Thursday, September 18, 2014
9

Grecia y los límites de la oposición a la austeridad

CAMBRIDGE – ¿Está muerto el plan de austeridad? En la cumbre del G8 del mes pasado en Campo David el programa de austeridad dirigido por Alemania se enfrentó con una fuerte resistencia. Del mismo modo, las recientes elecciones presidenciales en Francia respaldaron a aquellos que señalan que Europa debe crecer para aliviar la elevada deuda de su sector público en lugar de buscar inmediatamente una disciplina fiscal ortodoxa. Además, la reciente victoria del partido griego de centro derecha, Nueva Democracia, que es partidario de cumplir los términos del rescate del país, no garantiza la posibilidad de formar un gobierno de mayoría.

En contraste, desde la crisis financiera de 2007-2009, los Estados Unidos han emprendido políticas macroeconómicas expansivas orientadas al crecimiento, a pesar de déficit presupuestales masivos. Hasta ahora, a juzgar por la modesta recuperación en los Estados Unidos frente a la no recuperación en Europa, los ajustes en la política estadounidense están funcionando mejor que el programa de austeridad europeo.

Sin embargo, no se trata simplemente de elegir entre las medidas expansivas y programas de austeridad. Las políticas macroeconómicas interactúan sutil pero poderosamente aunque rara  vez con  notoriedad con realidades microeconómicas cotidianas. Llanamente, la estructura microeconómica de Europa hace que las mismas políticas macroeconómicas basadas en el crecimiento sean menos efectivas en la Unión Europea que en los Estados Unidos.

Esta es la razón: la facilitación macroeconómica, al bajar las tasas de interés o inyectar dinero en la economía de alguna otra forma, está destinada a incrementar la actividad económica. Al haber más dinero circulando, las empresas recontratan a los empleados y solicitan a los empleados existentes trabajar más horas. Los empresarios que analizaban emprender un negocio deciden proceder y sus bancos les otorgan  créditos para hacer viable la nueva empresa.

Los empleados recién contratados y las empresas recién creadas gastan dinero, que induce a más contrataciones, más empresas y más gasto. La economía crece y genera un aumento de los ingresos fiscales ayudando así a los gobiernos a ordenar sus cuentas fiscales. El país resuelve sus problemas económicos a través del crecimiento.

Sin embargo, la UE no puede hacer realidad este escenario tan fácilmente como los Estados Unidos porque las normas a nivel micro en la UE generan fricciones que ralentizan dicho tipo de expansión.

Las normas laborales más estrictas de la UE son un ejemplo muy conocido y que a menudo se pone de ejemplo. Las rigidices del mercado laboral europeo significan que es difícil en muchos países de la UE reducir una compañía. Las empresas, anticipando esa dificultad, están menos dispuestas a realizar contrataciones a menos que estén seguras de que la demanda de sus productos a largo plazo será suficiente para justificar las contrataciones de largo plazo. Por ende, incluso cuando las empresas obtienen acceso más fácil a dinero y a créditos, muchas firmas aún seguirán negándose a crear empleos en gran escala porque temen tener la carga de una nómina abultada en una futura recesión.

Por ejemplo, el reciente perfil del primer ministro italiano, Mario Monti, publicado en el semanario The Economist muestra que Italia continua estando obstaculizada por normas laborales que hacen que las empresas se nieguen a tener más de 15 empleados (más allá de esa cifra es difícil para una firma reducir su tamaño). Las políticas macroeconómicas expansivas necesitan reglas microeconómicas compatibles para funcionar bien.

Hay un poco de ironía en el hecho de que el proponente más fuerte de la austeridad haya sido el gobierno de la canciller Angela Merkel porque Alemania, en particular durante la administración del gobierno socialdemócrata encabezado por Gerhard Schroeder, contribuyó en mucho para liberalizar las reglas laborales y empresariales del país más que otros gobiernos de la UE. La política expansiva basada en el crecimiento podría funcionar mejor en Alemania que en cualquiera de los muchos otros países de la eurozona donde se está recomendando su aplicación.

Las reglas que impiden la creación de nuevas empresas pueden ser incluso un obstáculo más importante para garantizar la efectividad de la expansión monetaria. Sencillamente es demasiado difícil emprender muchos tipos de empresas en muchos lugares, y expandir las que han arrancado. Los permisos necesarios no son a menudo un procedimiento de rutina. El papeleo para crear una nueva empresa sigue siendo una carga más grande en Europa que en los Estados Unidos. En efecto, si bien este proceso se ha hecho más fácil en Europa en años recientes, el Banco Mundial estima que sigue llevando el doble de tiempo poner en marcha una pequeña empresa en Grecia y en gran parte de la UE, que en los Estados Unidos- mientras que en España tarda cuatro veces.

