Saturday, August 23, 2014
17

التقشف وواقعية الديون

كمبريدج ــ إن العديد من ــ إن لم يكن كل ــ مشاكل الاقتصاد الكلي الأكثر إلحاحاً على مستوى العالم تتعلق بالأعباء الهائلة التي تفرضها كافة أشكال الديون. ففي أوروبا يهدد مزيج سام من الديون العامة والمصرفية والخارجية في الدول الواقعة على أطراف القارة بإرباك منطقة اليورو. وعلى الضفة الأخرى من الأطلسي، أسفرت الأزمة بين الديمقراطيين، وحزب الشاي، والجمهوريين المنتمين إلى المدرسة القديمة عن إنتاج قدر غير عادي من عدم اليقين حول الكيفية التي قد تتمكن بها الولايات المتحدة في الأمد البعيد من إغلاق العجز الحكومي الذي بلغ 8% من الناتج المحلي الإجمالي. ومن ناحية أخرى بلغ عجز الموازنة في اليابان 10% من الناتج المحلي الإجمالي، حتى مع تحول أفواج متزايدة من المتقاعدين الجدد من شراء السندات اليابانية إلى بيعها.

ولكن بعيداً عن اللوم والتقريع، ماذا ينبغي للحكومات أن تفعل؟ من بين المقترحات المتطرفة ذلك العلاج التبسيطي الذي ابتكره جون ماينارد كينز والذي يفترض أن العجز الحكومي لا يشكل أهمية عندما يكون الاقتصاد في ركود عميق؛ بل وكلما كان العجز أكبر كان ذلك أفضل. وعلى طرف النقيض الآخر هناك أنصار سقف الديون الذين يريدون من الحكومات أن تبدأ بضبط موازناتها غدا (إن لم يكن أمس). وكل من الحلين سطحي إلى حد خطير.

إن أنصار سقف الديون يحاولون بشكل صارخ التهوين من تكاليف التكيف الهائلة المترتبة على "التوقف المفاجئ" المفروض ذاتياً عن تمويل الديون. وهذه التكاليف هي على وجه التحديد السبب الذي يجعل الدول المفلسة مثل اليونان تواجه اضطرابات اجتماعية واقتصادية هائلة عندما تفقد الأسواق المالية الثقة وينضب معين تدفقات رأس المال فجأة.

بطبيعة الحال، هناك منطق ظاهري جذاب في أن نقول إن الحكومات يتعين عليها أن تضبط موازناتها مثل بقيتنا؛ ولكن من المؤسف أن الأمر ليس بهذه البساطة. فالحكومات عادة تلتزم بعدد لا يحصى من أوجه الإنفاق الجارية المرتبطة بالخدمات الأساسية مثل الدفاع الوطني، ومشاريع البنية الأساسية، والتعليم، والرعاية الصحية، ناهيك عن معاشات التقاعد. ولا تستطيع أي حكومة أن تتخلى ببساطة عن هذه المسؤوليات بين عشية وضحاها.

عندما تولى الرئيس الأميركي رونالد ريجان منصبه في العشرين من يناير 1981، ألغى بأثر رجعي كل عروض وظائف الخدمة المدنية التي نشرتها الحكومة أثناء فترة الشهرين ونصف الشهر بين انتخابه وتنصيبه. والواقع أن الإشارة التي قصد بها إبطاء الإنفاق الحكومي كانت قوية للغاية، ولكن التأثير المباشر على الموازنة كان ضئيلاً للغاية. لا شك أن الحكومة بوسعها أيضاً أن تغلق فجوة الموازنة من خلال زيادة الضرائب، ولكن أي تحول فجائي من الممكن أن يضخم إلى حد كبير التشوهات التي تتسبب الضرائب في إحداثها.

