11)
The UK could be leading with a new economic approach, instead we follow Guardian, Will Hutton (4/6/11)
The coalition’s strategy is courting disaster Observer, (5/6/11)
Government faces fresh calls for a Plan B BBC News (5/6/11)
‘Serious debate’ needed on economy BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders (6/6/11)
IMF cuts UK growth forecast for 2011 BBC News, John Lipsky (Deputy Director of the IMF) (6/6/11)
IMF says hope for best, plan for worst BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (6/6/11)
IMF set out a ‘Plan B’ for George Osborne BBC News, Paul Mason (6/6/11)
How to rebalance our economy Independent, Sean O’Grady (6/6/11)
IMF maps out a Plan B for the UK economy The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (6/6/11)
A long and hard road lies ahead for the British economy Financial Times, Martin Wolf (6/6/11)

IMF Report
United Kingdom – 2011 Article IV Consultation Concluding Statement of the Mission (6/6/11)

OECD Economic Outlook 89 Annex Tables (June 2011): see especially Annex Table 1
Output, prices and jobs The Economist


  1. Explain what is likely to happen to each of the components of aggregate demand.
  2. Is monetary policy loose enough? How could it be made looser, given that Bank rate is at the historically low level of 0.5% and could barely go any lower?
  3. What are automatic fiscal stablisers and how are they likely to affect aggregate demand if growth falters? What impact would this have on the public-sector deficit?
  4. What is meant by the ‘inventory cycle’? How did this impact on growth in 2010 and the first part of 2011?
  5. What is likely to happen to inflation in the coming months and why? How is this likely to impact on economic growth?
  6. Referring to the economists’ letter (the first link above), what do you think they mean by “a green new deal and a focus on targeted industrial policy” and how would this affect economic growth?
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What would Keynes do?

The debate about how much and how fast to cut the deficit has often been presented as a replaying of the debates of the 1920s and 30s between Keynes and the Treasury.

The justification for fiscal expansion to tackle the recession in 2008/9 was portrayed as classic Keynesianism. The problem was seen as a short-term one of a lack of spending. The solution was seen as one of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. There was relatively little resistance to such stimulus packages at the time, although some warned against the inevitable growth in public-sector debt.

But now that the world economy is in recovery mode – albeit a highly faltering one in many countries – and given the huge overhang of government deficits and debts, what would Keynes advocate now? Here there is considerable disagreement.

Vince Cable, the UK Business Secretary, argues that Keynes would have supported the deficit reduction plans of the Coalition government. He would still have stressed the importance of aggregate demand, but would have argued that investor and consumer confidence, which are vital preconditions for maintaining private-sector demand, are best maintained by a credible plan to reduce the deficit. What is more, inflows of capital are again best encouraged by fiscal rectitude. As he argued in the New Statesman article below

One plausible explanation, from Olivier Blanchard of the IMF, is that the Keynesian model of fiscal policy works well enough in most conditions, but not when there is a fiscal crisis. In those circumstances, households and businesses react to increased deficits by saving more, because they expect spending cuts and tax increases in the future. At a time like this, fiscal multipliers decline and turn negative. Conversely, firm action to reduce deficits provides reassurance to spend and invest. Such arguments are sometimes described as “Ricardian equivalence” – that deficits cannot stimulate demand because of expected future tax increases.

Those on the other side are not arguing against a long-term reduction in government deficits, but rather that the speed and magnitude of cuts should depend on the state of the economy. Too much cutting and too fast would cause a reduction in aggregate demand and a consequent reduction in output. This would undermine confidence, not strengthen it. Critics of the Coalition government’s policy point to the fragile nature of the recovery and the historically low levels of consumer confidence

The following articles provide some of the more recent contributions to the debate.

Keynes would be on our side New Statesman, Vince Cable (12/1/11)
Cable’s attempt to claim Keynes is well argued — but unconvincing New Statesman, David Blanchflower and Robert Skidelsky (27/1/11)
Growth or cuts? Keynes would not back the coalition – especially over jobs Guardian, Larry Elliott (17/1/11)
People do not understand how bad the economy is Guardian, Vince Cable (20/5/11)
The Budget Battle: WWHD? (What Would Hayek Do?) AK? (And Keynes?) PBS Newshour, Paul Solman (29/4/11)
Keynes vs. Hayek, the Rematch: Keynes Responds PBS Newshour, Paul Solman (2/5/11)
On Not Reading Keynes New York Times, Paul Krugman (1/5/11)
Would a More Expansionary Fiscal Policy Be Effective Right Now? Yes: On the Invisible Bond Market and Inflation Vigilantes Once Again Blog: Grasping Reality with a Prehensile Tail, Brad DeLong (12/5/11)
Keynes, Crisis and Monopoly Capitalism The Real News, Robert Skidelsky and Paul Jay (29/4/11)


