Friday, April 25, 2014
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Sind Schulden wichtig?

LONDON: Europa wird derzeit von einem Schuldengespenst heimgesucht. Alle europäischen Regierungen zittern davor. Um den Dämon auszutreiben, unterziehen sie ihre Volkswirtschaften einer Rosskur.

Zu helfen scheint das nicht. Ihre Volkswirtschaften sind noch immer am Trudeln, und die Schulden wachsen weiter. Die Ratingagentur Standard & Poor’s hat gerade die Kreditwürdigkeit von neun Euroländern heruntergestuft, darunter auch Frankreich. Großbritannien dürfte folgen.

Wer nicht von Torheit verblendet ist, für den ist die Erklärung für diese massenhafte Herabstufung offensichtlich. Wenn Sie Ihr BIP vorsätzlich schrumpfen, steigt zwangsläufig Ihre Verschuldungsquote. Die einzige Möglichkeit, Ihre Schulden zu senken (außer durch Zahlungseinstellung), ist, Ihre Wirtschaft zum Wachsen zu bringen.

Die Angst vor Schulden ist in der menschlichen Natur verwurzelt; daher sieht der Durchschnittsbürger Schuldenabbau als richtiges politisches Ziel an. Jeder weiß, was Schulden bedeuten: Zahlungsverpflichtungen, häufig in Kreditform. Schulden können Ängste erzeugen, wenn man nicht weiß, ob man, wenn es soweit ist, das Geschuldete zurückzahlen kann.

Diese Ängste werden bereitwillig auf die Staatsverschuldung übertragen – das Geld, was eine Regierung ihren Gläubigern schuldet. Wie, so fragen sich die Menschen, wollen die Regierungen all jene hunderte von Milliarden an Schulden zurückzahlen? Der britische Premierminister David Cameron hat es so formuliert: „Staatliche Schulden sind dasselbe wie Kreditkartenschulden; man muss sie zurückzahlen.“

Hieraus folgt als unmittelbar nächster Schritt: Um die staatlichen Schulden zurückzuzahlen oder zumindest zu reduzieren, muss die Regierung ihr Haushaltsdefizit beseitigen, denn die über die staatlichen Einnahmen hinaus getätigten Ausgaben erhöhen kontinuierlich die Staatsverschuldung. Und wenn die Regierung nichts unternimmt, wird die Staatsverschuldung – wie es heute so schön heißt – „unhaltbar“.

Auch hier bietet sich eine Analogie zu den Schulden eines privaten Haushalts an. Mein Tod tilgt meine Schulden nicht, sagt sich der vernünftige Bürger. Meine Gläubiger haben dann als erste Zugriff auf meinen Nachlass – auf alles, was ich meinen Kindern hinterlassen wollte. In ähnlicher Weise sind von der Regierung zu lange nicht gezahlte Schulden eine Last für künftige Generationen. Ich selbst mag durchaus von der staatlichen Extravaganz profitieren, aber meine Kinder zahlen irgendwann die Zeche.

Dies ist der Grund, warum im Zentrum der Fiskalpolitik der meisten Regierungen heute der Defizitabbau steht. Regierungen mit „glaubwürdigen“ Plänen zur „Haushaltskonsolidierung“ fallen angeblich mit geringerer Wahrscheinlichkeit als Schuldner aus oder hinterlassen ihre Schulden kommenden Generationen. Dies wird, so die Annahme, die Regierung in die Lage versetzen, billiger Kredite aufzunehmen, als dies sonst der Fall wäre, was wiederum die Zinsen für private Kreditnehmer senkt, was dann die Wirtschaft anschiebt. Also gilt die Haushaltskonsolidierung als Königsweg zur wirtschaftlichen Erholung.

Diese derzeitige offizielle Doktrin der meisten hochentwickelten Länder enthält mindestens fünf wichtige Denkfehler, die größtenteils unbeachtet bleiben, weil die Geschichte als solche so plausibel erscheint.

