Publications on Austerity
Working Paper No. 1010 | September 2022Angela Merkel is the second-longest-serving chancellor of modern Germany, with more than 16 years in office. During her tenure there were many years of economic stability, but there were also years of domestic, EU, and geopolitical tensions. Merkel inherited an economy that was recovering after the launching of probusiness policies known as the Hartz I IV Reforms, introduced by the government of the previous chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. Chancellor Merkel was criticized for mishandling the eurocrisis, as she failed to declare support for the financially distressed eurozone countries. Instead she convinced EU officials and country leaders to adopt a contractionary fiscal policy in the midst of a recession. As a result of the austerity measures, Merkel became popular among the German taxpayers and voters. This triggered credit rating agencies to downgrade the government bonds of the periphery eurozone countries and investors to sell these bonds, driving their prices to zero. Periphery eurozone countries came close to bankruptcy but were jointly bailed out by the EU and the IMF, though this prolonged the crisis. As a result of the imposed austerity, which was unnecessary and avoidable, millions of people became unemployed and experienced poverty, loss of dignity, and humiliation and Greece was the country hit hardest. For Merkel, placing national interests above EU interests was the most important mistake in her career; it took, however, a bigger crisis (i.e., the COVID-19 pandemic), to convince Merkel to place EU interests above national interests.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):George Zestos Harrison Whittleton Alejandro Fernandez-Ribas
Working Paper No. 948 | February 2020This paper analyzes recent macroeconomic developments in the eurozone, particularly in Germany. Several economic indicators are sending signals of a looming German recession. Geopolitical tensions caused by trade disputes between the United States and China, plus the risk of a disorderly Brexit, began disrupting the global supply chain in manufacturing. German output contraction has been centered on manufacturing, particularly the automobile sector. Despite circumstances that call for fiscal intervention to rescue the economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government was overdue with corrective measures. This paper explains Germany’s hesitancy to protect its economy, which has been based on a political and historical ideology that that rejects issuing new public debt to increase public spending, thus leaving the economy exposed to the doldrums. The paper also considers serious shortcomings in the European Union’s (EU) foreign and defense policies that recently surfaced during the Syrian refugee crisis. The eurocrisis revealed near-fatal weaknesses of the European Monetary Union (EMU), which is still incomplete without a common fiscal policy, a common budget, and a banking union. Unless corrected, such deficiencies will cause both the EU and the EMU to dissolve if another asymmetric shock occurs. This paper also analyzes recent geopolitical developments that are crucial to the EU/eurozone’s existential crisis.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):George Zestos Rachel N. Cooke
Strategic Analysis, January 2020 | January 20202019 marked the third year of the continuing economic recovery in Greece, with real GDP and employment rising, albeit at modest rates. In this Strategic Analysis we note that the expansion has mainly been driven by net exports, with tourism playing a dominant role. However, household consumption and investment are still too far below their precrisis levels, and a stronger and sustainable recovery should target these components of domestic demand as well.
Fiscal austerity imposed on the Greek government has achieved its target in terms of public finances, such that some fiscal space is now available to stimulate the economy. Our simulations for the 2019–21 period show that under current conditions the economy is likely to continue on a path of modest growth, and that the amount of private investment needed for a stronger recovery is unlikely to materialize.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Strategic Analysis, November 2018 | November 2018The Greek government has managed to exit the stability support program and achieve a higher-than-required primary surplus so as not to require further austerity measures to depress domestic demand. At the same time, the economy has started to recover, mainly due to the good performance of both exports of goods and tourism and modest increases in investment
In this report, we review recent developments in the determinants of aggregate demand and net exports, and provide estimates of two scenarios: one which assumes business as usual and the other an alternate scenario simulating the medium-term impact of an acceleration in investment.
