Amartya Sen: The economic consequences of austerity

 

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Amartya Sen: The economic consequences of austerity 

En los últimos meses se ha desatado una interesante conversación en la blogosfera sobre la supuesta virtud de austeridad de la actual administración británica, o sobre que la austeridad no es tal, o si una cosa o la otra es responsable del aparente éxito económico actual. Amartya Sen, nuestro premio Nobel de economía en 1998, realiza sus comentarios sobre esto en el anterior link. Amartya, que es un personaje en toda regla, tiene un buen número de seguidores que disfrutan con sus escritos. Los que no le conozcan… pues pueden empezar con este post. Aunque no se si yo comparto el optimismo de que es posible obtener mensajes claros de los resultados electorales, sean los del sistema electoral británico e indio, o de cualquier otro lugar. Pero bueno…

It is certainly true that the policy of austerity has been advertised as the reason behind the comparative success of the British economy. This comparison is, however, with Europe, which has been in a bigger hole than Britain, with a more vigorous imposition of austerity, particularly in some countries (Greece is of course the extreme example of that – with the big shrinking of its economy, rather than having economic growth). The relatively positive growth in recent years does not make Britain’s overall experience of growth over the period of austerity particularly impressive, if we look beyond Europe. Not only is the price-adjusted GDP per capita in Britain today still lower than what it was before the crisis in 2008, but also, in the period of recovery from the low of 2009, GDP per capita has risen far more slowly in the UK than in the US and Japan (not to mention some of the faster-growing Asian economies).

Could the British voters, then, have missed the real story? That is possible, and I shall come to that possibility presently, but the voting figures do not quite bring out a groundswell of approval in favour of austerity. There is no question that Labour had a severely bad election, and has lost ground, not just in Scotland, and must rethink its priorities as well as strategies quite radically. But the parties forming the coalition government – the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – had support from more than 59 per cent of the total vote in the election before last in 2010 (that is, before they sprang the surprise of austerity on the British public); yet the coalition parties together have managed to get only around 45 per cent in this election – after the experience of austerity. Not quite a heady success for the vote-getting ability of austerity. The Tories did get a clear majority of seats on their own (and have good reason to celebrate that outcome), but this achievement came with only 37 per cent of the votes. The success here is just like that of the Hindutva-oriented BJP in India in the elections last year, when it got 31 per cent of the ballots cast but a substantial majority of parliamentary seats. Before we start getting our economic theories from the reading of election results, we have to scrutinise a bit more the message that comes through from the votes and the seats in the constituency-based electoral systems that the UK and, following it, India happen to have.

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