Erstens müssen Regierungen anders als Privatpersonen ihre Schulden nicht „zurückzahlen“. Die Regierung eines Landes mit eigener Notenbank kann einfach immer weiter Geld aufnehmen, indem sie das Geld druckt, das man ihr leiht. Das trifft auf die Euroländer nicht zu, aber auch deren Regierungen müssen ihre Schulden nicht zurückzahlen. Falls ihre (ausländischen) Kreditgeber sie zu sehr unter Druck setzen, stellen sie einfach die Zahlungen ein. Ein Zahlungsausfall ist schlecht, aber danach geht das Leben ziemlich genau so weiter wie vorher.

Zweitens ist eine absichtliche Absenkung des Defizits nicht die beste Methode für eine Regierung, um einen ausgeglichenen Haushalt vorzulegen. Ein Defizitabbau mitten im Konjunkturabschwung führt nicht zur Erholung, sondern zur Kontraktion, denn er hat zur Folge, dass sich das Nationaleinkommen, von dem die staatlichen Einnahmen abhängen, verringert. Dies macht es schwieriger und nicht leichter, das Defizit zu senken. Die britische Regierung muss bereits £ 112 Mrd. mehr Schulden aufnehmen, als sie bei Bekanntgabe ihres Programms zum Defizitabbau im Juni 2010 geplant hatte.

Drittens geht von der Staatsverschuldung keine Nettobelastung für künftige Generationen aus. Selbst falls sie zu künftigen Steuerverbindlichkeiten führt (und teilweise wird sie das) sind dies Transferzahlungen von den Steuerzahlern an die Anleihegläubiger. Dies mag unliebsame Verteilungskonsequenzen haben. Doch der Versuch, sie jetzt abzubauen, stellt tatsächlich eine Nettobelastung künftiger Generationen dar: Die Einkommen sinken unmittelbar, die Gewinne fallen, die Rentenkassen leiden, Investitionsprojekte werden gestrichen oder zurückgestellt und Häuser, Schulen und Krankenhäuser bleiben ungebaut. Künftigen Generationen wird es dann schlechter gehen, weil ihnen Vermögen vorbehalten wird, das sie andernfalls gehabt hätten.

Viertens besteht keine Verbindung zwischen dem Umfang der Staatsverschuldung und dem Preis, den eine Regierung zahlen muss, um diese zu finanzieren. Die Zinsen, die Japan, die USA, Großbritannien und Deutschland für ihre Staatsverschuldung zahlen, sind gleichermaßen niedrig, trotz enormer Unterschiede beim Schuldenniveau und bei der Fiskalpolitik.

Und schließlich reduzieren niedrige Kreditkosten für die Regierungen nicht automatisch die Kapitalkosten für den privaten Sektor. Schließlich borgen Unternehmensschuldner nicht zu jenem „risikolosen“ Zins, der etwa auf US-Schatzanleihen gezahlt wird, und es hat sich gezeigt, dass eine expansive Geldpolitik die Zinsen von Staatsanleihen nach unten drücken kann, aber kaum Auswirkungen auf die Vergabe von Neukrediten durch die Banken an Unternehmen und Haushalte hat. Tatsächlich liegt hier eine Kausalitätsumkehrung vor: Der Grund, warum die Zinsen, die der Staat zahlt, in Großbritannien und anderswo so niedrig sind, ist, dass die Zinsen für Kredite an den privaten Sektor so hoch sind.

Wie mit dem „Gespenst des Kommunismus“, dass Europa in Karl Marx’ berühmten Manifest heimsuchte, haben heute „[a]lle Mächte des alten Europas eine heilige Allianz geschlossen“, um das Gespenst der Staatsverschuldung „auszutreiben“. Doch sollten sich die Staatsmänner, deren Ziel es ist, diese Schulden zu tilgen, an ein anderes berühmtes Gespenst erinnern – das Gespenst der Revolution.

