Last week saw a string of bad economic news reports. The eurozone leaders seem unwilling or unable to change from their austerity policies, even as Greece and Spain fall apart and the core eurozone economies contract. Britain watches on as its economy is heading for the third consecutive quarter of contraction, with an unexpectedly sharp fall in manufacturing. Last week's jobs figures confirmed that the US recovery is stuttering. The largest developing economies that have so far provided some support for world demand levels – especially India and Brazil but even China – are slowing down too. Four years after the financial crisis began, many...
rich capitalist economies have not recovered their pre-crisis output levels.
Even more serious is the unemployment problem. The International Labour Organisation estimates there are 60 million fewer people employed worldwide than if the pre-crisis trend had continued. In countries like Spain and Greece, overall jobless rates are approaching 25%, with youth unemployment over 50%. Even in countries experiencing "milder" unemployment problems, like the US and the UK, between 8% and 10% are out of work. If we include those who have given up looking for jobs or those who are forced to work part-time for want of fulltime opportunities, "real" unemployment could be easily over 15% even in these countries.
The remedies on offer are well known. Reduce budget deficits by cutting spending – especially "unproductive" social welfare spending that reduces growth by making poor people less willing to work. Cut taxes at the top and deregulate business (euphemistically called "cutting red tape") so that the "wealth creators" have greater incentives to invest and generate growth; and make hiring and firing easier.
It is increasingly accepted that these policies are not working in the current environment. But less widespread is the recognition that there is also plenty of historical evidence showing that they have never worked. The same happened during the 1982 developing world debt crisis, the1994 Mexican crisis, the 1997 Asian crisis, the Brazilian and the Russian crises in 1998, and the Argentinian crisis of 2002. All the crisis-stricken countries were forced (usually by the IMF) to cut spending and run budget surpluses, only to see their economies sink deeper into recession. Going back a bit further, the Great Depression also showed that cutting budget deficits too far and too quickly in the middle of a recession only makes things worse.