I’m confused about macroeconomic policy under François Hollande. When he came to power in 2012 he made deficit reduction a priority. The chance to lead some opposition to the dominant policy of austerity was lost. However where French policy did seem to differ from some other Eurozone countries was that tax increases rather than spending cuts would play a prominent role in deficit reduction. As I noted in this post, the Commission’s austerity enforcer, Olli Rehn, was not pleased.
However policy in France now seems to have taken a rather different turn. In January Hollande announced cuts to social charges paid by business. Many outside comments declared that this was a move ‘to the centre’. His speech also seemed to imply that he had become a convert to Say’s Law. But maybe there was a more modern logic to this policy: by reducing employment costs, perhaps the government was trying to engineer an ‘internal devaluation’.
Yet more recently, Hollande has appeared to pledge tax cuts to middle class voters. With non-existent growth and a rising budget deficit, the macroeconomic logic behind this policy escapes me. Many taxpayers will quite reasonably assume that any tax cuts will turn out to be temporary and will therefore save a good proportion of them, so the impact on demand will be weak compared to the cuts in public spending required to pay for them. A deflationary balanced budget cut in spending is the last thing you want with an estimated negative output gap of 3% or more. On a more positive note, he also appears to be trying to form alliances to loosen the eurozone fiscal straightjacket, although what success he will have remains to be seen.
The latest OECD forecast predicts a gradual pickup in growth, despite a sharp fiscal contraction, although this fiscal contraction is not enough to stabilise the debt to GDP ratio by 2015. The danger is the by now familiar one: that fiscal contraction will inhibit growth by more than forecasters expect, which will generate pressure to undertake additional fiscal contraction. Is there a clear strategy to avoid this outcome, or is Thomas Piketty correct when he says: "What saddens me is the ongoing improvisation of François Hollande.”