وإذا كان أنصار سقف الديون سذج، فهذه أيضاً حال أنصار جون ماينارد كينز. فهم ينظرون إلى البطالة في مرحلة ما بعد الأزمة المالية باعتبارها مبرراً مقنعاً للتوسع المالي بشكل أكثر توسعاً وعنفا، حتى في البلدان التي تعاني بالفعل من عجز هائل، مثل الولايات المتحدة والمملكة المتحدة. ويقال إن هؤلاء الذين يختلفون معهم يفضلون "التقشف" في وقت كانت فيه أسعار الفائدة الشديدة الانخفاض تعني أن الحكومات تستطيع أن تقترض بلا أي مقابل تقريبا.

ولكن من هو الساذج حقا؟ من المنصف تماماً أن نزعم أن الحكومات لابد أن تستهدف فقط ضبط موازناتها على مدى الدورة التجارية، فتزيد من الفائض أثناء فترات الازدهار ومن العجز عندما يتباطأ النشاط الاقتصادي. ولكن من الخطأ أن نتصور أن التراكم الهائل للديون عبارة عن وجبة غذاء مجانية.

في سلسلة من الدراسات الأكاديمية التي أجريتها مع كارمن راينهارت ــ بما في ذلك العمل المشترك مؤخراً مع فنسنت راينهارت ("أعباء الديون: الماضي والحاضر") ــ وجدنا أن مستويات الديون المرتفعة التي تبلغ 90% من الناتج المحلي الإجمالي تشكل عائقاً طويل الأمد للنمو الاقتصادي، والذي قد يدو عادة لعقدين من الزمان أو أكثر. وقد ترتفع التكاليف المتراكمة إلى مستويات مذهلة. والواقع أن حالات ارتفاع مستويات الديون كانت منذ عام 1800 تدوم ثلاثة وعشرين عاماً في المتوسط وترتبط بمعدل نمو أقل من المعدل المعتاد في فترات انخفاض مستويات الديون بأكثر من نقطة مئوية واحدة. وهذا يعني أنه بعد ربع قرن من الديون المرتفعة، قد ينخفض الدخل بنسبة 25% عن المستوى الذي كان ليبلغه مع معدلات النمو الطبيعية.

بطبيعة الحال، هناك ارتباط مزدوج الاتجاه بين الديون والنمو، ولكن حالات الركود العادية لا تدوم أكثر من عام واحد ومن غير الممكن أن تفسر الضيق والشدة لفترة تمتد عقدين من الزمان. وهذا العائق المفروض على النمو يأتي في الأرجح من اضطرار الحكومات في نهاية المطاف إلى زيادة الضرائب، فضلاً عن انخفاض الإنفاق على الاستثمار. وهذا يعني أن الإنفاق الحكومي يوفر دفعة قوية في الأمد القريب، ولكن هناك مفاضلة على المدى البعيد مع الانحدار في الأمد البعيد.

ومن الحكمة أن نلاحظ أن ما يقرب من نصف حالات ارتفاع مستويات الديون منذ عام 1800 كانت مرتبطة بأسعار فائدة حقيقية ��نخفضة أو طبيعية (معدلة تبعاً للتضخم). ويدلل على هذا تباطؤ النمو وانخفاض أسعار الفائدة في اليابان على مدى العقدين الماضيين. فضلاً عن ذلك فإن تحمل أعباء ديون ضخمة يفرض أيضاً خطر ارتفاع أسعار الفائدة العالمية في المستقبل، حتى من دون الانهيار على الطريقة اليونانية. وهذه هي الحال بشكل خاص اليوم، فبعد برامج "التيسير الكمي" الهائلة من قِبَل البنوك المركزية الرئيسية، أصبحت هياكل الديون لدى العديد من الحكومات ذات فترات استحقاق قصيرة إلى حد غير عادي. لذا فقد أصبحت عُرضة لخطر تحول أي ارتفاع حاد في أسعار الفائدة بسرعة نسبياً إلى تكاليف اقتراض أعلى.

