9 Jun 2015


The Philomathia Forum ‘The definition and measurement of austerity policies’ was held in Cambridge, on the afternoon of 9th of June 2015. It was organised by Andrew Gamble, Juan Muñoz-Portillo, Helen Thompson and Pieter van Houten of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, who are also responsible for the Philomathia project ‘The consequences of fiscal austerity policies in the European Union’.

Three papers were discussed during the workshop. First, Rozana Himaz and Christopher Hood (Department of Politics and International Relations and Department of Economics, University of Oxford) presented their work ‘From surgery without anaesthetics to boiling frogs: a century of UK fiscal squeezes’. Using time series data on revenues and expenditures in the United Kingdom during the 1900s and the 2000s, complemented with qualitative accounts, they aim to disentangle the political effort put on fiscal adjustments throughout this time period, and provide explanations for the trends. One of their preliminary findings is that despite of all the political rhetoric, ‘fiscal squeezes’ tend to be softer in more recent years.

The second paper was ‘Fiscal squeeze processes in the European Union, 2009 – 2014’, by Juan Muñoz-Portillo, Helen Thompson and Pieter van Houten. To classify fiscal adjustments in the member states of the European Union (EU), they use the definition of ‘fiscal squeeze’ and methodology proposed by Christopher Hood, David Heald and Rozana Himaz (in When the party’s over: The politics of fiscal squeeze in perspective, Oxford University Press and British Academy, 2014). Using quantitative and qualitative data, the paper reconstructs the fiscal squeeze paths in the 28 EU member states after the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008 and the Greek debt crisis that ignited in 2009. It classifies these paths based on information available on the subjacent political efforts and the magnitude of the spending cuts and/or revenues rises. The data show a significant amount of variation from very hard fiscal squeezes to no squeezes at all during their timeframe of study. In further research, the authors aim to explain this variation by investigating possible economic, social and political explanatory factors.

The last paper, titled ‘The political economics of austerity’, was presented by Suzanne J Konzelmann (Birkbeck, University of London). Through the study of official documents and an extensive literature, this work traces the social, political and economic developments that have together shaped the evolution of ideas about austerity, from the earliest theorising by the classical political economists some 300 years ago.

The discussions were enriched by the contributions of three other participants: Paul Johnson (Institute for Fiscal Studies), Jonathan Hopkin (Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science) and Jeremy Green (School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol). Overall, the group of attendees was composed of academics and policy analysts with backgrounds in economics and political science.

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