  1. What factors in the current economic environment affect the level of consumer confidence?
  2. What are the most important factors that will determine whether or not a policy of fiscal consolidation will drive the economy back into recession?
  3. How expansionary is monetary policy at the moment? Is it enough simply to answer this question by reference to central bank repo rates?
  4. What degree of crowding out would be likely to result from an expansionary fiscal policy in the current economic environment? If confidence is adversely affected by expansionary fiscal policy, would this represent a form of crowding out?
  5. Why may fiscal multipliers have ‘turned negative’?
  6. For what reasons might a tight fiscal policy lead to an increase in aggregate demand?
  7. Your turn: what would Keynes have done in the current macroeconomic environment?
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The world economy

Periodically, the BBC hosts debates on major global topics. The following links are to the January 2011 debate on the state of the world economy and on what policies governments and central banks should pursue.

Should governments be boosting aggregate demand by raising government expenditure and cutting taxes in order to stimulate growth and plan to bring down deficits over the long term once growth is established? Or should they embark on tough fiscal consolidation now by cutting government expenditure and/or raising taxes in order to stimulate confidence by international financiers, thereby keeping long-term interest rates down and creating the foundations for sustainable economic growth? The debate considers these two very different policy approaches.

The participants in the debate are Joseph Stiglitz (Professor of Economics, Columbia University), Christina Romer (Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley and Adviser to Barack Obama (2009–10)), George Papaconstantinou (Finance Minister of Greece), Dominique Strauss-Khan (Managing Director, IMF) and Zhou Xiaochuan (Governor, Chinese Central Bank). The debate is in five separate webcasts.

World debate on the global economy BBC World Service (20/1/11)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


  1. What are the arguments for maintaining economic stimulus, at least for the time being? What are the relative merits of fiscal and monetary stimulus? Explain whether such policies are consistent with Keynesian polcies.
  2. What are the arguments for tough fiscal consolidation? Explain whether such policies are consistent with new classical policies.
  3. How successful have US policies been in stimulating the US economy?
  4. What role can China play in the recovery and long-term growth of the global economy and are there any imbalances that need correcting?
  5. Why might countries’ domestic policies result in currency wars? Is currency realignment necessary for sustained global growth?
  6. How important are consumer and business confidence to short-term recovery and long-term growth and to what extent do government policies respond to swings in confidence?
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What’s £81.6 billion and still rising?

So what’s £81.6 billion and still rising? The answer is the UK public-sector budget deficit so far this financial year. Given all the talk over the past week about the state of the Irish public finances it is perhaps timely to review the state of the UK public finances. To do this we take a look at the latest release of public sector finances from the Office for National Statistics. It is worth pointing out that the figures we will refer to take into account the impact of those financial interventions which were designed to ensure the stability of the financial system following the financial crisis. These interventions include the transfer of financial institutions like Northern Rock and HBOS to the public sector, injections of capital into financial institutions and the Asset Protection Scheme whereby institutions insured themselves against losses on assets placed in the scheme. The main impact of these interventions has been on the overall stock of public-sector debt following the incorporation of some financial institutions into the public sector.

We consider three key statistics of the public finances. Firstly, we consider the UK’s level of net borrowing. This is a flow concept measuring the degree to which the public sector’s expenditures exceed its receipts. In October net borrowing was recorded at £10.3 billion and, as we said at the outset, this takes the level of net borrowing so far this financial year (i.e. since April) to £81.6 billion. This compares with £87.5 billion in the same period in 2009. If all these numbers leave you a tad cold then perhaps it may help to note that since the beginning of January 2009 the public sector has been running an average monthly deficit of around £12 billion.

Another widely quoted fiscal indicator is the public-sector current budget. The current budget measures whether the public sector has been able to afford what are known as current expenditures and so net investment by the public sector is excluded from this fiscal indicator. Current expenditures include the wages of public sector staff, such as teachers and nurses, welfare payments and expenditures on a whole range of inputs consumed in the current financial year. Net investment by the public sector adds to our country’s capital stock and includes expenditures on such things as roads and school buildings as well as investment grants to the private sector, for example money to help better insulate our homes.

The public sector’s current budget was in deficit in October to the tune of £7.1 billion. This means that in the current financial year the current budget deficit has reached £64.1 billion which compares with £69.1 billion in the same period last year. Again to put the current budget into perspective we note that since January 2009 the average current budget deficit has been running at just under £8 billion per month.