We conclude with a discussion on the sustainability of Greek government debt, showing that it is crucial that the cost of borrowing remains below the nominal growth of national income.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 143, 2017 | February 2017
Since inheriting the Brazilian presidency five months ago, the new Temer administration has successfully ratified a constitutional amendment imposing a radical, two-decades-long public spending freeze, purportedly aimed at sparking an increase in business confidence and investment. In this policy brief, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho explains why this fiscal strategy is based not only on a flawed conception of the drivers of private-sector confidence and investment but also on a mistaken view of the roots of the current Brazilian economic crisis. The hoped-for “expansionary fiscal consolidation” is not likely to be achieved.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 867 | May 2016
This paper examines the issue of the Greek public debt from different perspectives. We provide a historical discussion of the accumulation of Greece’s public debt since the 1960s and the role of public debt in the recent crisis. We show that the austerity imposed since 2010 has been unsuccessful in stabilizing the debt while at the same time taking a heavy toll on the Greek economy and society. The experience of the last six years shows that the country’s public debt is clearly unsustainable, and therefore a bold restructuring is needed. An insistence on the current policies is not justifiable either on pragmatic or on moral or any other grounds. The experience of Germany in the early post–World War II period provides some useful hints for the way forward. A solution to the Greek public debt problem is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the solution of the Greek and wider European crisis. A broader agenda that deals with the malaises of the Greek economy and the structural imbalances of the eurozone is of vital importance.Download:Associated Programs:The State of the US and World Economies Monetary Policy and Financial Structure Economic Policy for the 21st CenturyAuthor(s):
Working Paper No. 866 | May 2016
Proposals for the Eurozone Crisis
After reviewing the main determinants of the current eurozone crisis, this paper discusses the feasibility of introducing fiscal currencies as a way to restore fiscal space in peripheral countries, like Greece, that have so far adopted austerity measures in order to abide by their commitments to eurozone institutions and the International Monetary Fund. We show that the introduction of fiscal currencies would speed up the recovery, without violating the rules of eurozone treaties. At the same time, these processes could help transition the euro from its current status as the single currency to the status of “common clearing currency,” along the lines proposed by John Maynard Keynes at Bretton Woods as a system of international monetary payments. Eurozone countries could therefore move from “Plan B,” aimed at addressing member-state domestic problems, to a “Plan A” for a better European monetary system.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Policy Note 2016/2 | April 2016
Brazil is mired in a joint economic and political crisis, and the way out is unclear. In 2015 the country experienced a steep contraction of output alongside elevated inflation, all while the fallout from a series of corruption scandals left the policymaking apparatus paralyzed. Looking ahead, implementing a policy strategy that has any hope of addressing the Brazilian economy’s multilayered problems would make serious demands on a political system that is most likely unable to bear it.
Working Paper No. 856 | December 2015
Evidence from Europe, 2006–13
We examine the relationship between changes in a country’s public sector fiscal position and inequality at the top and bottom of the income distribution during the age of austerity (2006–13). We use a parametric Lorenz curve model and Gini-like indices of inequality as our measures to assess distributional changes. Based on the EU’s Statistics on Income and Living Conditions SLIC and International Monetary Fund data for 12 European countries, we find that more severe adjustments to the cyclically adjusted primary balance (i.e., more austerity) are associated with a more unequal distribution of income driven by rising inequality at the top. The data also weakly suggest a decrease in inequality at the bottom. The distributional impact of austerity measures reflects the reliance on regressive policies, and likely produces increased incentives for rent seeking while reducing incentives for workers to increase productivity.Download:Associated Programs:The State of the US and World Economies The Distribution of Income and Wealth Economic Policy for the 21st CenturyAuthor(s):Markus P.A. Schneider Stephen Kinsella Antoine Godin
Policy Note 2015/2 | February 2015
The Greek economic crisis started as a public debt crisis five years ago. However, despite austerity and a bold “haircut,” public debt is now around 175 percent of Greek GDP. In this policy note, we argue that Greece’s public debt is clearly unsustainable, and that a significant restructuring of this debt is needed in order for the Greek economy to start growing again. Insistence on maintaining the current policy stance is not justifiable on either pragmatic or moral grounds.
