Estonia proves that austerity works

Krugman and others do have a point in saying that the Baltic countries benefit from strong trade opportunities with neighbors such as Sweden and Finland that have growing economies. And it is true that, while their recoveries have been strong, none of the Baltic countries is expected to fully return to pre-recession levels of prosperity until 2014 at the earliest. On the other hand, when are Greece, Spain, or for that matter the United States — none of which has done much if anything to reduce government spending — likely to return to pre-recession growth?

If the Baltics are not a sufficient example of the value of cutting government, we can look a bit to the west, to Switzerland. Switzerland’s constitution includes provisions that limit the country’s ability both to run debt (the growth in government spending can be no higher than average revenue growth, calculated over a multi-year period) and to increase taxes (taxes can be increased only by a double-majority referendum, meaning that a majority of voters in a majority of cantons would have to approve the increase).

As a result, total government spending in Switzerland at all levels of government is just 34 percent of GDP, compared to an average of 52 percent in the EU, and more than 41 percent in the United States. Switzerland’s national debt is just 41 percent of GDP and shrinking at a time when other European countries are becoming more insolvent. Switzerland’s economic growth has not yet returned to pre-recession levels, but it is better than the growth in, say, Greece or Spain. And its unemployment rate is just 3.1 percent, the lowest in Europe.