This jointly authored VoxEU piece on making the EU more resilient after Brexit that came out nearly two months ago has already had some unfavourable comment: Paul Krugman calls it timid, and Brad Delong does not like it much either. I want to pick out one particular idea, which I think is simply wrong and dangerous, and which I find it extraordinary that so many economists signed up to. Here is the relevant passage, in a section about the public finances.
“In most countries, the level of [government] expenditure – rather than the deficit – is the main problem. High expenditure makes it difficult to raise taxes and balance the budget, leading to dangerous debt dynamics. Thus, a focus on expenditure rules, linking expenditure reduction to debt levels, appears to be one of the most promising routes.”
Now this sounds to me like saying two things. The first is that the size of the state is too large in most countries.  The second is that we can use the need to bring government debt down as a way to correct that. It sounds to me exactly the policy that I accuse US and UK governments of following, although in their case the linkage is generally concealed. In this article it is suggested it should be explicit.
Whatever your views about the size of the state (including having no a priori view), it seems obvious that this is an intensely political issue. In contrast questions about the appropriate long run size of government debt are not so political, but more importantly they involve a completely different set of issues to those involved with the size of the state.
That is why policies or fiscal rules that aim to stabilise or bring down government debt focus on the budget deficit. It keeps the issue separate from the appropriate size of the state, and hopefully takes a good deal of the politics out of that issue. Linking the two issues makes it very easy to fall into what I call deficit deceit: saying we must cut government spending because government debt is too high, rather than because the state is too large. Even if that is avoided, associating the two sets back the cause of sensible debt management by needlessly politicising it.
That is why sensible fiscal rules target the deficit in some form, and allow how that deficit is achieved to be a political choice. I know this may seem obvious to me because I have written a lot about fiscal rules, but I would have thought the point might have also occurred to one of the economist authors of that article. When heterodox economists argue that the mainstream is hopelessly embroiled in the neoliberal project, they will be able to cite this article as evidence.
 You might say that, perhaps with certain European countries in mind, this is just a recognition that there is too much inefficiency and needless bureaucracy within government, rather than being a deeper statement of what governments should and should not do. If that is the case the authors should say so, but even then the coupling with debt control is problematic.