Osborne said his austerity programme would give the government more flexibility in the event of a future crisis, but the IMF said taking out this sort of insurance policy would only be worth it if the benefits exceeded the costs.
“It turns out, however, that the cost could be large – much larger than the benefit. The reason is that, to get to a lower debt level, taxes that distort economic behaviour need to be raised temporarily or productive spending needs to be cut – or both. The costs of the tax increases or expenditure cuts required to bring down the debt may be much larger than the reduced crisis risk engendered by the lower debt.”
The economists rejected the notion that austerity could be good for growth by boosting the confidence of the private sector to invest. It said that in practice, “episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output. On average, a consolidation of 1% of GDP increases the long-term unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage points.”
“In the case of fiscal consolidation, the short-run costs in terms of lower output and welfare and higher unemployment have been underplayed, and the desirability for countries with ample fiscal space of simply living with high debt and allowing debt ratios to decline organically through growth is underappreciated.”
They concluded that the increase in inequality threatened to be self-defeating. “The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting. There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth.”
Austerity policies do more harm than good, IMF study concludes