Monday, October 20, 2014
8

Une croissance austère ?

WASHINGTON, DC – La réaction du gouvernement allemand à l’appel du président français récemment élu, François Hollande, en faveur d’une politique qui encourage la croissance a été de dire qu’il ne pouvait y avoir de changement dans les programmes d’austérité de la zone euro. Éventuellement, des mesures encourageant la croissance, comme des prêts supplémentaires de la Banque européenne d’investissement ou l’émission d’obligations garanties conjointement pour financer des investissements spécifiques, pourraient être « ajoutées » à ces programmes.

Tant en Allemagne qu’ailleurs, nombreux sont ceux à estimer qu’à la fois plus d’austérité et plus de croissance sont nécessaires, et que mettre davantage l’accent sur la croissance ne signifie pas renoncer aux mesures d’austérité. Le drame persistant de la crise de la zone euro a attiré l’attention du monde sur l’Europe, mais l’issue du débat entre austérité et croissance dans cette région aura une incidence sur le reste du monde, y compris aux Etats-Unis.

Trois points essentiels doivent être soulignés. Premièrement, dans une conjoncture de chômage élevé et de capacités en excédent, la production à court terme est davantage déterminée par la demande que par l’offre. Pour les États membres de la zone euro, seule une politique budgétaire est possible, parce que la politique monétaire est contrôlée par la Banque centrale européenne. Donc, oui, plus de croissance immédiate passe par une réduction plus progressive des déficits budgétaires.

Le seul argument à l’encontre de ce point est qu’un ajustement budgétaire plus étalé dans le temps pourrait saper davantage encore la confiance et ainsi aboutir à un résultat contreproductif en réduisant les dépenses privées. Cela pourrait se produire si un pays annonçait qu’il renonçait à toute consolidation budgétaire et au soutien international qui l’accompagne. Cette éventualité est par contre peu probable si un pays décide d’allonger la période d’ajustement budgétaire avec le soutien d’institutions comme le Fonds monétaire international. En fait, le FMI a expressément recommandé que l’Espagne mette en œuvre une consolidation budgétaire moins rapide dans ses Perspectives de l’économie mondiale 2012.

Sans un soutien plus important à court terme de la demande, plusieurs pays en difficulté pourrait être confrontés à une spirale vers le bas de réduction des coûts et de la production, d’un taux de chômage élevé et de déficits publics plus importants encore, en raison de l’augmentation des dépenses de sécurité sociale et de la baisse des revenus fiscaux associés au déclin de la production et à la disparition des emplois.

Deuxièmement, il est possible, bien que malaisé, de choisir des plans de consolidation budgétaire qui soient plus favorables à la croissance que d’autres. Il existe une distinction très nette entre les dépenses en investissements et les dépenses courantes, que le chef du gouvernement italien Mario Monti a soulignée. La première forme de dépenses, bien pensée, peut constituer une fondation pour une croissance à long terme.

Il y a également une différence entre les dépenses publiques avec de forts effets multiplicateurs, comme les mesures de soutien à l’attention des groupes de revenus les plus bas, qui ont une forte propension à dépenser, et les réductions d’impôts pour les riches, dont une grande partie serait épargnée.

Enfin et surtout, des réformes structurelles doivent être mises en œuvre, notamment des réformes du marché du travail qui encouragent la flexibilité sans pour autant donner lieu à des licenciements massifs (un modèle adopté avec succès par l’Allemagne). De même, des réformes de l’âge de départ en retraite et des fonds de pension peuvent accroître la durabilité budgétaire à long terme sans générer de conflits sociaux. Une personne âgée en bonne santé pourrait apprécier de travailler à temps partiel si l’emploi est flexible. L’objectif est d’intégrer ces formes de travail dans le fonctionnement général du marché du travail au moyen d’incitations et de réglementations appropriées.