ومع اقتراب العديد من الاقتصادات المتقدمة اليوم من مستوى التسعين في المائة من الناتج المحلي الإجمالي الذي تتسم به عموماً فترات الديون المرتفعة، فإن توسيع العجز الضخم بالفعل يُعَد اقتراحاً محفوفاً بالمخاطر، وليس الاستراتيجية الخالية من المخاطر التي يدافع عنها التبسيطيين من أنصار جون ماينارد كينز. وسوف أركز في الأشهر القادمة على المشاكل المرتبطة بارتفاع مستويات الديون الخاصة والديون الخارجية، وسوف أعود أيضاً إلى الأسباب التي تجعل من وقتنا هذا وقتاً حيث لا تصبح مستويات التضخم المرتفعة أمراً بهذه السذاجة. وفي المقام الأول من الأهمية، يتعين على الناخبين والساسة أن يتوخوا الحرص والحذر من الأساليب البسيطة إلى حد الإغواء في التعامل مع مشاكل الديون اليوم.

ترجمة: أمين علي          Translated by: Amin Ali

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (17)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedRobert Wolff

    We must precisely distinguish between debt due to debt leveraging by productive businesses and consumer debt. The cause of consumer debt is that wages are too low to buy the results of production, creating a situation in which [excess] profits beyond what businesses reinvest to increase production (which creates growth) are necessarily lent to consumers to so they may buy the total results of production.

    Such consumer loans, though they are funded by what businesses call profits, are really nothing more than funds held back from wages then loaned to consumers to buy excess production to maintain the condition wherein supply equals demand.

    The huge accumulation of consumer debt means that excess profits have been accumulating in large amounts, and been lent to consumers over a very long time to buy excess production beyond what their wages can afford.

    Keynesian redistribution can solve this problem after the fact, but we can now see the political crisis it creates. The spats over redistribution of wealth have now created a political crisis in Europe and America.

    Better yet would that the watchman had cried out long before the accumulation of excess profits lent out as consumer debt got so large that we incur a political crisis necessating huge redistributions of wealth that make Keynesian policies appear radical.

    A stitch in time saves nine.

      CommentedRobert Wolff

      Debt due to debt leveraging is performed to increase corporate profits at the expense of lowering the profit margin (ROI). The macro effect if all corporations do this is that it is the gross reduction in profit margin.

      The short term effect of debt leveraging is that it increases profits for those that get in on the beginning of the trend but the long term effect is that it drives up the risk to reward ratio of investment.

      Eventually, the risk of investment drives up the cost of capital, which drives down ROI that is already marginal, and the capitalist system collapses.

  2. CommentedRalph Musgrave

    Rogoff is totally clueless. First, he doesn’t get the point (made by Keynes and Milton Friedman) that it is totally unnecessary to run into debt in order to bring stimulus. That is, a deficit can accumulate as monetary base instead of debt if need be.

    Next, he claims that “governments should aim only to balance their budgets over the business cycle..” Complete nonsense: they never have done. Why doesn’t he look at the FACTS?

    I could go on.

    I don’t blame those Harvard economics students for walking out of their lectures. They should have walked out of Harvard university altogether.

      Commentedpeter fairley

      Rogoff only errs on Keynes in not being more emphatic that govt's have failed to heed Keynes' warning 'that budget deficits in boom times worsens the business cycle'.
      I respect Rogoff but wish he would answer Shiller at Yale in his critique of the 90% debt to GDP measure. Professors should not get paid just to talk to themselves and us amateurs.

  3. CommentedMichel Brouwers

    Thanks for this interesting article.

    I wonder whether the following...

    "The average high-debt episodes since 1800 last 23 years and are associated with a growth rate more than one percentage point below the rate typical for periods of lower debt levels."

    ... must also hold true in the opposite direction, i.e. how much extra growth was created due to leveraging? And what would be the net effect of both over time?

  4. CommentedMike Muller

    What? You start the paragraph saying that high debt may not be related to high interest rates and then you go on to say beware of the risk of high interest rates! And you connect this contradiction with "Moreover" as if the negation of the former followed from the former. Please remain sober. :-)

  5. CommentedThomas Lesinski

    See Matt Yglesias' critique of this interpretation of the historical evidence:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/06/02/kenneth_rogoff_s_confused_correlation_mongering.html

    Is it that excessive debt weighs on growth, or is it that governments hit by recessions, unable or unwilling to stimulate their economy cannot grow their tax base enough to pay down their debts ?

