Amartya Sen againt austerity

Amartya Sen*1 “Austerity is undermining Europe's grand vision

最近、経済学者によるシバキ主義批判として、ポール・クルーグマン*2やHa-joon Chang*3を採り上げたが、今度はアマリティア・セン。ここでのセン先生の議論を乱暴に要約すれば、ヨーロッパにおけるシバキ主義的政策はヨーロッパの統合というEUの理念そのものを損なってしまうだろうということになる。或いは通貨としてのユーロ維持のためのシバキ主義は本末転倒である、と。

It is important to appreciate that the movement for European unification began as a crusade for cross-border amity and political unity, combined with freer movement of people and goods. Giving priority to financial unification, with a common currency, came much later, and it has, to some extent, started to derail the original aspiration of European unity.

The so-called "rescue" packages for the troubled economies of Europe have involved insistence on draconian cuts in public services and living standards. The hardship and inequality of the process have frayed tempers in austerity-hit countries and generated resistance – and partial non-compliance – which in turn have irritated the leaders of countries offering the "rescue". The very thing that the pioneers of European unity wanted to eliminate, namely disaffection among European nations, has been fomented by these deeply divisive policies (now reflected in such rhetoric as "lazy Greeks" or "domineering Germans," depending on where you live).


The moral appeal of austerity is deceptively high ("if it hurts, it must be doing some good"), but its economic ineffectiveness has been clear at least since Keynes's debunking of "the remedy of austerity" in the Great Depression of the 1930s, with unemployment and idle capacity due to a lack of effective demand. It is also self-defeating in reducing public deficits, because austerity tends to depress economic growth, so reducing a government's revenue. Much of the eurozone has been shrinking rather than expanding since the inception of these policies.

However, we have to go well beyond Keynes in understanding the harm done by the ill-chosen cult of austerity. We have to ask what public expenditure is for – other than just strengthening effective demand (on which Keynes concentrated, focusing on the expenditure itself, rather than on the services it supported). Savage cuts in important public services undermine what had emerged as a social commitment in Europe by the 1940s, and which led to the birth of the welfare state and the national health services, setting a great example of public responsibility from which the entire world would learn*4.


Turning to the second problem – the euro, with fixed exchange rates for all countries in the zone – economies that fall behind in the productivity race tend to develop lack of competitiveness in exports, as countries such as Greece, Spain or Portugal have been experiencing already. Competitiveness can, of course, at least partly be recovered through slashing wages and living standards, but this would lead to great suffering (much of it unnecessary), and generate understandable popular resistance. Sharp increases in inequality between regions can be remedied, to be sure, by large-scale migration within Europe (for example, from Greece to Germany). But it is hard to assume that persistent population inflow to the same countries would not generate political resistance there.

The inflexibility of fixed exchange rates of the euro is inherently problematic when the economic performance of countries continues to differ. A unified currency in a politically united federal country (such as in the US) survives through adjustment mechanisms (including large internal migration and substantial transfers) that cannot yet be a norm in a politically disunited Europe.


Decision-making without public discussion – standard practice in the making of European financial policies – is not only undemocratic, but also inefficient in terms of generating reasoned practical solutions. For example, serious consideration of the kinds of institutional reforms badly needed in Europe – not just in Greece – has, in fact, been hampered, rather than aided, by the loss of clarity on the distinction between reform of bad administrative arrangements on the one hand (such as people evading taxes, government servants using favouritism, or unviably low retiring ages being preserved), and on the other, austerity in the form of ruthless cuts in public services and basic social security. The requirements for alleged financial discipline have tended to amalgamate the two in a compound package, even though any analysis of social justice would assess policies for necessary reform in an altogether different way from ruthless cuts in important public services.
ところでこのテクストの冒頭で、オーデンの詩”In Memory of W. B. Yeats*5が引用されている。