Monday, December 22, 2014

We are all Japanese now, In a sense

You can lead a horse to liquidity, but you can’t make it drink. In a world where private aggregate demand is weak and unconventional monetary policy eventually becomes like pushing on a string, the case for slower fiscal consolidation and productive public infrastructure spending is compelling.

Such spending offers returns that are certainly higher than the low interest rates that most advanced economies face today, and infrastructure needs are massive in both advanced and emerging economies (with the exception of China, which has overinvested in infrastructure). Moreover, public investment works on both the demand and supply sides. It not only boosts aggregate demand directly; it also expands potential output by increasing the stock of productivity-boosting capital.

Unfortunately, the political economy of austerity has led to sub-optimal outcomes. In a fiscal crunch, the first spending cuts hit productive public investments, because governments prefer to protect current – and often inefficient – spending on public-sector jobs and transfer payments to the private sector. As a result, the global recovery remains anemic in most advanced economies (with the partial exception of the US and the UK) and now also in the major emerging countries, where growth has slowed sharply in the last two years.

The right policies – less fiscal austerity in the short run, more public investment spending, and less reliance on monetary easing – are the opposite of those that have been pursued by the world’s major economies. No wonder global growth keeps on disappointing. In a sense, we are all Japanese now.


 Nouriel Roubini is an American professor of Economics at New York University`s Stern School of Business and chairman of RGE Roubini Global Economics
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