The experience of Germany in the early post–World War II period provides some useful insights for the way forward. In the aftermath of the war, there was a sweeping cancellation of the country’s public and foreign debt, which was part of a wider plan for the economic and political reconstruction of Germany and Europe. Seven decades later, while a solution to the unsustainability of the Greek public debt is a necessary condition for resolving the Greek and European crisis, it is not, in itself, sufficient. As the postwar experience shows, a broader agenda that deals with both Greece’s domestic economic malaise and the structural imbalances in the eurozone is also of vital importance.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 138, 2014 | October 2014To mobilize Greece’s severely underemployed labor potential and confront the social and economic dangers of persistent unemployment, we propose the immediate implementation of a direct public benefit job creation program—a Greek “New Deal.” The Job Guarantee (JG) program would offer the unemployed jobs, at a minimum wage, on work projects providing public goods and services. This policy would have substantial positive economic impacts in terms of output and employment, and when newly accrued tax revenue is taken into account, which substantially reduces the net cost of the program, it makes for a comparatively modest fiscal stimulus. At a net cost of roughly 1 percent to 1.2 percent of GDP (depending on the wage level offered), a midrange JG program featuring the direct creation of 300,000 jobs has the potential to reduce the unemployed population by a third or more, once indirect employment effects are taken into account. And our research indicates that the policy would do all this while reducing Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio—which leaves little room for excuses.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 813 | August 2014
For Economic Stimulus, or for Austerity and Volatility?
The implementation of economic reforms under new economic policies in India was associated with a paradigmatic shift in monetary and fiscal policy. While monetary policies were solely aimed at “price stability” in the neoliberal regime, fiscal policies were characterized by the objective of maintaining “sound finance” and “austerity.” Such monetarist principles and measures have also loomed over the global recession. This paper highlights the theoretical fallacies of monetarism and analyzes the consequences of such policy measures in India, particularly during the period of the global recession. Not only did such policies pose constraints on the recovery of output and employment, with adverse impacts on income distribution; but they also failed to achieve their stated goal in terms of price stability. By citing examples from southern Europe and India, this paper concludes that such monetarist policy measures have been responsible for stagnation, with a rise in price volatility and macroeconomic instability in the midst of the global recession.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Sunanda Sen Zico DasGupta
Public Policy Brief No. 133, 2014 | May 2014The “happy talk” emanating from eurozone officials regarding the economic crises in the periphery deserves some vigorous pushback. Focusing on the four bailed-out countries of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, Research Associate and Policy Fellow C. J. Polychroniou argues in this policy brief that, contrary to the burgeoning optimism in official communications, these countries’ economies are still not on track for vigorous, sustainable recoveries in growth and employment—and that there is nothing surprising in this result.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Conference Proceedings, September 26–27, 2013 | April 2014Cosponsored by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and MINDS – Multidisciplinary Institute for Development and Strategies, with support from the Ford Foundation
Everest Rio Hotel
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
September 26–27, 2013
This conference was organized as part of the Levy Institute’s global research agenda and in conjunction with the Ford Foundation Project on Financial Instability, which draws on Hyman Minsky's extensive work on the structure of financial governance and the role of the state. Among the key topics addressed: designing a financial structure to promote investment in emerging markets; the challenges to global growth posed by continuing austerity measures; the impact of the credit crunch on economic and financial markets; and the larger effects of tight fiscal policy as it relates to the United States, the eurozone, and the BRIC countries.Download:Associated Program:
One-Pager No. 43 | September 2013
Unemployment in Greece has climbed to a new record of 27.9 percent and the country is headed toward a third bailout. The obsession with reducing the budget deficit is crippling the Greek economy. Extreme fiscal consolidation in the midst of a major depression can only have extreme effects on output, leading to greater unemployment, widening poverty, massive loss of faith in political and social institutions, and the potential for political violence. This is precisely what has been taking place in Greece since 2010, as fiscal brutality intensifies from one year to the next. Offering Greece yet another bailout package is not the answer.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
One-Pager No. 41 | September 2013
Why the Troika’s Greek Strategy Is Failing
