Austerity and Elections

Authors: Alberto Alesina, Gabriele Ciminelli, Davide Furceri and Giorgio Saponaro

Conventional wisdom holds that voters punish governments that implement fiscal austerity. Yet, most empirical studies, which rely on ex-post yearly austerity measures, do not find supportive evidence. This paper revisits the issue using action-based, real-time, ex-ante measures of fiscal austerity as well as a new database of changes in vote shares of incumbent parties. The analysis emphasizes the importance of the ‘how’—whether austerity is done via tax hikes or expenditure cuts—and the ‘who’—whether it is carried out by left- vs. right-leaning governments. Our main finding is that tax-based austerity carries large electoral costs, while the effect of expenditure-based consolidations depends on the political-leaning of the government. An austerity package worth 1% of GDP, carried out mostly through tax hikes, reduces the vote share of the leader’s party by about 7%. In contrast, expenditure-based austerity is detrimental for left- but beneficial for right-leaning governments. We also find that the electoral cost of austerity—especially tax hikes—can be contained if it is implemented during good economic times.

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The Rise in Inequality after Pandemics: Can Fiscal Support Play a Mitigating Role?

Authors: Davide Furceri, Prakash Loungani, Jonathan David Ostry and Pietro Pizzuto

Major epidemics of the last two decades (SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola and Zika) have been followed by increases in inequality (Furceri, Loungani, Ostry and Pizzuto, 2020). In this paper, we show that the extent of fiscal consolidation in the years following the onset of these pandemics has played an important role in determining the extent of the increase in inequality. Episodes marked by extreme austerity—measured using either the government’s fiscal balance, health expenditures or redistribution—have been associated with an increase in the Gini measure of inequality three times as large as in episodes where fiscal policy has been more supportive. We survey the evidence thus far on the distributional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which suggests that inequality is likely to increase in the absence of strong policy actions. We review the case made by many observers (IMF 2020; Stiglitz 2020; Sandbu 2020b) that fiscal support should not be withdrawn prematurely despite understandable concerns about high public debt-to-GDP ratios.

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