If one person saves more, then it will increase that person’s consumption possibilities in the future. If, however, everyone saves more, and hence spends less, then businesses will earn less and are likely to respond by producing less if the decline in aggregate demand continues. Hence if a country saves more, people could be worse off. That’s the paradox of thrift.
There is considerable debate around the world at the moment about the desirability of austerity policies. The debate has become more intense with the worsening economic outlook in many European countries and with the election in France of François Hollande who rejects many of the austerity measures of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
But can further stimulus be given to aggregate demand without causing a further worsening of countries’ public-sector debt positions and causing a fall in confidence in financial markets? And how would that impact on investment?
And in the meantime, as the economic outlook darkens, people are trying to save more, despite low interest rates. The paradox of thrift seems to be getting more acute. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
How National Belt-Tightening Goes Awry New York Times, Robert J. Shiller (19/5/12)
Japan disease is spreading: High risk and low returns Firstpost (India), Vivek Kaul (17/5/12)
The Solution can not be More Debt Huffington Post, Jill Shaw Ruddock (29/5/12)
Crediting debt Breaking Views, Edward Hadas (30/5/12)
Green investments can overcome the paradox of thrift New Statesman, Dimitri Zenghelis (7/6/12)
Austerity has never worked Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang (4/6/12)
The False Choice Between Austerity And Growth Forbes (24/5/12)
It’s not a case of austerity v stimulus for Europe Guardian, Paul Haydon (1/6/12)
UK households’ saving ratio: series NRJS ONS
Household saving rates for OECD countries StatExtracts: OECD
- Why may we be experiencing a paradox of thrift at the current time?
- What are the arguments for the use of fiscal and monetary policies to expand aggregate demand at the current time?
- What are the arguments against the use of fiscal and monetary policies to expand aggregate demand at the current time?
- Can economic growth be stimulated by a redistribution of aggregate demand and, if so, in what way?
- Can green investment overcome the paradox of thrift?
- To what extent are demand-side and supply-side policies (a) complementary; (b) contradictory? Or, to put the question another way, to what extent may policies to encourage growth in the long term damage growth in the short term and vice versa?
As one of his first acts, the new UK Coalition government’s Chancellor, George Osborne, set up an independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) (see Nipping it in the Budd: Enhancing fiscal credibility?. The role of the OBR is to provide forecasts of the economy and the data on which to base fiscal policy.
On 14 June, the OBR produced its first forecast in time for the Budget scheduled for 22 June. It has some bad news and some good news. First the bad news: it forecasts that growth for 2011 will be 2.6% – down from the 3–3.5% forecast by Labour in its last Budget in March. But now the good: it forecasts that the public-sector deficit in 2010/11 will be 10.5% of GDP – down from the 11.1% forecast by Labour; and that public-sector debt will be 62.2%, not the 63.6% forecast by Labour. These forecasts are before any policy changes announced in the Budget on 22 June.
Meanwhile, the accountants BDO have published a survey of business confidence. This shows the largest drop since the survey began. Talk by the government of cuts and worries that this will impact directly on the private sector have caused many businesses to cut investment plans. The worries are compounded by fears of a decline in export demand as countries abroad also make cuts.
So what does the future hold? Should we put any faith in forecasts? And should we be more worried about a double-dip recession or by failure to make sufficient inroads to deficits to calm markets?
Growth forecast is cut but borrowing improves Guardian, Phillip Inman and Hélène Mulholland (14/6/10)
UK watchdog slashes growth forecasts Financial Times, Chris Giles (14/6/10)
Fiscal watchdog downgrades UK growth forecast BBC News (14/6/10)
OBR UK growth forecast downgraded BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
‘Sorry it is so complicated’ BBC Daily Politics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
Britain’s new economic forecasts: what the analysts say Guardian (14/6/10)
Spending cuts under fire amid new borrowing forecasts Independent, Russell Lynch (14/6/10)
The self-fulfilling deficit spiral Guardian, Adam Lent (14/6/10)
UK business confidence sees ‘record drop’ BBC News (13/6/10)
Britain to avoid double dip but recovery will be weak, CBI warns Independent, David Prosser (14/6/10)
A winding path to inflation The Economist (3/6/10)
Is inflation or deflation a greater threat to the world economy? The Economist: debate (1/6/10)
A question for chancellor Osborne Financial Times, Martin Wolf (11/6/10)
Fiscal conservatism may be good for one nation, but threatens collective disaster Independent, Joseph Stiglitz (15/6/10)
Hawks v doves: economists square up over Osborne’s cuts Guardian, Phillip Inman (14/6/10)
Data and forecasts
Pre-Budget forecast Office for Budget Responsibility (14/6/10)
Pre-Budget Report data Google docs (14/6/10)
Forecast for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury (May 2010)
- How reliable is the OBR’s forecast likely to be? What factors could cause the forecast for economic growth to be (a) an overestimate; (b) an underestimate?
- What is likely to happen to aggregate demand over the coming months? Explain.
- What is meant by the ‘structural deficit’. Why might the structural deficit fall as the economy recovers? Would you explain this in terms of a shift or a movement along the short-term aggregate supply curve?
- Which is the greatest threat over the long term: inflation or deflation?
- Do you agree that the debate about cutting the deficit is merely a question of timing, not of the amount to cut?
- Why may policies of fiscal tightening, if carried out generally around the world, involve the fallacy of composition?
- Is there any common ground between the fiscal ‘hawks’ and fiscal ‘doves’ (see the last Guardian article above)?
In 2008 and 2009, as the global recession deepened, so governments around the world turned to Keynesian policies. Aggregate demand had to be boosted. This meant a combination of fiscal and monetary policies. Fiscal stimulus packages were adopted, combining increased government expenditure and cuts in taxes. On the monetary policy front, central banks cut interest rates to virtually zero and expanded the money supply in bouts of quantitative easing.