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  1. Commentedjan andreassen

    You forget the practical route. Europe has always beeen about lofty ideals followed by a d-mark revaluation. Germany is strong and has gotten that way through the trials of history. No this is not a PIGS problem, but an issue for france,netherlands and sweden. No chance against der mittelstand.

  2. CommentedEnrique Woll Battistini

    It does matter who spends the money and on what, whether government or individuals, friends or foes, just as much as it matters that debt be repaid no matter whose it is or to whom it is owed; breaking the faith in government financial commitments sows the seeds of economic failure, social injustice, political disorder, and dissolves the trust on which society and the future iare built. That is why default by government is crassly immoral, much more so than impoverishment through uncontrolled inflation, by central banks, and must never allowed to become state policy.

  3. CommentedShane Beck

    Does national debt matter? Only in the current international economic, political and legal framework where the international bondholders expect to get their dividend ahead of any other national interest. For example, if the United States decided to default upon their national debt for some insane reason, there would be very little that international investors could do other than the obvious actions of seizing overseas US assets and withholding future credit. This has happened in the past in revolutionary situations such as Revolutionary Era France and the Bolshevik revolution. In a climate where polities "break the rules", the rules no longer apply. Not saying that it will happen in this case in either US or Europe but simply noting that it has happened in the past with debt being one of the causes of such revolutionary conditions and repudiation of such debt being one of the outcomes

  4. CommentedGordon Roberts

    You throw up one linear graph and proclaim that MMT is true (http://pshakkottai.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/another-proof-of-mmt-4). with this you sound like you have left no avenue of thought unexplored. Well how about this avenue Mr Arrogant: how about wealth distribution?? Did you ever think that the national debt payments going to people who already have money on being paid at least partially by the taxes of those who scrap by day to day and have no surplus money to benefit from the money their government pays in debt maintenance? Rather than getting the complete government services they deserve they are financing the growth of wealth of those who are already better off than they are and they have no choice about it. And as the debt burden gets worse and the population ages with more debt to be paid by fewer and fewer (portportionally) working younger people, fewer and fewer government services will be provided for the increasing taxes paid.

    I merely have a bachelor of mathematics,.. but even i know that you have no idea what the word 'proof' means. You speak as one who has knowledge, yet you only misleads others. Please be silent.

  5. CommentedMATTHEW M

    Most of the comments herein are more worthy than the article. Particularly, debt just used to finance current non investment consumption is problematic. If debt is indeed incurred to finance investment, infrastructure, emerging technologies and related job training etc then it ultimately has a return or stimulative effect on growth, which correspondingly reduces the debt position. The problem is in most "advanced" societies, they have lost the sense of what to invest in. And the entanglement with too powerful of bankers and Wall Street is blinding them to see this reality.

  6. CommentedNick Marshall

    This is getting the cart before the horse. Who are these future generations and what is their population? It is just too glib to assume that we know the size and wherewithal of any future generation to assume anything about the wealth or output in the future. Economic forecasts are never more than a projection of the present trend i.e.they tell you what has happened but nothing about the future.
    Adding further debt now (money creation from thin air) is not actually doing anything for the economy because the multiplier effect is not happening. It is not happening because banks are reluctant to lend and people are reluctant to borrow. Economists regard this as irrational because they look at the world in terms of numbers. Real people have limited lifespans and families to take care of. People are far more sensible than the so called experts. They will take their lumps now and probably revolt later to take their revenge on those who allowed such economic distortions to happen. The final sentence "Future generations will be worse off, having been deprived of assets that they might otherwise have had." is about as stupid an idea as I can imagine. Essentially, it is saying that experts like Robert Skidelsky know the future. There was hardly an economist alive who predicted the downturn from late October 2007. Common sense tells me that in the end, despite government/central bank manipulations, there will be defaults on an unprecedented scale. In such a deflationary period only those who have paid off all debt will be in a position to flourish - hence the common sense of the common people to reject taking on more debt.

