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)
- 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?