The Political Economics of Austerity
Cambridge Journal of Economics doi:10.1093/cje/bet076
39 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2014
Date Written: January 1, 2014
The 2007/8 financial crisis has reignited the debate about economic austerity. With the aim of understanding why a government would pursue such a policy in the current context of persistent economic recession, this article traces the social, political and economic developments that have together shaped the evolution of ideas about austerity, from the earliest theorizing by the Classical political economists some three hundred years ago. Throughout the historical narrative, important analytical themes revolve around the arguments used to justify austerity – notably appeals to ethics and morality (reinforced by misleading analogies drawn between government budgets and the accounts of firms and households). These include: concerns about inflation and the observed relationship between inflation and unemployment; ‘Ricardian equivalence’ and ‘non-Keynesian’ effects of austerity; and the correlation between public debt levels and economic growth. The class analytics of austerity – who bears the burden of austerity and who benefits – and the process by which alternative ideas penetrate the mainstream and reconstitute the conventional wisdom are also important analytical themes.
Keywords: Austerity, Macroeconomic Policy, Financial Crises, Business Cycles
JEL Classification: B22, E32, E44, N10
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