Institute of Political Science

Austerity. An international comparison of the implementation of austerity plans and their social consequences.

Project leader

Klaus Armingeon

Project collaborator

Kai Guthmann




In the 1980s, mature democracies in Europe, Asia, and America entered a period of permanent austerity. This pressure for austerity was intensified considerably in 2008 and 2009 when nearly all governments announced new plans for fiscal consolidation after a short period of counter‐cyclical policy. While we know much about the determinants of austerity policies and the economic effects of the various variants, we know little about the implementation of fiscal consolidation plans and their social effects. Clearly, some governments fail to effectively implement austerity policies. In addition, while these may have socially devastating effects in some nations, these social costs are felt much less in other countries. Against this background this project attempts to answer two simple questions: Which variables can explain the fact that some governments succeed in realizing their austerity plans and other fail to do so? Do austerity policies always increase inequality, and provided there is variation in their social effect, how can we explain this?

The analysis is based on a comparison of EU member countries plus the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. We combine three analyses: (1) A quantitative approach using three different operationalizations of large fiscal consolidations in the period 1980‐2012 when analysing the effects of austerity on various measures of social inequality; (2) a quantitative approach, which analyses the extent to which austerity has been implemented after 2008 and the politico‐institutional variables which can explain these variations, controlling for economic circumstances and processes; and (3) a qualitative analysis of selected cases of austerity after 2008, which relies on and deepens the quantitative analyses.

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