The global recession turned out not to be a deep as many had feared and the Keynesian policies were hailed by many as a success.
But how the tide is turning! The combination of the recession (which reduced tax revenues and increased welfare spending) and the stimulus packages played havoc with public finances. Deficits soared. These deficits had to be financed, and increasingly credit agencies and others were asking how sustainable such deficits were over the longer term. These worries have been compounded by the perilous state of the public finances in countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Hungary. The focus has thus turned to cuts. In fact there is now an international ‘competition’ as to which country can wear the hairiest hair shirt. The new Coalition government in the UK, for example, is busy preparing the general public for deep cuts to come.
We are now seeing a re-emergence of new classical views that increased deficits, far from stimulating the economy and resulting in faster growth, largely crowd out private expenditure. To prevent this crowding out and restore confidence in financial markets, deficits must be rapidly cut, thereby allowing finance to be diverted to the private sector.
But if the contribution to aggregate demand of the public sector is to be reduced, and if consumption, the largest component of aggregate demand, is also reduced as households try to reduce their reliance on borrowing, where is the necessary rise in aggregate demand to come from? We are left with investment and net exports – the remaining two components of aggregate demand, where AD = C + G + I + (X – M).
But will firms want to invest if deficit reduction results in higher taxes, higher unemployment and less spending by the government on construction, equipment and many other private-sector goods and services. Won’t firms, fearing a decline in consumer demand, and possibly a ‘double-dip recession’, hold off from investing? As for export growth, this depends very much on growth in the rest of the world. If the rest of the world is busy making cuts too, then export growth may be very limited.
The G20, meeting in Korea on 4 June, wrestled with this problem. But the mood had definitely turned. Leaders seemed much more concerned about deficit reduction than maintaining the fiscal stimulus.
The following articles look at the arguments between Keynesians and new classicists. The disagreements between their authors reflect the disagreements between economists and between politicians about the timing and extent of cuts.
Time to plan for post-Keynesian era Financial Times, Jeffrey Sachs (7/6/10)
The Keynesian Endpoint CNBC Guest Blog, Tony Crescenzi (7/6/10)
Keynes, Recovered Boston Review, Jonathan Kirshner (May/June 2010)
How Keynes, not mining, saved us from recession Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittins (7/6/10)
The verdict on Keynes Asia Times, Martin Hutchinson (2/6/10)
The G20 Has Officially Voted For Global Depression Business Insider, Marshall Auerback (7/6/10)
Deficit disorder: the Keynes solution New Statesman, Robert Skidelsky (17/5/10)
Hawks v doves: economists square up over Osborne’s cuts Guardian, Phillip Inman (14/6/10)
Reports and data
OECD Economic Outlook No. 87, May 2010 (see)
Economics: Growth rising faster than expected but risks increasing too, says OECD Economic Outlook OECD (26/5/10)
Economy: responses must reflect governments’ views of national situations OECD (26/5/10)
Editorial and summary of projections OECD (26/5/10)
General assessment of the macroeconomic situation OECD (26/5/10)
Statistical Annex to OECD Economic Outlook No. 87 OECD (10/6/10)
Communiqué, Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, Busan, Republic of Korea G20 (5/6/10)
- Summarise the arguments for and against making rapid cuts in public-sector deficits.
- What forms can crowding out take? Under what circumstances will a rise in public-sector deficits (a) cause and (b) not cause crowding out?
- Assess the policy measures being proposed by the G20.
- How important is confidence for the success of (a) fiscal stimulus packages and (b) deficit reduction policies in boosting economic growth?
The current recession has seen the re-emergence of many of the intellectual battles fought amongst economists between the two worlds wars and again from the 1960s to the 1980s. The current debate has hinged around the appropriate policy response to the current recession. Is the solution a Keynesian one of stimulating aggregate demand; or is it a new classical one of keeping public spending under control to make room for private spending and to allow the market to function to best effect? And what about banking reform? What are the arguments here? The following articles by Lord Skidelsky examine the debate.
Robert Skidelsky, Economists clash on shifting sands Financial Times (9/6/09)
Robert Skidelsky, Economic reform needs a dose of reality Guardian (27/7/09)
See also the following video:
Robert Skidelsky, The financial challenge of our times Guardian (2/3/09)
- Explain the ways in which economics is (a) similar to and (b) different from the natural sciences.
- For what reasons would new classical economists criticise the fiscal stimulus packages pursued by many countries in the past few months?
- Under what circumstances would a fiscal stimulus crowd out private spending? Do these circumstances apply (a) today; (b) over the next two years?
- Why may crowding out in practice depend on issues of confidence?
- What ‘Keynesian lessons’ have been learned from the banking crisis and recession?
The current financial crisis had led to Keynesian theory coming back into fashion. Governments all around the world have put in place a significant fiscal and monetary stimulus to try to mitigate the impact of the downturn. But is this really Keynesian policy at work? Keynes argued for permanent and tough controls on the financial sector to allow the government to pursue a policy of full employment. It would be difficult that current policies are therefore pure Keynesian policies, so is there an economic theory vacuum with market economics discredited, but Keynesian economics not really taking its place? The article below looks at how economic theory has changed in recent months and considers whether we need a ‘new’ Keynes.
Wanted: the Keynes for our times Guardian (22/12/08)
- Explain the difference between classical and Keynesian beliefs with respect to government intervention in the ecoomy.
- Analyse the extent to which the recent policy stimulus has been Keynesian in nature.
- Discuss the changes that have taken place in economic policy during 2008/9 in the context of economic theory.