Budget 2010: How to thaw the economy

March 16, 2010

Anthony_EvansAnthony J. Evans is assistant professor at ESCP Europe Business School. He will participate in a Reuters Budget live blog at noon GMT on Wednesday, March 24, 2010. Please tune in and join the discussion.

We’re used to hearing how credit markets “froze” in the summer of 2008, and how the subsequent policy responses have been aimed at economic recovery. Indeed politicians often use terms such as “stimulate” or “kick start” to give the impression that intervention is a necessary prelude to growth.

An alternative view is that fiscal spending has sought to freeze economic activity, by preserving jobs and preventing the structural adjustments that have to take place.

What the economy needs is a widespread recalculation, where unprofitable businesses relinquish their scarce resources, and investors get back to investing. Evidence from the Great Depression in the 1930s shows that vast and arbitrary policy changes backfired, because they destabilised the investment climate.

It was only when government gave up that confidence returned. We now need to see a similar realisation that an economy’s strength rests on private investment, and that policy changes create regime uncertainty.

It is unlikely that an unpopular incumbent government would take the short-term pain that is necessary just before an election. However there are several reasons why the costs of recalculation are exaggerated. Recessions do not affect the economy uniformly, and the disruption they cause present massive opportunities for well-run businesses.

We are seeing high profits for companies that can navigate these difficult waters, with great rewards for acquisitions and foreign expansion. It is also possible for a majority of consumers to leave a recession with higher incomes than before it, challenging the notion that times are necessarily gloomy.

Therefore the debate about when to start paying off the debt is misleading – there’s no danger of endangering the “recovery” when we’re merely witnessing another artificial boom. Attempts to return to the high house prices, high consumer spending and high debt of 2006 completely misunderstand the structure of the economy.

I’d like to see serious attempts to deal with the debt crisis with significant cuts in government spending and innovative ways of raising money through the sale of government assets. But most importantly I’ll be looking for policies that reduce barriers to entrepreneurship – making it easier to hire employees, cutting red tape, and simplifying the tax code.

Politicians are trying to have a recovery without recalculation. What I’m looking for in the budget is the realisation that the economy has been made structurally weaker, and things are set to get much worse.


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Would not the economy “recalculate itself” to a natual datum if there were no artificial interference. Our econmy is like having to repair a tyre’s near-rotten innertube far from home, and not having a replacement to hand; futile – the embarrasing walk back to base is inevitable.

Posted by Rob Casper | Report as abusive

Isn’t what you seek happening anyway? As you say, some well run companies are doing well, but with the slowing of retail lending by banks, many less well companies which need those overdrafts to keep their heads above water are floundering. It’s hard to see what a government could to do materially affect this process. In either direction.

As for “cutting through red tape” – one might argue that it is no better than “thawing” the credit market: making it easier to hire and fire would improve the survival chances of those less well run companies who don’t care about their employees much more than those of the well run companies who hire staff for the long run and invest heavily in them.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

This is written on universal language and proposed can be applied everywhere, but how to get this things done when they serve some other purpose. Of course things are going to get much much worse.

Posted by Antonio Meić | Report as abusive