South Centre Paper, March 2013

The Age of Austerity: A Review of Public Expenditures and Adjustment Measures in 181 Countries.

This paper: (i) examines the latest IMF government spending projections for 181 countries by comparing the four distinct periods of 2005-07 (pre-crisis), 2008-09 (crisis phase I: fiscal expansion), 2010-12 (crisis phase II: onset of fiscal contraction) and 2013-15 (crisis phase III: intensification of fiscal contraction); (ii) reviews 314 IMF country reports in 174 countries to identify the main adjustment measures considered in high-income and developing countries; (iv) discusses the threats of austerity to development goals and social progress; and (v) calls for urgent action by governments to adopt alternative and equitable policies for socio-economic recovery.

This paper questions if the projected fiscal contraction trajectory—in terms of timing, scope and magnitude—as well as the specific austerity measures being considered are conducive to socio-economic recovery and the achievement of development goals. The worldwide propensity toward fiscal consolidation can be expected to aggravate the employment crisis and diminish public support at a time when it is most needed. The costs of adjustment are being thrust upon populations who have been relentlessly coping with fewer and lower-paying job opportunities, higher food and fuel costs, and reduced access to essential services since the crisis began. In short, millions of households continue to bear the costs of a “recovery” that has largely excluded them.

This paper encourages policymakers to recognize the high human and developmental costs of poorly-designed adjustment strategies and to consider alternative policies that support a recovery for all.

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