Si bien a menudo se lamenta en Europa la relativa falta de éxitos megaempresariales como el de Facebook, las dificultades para abrir salones de belleza, comercios minoristas de base y empresas simples de venta por correo pueden tener un efecto global igualmente profundo.

Consideremos los permisos de taxista. Muchas personas pueden manejar un taxi, incluidos un gran número de individuos desempleados, pero no tantas pueden obtener un permiso de taxista en muchas de las principales ciudades de Europa y de los Estados Unidos. Imaginemos que gran parte de la economía está organizada como la industria de los taxis. Muchos de los estímulos económicos no generarán más taxis, a menos que se reduzcan las restricciones de entrada.

Magda Bianco, Silvia Giacomelli, y Giacomo Rodano, Investigadores del Banco de Italia, informan que estos obstáculos institucionales para expandir empresas siguen siendo sustanciales en Italia. Una fábrica podría tener un acceso más fácil a financiamiento y podría crecer la demanda de sus productos, pero, en lugar de contratar más empleados, podría decidir subir sus precios. Un competidor potencial podría considerar entrar a ese mercado; pero como hay fuertes barreras reglamentarias de entrada en última instancia podría decidir continuar con su empresa actual.

En dicho ambiente es probable que no funcione la política monetaria expansiva. Tal vez por esta razón, el nuevo presidente francés, François Hollande, favorece la actuación del gobierno para dirigir objetivos específicos –por ejemplo, contratando 60,000 nuevos profesores.

Podemos imaginar un gran pacto en Europa que incluya políticas macroeconómicas expansivas combinadas con la simplificación de los obstáculos microeconómicos. Sin embargo, las empresas existentes y los empleados ya contratados prefieren el status quo, y pueden ejercer fuertes presiones para inhibir a los responsables del diseño de políticas. Puede haber mucho de esto en la política griega y en la de otros países de la UE.

Traducción de Kena Nequiz

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  1. Portrait of Fernando Giuliano

    CommentedFernando Giuliano

    First of all, I don’t agree with the author’s portrait of the US as pursuing expansionary policies since the 2007-2009 financial crisis. While stimulus was the first response in the US (as well as in Europe), there is evidence that the initial stimulus effort was barely enough to offset state-level spending cuts. And after the initial response, the fiscal stance has been more contractive than expansive in both sides of the Atlantic.
    On a more fundamental issue, I think that microeconomic rigidities in Europe are of second order importance in the current context. His taxi example illustrates why. The author argues that “most kinds of economic stimulus won’t generate more taxis, until entry restrictions are reduced”. While it is true that stimulus won’t generate more taxis if entry is restricted, it will make current taxis to work at full capacity. This will both increase pressure for entry and decrease the incumbents’ resistance, since business is plenty. The taxi example does not illustrate why expansionary policies would not work, as the author intends, but rather why reform is more feasible when there is growth.
    Although microeconomic reforms in the Eurozone are desirable, the roots of the crisis are not to be found in microeconomic rigidities, but in macroeconomic imbalances.

  2. CommentedGary Marshall

    Hello Mr. Roe,

    No need for austerity, just sanity.

    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. Its not the end of the world, but a new beginning.

    ####

    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,

  3. CommentedMiriano Ravazzolo

    Well, if we must be precise, Mr. Zingales notes that the 15 employees threshold doesn't seem to have created a significant statistical accumulation below that level. But it DOES note that going over the 15 people WILL severely reduce the flexibility of the companies, obliging to go through the legal system for EVERY layoff, with an average of 429 days before getting to the court (and going up to 693).
    There's just no way to consider this situation as promoting expansion and, most importantly, promote hiring.
    I actually agree with Mr. Zingales when he says that there should be a higher MONETARY compensation to the employees that are let go. But a company should always be able to take that decision, which is eminent to the responsibilities and the prerogatives of the entrepreneur. The problem in Italy is that the one and only objective of a large part of the politics (and the totality of the unions) is "protect the existing jobs, no matter what", even when that actually stymies the creation of new jobs and produces a negative net result.

      CommentedLuca Tombolesi

      You're perfectly right on Zingales' thought, in fact I cited him precisely because he is notoriously AGAINST the existence of legal difficulties for downsizing over the 15 employees' threshold! Remains the evident fact that this threshold has very little impact, so evidently if Italian companies are capable to mind their own business, it would not be the direct solution of their troubles. The problem is really a political and ideological one. Someone thinks it would send the "right signal", or would be useful to better put companies in a position of making the best choices, and so to boost the economy. No one really knows if this would be the case, personally I think not, but anyway if the current system actually stymied the creation of new jobs and produced a negative net result, the lack of a significant statistical accumulation below the 15-employee level remains to be explained.

  4. CommentedAlok Shukla

    In one country USA the policy making is completely paralyzed thing about the EU. Seems they would muddle through the crisis always responding to crisis with bare minimum and then wait for markets to pounce on again to force EU to take more action. Most of the EU countries are some milder form Socialist Republic. What is good for majority may not be good for sovereign as a whole.

