Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A View from Cyprus on Austerity

. Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Andreas Assiotis is an acquaintance of mine. He also has a PhD in economics from the same American university where I did my undergraduate economics degree. At least at the undergrad level they were a New Keynesian bunch, not freshwater RBC. Now Andreas is on the faculty at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia. A few days ago he posted the following on Facebook (reprinted with his permission, although I have no idea if he agrees with any of my commentary which follows):

We had a party, and it's hangover time. From an economic perspective we did what we ought to do to save our country. An alternative would have included salary cuts, more layoffs, the already high unemployment rate skyrocketing, and extreme taxes that would have made this burden sharing even more unfair. There is a bright side: Starting from this moment we should all roll our sleeves and start planning for the future. Instead of demanding more money, higher salaries, and more goods we should demand more transparency, better institutions, law enforcement, better regulations... There is not a reset neither a boost button that any Xristofias or Anastasiades could hit...we, the populace, are the only entities that could change the future, OUR future...
This is much closer to the Schumpeterian view of austerity than the Alesina view*. In fact, it sounds like nobody in Cyprus views this austerity as expansionary; hence today's rejection of the "bailout" plan, or whatever we're calling it. This was more like a old-school shakedown than anything in Alesina's model.

This is why I think we need to be careful about how we use the language of "austerity". If I understand him correctly, Blyth's main thesis has absolutely nothing to say about the Cypriot case. And probably not the Greek case or the Portugese case or the Irish case. More traditional models of political economy have plenty to say about these things. So why are we insisting that very different things be described in the same way? Why not have distinct terms for distinct concepts?

What's happening to Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland is austerity. Not expansionary austerity. Contractionary austerity. And they know it. It's a grinding political battle over who bears the burden of debt. There's no hood-winking going on, no zombies ideas or confidence fairies or animal spirits or any other mythical beasts which need conjuring. Just old-fashioned materialist politics.

*Also, this has nothing to do with Alesina's model and in fact basically none of the EU austerity plans have. Nor the U.S./U.K. plans. More about that in another day or several.

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A View from Cyprus on Austerity
 

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