Enfin, et tout particulièrement en Europe où les pays sont étroitement intégrés par le biais des échanges commerciaux, une stratégie coordonnée qui donne plus de temps à la consolidation budgétaire et qui formule des politiques favorables à la croissance pourrait générer des avantages autrement plus importants que les stratégies individuelles de chaque pays, en raison des effets induits positifs (et pour éviter de stigmatiser un pays donné). Il devrait y avoir une stratégie européenne de la croissance, plutôt que des stratégies espagnole, italienne ou irlandaise. Les pays qui comme l’Allemagne enregistrent des comptes courants excédentaires s’aideraient eux-mêmes en contribuant à stimuler l’économie européenne dans son ensemble.

Un programme d’austérité budgétaire plus échelonné, des postes pour les investissements prévus dans les budgets gouvernementaux, des plans budgétaires encourageant la croissance et une coordination des politiques nationales, avec la contribution essentielle des pays excédentaires, sont autant de mesures qui permettraient à l’Europe de surmonter la crise à moyen terme. Malheureusement, la Grèce est devenue un cas à part, qui nécessite un traitement ciblé et spécifique, probablement sous la forme d’un nouvel effacement partiel de la dette publique.

Mais les mesures insuffisantes et parfois contreproductives prises actuellement, couplées à la panique et la réaction excessive des marchés financiers, ont entraîné certains pays, comme l’Espagne, qui est pourtant une économie fondamentalement forte et solvable, au bord du précipice et avec eux l’ensemble de la zone euro. Dans le court terme immédiat, aucune mesure ne fait sens, pas même le meilleur projet d’investissements publics, ou la recapitalisation d’une banque, tant que le gouvernement doit emprunter à des taux de 6 pour cent ou plus pour la financer.

Ces taux d’intérêt doivent être abaissés par le biais de rachat d’obligations souveraines par la BCE sur le marché secondaire jusqu’à ce que des coûts d’emprunts convenus et suffisamment bas soient atteints et/ou par le recours aux ressources du Mécanisme européen de stabilité financière. La meilleure solution serait de renforcer l’efficacité de ces deux instruments en les utilisant simultanément – et immédiatement.

Une telle approche donnerait la marge de manoeuvre nécessaire pour rétablir la confiance et mettre en œuvre des réformes dans un contexte d’optimisme mesuré, plutôt que de désespoir. Le risque posé par l’inaction ou une action inappropriée a pris des proportions dantesques.

Aucun séisme catastrophique ou tsunami n’a détruit la productivité de l’Europe du Sud. Ce à quoi nous assistons est un désastre causé par l’homme – avec des répercussions pour le monde entier – qui peut être arrêté et inversé par une réponse politique coordonnée.

Traduit de l’anglais par Julia Gallin

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (8)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedNathan Coppedge

    Governments always seem to be caught on that problem of needing to spend a little more money to compensate for a situation that is entirely problematic.

    Perhaps a government should be more 'coup d' etat' and accept a radical policy switch such as conceptualizing money. Money should be like the ground we walk on, or the computers we use, not some concept that flits in and out the window.

    But, paradoxically, and paradigmatically, a radical policy does not need to have a radical agenda---here again I'm sensing the general trend of being unthinking in the face of shock and disaster---

    Radical creative conservatism could take the form of conceptualizing money in such a way that one expenditure counts towards another pool of resources. But to genuinely do this is very ingenious.

    Consider a quadra of equally-weighed money properties in a Cartesian coordinate system. Say that they oppose one another along a diagonal. When one resource is spent, it results in an automatic investment in another category, because the properties of the second category are utterly opposite. This seems feasible for example, in a future capital-virtual economy (with inklings of this in coupon culture), or in some uses of free versus industry resources, such as investment in arbitrary amounts of computer resources.

    At any rate, the focus should be on a generative economy, even if such an economy has some virtual aspects. Some would say in the U.S. its gone way beyond that, and not by being respectful or necessarily conservative.

