Contractionary fiscal policy in recessions is contractionary (contrary to those who advocate "expansionary austerity). It also worsens social indicators (though for some undermining the social safety net is one of the goals of austerity):
The social impact of fiscal policy responses to crises, by Carlos A. Vegh and Guillermo Vuletin, Vox EU: Fiscal policy in many developing countries is typically procyclical. Expansionary in good times and contractionary in bad times, these policies often amplify business cycles. The most convincing explanations for such practices seem to be limited access to international credit markets during bad times and political pressures that tend to encourage too much public spending during boom periods (Calderon and Schmidt-Hebbel 2008). Whatever the reason, the pattern is well documented (see Frankel, Vegh, and Vuletin 2011 on the spending side and Vegh and Vuletin 2013a on the tax side). In particular, contractionary fiscal policy in bad times seems to have increased the severity and duration of crises (Vegh and Vuletin 2013b).
Ironically, the procyclicality of fiscal policy has also become a hotly debated issue in the context of the current crises in Europe, with influential economists such as Olivier Blanchard (IMF Chief Economist) arguing that fiscal multipliers in the Eurozone have been underestimated by the IMF and others and thus that the contractionary effects of fiscal austerity have been considerably higher than typically believed (Blanchard and Leigh 2013).
Counting the social impact
Lost in much of the discussion on fiscal-policy procyclicality has been the social impact of contractionary fiscal policy during recessions – things such as:
- the poverty rate,
- income inequality,
- the unemployment rate, and
- domestic conflict.
In a recent research paper we look at how the fiscal-policy responses to GDP crises have affected social indicators such as those listed above (Vegh and Vuletin 2014). We find that contractionary fiscal policy during crises has tended to worsen social indicators both in Latin America and, more recently, in the Eurozone, which calls into question recent claims on ‘expansionary fiscal austerity.’ ...
While many Latin American countries have ‘graduated’ from procyclical to countercyclical fiscal responses to GDP crises, many industrial economies (like Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal) followed contractionary fiscal policies in the aftermath of the Global Crisis. Our work finds that countercyclical fiscal policies tend to soften the undesirable effects of GDP crises on social indicators such as poverty, income inequality, unemployment, and domestic conflict. On the other hand, austerity policies tend to worsen all of these social indicators.
This evidence supports the desirability of pursuing expansionary fiscal policies in times of distress – which may mean postponing for some time needed structural fiscal adjustment – rather than embarking on fiscal austerity in the midst of a recession. ...