Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The OECD procyclical revision of fiscal policy multipliers

The OECD just published its November 2016 Global Economic Outlook.  Their projections suggest an acceleration of global growth rates in particular in countries with plans for a fiscal expansion. In the case of the US, and based on the "plans" of the Trump administration, the OECD projects an acceleration of GDP growth to 3% in 2018.

I am very glad to see that the OECD is more open to the idea that a fiscal expansion might be the right policy choice in a low growth environment. I am also very happy that they are ready to admit that fiscal policy multipliers are larger than what they previously thought.

But I am puzzled that they seem to ignore their previous disastrous economic policy advice. And I am even more puzzled that they are upgrading their estimates of fiscal policy multipliers (in particular for tax cuts) at the wrong time in the business cycle, when the economy must be closer to full employment.

Here is the history: back in 2011 many advanced economies switched to contractionary fiscal policy at a time where their growth rates were low and unemployment rates remained very high.  During those years the OECD seemed be ok with fiscal consolidation given the high government debt levels (consolidation was necessary). They understood that there were some negative effects on demand but as they assumed multipliers or about 0.5 (in the middle of a crisis with very high unemployment rates!) the cost did not seem that high.

Today, in an economy with unemployment rate below 5%, and wages and inflation slowly returning to normal vales and a central bank ready to raise interest rate, the OECD turns around and decides to change the fiscal policy multipliers to something close to 1 even if the announced fiscal measures consists mostly of tax cuts to the wealthier households with low propensity to consume.

This is what I would call a procyclical revision of fiscal policy multipliers. Encourage consolidations in the middle of a crisis and expansion in good times. Not quite what optimal fiscal policy should look like.

And, of course, the media (including the Financial Times) reported on the OECD study as a validation of the new US administration policies.

And I leave for another (longer) post the absence of any serious discussion of the risks associated to a Trump presidency. This is coming from an organization that has been obsessed with the risks of inflation and excessive asset appreciation during the crisis.

Antonio Fatás