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The politics of economic stupidity

By Josephe.stiglitz (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-22 08:12

The politics of economic stupidity

In 2014, the world economy remained stuck in the same rut that it has been in since emerging from the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite seemingly strong government action in Europe and the United States, both economies suffered deep and prolonged downturns. The gap between where they are and where they most likely would have been had the crisis not erupted is huge. In Europe, it increased over the course of the year.

Developing countries fared better, but even there the news was grim. The most successful of these economies, having based their growth on exports, continued to expand in the wake of the financial crisis, even as their export markets struggled. But their performance, too, began to diminish significantly in 2014.

The near-global stagnation witnessed in 2014 is man-made. It is the result of politics and policies in several major economies - politics and policies that choked off demand. In the absence of demand, investment and jobs will fail to materialize. It is that simple.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the eurozone, which has officially adopted a policy of austerity - cuts in government spending that augment weaknesses in private spending. The eurozone's structure is partly to blame for impeding adjustment to the shock generated by the crisis; in the absence of a banking union, it was no surprise that money fled the hardest-hit countries, weakening their financial systems and constraining lending and investment.

In Japan, one of the three "arrows" of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's program for economic revival was launched in the wrong direction. The fall in GDP that followed the increase in the consumption tax in April provided further evidence in support of Keynesian economics - as if there was not enough already.

The US introduced the smallest dose of austerity, and it has enjoyed the best economic performance. But even in the US, there are roughly 650,000 fewer public-sector employees than there were before the crisis; normally, we would have expected some 2 million more. As a result, the US, too, is suffering, with growth so anemic that wages remain basically stagnant.

Much of the growth deceleration in emerging and developing countries reflects China's slowdown. China is now the world's largest economy (in terms of purchasing power parity), and it has long been the main contributor to global growth. But China's remarkable success has bred its own problems, which should be addressed sooner rather than later.

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