  2. CommentedCole Skinner

    Zsolt -

    People have been claiming that we're running out of resources for centuries (depletion of nitrogen for farms was a panic button issue until somebody figured out a way to pull it from the atmosphere).

    There has been a doomsayer about population for every generation since Malthus 350 or so years ago. Consider how terribly inaccurate all the predictions in The Population Bomb book of the 1970's were.

    Populations have a tendency to self-adjust, and we are feeding, clothing, and housing *more* of the planet and more efficiently and at a higher standard than ever before.

    The standard of living only really began to increase measurably when we had enough people (and better transportation, free trade, property rights, etc) for specialization and division of labor. More people improve the planet, they don't diminish it. Their contributions increase the yield from the resources exponentially, rather than reduce the size of the whole pie.

    One of the beauties of free markets is that resources and innovation flow to where the line is the thinnest - help the cause of liberty - civil liberty and economic liberty - and you will see many of these problems you fear decrease.

  3. CommentedCole Skinner

    "So, yes, more immediate growth does require slower reduction in fiscal deficits.

    The only counterargument is that slower fiscal adjustment would further reduce confidence and thereby defeat the purpose by resulting in lower private spending."

    I believe this is incorrect. Real growth occurs in the private sector. Most govt spending produces less growth, dollar for dollar, than private sector spending, so by reducing deficits you are immediately freeing up / returning money for a more productive spender, ie, the market rather than the govt.

    This has been well-documented in the phenomena of "crowding out" - where govt sucks up resources better used by private handlers.

    Why else, then, would the market react unfavorably to news that the govt was not attacking deficits, as you point out? Because, as you correctly point out, it is a signal that future taxes will be higher and they should save money to pay those future taxes; but it is also a signal that the govt is not serious about debt reduction.

    Regardless of politician promises to the contrary, "govt spending to stimulate growth" and (presumably generate revenue to pay down debt) is just as likely to be more squandered money parcelled out as political treats with no ROI, which means the citizens will have to be taxed twice to pay for the same deficit dollar.

    The private sector needs no stimulus from the government to jump start that which it does so well naturally. The only thing the markets need to function is their money back.

  4. CommentedGary Marshall

    Here is a solution to the Greek problem. If anyone can find the flaw, I shall be more than happy to give him or her $50,000. I am just tired of doing this.

    ####

    The costs of borrowing for a nation to fund public expenditures, if it borrows solely from its resident citizens and in the nation's currency, is nil.

    Why? Because if, in adding a financial debt to a community, one adds an equivalent financial asset, the aggregate finances of the community will not in any way be altered. This is simple reasoning confirmed by
    simple arithmetic.

    The community is the source of the government's funds. The government taxes the community to pay for public services provided by the government.

    Cost of public services is $10 million.

    Scenario 1: The government taxes $10 million.

    Community finances: minus $10 million from community bank accounts for government expenditures.
    No community government debt, no community
    government IOU.

    Scenario 2: The government borrows $10 million from solely community lenders at a certain interest rate.

    Community finances: minus $10 million from community bank accounts for government expenditures.
    Community government debt: $10 million;
    Community government bond: $10 million.

    At x years in the future: the asset held by the community (lenders) will be $10 million + y interest. The deferred liability claimed against the community (taxpayers) will be $10 million + y interest.

    The value of all community government debts when combined with all community government IOUs or bonds is zero for the community. It is the same $0 combined worth whether the community pays its taxes immediately or never pays them at all.

    So if a community borrows from its own citizens to fund worthy public expenditures rather than taxes those citizens, it will not alter the aggregate finances of the community or the wealth of the community any
    more than taxation would have. Adding a financial debt and an equivalent financial asset to a community will cause the elimination of both when summed.

    Whatever financial benefit taxation possesses is nullified by the fact that borrowing instead of taxation places no greater financial burden on the community.

    However, the costs of Taxation are immense. By ridding the nation of Taxation and instituting borrowing to fund public expenditures, the nation will shed all those costs of Taxation for the negligible fee of borrowing in the financial markets and the administration of public
    debt.

