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Austerity, journalists and the financial sector


The argument that current growth (since 2013 in the UK and maybe from 2014 in the Eurozone) vindicates austerity is ludicrous. Anyone who comes to the debate without existing baggage can see that developments in the UK and Eurozone have been entirely consistent with what academic critics of austerity have been saying. So rather than go over the arguments yet again, let me ask why some people continue to make or support this ludicrous argument.

In some cases asking this question does not tell you a great deal. For George Osborne, for example, you could simply say ‘he would, wouldn’t he’. Still I think there are two interesting points to note: first, here is a Chancellor who feels no inhibition in allowing sound bite to trounce economic logic, and second, he feels confident that he can get away with it, which tells you a great deal about the UK media.

Which brings me to the Financial Times (ex Martin Wolf). Now, to be pedantic, the FT tends not to say outright that current growth vindicates austerity, but instead that George Osborne is justified to claim that it does. Yet this subtlety aside, why do they pursue this line? It would be easy to lump them in with the politicians, but I think that would be both wrong, and miss some important points.

I thought about this partly because of the latest Chris Giles article on the issue (HT Alan Taylor), but also because of Paul Krugman’s comment on my earlier post that discussed the weakness of the European left on macro policy. He makes the point that Obama also showed similar weakness on austerity, and explains this in terms of the influence of what he terms ‘Very Serious People’ (VSP), “whose views on economics tend in turn to be driven largely by the financial industry.” Now at this point I usually add a caveat that there are some good economists who work for financial institutions, but generally the sector’s view on austerity is that it is necessary, and often that it is unlikely to have much impact on domestic output.

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