  7. CommentedNick Marshall

    The global economy has been falsely supercharged over the last decade or two by rampant credit/money creation. In the mid sixties every dollar created added a dollar to GDP but today it takes five or more times as many to add each dollar of improvement. The reason is pretty simple - each new dollar has less purchasing power than the previous one. Economists and those highly paid people who run corporations may not notice this but ordinary people do. The whole system needs re-calibrating and the only way to do that is by honest accounting which will, of course, result in a very high level of default. Default is not bad, it is what happens in a well functioning system, because it clears out the financial arteries and passes assets from debt laden weak hands to strong hands which can nurture and grow the asset. The nineteenth century saw several crashes and bank runs of short duration. None were a risk to the system as a whole because no bank or business was "too big to fail". That is not the situation now, which is all the more reason to let those businesses fail which are supposedly crucial to the system. If they are so crucial, how come they got us into this global mess? The longer it goes on with the taxpayer's burden being increased with bailouts and quantitive easing, the greater and more damaging the eventual crash. I do not pretend that it will be bloody awful for a while but better to take our lumps now than later.
    The idea that "governments, unlike private individuals, do not have to "repay" their debts" is so stupid and dishonest that it could only be uttered by an economist. It is an exercise in semantics. It may be true that the government, per se, can avoid its obligations by printing but that is only to pass on the burden of the obligation to the citizens of that country and their descendants by way of falling purchasing power and utterley distorted market signals. The only true thing that can be said is that those in government, the zombies who are supposed to represent the interests of the people, now only serve their own ends. There will, no doubt, be a period of reckoning.

    1. Commentedparthasarathy Shakkottai

      The household net worth of USA is $58.5 Trillion. The national debt is $14 T. GDP is about the same, $14T/yr.The ratio of GDP/yr to govt spending/yr has been about 5 over the years. The same ratio holds for household net worth to national debt.
      "The currency issuer is the monopoly producer of money and, just as every asset has a liability, also results in government liabilities. The issuer's liabilities, or "debt", is a digital account of the currency supply used by the currency users. To a fiat currency issuer, the currency supply is a digital accounting tool, not an asset in and of itself. The currency supply is simply the bookkeeping records corresponding to all the currency users’ savings in banknotes, deposits, and treasuries.
      Money functions as both a store of value and a medium of exchange. When users acquire dollars they can spend them for items in the marketplace or choose to "save" them as banknotes, deposits, and treasuries.
      The more users choose to save the more "debt" the issuer takes on. A common misconception is that currency issuers "borrow" money. The issuer does not borrow because it is the monopoly producer of the currency - the money that currency users spend or save. This is simply double entry accounting.
      Savings by currency users, domestic or foreign, is a straightforward concept on an individual level but becomes counter intuitive on a macro level." from
      http://dollarmonopoly.blogspot.com/p/issuer-user-paradigm.html”

  8. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    The price mark-up over unit labor cost, a measure of business power, has been rising sharply in recent times (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Income and Product Accounts; Bureau of Labor Statistics, Productivity and Costs; CEA calculations); I do not know if even a fraction of this could be invested to increase the marginal productivity of labor and its proceeds shared in a proportion that could lead to consumption increment.

    We all know that the marginal propensity to consume is higher at the base and that is where the debt burden pinches severely.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  9. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    The distribution of the proceeds of national debt matters a lot. Debt used to finance infrastructure and social investment in education and research (1) moves today's economy towards full employment, (2) increases the future income of the country, and (3) increases the long-run marginal productivity of labor, thus raising real wages over time.

    In contrast, debt used to finance current consumption only achieves the first of the above three objectives: current employment is improved.

    So public debt that builds public assets is actually a prerequisite of achieving advanced economic status. Private sector economics, no matter how "free," will not take you there.

    Most of the advanced economies are under-investing in public assets and productivity-building infrastructure. So their productivity of labor is stagnating at a time when emerging market economies, incorporating the latest technology, and rapidly improving their productivity.