    Regards,
    Gary Marshall

      CommentedManish Singh

      @Eduard Lungu - I don't consider this a savings problem - "in the case of the developing countries, the citizens are more likely to use their money for consumption than to save" - Developing countries like India/China have the highest saving rate and is pretty stable in the long run.

      CommentedGary Marshall

      Hello Eduard,

      I read through your comments. I hope the following helps.

      The nation need not repay the debt as long as the lenders are certain of the security of the loan. Would one lend to an organization that created $1 in assets for every $1 borrowed? Probably not. How about $2 in assets for every $1 borrowed? Certainly.

      It only becomes a matter of settling on an aggreeable interest rate for both borrower and lender.

      There are few entities on this earth that do not count liabilities among their assets. Most of us carry debts and many other liabilities. That is not the worrying part. The part for concern is the value of our assets. Does one possess assets exceeding those aggregate liabilities. Most will say yes. Some no unfortunately.

      Does a government possess financial and material resources? Certainly. With Taxation, the combined financial and material resources of every entity within the nation. Without Taxation and with borrowing, the same. This is what backs the nation's financial debts.

      Now if an entity can borrow and invest, creating assets that exceed liabilities, should it do so? The answer is obvious, and just as obvious if it cannot.

      So if a nation can borrow from itself, its citizens, and create assets that exceed the acquired liabilities, should it do so? Yes.

      Banks do it all the time. They borrow from one and invest or loan money to another, living on the margins. They never pay off their lenders. They just borrow more money for supplying more loans, creating assets that exceed liabilities.

      And it will be the same for a nation. Borrow from one and invest in some project, creating assets that exceed liabilities and enriching the nation and its people. An investment in clean drinking water will take out many water borne diseases that drive up medical costs and reduce the working days of a labourer.

      The first post above merely shows that the cost of borrowing for a nation is in effect nil. The debt obligations issued by a nation create a liability that is equally matched with a created asset, held by a resident US lender.

      Its like a bank adding to both sides of its balance sheet. The addition of an asset offsets or nullifies the addition of equal extent of a liability. Or in other words, are you better off if you borrow $1 from your mother? You owe what you now possess, so your circumstances are unchanged.

      The question for the Government now centers on what we get for our money expended in public projects? With Taxation, there is no justification because government can take your money and do pretty much as it pleases. With borrowing, the government will have to approach the citizen and provide a proper analysis.

      The government, any government, is currently taking large fractions of the financial resources of a nation by force. So with the abolition of Taxation, this will free up all the money currently being paid in taxes of all forms in any nation, in Spain and throughout the world.

      By revoking the right to tax, the government will have to wade into the financial markets like any other lender. As funds will thence come with a capital charge, the government will be forced to justify its expenditures through novel cost/benefit analysis. Otherwise many will not lend.

      With a people's direct control over government expenditures, can you imagine a government actually having to justify its expenditures, having to prove worthiness?

      Government expenditure should contract drastically as all those politically enriching, but practically worthless and corrupt expenditures cease to be, especially in those very poor or developing countries you mention.

      There will also be the benefit of a nation not having to factor in Taxation into every economically worthy activity. There will be no constraint upon worthwhile economic activity. People and corporations will earn, save, invest, retire debt, expend without having to hand large fractions of that money to the ubiquitous tax man.

      There is also the interest rate to consider. The rates are currently very high given all the uncertainty about stability and the Euro. If there are few borrowers, the interest rate must rise to reflect the forces of risk and reward.

      If savings' market rates are low, it is because people think better returns are to be had elsewhere. Therefore rates must rise.

      Now with government cost/benefit analysis, returns for certain projects become dubious beyond certain rates, so the government may refuse to fund them. Funny, in a thriving economy when tax revenues are plentiful, government expenditure is at its highest. When the economy wanes and revenues fall, government expenditure retracts.

