Friday, August 29, 2014
7

Enhebrar la aguja fiscal

PALO ALTO – Las elecciones suelen poner de relieve el estado de la economía, especialmente en tiempos difíciles. Cuando el crecimiento y el empleo están en baja, los votantes expulsan a los dirigentes -llámense izquierdistas españoles, derechistas franceses o centristas holandeses-. Estados Unidos no es una excepción. Tres años después de iniciada la Gran Depresión, Herbert Hoover fue derrotado por Franklin Delano Roosevelt. En 1980, tras un pico grave de estanflación, Ronald Reagan se impuso a Jimmy Carter.

Al mismo tiempo, el desempeño económico depende en gran medida de la política económica. La Gran Depresión se vio agravada por una mala política monetaria, aumentos impositivos y políticas comerciales proteccionistas. De la misma manera, una política monetaria relajada en Estados Unidos a mediados de la década pasada ayudó a preparar el escenario para la Gran Recesión, al contribuir significativamente a una explosión de apalancamiento, y al alimentar la burbuja inmobiliaria que estalló en 2007-2008.

El resultado de dos batallas relacionadas en materia de políticas será clave para la perspectiva económica y política tanto en Estados Unidos como en Europa. La primera es entre "austeridad" y "crecimiento" -es decir, reducción del déficit a corto plazo y más estímulo fiscal-. Muchos en la izquierda, a ambos lados del Atlántico, sostienen que más gasto gubernamental, no menos, es lo que se necesita para sacar a sus economías de la recesión. En la derecha creen que la principal prioridad de los gobiernos debería ser la consolidación fiscal.

En Europa, los grandes déficits y la explosión de los ratios deuda-PBI alarmaron a los acreedores y provocaron una tensión política. En particular, Alemania exige más ajuste fiscal a los países altamente endeudados del sur de Europa, cuyos sindicatos (y votantes) rechazan una mayor austeridad. Mientras que Estados Unidos hasta ahora eludió la ira del mercado de bonos, los líderes políticos norteamericanos enfrentan el mismo problema de deuda y sustentabilidad fiscal.

La segunda batalla implica cuestiones estructurales a largo plazo: desacelerar el crecimiento del gasto del gobierno, reformar los impuestos y aumentar la flexibilidad del mercado laboral. En Europa, por ejemplo, si se eleva la edad jubilatoria para las pensiones públicas y se achica el empleo gubernamental, se restringen los excesos del estado benefactor.

En Estados Unidos, la victoria de Reagan en 1980 parecía señalar que Estados Unidos iba a poner coto al modelo de bienestar social europeo. Pero el presidente Barack Obama y sus aliados en el Congreso rechazaron el consenso de que el gobierno sólo debe ser un último recurso para la gente necesitada, y favorecieron una mayor dependencia, tanto en el caso de los individuos como de las empresas, de programas de ayuda social y otros gastos públicos, exenciones impositivas específicas, regulaciones y préstamos.

Separar los efectos del presupuesto en la economía de los efectos de la economía en el presupuesto es tramposo. Existen varios casos -Irlanda y Dinamarca en los años 1980, por ejemplo- en los que la consolidación fiscal ayudó a expandir la economía en el corto plazo, conforme tasas de interés y tipos de cambio más bajos alentaron lo suficiente la confianza como para estimular la demanda.

Por supuesto, si muchas de las economías del mundo intentan llevar a cabo una consolidación simultáneamente, cuando las tasas de interés ya son bajas y de las más grandes en una unión monetaria, un resultado así de favorable es menos probable. Pero la evidencia sobre si un gasto adicional financiado por el déficit reavivaría rápidamente el crecimiento económico es confusa.

En una encuesta reciente, “Fiscal Policy for Economic Growth” (Política fiscal para el crecimiento económico), llegué a la conclusión de que los multiplicadores a corto plazo -el cambio total de la actividad económica que resulta de un mayor gasto gubernamental- en teoría podrían llegar a ser dos cuando el banco central redujo su tasa de interés meta a cero. En otras palabras, un dólar gastado por el gobierno podría hacer subir el PBI dos dólares en el muy corto plazo.

