How Economic Populism Works…

Prof Andrew Velasco cautions against rising economc populism. He says though there are no immediatesigns of stress post Brexit and Trump against expectations but in long run things will turn around for worse. How long is anybody’s guess:

In the United States, academic economists repeatedly warned that Trump’s economic plans were little short of lunacy, and in the aftermath of his shocking election victory, some prophesied immediate economic catastrophe. Since then, the stock market has reached record heights, commodity prices have recovered, and forecasts of US economic growth keep rising.

Have the pundits been smoking something? Or have Trump and pro-Brexit leader Nigel Farage abrogated the principles of introductory macroeconomics?

Nothing of the sort. But to understand the effects of populist policies, one must first understand their logic. In a classic paper, Sebastian Edwards of UCLA and the late Rudiger Dornbusch of MIT define economic populism as “an approach to economics that emphasizes growth and income redistribution and deemphasizes the risks of inflation and deficit finance, external constraints, and the reaction of economic agents to aggressive nonmarket policies.” They add that populist approaches “do ultimately fail,” not because conservative economics is better, but as “the result of unsustainable policies.”

“Ultimately” can be a very long time. Populist policies are called that because they are popular. And they are popular because they work – at least for a while.

A sizeable fiscal stimulus in a sluggish economy produces a pickup in growth and job creation. If financial markets turn bullish (as they often do), the exchange rate appreciates, quelling nascent inflationary pressures and making it cheaper to import. And, as Argentine economist and Columbia University professor Guillermo Calvo has long argued, precisely because they are unsustainable, populist policies cause people to shift spending from the uncertain future to the present, when the going is good. This reinforces the expansionary impact of the stimulus, which is particularly strong under fixed exchange rates. So, eurozone countries: beware!

Anti-populists in the US, the UK, and elsewhere must come to terms with the reality that bad policies pay off, both economically and politically, long before they become toxic. Yes, the excessive private and public debt, the loss of export capacity, and the weakening of institutions harm the economy (and the polity) – but only in the long run. If critics do not understand that and act accordingly, populists will have as long (and destructive) a run in the rich countries as they once had in Latin America.

What times really. When Advanced world has to take lessons from Latin American economies.

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