  6. CommentedJan Smith

    I've learned a great deal from Rogoff and Reinhardt, and from Professor Rogoff's many fine columns. And yet I am persuaded this time really is different.

    For the past 30 years, in spite of fundamental innovation in a wide range of capital and consumer goods, total American debt--private and public--has been accelerating while income growth has barely kept up with the previous century's average.

    That 30-year-old road is now closed.

    If there is anything in the technological pipeline that might replace the microelectronic revolution, no one can see it.

    But the enormous and prolonged Malthusian shock, starting in 1979, precipitated by the fall of communism but rooted in the demographic transition, still is working its way through the world economy. Old Malthus is coming home, and neither liquidity nor public debt can stop him.

    So within a few years, it will be evident even to the immortal Dr Pangloss that the USA must choose between becoming another Germany or another Greece. That is to say, either the Americans will tighten their own belt or others will do it for them.

    How tight, and for how long? Please, don't even ask.













      Commentedjimmy rousseau

      coming down the pipeline is the economic battle to fight climate change. This will rival WWII in economic impact and it cannot be averted.

  7. CommentedJoel Rosenblum

    I'm not an economist and I haven't read Prof. Rogoff's book so prudence should dictate that I keep my mouth shut, BUT... :-)
    It seems to me that in this essay he seems to aggregate the economic effects of all debt "overhangs" without regard to the underlying causes. As if a country doesn't balance it's spending over the business cycle (i.e. it spends too much and refuses to tax itself) is morally or economically equivalent to one which is bailing itself out of a financial crisis.
    He cites Japan as the examplar, as if Japan had merely overly stimulated in an inventory-cycle recession. But my recollection is that Japan had the mother of all financial crises. Would their GDP really be 25% higher now had the government let the financial system collapse?
    Is a financial crisis different from a normal business-cycle recession? Is a tornado qualitatively the same as a thunderstorm, just larger?

  8. CommentedHarlan Green

    There is a way out of the debt mess...see my Huff Post column: "What Happened to the Bush Tax Cuts?"...http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harlan-green/bush-tax-cuts_b_1567695.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications

  9. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    First, my view is that the US is already half way to where it should go. My look at the CBO 10-year projection is that the debt-GDP ratio starts to decline by 2014 if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to lapse and legislated health care savings are actually realized through policy implementation.

    Second, state and local government spending is down and so overall total government spending in the US is down. Now that it is lean, possibly government should be made meaner?

    Third, all the job growth in the Obama era has been private sector job growth. This is economically tested, economically useful job growth. The overall job foundation of the US is becoming more solid, more productive.

    Fourth, the missing piece is public infrastructure spending. When government borrows a dollar to build a dollar of public assets, the impact is quite different than spending on public consumption. A dollar of public assets will generate increased income in the future (and if doesn't it hasn't met the definition of "asset"). So a dollar of debt to build a dollar of assets is not such a scary thing.

    The US president who puts the pieces together is going to do quite well on the upside.

  10. CommentedDave Thomas

    Why not means test social security and medicare immediately.
    Why not increase the co-pays for Medicare immediately.
    Why not cut marginal tax rates across the board for everyone so that the economy will expand and people will be working at jobs and paying taxes instead of not working and adding to the annual deficit by relying on government programs?

  11. CommentedRobert Guy Danon




    Authorities have three choices:

    1- Go through many years of austerity and or growth enhancing policies to reduce both deficits and debt to sustainable levels a very long process of perseverence.

    2-Central banks abandon their narrow mindedness and allow inflationary EXPECTATIONS (it is this variable expectations, that is important to trigger demand side incentives)

    3-Even more importantly design a process to redistribute wealth to households by increasing motgage debt forgiveness and thus wealth, allowing for increased final demand as net worth and prosperity values rise.

    In summary, it is a function of transfering wealth from creditors to debtors. If this process is not accelerated then it will be imposed by market forces and or political and ultimately social repercussions. This effectively, is what is currently happening in Greece.

    It goes without saying that a combination of all is also another desirable mix.

  12. CommentedMike Jake

    Who are these "simplistic Keynesians", Kenneth? Name some names so we can see if their positions actually match this caricature.