The third key statistic reported by the ONS is public-sector net debt. This is the value of the sector’s stock of debt less its liquid financial assets (largely foreign exchange reserves and bank deposits). As of the end of October, the stock of net debt (excluding the impact of the financial interventions) stood at £845.8 billion, equivalent to 57.1% of GDP. If we include the impact of the financial interventions then the stock of public sector debt at the end of October was actually £955 billion and so not too far off the £1 trillion-mark. This figure is equivalent to 64.5% of GDP and shows quite clearly the impact of incorporating the balance sheets of those financial institutions now classified as public monetary and financial institutions.

But what about the future prospects for our 3 key indicators of the public finances. The Office for Budget Responsibility central projections at the time of the June Budget predicted that the government’s fiscal consolidation plan will see the current budget in balance across financial year 2015/16. This is expected to come about as the current budget deficit begins falling each year following the current financial year. It is also predicts that if we take into account the negative impact of the economy’s expected negative output gap on the public finances that the structural current budget deficit will have been removed by 2014/15. In other words, any current budget deficit in 2014/15 will be a cyclical deficit resulting from higher expenditure and/or lower receipts because of the economy’s actual output being below its potential output.

Of course, while the OBR is predicting that the actual current budget (i.e. without any adjustment for the cycle) will be in balance by 2015-16, this still means that the public sector will remain a net borrower because there is also net investment expenditure to take into account. Nonetheless, if the forecast is proved correct, this would see net borrowing across the whole of 2015-16 of only £20 billion. As for net debt, the OBR is predicting that it will peak at 70.3% of GDP in 2013-14 before falling to 69.4% by 2014-15.

U.K. had larger-than-expected budget deficit in October amidst modest growth Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (18/11/10)
UK Oct public sector borrowing rise more than expected International Business Times, (18/11/10)
UK government borrowing at £10.3 billion in October BBC News (18/11/10) )
Deficit target still in sight despite new UK borrowing high Telegraph , Emma Rowley (18/11/10)
UK public sector borrowing rises Sky News, Goldie Momen Putrym (18/11/10)
Britain slumps another £10 billion in the red Independent, Holly Williams (18/11/10)

Latest on Public Sector Finances Office for National Statistics (20/11/10)
Public Sector Finances Statistical Bulletin, October 2010 Office for National Statistics (20/11/10)
Public Sector Finances (First Release) Time Series Data Office for National Statistics
Public Sector Finance Statistics HM Treasury


  1. What do you understand to be the difference between the concepts of deficits and debt? Illustrate your answer with reference to the public sector and a household’s finances.
  2. What types of public expenditures would be categorised as being current expenditures and what types as capital expenditures?
  3. What is the difference between the current budget and net borrowing? Why might governments want to measure both these budget balances?
  4. Explain what you think is meant by a cyclical deficit and a structural deficit? Can you have cyclical surpluses and structural surpluses?
  5. What is meant by an output gap? What impact would you expect an output gap to have on the public finances?
  6. In 1988/89 the UK ran a budget surplus equivalent to 6.3% of GDP. After cyclically-adjusting this surplus is estimated to have been a deficit with net borrowing equivalent to 1.3% of GDP. Can you explain how this is possible and what the economy’s output gap is likely to have been?
  7. Imagine that you have been asked by government to design either a fiscal rule (or rules) or a set of principles for fiscal policy. What sorts of considerations would you take into account and so what rule or principles, if any, would you suggest?
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The ‘paradox of cuts’

Keynes referred to the ‘paradox of thrift’ (see, for example, Box 17.5 on page 492 of Sloman and Wride, Economics, 7th edition). The paradox goes something like this: if individuals save more, they will increase their consumption possibilities in the future. If society saves more, however, this may reduce its future income and consumption. Why should this be so? Well, as people in general save more, they will spend less. Firms will thus produce less. What is more, the lower consumption will discourage firms from investing. Thus, through both the multiplier and the accelerator, GDP will fall.

What we have in the paradox of thrift is an example of the ‘fallacy of composition’ (see Sloman and Wride, Box 3.7 on page 84). What applies at the individual level will not necessarily apply at the aggregate level. The paradox of thrift applied in the Great Depression of the 1930s. People cutting back on consumption drove the world economy further into depression.

