'AUSTERITY' TO BLAME? But Where's The Austerity?
The Keynesian stimulus crowd blames austerity for the world’s economic woes without bothering to examine facts. I advise them first to consult my colleague at the German Institute for Economic Research (Georg Erber, I See Austerity Everywhere But in the Statistics), who, unlike them, has actually taken the time to examine the European Union’s statistics as compiled by its statistical agency, Eurostat.
The official Keynesian story is that the PIIGS of Europe (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) have been devastated by cutbacks in public spending. Austerity has made things worse rather than better – clear proof that Keynesian stimulus is the answer. Keynesians claim the lack of stimulus (of course paid for by someone else) has spawned costly recessions which threaten to spread. In other words, watch out Germany and Scandinavia: If you don’t pony up, you’ll be next.
Erber finds fault with this Keynesian narrative. The official figures show that PIIGS governments embarked on massive spending sprees between 2000 and 2008. During this period, their combined general government expenditures rose from 775 billion Euros to 1.3 trillion – a 75 percent increase. Ireland had the largest percentage increase (130 percent), and Italy the smallest (40 percent). These spending binges gave public sector workers generous salaries and benefits, paid for bridges to nowhere, and financed a gold-plated transfer state. What the state gave has proven hard to take away as the riots in Southern Europe show.
Then in 2008, the financial crisis hit. No one wanted to lend to the insolvent PIIGS, and, according to the Keynesian narrative, the PIIGS were forced into extreme austerity by their miserly neighbors to the north. Instead of the stimulus they desperately needed, the PIIGS economies were wrecked by austerity.
Not so according to the official European statistics. Between the onset of the crisis in 2008 and 2011, PIIGS government spending increased by six percent from an already high plateau. Eurostat’s projections (which make the unlikely assumption that the PIIGS will honor the fiscal discipline promised their creditors) still show the PIIGS spending more in 2014 than at the end of their spending binge in 2008.
As Erber wryly notes: “Austerity is everywhere but in the statistics.”
The PIIGS remind me of the patient whose doctor orders him to lose weight by eating less. The patient responds by doubling his calorie intake. He later cuts back by ten percent and wonders why he is not losing weight. The PIIGS went on a spending binge from which they do not want to retreat. They then blame their problems on austerity and the lack of charity of others.