  5. CommentedCharles St Pierre

    Macroeconomic easing puts the money in the wrong place. This is why it has limited effectiveness. When an economy is constrained due to inadequate demand, money has to go to the demand part of the economy, and this requires fiscal policy and/or debt restructuring, when debt gets out of control. Businesses are not going to invest and expand unless they can count on a robust market. Who’s going to want to invest into a market with 20% unemployed. The institutional problems you itemize have less to do with it.

    The Austerians figure if they destroy demand, by making people pay back their debt, businesses will want to expand. But in order for people to pay back their debt, business must first expand. And business will not, with a contracted demand.

    The Austerians don’t want to let people off the debt hook. The problem is debt can only be compounded. Money is debt, but there is never as much money as debt. See "Money as Debt II":

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsmbWBpnCNk&feature=related

    Without forgiveness, in the worst case sovereign bankruptcy, debt can only increase, dragging down the economy with it in a death spiral.

  6. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

    The world is more productive and wealthier than it has ever been in all of History. We have a distribution problem with power, wealth, income, work, freedom, health and resources.

    The current 'crisis' is simply a restatement of the distribution issue.

  7. CommentedLuca Tombolesi

    The general tone of this piece is questionable to say the least. But when it talks about Italian matters, I can say it's simply wrong. You can't honestly say that "Italy continues to be stymied by labor rules that make businesses reluctant to expand beyond 15 employees (after which it becomes hard for a firm to downsize)". If this assertion is made by The Economist, this fact can only cast a sad light on the partisanship and lack of objectivity of this magazine. In Italy beyond political hype all informed people, as even an economist not precisely leftist or keynesian or a welfare-state fanatic as Luigi Zingales has no difficulty to acknowledge, (you can see his piece at http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/getPDFarticolo.asp?currentArticle=1D8G2U), know very well that this "15-employees threshold effect" is minimal, as Zingales says, "just perceptible".

  8. Commentedjames durante

    It's the capitalists' wet dream. "Now we can force deregulation and a weakening of labor protections." Jump on the bandwagon Europe, then you can see Gini coefficients for your countries reach U.S. (Mexican, Camaroonian, Russian, Argentinian) levels. Then your richest 10% can control 80% f the wealth of the country and 25% of the icome can go to the top 1%.

    This is the dirty little secret that no one wants to admit. The U.S. is a poverty stricken country.Forty-nine million Americans live in poverty. More than 20% of children live in poverty. About 15% of households face food insecurity. Income and wealth for the median household have fallen to levels of the early 1990's.

    So, rock on Dr. Harvard Law School professor. Less rules for labor, less regulations for businesses, less red tape for start-ups: it's only the mega-rich who are really doing well anymore. Let's let them do even better at any expense.

      Commentedjames durante

      To Kevin Lim--

      The universe of choices grows rather thin in the economic system that is, supposedly, the epitome of choice. Can you really see no other options? Here are a few, drastic I admit, but these are dangerous times.

      Confiscate all personal wealth, of whatever form, over one million dollars, exempting house values up to five million (or the equivalent in whatever currency). Pay down debt, invest in clean energy, education, social services, ecological restoration and health care. Confiscate all wealth of hedge fund managers, private equity firm owners, and casino moguls. End advertising. Cap all banks at one hundred million dollars. Require considerable reserves and ban risky trading. Suspend global weapons spending for one year of every five and contribute all the money to sustainable systems for food, housing, and energy for all people in the world. Set a date of ten years to reduce by half fossil fuel use, 100% in fifty years.

      Well, that would be a start. Certainly it would be more interesting and much more beneficial for the majority than the slow train wreck we are currently witnessing.

      CommentedKevin Lim

      All well and good, but if Mr Roe is correct then the poor are screwed under the status quo too. If labor regulations create a disincentive against growing a business or hiring more workers, then you end up with sky high unemployment. So in the final analysis, you are left with 2 choices, neither ideal. Either the lot of workers is generally worse but at least they have jobs, OR the lot of workers is more comfortable/fairer but more people don't have jobs. Personally if I had to choose between the yoke of minimum wage and unsafe working conditions on the one hand, and the hopelessness of being unemployed, I would choose the former as the lesser of two evils.

  9. CommentedOdysseas Argyriadis

    So Mr. Roe, how would you run a business that is bankrupt but tries to hide it from its debtors, while they also deny the fact that your business is bankrupt?
    Because that appears to be the problem in Greece, not Austerity or any other macro economic policy. For example, we have serious issues with medicine in Greece at the moment, with the pensioners being unable to get their normally free drugs (due to their previous credit aka the public insurance system) and having to pay for them, even though they have actually paid for them in the past through mandatory public insurance. If that is not a sign that the state has gone down under, I don't know what is.

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