Turn the clock forward some 80 years. On 26/27 June 2010, leaders of the G20 countries met in Canada to consider, amongst other things, how to protect the global economic recovery while tackling the large public-sector deficits. These deficits have soared as a result of two things: (a) the recession of 2008/9, which reduced tax revenues and resulted in more people claiming benefits, (b) the expansionary fiscal policies adopted to bring countries out of recession.

But the leaders were divided on how much to cut now. Some, such as the new Coalition government in the UK, want to cut the deficit quickly in order to appease markets and avert a Greek-style crisis and a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to service the debt. Others, such as the Obama Administration in the USA, want to cut more slowly so as not to put the recovery in jeopardy. Nevertheless, cuts were generally agreed, although agreement about the timing was more vague.

So where is the fallacy of composition? If one country cuts, then it is possible that increased demand from other countries could drive recovery. If all countries cut, however, the world may go back into recession. What applies to one country, therefore, may not apply to the world as a whole.

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail and consider the individual elements of aggregate demand. If there are to be cuts in government expenditure, then there has to be a corresponding increase in aggregate demand elsewhere, if growth is to be maintained. This could come from increased consumption. But, with higher taxes and many people saving more (or reducing their borrowing) for fear of being made redundant or, at least, of having a cut in their incomes, there seems to be little sign that consumption will be the driver of growth.

Then there is investment. But, fearing a ‘double-dip recession’, business confidence is plummeting (see) and firms are likely to be increasingly reluctant to invest. Indeed, after the G20 summit, stock markets around the world fell. On 29 June, the FTSE 100 fell by 3.10% and the main German and French stock market indices, the Dax and the Cac 40, fell by 3.33% and 4.01% respectively. This was partly because of worries about re-financing the debts of various European countries, but it was partly because of fears about recovery stalling.

The problem is that cuts in government expenditure and rises in taxes directly affect the private sector. If government capital expenditure is cut, this will directly affect the construction industry. Even if the government makes simple efficiency savings, such as reducing the consumption of paper clips or paper, this will directly affect the private stationery industry. If taxes are raised, consumers are likely to buy less. Under these circumstances, no wonder many industries are reluctant to invest.

This leaves net exports (exports minus imports). Countries generally are hoping for a rise in exports as a way of maintaining aggregate demand. But here we have the fallacy of composition in its starkest form. If one country exports more, then this can boost its aggregate demand. But if all countries in total are to export more, this can only be achieved if there is an equivalent increase in global imports: after all, someone has to buy the exports! And again, with growth faltering, the global demand for imports is likely to fall, or at best slow down.

The following articles consider the compatibility of cuts and growth. Is there a ‘paradox of cuts’ equivalent to the paradox of thrift?

Osborne’s first Budget? It’s wrong, wrong, wrong! Independent on Sunday, Joseph Stiglitz (27/6/10)
Strategy: Focus switches from exit to growth Financial Times, Chris Giles (25/6/10)
Once again we must ask: ‘Who governs?’ Financial Times, Robert Skidelsky (16/6/10)
Europe’s next top bailout… MoneyWeb, Guy Monson and Subitha Subramaniam (9/6/10)
Hawks hovering over G20 summit Financial Times (25/6/10)
G20 applauds fiscal austerity but allows for national discretion Independent, Andrew Grice and David Usborne (28/6/10)
To stimulate or not to stimulate? That is the question Independent, Stephen King (28/6/10)
Now even the US catches the deficit reduction habit Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (28/6/10)
George Osborne claims G20 success Guardian, Larry Elliott and Patrick Wintour (28/6/10)
G20 accord: you go your way, I’ll go mine Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/6/10)
G20 summit agrees on deficit cuts by 2013 BBC News (28/6/10)
IMF says G20 could do better BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (27/6/10)
Are G20 summits worth having? What should the G20′s top priority be? (Economics by invitation): see in particular The G20 is heading for a “public sector paradox of thrift”, John Makin The Economist (25/6/10)
Why it is right for central banks to keep printing Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/6/10)
In graphics: Eurozone in crisis: Recovery Measures BBC News (24/6/10)
A prophet in his own house The Economist (1/7/10)
The long and the short of fiscal policy Financial Times, Clive Crook (4/7/10)

G20 Communiqué
The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration (27/6/10) (see particularly paragraph 10)


  1. Consider the arguments that economic growth and cutting deficits are (a) complementary aims (b) contradictory aims.
  2. Is there necessarily a ‘paradox of cuts’? Explain.
  3. How is game theory relevant in explaining the outcome of international negotiations, such as those at the G20 summit?
  4. Would it be wise for further quantitative easing to accompany fiscal tightening?
  5. What is the best way for governments to avoid a ‘double-dip recession’?
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