Austerity is a political-economic term referring to policies that aim to reduce government budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, or a combination of both. Austerity measures are used by governments that find it difficult to pay their debts. The measures are meant to reduce the budget deficit by bringing government revenues closer to expenditures, which is assumed to make the payment of debt easier. Austerity measures also demonstrate a government's fiscal discipline to creditors and credit rating agencies.
In most macroeconomic models, austerity policies generally increase unemployment as government spending falls. Cutbacks in government spending reduce employment in the public and may also do so in the private sector. Additionally, tax increases can reduce consumption by cutting household disposable income. Some claim that reducing spending may result in a higher debt-to-GDP ratio because government expenditure itself is a component of GDP. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, for instance, austerity measures in many European countries were followed by rising unemployment and debt-to-GDP ratios despite reductions in budget deficits. When an economy is operating at or near capacity, higher short-term deficit spending (stimulus) can cause interest rates to rise, resulting in a reduction in private investment, which in turn reduces economic growth. Where there is excess capacity, the stimulus can result in an increase in employment and output.