Spending Cuts Do Not Cause Economic Expansion

Paul Krugman

Photo: NYtimes.com

A new paper from the IMF (pdf) puts another nail in the coffin of the doctrine of expansionary austerity. It basically shows that results purporting to show economic expansion following spending cuts and/or tax increases were based on a statistical illusion: an expanding economy can often lead to rising revenue and/or falling spending (e.g. because safety-net spending falls or because the government cuts back in an attempt to cool off inflationary pressures). And as a result, what the Alesina-Ardagna results capture is muddle by reverse causation.The paper corrects this by using the historical record to identify true examples of deliberate austerity — and it turns out that they are contractionary. The multiplier is less than one, but that may reflect the fact that these austerity programs did not take place in the face of a zero lower bound, so they were partly offset by monetary expansion.

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