      With the interest rate as arbiter, government expenditure will be greatest when the economy declines and lowest at its peak. How different it would be!

      The reason that many governments borrow externally is because Taxation has perhaps yielded as much as it can, or a nation fears higher taxes will drive off investment.

      Now you doubt people will lend. I don't. There is a lot of pension fund money in any developed nation looking for investments. Similarly, in many nations.

      The reason that savings are so little in poorer countries is because large amounts of money must go to acquiring the necessities. The cost of living is very high, and much of it has to do with rotten government policies and practices. I have dealt with these above.

      A nation if deprived of internal savings can always turn to outside lenders temporarily to fund a public project. Its the poorer nations where the returns for private investment will be highest. Unfettered by corruption, those nations should see great leaps in industry, wealth, and income. And all that industry will fund the necessary public projects.

      In Greece, the government will see expenditures that do not meet cost/benefit analysis vanish. The cost of government should decline sharply. Without Taxation, there will be an immediate influx of investors from all over the world seeking tax havens and worthy investment. Without constraint upon worthy economic activity, all those projects which taxation or heavy regulation prevented will commence. The economy should pick up.

      GM



      CommentedEduard Lungu

      Well, of course that will be easier for a state to borrow from it´s own citizens than to tax, but there are a lot of historically reasons why the states always preferred to tax, like for example:
      -in the case of the developing countries, the citizens are more likely to use their money for consumption than to save. Why do you think that the banks in Greece, Spain or Portugal borrowed large sums of money from Germany, instead of using their own costumers savings? And trust me, I live in Spain so I know about the consumption rage in the last 10 years; no one bothered saving money. Elementary, you can increase the level of Savings with a combination of high interest rates and a high VAT, but that of course will be taxation.
      -in the case of poor countries, what community finances? Of course they need to borrow money from elsewhere.

      But I think that the flaw in your argument is this:
      Even if the state borrow money from the local community, they still need to repay the debt, and where can they get that money if not from taxes? Let´s say that the state builds a highway and that brings more wealth to the community,which is great, but in order to repay the debt the government need to impose a highway tax or just tax the local transportation companies (which presumably have more money now). So even if you can simply borrow the money for public expenditures , taxation is necessary in order to recuperate the money... and so the costs of Taxation that you speak off are inevitable.

      But, what I don´t understand, how is this helping Greece in their CURRENT situation anyway?

  5. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    The end of the article:
    "No catastrophic earthquake or tsunami has destroyed southern Europe’s productive capacity. What we are witnessing – and what is now affecting the whole world – is a man-made disaster that can be stopped and reversed by a coordinated policy response."
    In truth there is neither a disaster, nor can it be stopped.
    We simply kept on developing and the world kept on evolving around us.
    What used to work before, like constant quantitative growth in a relatively "loose" system, with abundant resources, and independent, polarized, self calculating planning and decisions, simply do not work any longer, because today we live in a closed, finite system where humanity has become "round", global and interdependent.
    There are multiple factual and scientific publications predicting significant shortage in basic food and water supplies, energy sources, and other basic raw material supply within very short time, very much within the lifespan of the present generation.
    Our present system is built on inconsiderately excessive, and unnecessary over production of goods we simply do not need for a normal human life. We only "desire" and buy these things because we are programmed to do so by a sophisticated mass media, marketing system brainwashing us 24/7. Even for a second we do not live the life we truly want to live, we live a life others trick us into.
    This whole setup, that is the natural result of our inherently egoistic evolution, drove us into the present global crisis with its economic, financial and political components, but also effecting our life in every other respect as we can see from the woeful education and health systems, family breakdown, spreading depression, suicide, drug and other substance abuse figures, etc.
    Austerity vs. Stimulating growth...we are simply kicking a dead horse here. We need to rise above this cul de sac and start building something new that suits the state of our evolution in the 21st century in order to move on in a sustainable manner.

Featured