    Or are you just trying to position yourself in the sensible center?

  13. Commentedsrinivasan gopalan

    Prof.Rogoff hits the nail on the head when he succinctly put it that 'it is wrong to think that massive accumulation of debt is a free lunch'. Living on borrowed money is the bane of modern society--whether it is by individual or by sovereign governments, though the latter cannot escape its hold as its agenda is wider and ineluctable. Leaving aside hard economics that is readily used by politicians swearing faith either in Keynesian pump-priming or in fiscal fundamentalism, the fact remains that borrowing binges by governments without thought to the long-term repercussions would eventually make the zero-interest western countries to live with exorbitant ones if they do not in the meanwhile mend their ways and sacrifice short-term enjoyment to long-lasting happiness in the future. But the politicians without any understanding of the past or any clue to the future would not be the ideal choice to weather the crisis without astute advice from economists of repute. Debt by any way is a surefire road to perdition and it is wiser to contract debt that could be discharged in one's life-time .This is applicable to nations as it is to individuals. Any one interested in the common good of humanity would definitely be with the learned Prof.Rogooff in decrying debt with its manifest wart and all. Emerging economies like India should benefit by salutary counsel from evolved economists who speak for the summum bonum of all and not to this or that country.
    G.Srinivasan

  14. CommentedHamid Rizvi

    Alright, so in this edition of your admonitions and over analysis has told us nothing except what we should not do. I do appreciate the fact that you conclude by saying there is more to come. I, await with bated breath in the hope you might then tell us what we indeed should be doing.

  15. CommentedDavid Doney

    We can walk and chew gum at the same time, with short-term stimulus, long-term austerity, structural reform, and mortgage write-downs. Some examples:

    Short-term stimulus: Infrastructure, forgive the debts of doctors and nurses past and future that stay in the profession for 10 years, write-down mortgage debts for those significantly underwater. Payroll tax cuts.

    Long-term austerity: Raise the retirement age, reduce cost of living adjustments in pension programs, as progressively as possible. Phase out the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy first and everyone else over 5 years. Raise the healthcare premiums for the obese.

    Structural reform: Prohibit offshoring to low-wage countries, to offset our $650 billion goods trade deficit that has killed our jobs engine. Take high school dropouts and draft them into a military-style high school completion program. Everybody graduates.

    All of the above, not "this or that" which is a false choice.

    We are in this mess due to too much debt; we have too much private debt due to offshoring and a dead jobs engine; we have too much public debt because we have too much private debt.

    Find the causes...fix the problems.

  16. Portrait of Michael Heller

    CommentedMichael Heller

    Kenneth Rogoff:

    I suppose the signal Ronald Reagan sent out in 1981 is similar to the one now advocated by people who favour backloading commitments to reduce government spending. Debt is the root problem. I’m persuaded by your arguments which fairly represent the moderate centre ground today. Corrective strategy can begin with acceptance of the need for backloading and also inflation, and with rejection of the simplistic extremes you have outlined.

    It seems, however, that the middle ground is actually institutional in fundamental ways, and this dimension gets insufficient attention. Institutional reform is not a luxury to be postponed until better economic times. Nor, in Europe, does it necessarily require a utopian level of political union. Governments have urgently to make formal institutional commitments without U-turns: introducing the permanent interventions rather than the temporary interventions advocated by simplistic Keynesians; simple decisive legislative changes; and predictive financial market regulation in one or another form, so that markets will believe governments and so that pressured incentives for states to reform are maintained.

    The logjam in Europe is that Germany will understandably not consider temporary interventions or eurobonds and assorted rescue measures that could cost it dearly until there has been the needed European treaty change and until individual countries have used the short window of opportunity to reform their national institutional rules and shown reasonably credible intent regarding labour laws, privatization, and fiscal and monetary rules. A humane and balanced approach to writing down debt can start as soon as the rules are agreed on. They are on the table already. Certain countries and highly vocal and articulate leftwing economists are recklessly blocking sensible agreement and implicitly giving encouragement to debtor countries to “call the bluff” of creditor countries.

Featured