Greece’s unemployment rate just hit 27.6 percent. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Why has the troika—the European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and European Central Bank—been so consistently wrong about the effects of its handpicked policies? The strategy being imposed on Greece depends in large part on the idea of “internal devaluation”: that reducing wages will make its products more attractive, thus spurring a return to economic growth powered by rising exports. Our research, based on a macroeconomic model specifically constructed for Greece, indicates that this strategy is not working. Achieving significant growth in net exports through internal devaluation would, at best, take a very long time—and a great deal of immiseration and social disintegration would take place while we waited for this theory to bear fruit. Despite some recent admissions of error along these lines by the IMF, the troika still relies on a theory of how the economy works that badly underestimates the negative effects of austerity.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2013/6 | July 2013
The International Bailouts of GreeceResearch Associate and Policy Fellow C. J. Polychroniou argues that a political solution based on a new economic vision is needed to bring an end to the Greek crisis. Polychroniou observes that what began as a financial crisis has been transformed into a full-fledged economic and social crisis by the neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union (EU). Instead of growth, these policies have destroyed Greece’s economy, divided the eurozone states, and hobbled a fragile global recovery. The past six years have seen Greece’s descent into economic and social ruin. Exiting the current crisis, for Greece and countries throughout the eurozone, requires more than an end to austerity. Broadly, EU institutions must be radically restructured around the principles of sustainable, equitable growth. Specifically, Greece needs a comprehensive development plan, with massive public spending and investment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Strategic Analysis, July 2013 | July 2013
A Strategic AnalysisEmployment in Greece is in free fall, with more than one million jobs lost since October 2008—a drop of more than 28 percent. In March, the “official” unemployment rate was 27.4 percent, the highest level seen in any industrialized country in the free world during the last 30 years.
In this report, Levy Institute President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Research Scholars Michalis Nikiforos and Gennaro Zezza present their analysis of Greece’s economic crisis and offer policy recommendations to restore growth and increase employment. This analysis relies on the Levy Institute’s macroeconomic model for the Greek economy (LIMG), a stock-flow consistent model similar to the Institute’s model of the US economy. Based on the LIMG simulations, the authors find that a continuation of “expansionary austerity” policies will actually increase unemployment, since GDP will not grow quickly enough to arrest, much less reverse, the decline in employment. They critically evaluate recent International Monetary Fund and European Commission projections for the Greek economy, and find these projections overly optimistic. They recommend a recovery plan, similar to the Marshall Plan, to increase public consumption and investment. Toward this end, the authors call for an expanded direct public-service job creation program.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 742 | December 2012
The Economic Consequences of Parochial Policy
Financial market crises with the threat of a subsequent debt-deflation depression have occurred with increasing regularity in the United States from 1980 through the present. Almost reflexively, when confronted with such circumstances, US institutions and the policymakers that run them have responded in a fashion that has consistently thwarted debt-deflation-depression dynamics. It is true that these “remedies,” as they succeeded, increasingly contributed to a moral hazard in US and global financial markets that culminated with the crisis that began in 2007. Nonetheless, the straightforward steps taken by established institutions enabled the United States to derail depression dynamics, while European 1930s-style austerity proved as ineffective as it was almost a century ago. Europe’s, and specifically Germany’s, steadfast refusal to embrace the US recipe has fostered mushrooming economic hardship on the continent. The situation is gruesome, and any serious student of economic history had to have known, given European policy commitments, that it was destined to turn out this way.
It is easy to understand why misguided policies drove initial European responses. Economic theory has frowned on Keynes. Economic successes, especially in Germany, offered up the wrong lessons, and enduring angst about inflation was a major distraction. At the outset, the wrong medicine for the wrong disease was to be expected.
What is much harder to fathom is why such a poisonous elixir continues to be proffered amid widespread evidence that the patient is dying. Deconstructing cognitive dissonance in other spheres provides an explanation. Not surprisingly, knowing what one wants to happen at home completely informs one’s claims concerning what will be good for one’s neighbors. In such a construct, the last best hope for Europe is ECB President Mario Draghi. He seems to be able to speak German and yet act European.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera Gerald Holtham