Europe’s embrace of austerity has sparked a debate among economists. This column argues that the debate has gone astray. Until the critical principle – ‘how’ is as important as ‘how much’ – is embraced, the austerity debate in Europe will continue to be completely out of line with the real economic trade-offs.
The European debate on fiscal austerity has gone astray – focusing exclusively on the size of deficit reductions. What policy makers should really be focusing on is the budget tightening’s composition�(tax versus spending) and on the accompanying policies. Indeed, the title of this Vox debate – “Has austerity gone too far?” – reflects this inappropriate emphasis on size.
In our view, the essential question is not ‘how far’ governments go but of ‘how’ they go far enough.
Evidence on new taxes versus new spending cuts
Economists have engaged in some lively debates about how to measure and evaluate the effects of large fiscal adjustments episodes in OECD countries (Europe in particular). But a careful and fair reading of the evidence makes clear a few relatively uncontroversial points, despite the differences in approaches. The accumulated evidence from over 40 years of fiscal adjustments across the OECD speaks loud and clear: