March 7, 2010

“The Dangers of Deficit Reduction”- Joseph Stiglitz

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 10:04 pm
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Joseph Stiglitz picks up where Jamie Galbraith left off:

The Dangers of Deficit Reduction, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Commentary, NY Times: A wave of fiscal austerity is rushing over Europe and America. …

Most economists … agree that it is a mistake to look at only one side of a balance sheet (whether for the public or private sector). One has to look not only at what a country or firm owes, but also at its assets. This should help answer those financial sector hawks who are raising alarms about government spending. … Spending, especially on investments in education, technology, and infrastructure, can actually lead to lower long-term deficits. …

Faster growth and returns on public investment yield higher tax revenues, and a 5 to 6% return is more than enough to offset temporary increases in the national debt. A social cost-benefit analysis (taking into account impacts other than on the budget) makes such expenditures, even when debt-financed, even more attractive.

Finally, most economists agree that … a … weaker economy calls for a larger deficit, and the appropriate size of the deficit in the face of a recession depends on the precise circumstances. … Yet, even with large deficits, economic growth in the US and Europe is anemic, and forecasts of private-sector growth suggest that in the absence of continued government support, there is risk of continued stagnation…

As the global economy returns to growth, governments should, of course, have plans on the drawing board to raise taxes and cut expenditures. The right balance will inevitably be a subject of dispute. …

The financial sector has imposed huge externalities on the rest of society. America’s financial industry polluted the world with toxic mortgages, and, in line with the well established “polluter pays” principle, taxes should be imposed on it. Besides, well-designed taxes on the financial sector might help alleviate problems caused by excessive leverage and banks that are too big to fail. Taxes on speculative activity might encourage banks to focus greater attention on performing their key societal role of providing credit.

Over the longer term, most economists agree that governments, especially in advanced industrial countries with aging populations, should be concerned about the sustainability of their policies. But we must be wary of deficit fetishism. Deficits to finance wars or give-aways to the financial sector … lead to liabilities without corresponding assets, imposing a burden on future generations. But high-return public investments that more than pay for themselves can actually improve the well-being of future generations, and it would be doubly foolish to burden them with debts from unproductive spending and then cut back on productive investments.

These are questions for a later day…, prospects of a robust recovery are, at best, a year or two away. For now, the economics is clear: reducing government spending is a risk not worth taking.


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