April 18, 2010

THERE IS NO THEM IN HOMOGENOUS:

Can’t Cut Spending? Look Around the Globe (TYLER COWEN, 4/16/10, NY Times)

The macroeconomic evidence also suggests the wisdom of emphasizing spending cuts. In a recent paper, Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, economics professors at Harvard, found that in developed countries, spending cuts were the key to successful fiscal adjustments — and were generally better for the economy than tax increases. Their conclusion was based on data since 1970 from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The received wisdom in the United States is that deep spending cuts are politically impossible. But a number of economically advanced countries, including Sweden, Finland, Canada and, most recently, Ireland, have cut their government budgets when needed.

Most relevant, perhaps, is Canada, which cut federal government spending by about 20 percent from 1992 to 1997. The Liberal Party, headed by Jean Chrétien as prime minister and Paul Martin as finance minister, led most of this shift. Prompted by the financial debacle in Mexico, Canadian leaders had the courage and the foresight to make those spending cuts before a fiscal crisis was upon them. In his book “In the Long Run We’re All Dead: The Canadian Turn to Fiscal Restraint,” Timothy Lewis describes Canada’s move from fiscal irresponsibility to a balanced budget — a history that helps explain why the country has managed the current global recession relatively well.

To be sure, the spending cuts meant fewer government services, most of all for health care, and big cuts in agricultural subsidies. But Canada remained a highly humane society, and American liberals continue to cite it as a beacon of progressive values.

Counterintuitively, the relatively strong Canadian trust in government may have paved the way for government spending cuts, a pattern that also appears in Scandinavia. Citizens were told by their government leadership that such cuts were necessary and, to some extent, they trusted the messenger.

IT’S less obvious that the United States can head down the same path, partly because many Americans are so cynical about policy makers. In many ways, this cynicism may be justified, but it is not always helpful, as it lowers trust and impedes useful social bargains.


In fact, other work by Mr. Alesina demonstrates why, regardless of what would be useful social policy, it is the Tea Party types who prevent it. Their perception that government spending inordinately benefits minorities making them loath to give up any of their own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2010 5:41 AM
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