“Why the Social Market Economy Succeeds” by Lars P. Feld, Peter Jungen, and Ludger Schuknecht

COLOGNE – The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified ongoing debates about the future of capitalism and the economic framework best suited to meet the post-pandemic world’s long-term needs. Developed economies will, of course, need strong growth to offset the economic damage wrought by the virus, and to rise to the challenges posed by climate change and societal aging. And yet, across the developed world, the pace of economic growth has been slowing for decades, casting doubt on how these challenges will be met.

How should the gap between actual and necessary growth be closed? Should developed economies continue to focus on Keynesian demand management, thus risking the accumulation of ever more debt? Or should we shift to a longer-term, rules-based approach that anchors expectations and builds confidence, albeit at the expense of some policy discretion? Such questions have become urgent, and yet are not being forthrightly addressed. Throughout the pandemic, the consensus has been that governments should intervene to boost aggregate demand through fiscal- and monetary-policy stimulus. Yet while a decisive crisis response was clearly necessary to avert an economic death spiral last spring, scant attention has been paid to the pitfalls of demand management – from the implications of massive government deficits to the potential for renewed inflation, lost business confidence, and future tax policies.

At the same time, rules-based policies have increasingly fallen out of favor. A strong tide is pushing against any measure that might inhibit the freewheeling monetary and fiscal experiments we have been witnessing. Structures such as the European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact, which capped government fiscal deficits and debt at 3% and 60% of GDP, respectively, now seem to have been discredited as manifestations of “evil austerity.” Never mind that they delivered clear successes in Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain in the 2010s. Moreover, the singular emphasis on demand management has distracted policymakers from the fact that today’s challenges are structural, and not solely the result of the pandemic. Concerns about growing government interventionism have coincided with reduced overall investment. Despite this, many economists continue to demand even more state intervention, while glossing over questions of what expansive monetary and fiscal policies will mean for growth over the long term.


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