The Decade of Adjustment: A Review of Austerity Trends 2010-2020 in 187 Countries
Working Paper #295
"The Decade of Adjustment: A Review of Austerity Trends 2010-2020 in 187 Countries", by Isabel Ortiz, Matthew Cummins, Jeronim Capaldo, Kalaivani Karunanethy. Geneva: ILO, IPD Columbia University and the South Centre.
This paper: (i) examines the latest IMF government spending projections for 187 countries between 2005 and 2020; (ii) reviews 616 IMF country reports in 183 countries to identify the main adjustment measures considered by governments in both high-income and developing countries; (iii) applies the United Nations Global Policy Model to simulate the impact of expenditure consolidation on economic growth and employment; (iv) discusses how austerity threatens welfare and social progress; and (v) calls for urgent action by governments to adopt alternative and equitable policies for socio-economic recovery.
According to IMF projections, 2016 marks the beginning of a second major period of expenditure contraction globally. Overall, budget reductions are expected to impact 132 countries in terms of GDP and hover around this level until 2020. One of the key findings is that the developing world will be the most severely affected. Overall, 81 developing countries, on average, are projected to cut public spending during the forthcoming shock versus 45 high-income countries. Expenditure contraction is expected to impact more than two-thirds of all countries annually, affecting more than six billion persons or nearly 80 per cent of the global population by 2020.
In terms of austerity measures, a desk review of recent IMF country reports indicates that governments are weighing various adjustment measures. These include: (i) elimination or reduction of subsidies, including on fuel, agriculture and food products (in 132 countries); (ii) wage bill cuts/caps, including the salaries of education, health and other public sector workers (in 130 countries); (iii) rationalizing and further targeting of safety nets (in 107 countries); (iv) pension reforms (in 105 countries); (v) labour market reforms (in 89 countries); and (vi) healthcare reforms (in 56 countries). Many governments are also considering revenue-side measures that can adversely impact vulnerable populations, mainly through introducing or broadening consumption taxes, such as value added taxes (VATs) (in 138 countries), as well as privatizing state assets and services (in 55 countries).
Projections with the United Nations Global Policy Model indicate that the expected spending cuts will negatively affect GDP and employment in all regions - global GDP is expected to be 5.5 per cent lower by 2020. 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.
About the Authors
Global Social Justice Program Director
Initiative for Policy Dialogue
Isabel Ortiz is director of the Global Social Justice Program at Joseph Stiglitz’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University, New York. Earlier she was director at the International Labor Organization (ILO Geneva, 2013-19) and at UNICEF (New York, 2009-12); senior official at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN New York, 2005-09) and at the Asian Development Bank (ADB Manila, 1995-2003), where she was a founding member of the ADB Poverty Reduction Unit. In 1993-95 she was a researcher at the Department of International Economics of the High-Level Council of Scientific Research (CSIC Madrid) and a lecturer at Madrid and Salamanca Universities in Spain. In 1992-93 she worked at the European Commission in Brussels and in 1991 at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC Buenos Aires). Isabel Ortiz has worked in more than 50 countries in all world regions, providing advisory services to governments and engaging in high level initiatives at the United Nations, G20, BRICS, African Union and UNASUR, among others. Additionally, she actively supports policy advocacy work of civil society organizations. She has a MSc and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, and has written more than 80 publications translated in several languages.
Social Policy and Economic Specialist
Matthew Cummins leads research and is an advisor on real-time monitoring, fiscal space and social budgeting issues, as well as on designing policies to protect children and poor households from the impacts of macroeconomic shocks. He has worked on social policy issues for more than ten years with the Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, U.S. Peace Corps and the World Bank. He holds a MA in International Economics from Johns Hopkins SAIS and has published widely in international development books and journals.
Jeronim Capaldo is a Econometrics and Data Specialist at the International Labor Organization.