Wednesday, 23 February 2011

I should be more careful what I work on...

you see, first I worked on (historical) bubbles, and then NASDAQ blew up... then I did research on the sovereign debt defaults, and Greece imploded. In the fall, for a conference at the Bank of Chile, I did a paper on social and political unrest - assassinations, riots, anti-government demonstrations, violent overthrows of the government... and look what we get in the Middle East. The pejorative term for scholars changing research focus as events unfold is "intellectual ambulance chasers"... but what is this? A reverse Midas touch? At any rate, for a sample of South American countries, I looked at what drove levels of unrest. In particular, I show that budget cuts have a strong effect on the likelihood of instability - over and above the effects of an economic downturn. Here is a link and the abstract:

Efforts at fiscal consolidation are often limited because of concerns over potential social unrest. From German austerity measures during the 1930s to the violent demonstrations in Greece in 2010, hard times have tended to go hand in hand with antigovernment violence. In this paper, I assemble cross-country evidence from eleven South American countries for the period 1937 to 1995 about the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between austerity and instability. I examine the extent to which this relationship simply captures the fact that fiscal retrenchment and economic slumps are correlated, and conclude that this is not what is driving the effect. Finally, I test for interactions with various economic and political variables. While autocracies and democracies show a broadly similar response to budget cuts, countries with a history of stable institutions are less likely to see unrest as a result of austerity measures.
The paper will be out later in the year in a volume edited by Jordi Gali and Luis Felipe C├ęspedes. Right now, with a doctoral student from UPF, Jacopo Ponticelli, I am working on a related paper to see how much of this holds over the long run in a wider set of countries.

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