    So the emerging countries start to "eat the lunches" of the advanced economies.

    And politicians do not want to give up on public consumption regardless of impact on long-term income. So we get slower growth and higher unemployment and a sense of a stagnating future.

  10. CommentedDuncan Hume

    Of course debt matters! The casual approach to debt evidenced in this article is exactly why we have a problem. Any entity that borrows money to meet its ongoing expenses is creating an untenable situation. We now have many countries that are meeting day to day expenses using borrowed money. It may be the easiest path for those elected to positions of responsibility but it is not responsible governance. Debt works when it is being used for investment with a reasonable expectation of a return but that is not what has been happening, and assuming that the problem is going to be fixed by devaluing the currency is a joke, how is that going to affect your constituents? and eventually the lenders will wake up and then interest rates will be set to match your cavalier attitude.

    1. Commentedparthasarathy Shakkottai

      This applies to a monetarily sovereign economy, say USA. Government creates money and the economy uses it. http://pshakkottai.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/how-the-economy-works-a-diagram/
      a) Federal Deficits – Net Imports = Net Private Savings is strictly true. Govt “debt” is the sum of all deficits and appears on one side of the equation whereas the private sector “debt” means negative savings. Govt deficit is the source of money.
      Income taxes play a minor role in macroeconomics. It has a role in income inequality and inflation control. Govt "debt" is the same as private wealth. These are in the form of the govt bonds held by citizens, grandmothers, pension funds and so on. The interest also flows into the private sector. Two key equations in economics which apply to any system of govt which creates its own money:
      A numerical proof of (a) is shown in figure 4 of http://pragcap.com/resources/understanding-modern-monetary-system
      b) Gross Domestic Product = Federal Spending + Private Investment + Private Consumption + Net exports.
      The GDP is equal to approximately 5 times govt spending.
      Actual data is in
      http://pshakkottai.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/
      Deficits have been quite common in the US economy.
      http://www.davemanuel.com/charts2/surpluses_and_deficits_1940-2011.html

  11. CommentedDerrick Wilkinson

    If he thinks the printing press can be used to repay debt he has clearly not understood the fact that money is not merely a means of exchange but also - and equally important - it is a store of value. Printing money is one of the quickest ways of devaluing a currency - by undermining the confidence of savers and investors in that government

  12. CommentedDerrick Wilkinson

    So debt is not a burden on future generations and does not need to be repaid. Perhaps then the government could just assume all private debts as well, since the resulting higher government debts are neither a burden nor need repayment. Arrant nonsense!!!

    1. CommentedAnthony Juan Bautista

      Excellent point. Also, the future taxpayers (now children) don't get ANYTHING in adulthood in return for their tax dollars servicing inherited debt (because these govt goods/services were consumed by their forbears). So SOMETHING has indeed been transferred from old to young. Mr. Skidelsky apparently reads Krugman--both possess an utter absence of morality on this matter (the very definition of rationalization).

  13. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Debt to GDP ratio is passe, what now counts is the ratio of government debt to government revenue, which has been mounting and this is a clear indicator that we are drawing from the future without a credible plan on how to bring some semblance of balance. Austerity actually is a double whammy, but if it is directed towards bringing a balance in those areas where restructuring is necessary, it is actually a step in the right direction. Procyon Mukherjee

    1. Commentedparthasarathy Shakkottai

      Myths about debt/GDP still persist. Please see
      http://rodgermmitchell.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/federal-debtgdp-a-useless-ratio/
      and
      http://www.forbes.com/2011/03/18/deficit-cut-danger-budget-jobs-leadership-managing-employment.html

  14. CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

    Could I suggest you see this letter? "An Open Letter to the Economic Leaders of the West -- especially the United States" http://goo.gl/MfLe8

    I wrote this letter about a year ago on December 21, 2010, but I think it is still effective.

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