Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Economists' fads and fashions

I had a post yesterday on the controversy over the Reinhart-Rogoff paper. Such controversies wouldn't be troubling if they remained strictly in the academic realm. The difficulty arises when some findings or prescriptions of economists are accepted and acted upon by policy-makers. These prescriptions, mind you, are often over-simplified versions of theory When the findings come to be questioned later, as has  happened with the RR paper, the costs of wrong policy fall on the hapless citizens of economies where these policies have been practised.

There is little doubt that austerity in the Eurozone has hurt millions badly. This would have been acceptable had there been light at the end of the tunnel. It does appear, however, that economic recovery is going to stretch out as austerity causes economies to contract. You can't blame RR alone for this.

The IMF, which has pushed for austerity in the bailout packages for Greece and others, disclosed last October that its estimate of the fiscal multiplier (of around 0.5) was an under-estimate. The multiplier may be higher than 1. This means that cuts in government spending will cause a reduction in gdp that is greater than the cut, so that debt to gdp rises, it doesn't fall! Now, who is going to pay for the IMF's turnabout? The people of the Eurozone, of course.

One can think of other prescriptions that have turned out to be dubious- capital account convertibility, opening up to foreign banks, privatisation, efficient markets and 'light-touch' regulation.... it's a long list. Policy makers must be careful not to fall for passing fads and fashion amongst economists. They must allow policy always to be mediated by the democratic process, so that they have a better understanding of how policy impacts on the lives and aspirations of people.

More in Hindu article, Beware the nostrums of economists.

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