Paul Krugman and Richard Layard put forward a case for a coherent and evidence based approach to the crisis. Essentially they argue that a strategy of focusing on the reduction of public debt levels exclusively in order to regain market confidence makes no sense, and has been falsified empirically. They also argue that structural imbalances shouldn’t prevent the use of discretionary fiscal policy for stabilization purposes when it is available.
This chart of the drop in domestic demand from the recent Nevin Institute quarterly report (page 4) is particularly striking as a motivating factor in discussing Krugman and Layard’s piece.
Krugman and Layard have a manifesto you can sign up to (I did).
There are lots of things in this piece I agree with, but two big ones are:
1. Placing the blame for the crisis at governments’ feet makes no sense. The crisis didn’t start in the public finances, it began in the private sector(s).
2. The confidence argument and its attendant strategy is completely wrong headed at this juncture, Ireland in particular shouldn’t be held up by anyone as the role model for austerity, either in the 1980s or today.
There are also aspects I don’t see as pertinent to the Irish case.
Krugman and Layard write:
A second argument against expanding demand is that output is in fact constrained on the supply side – by structural imbalances. If this theory were right, however, at least some parts of our economies ought to be at full stretch, and so should some occupations.
But in Ireland, in the IT sector for example, and especially in really high end tech jobs like online video gaming and such, they can’t get people. (Obviously in other sectors like services and construction their argument holds.) There are other examples but I think in a small open economy like Ireland this argument isn’t that important.
The key question from an Irish point of view is: to what extent is the Krugman-Layard prescription possible in a country with so little fiscal room for maneuver? Translating the argument down a bit, if Ireland is somewhere between Greece and Spain in terms of it’s problems, even if Enda Kenny et al bought the Krugman/Layard prescription lock stock and two smoking barrels, given where we are right now, are our options severely limited in any event? I’d welcome your thoughts on this.