La trampa es que el multiplicador se vuelve negativo al segundo año: el gasto adicional del gobierno contrae, en lugar de expandir, el crecimiento económico a mediano y largo plazo. Es más, el efecto a corto plazo es inferior en los países altamente endeudados, y puede hasta ser negativo durante las expansiones económicas si los hogares y las empresas, que esperan que los impuestos más elevados paguen el gasto futuro, ahorran, en lugar de gastar, el efectivo.

Posponer la consolidación fiscal puede implicar que nunca se concrete, pero una consolidación demasiado agresiva puede dificultar temporariamente el crecimiento. Pero quienes hoy exigen un mayor estímulo financiado por el déficit deben enfrentar una evidencia considerable de que un excedente de deuda pública impide el crecimiento por mucho tiempo. En un trabajo reciente, posterior a su libro This Time is Different, los economistas Carmen Reinhart y Kenneth Rogoff llegaron a la conclusión de que ratios deuda-PBI superiores al 90% tienden a estar asociados a una desaceleración del crecimiento anual de un punto porcentual durante 23 años. En consecuencia, un excedente de deuda termina costando más en ingresos perdidos que una recesión profunda.

Una política inteligente considera al mismo tiempo los efectos a corto, mediano y largo plazo. Tanto Europa como Estados Unidos necesitan desesperadamente reformas a largo plazo, por ejemplo, de las pensiones públicas y la atención sanitaria. Europa requiere una reforma estructural del mercado laboral y debe resolver su excedente de deuda soberana, sus crisis bancarias y el futuro del euro. Estados Unidos debe reformar su código tributario para generar ingresos en un espectro más amplio de personas y de actividad económica (la mitad de la población de Estados Unidos no paga impuesto federal a las ganancias y el código impositivo excluye o trata favorablemente a muchas fuentes de ingresos).

En los próximos años -el mediano plazo-, todos los países deberían implementar una consolidación fiscal difícil de revertir, que persuada al sector privado de que un ajuste gradual o demorado, principalmente en lo que concierne al factor gasto en el presupuesto, ocurrirá. Una consolidación exitosa normalmente depende de recortes del gasto más que de aumentos de impuestos -de hecho, en una relación de cinco o seis a uno-. Estados Unidos en los años 1980 y 1990 redujo el gasto un 5 % del PBI y equilibró su presupuesto a la vez que creció de manera sólida. Canadá, en las últimas dos décadas, redujo el gasto un 8% del PBI y también prosperó.

En el corto plazo, la flexibilidad del gasto es apropiada sólo si se implementan medidas a mediano y largo plazo. Ese acuerdo -entre Alemania y el sur de Europa, y entre los republicanos y los demócratas en Estados Unidos- debería ser económica y políticamente posible.

En un momento en que muchos ciudadanos hoy atraviesan dificultades, los líderes políticos enfrentan una tarea desalentadora: adoptar reformas creíbles a mediano y largo plazo sin hacer descarrilar la economía en el corto plazo. Tienen escaso margen de error en lo económico -y quizás incluso menos en lo político.

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  1. CommentedVan Poppel charles

    Threading the Fiscal Needle: professor I read your article in belgian financial paper; it is very sophistocated but it makes me think at what Keynes wrote about the Hayek book " The road to serfdom" that anti-planning pamphlet " your book is a grand book, and we have the greatest reason to be grateful to you for saying so well what needs so much to be said .. but you give us no guidance.

  2. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Answer to Thomas Adam:
    Sorry Thomas and everybody else for the excessive writing, but as Thomas suggested I say something EXACT I suggest a scenario:
    As the crisis is deepening the leading politicians and the top social layer who benefited most from the present system starts to understand that either they also lose everything or the angry public will want to take it from them or both.
    As a result they become willing to listen to the suggestions that we need to change the system and also explain the people why it needs to change so there will be no revolutions, wars, and so on.
    So instead of continuing to pump the brain of the public with marketing so they keep on buying the unnecessary, harmful products so the 1% have more profit, they assemble those professionals, scientist who have already been exploring and publishing what system we exist in and how we should adjust to it, also people who can put it together into a coherent full picture, and then start to broadcast it to everybody as a free, virtual, open education program. They might even package it to unemployed people (whose number will continue to rise exponentially into billions) together with the dole, that instead of wasting their time they study certain time every day.
    We know that in the Internet age spreading a general idea or desire world wide takes hours or days.
    And then based on this general understanding the experts in economics, politics, sociology, health sciences, and so on can start building the new system.
    And although the new system is very different, almost opposite to the old one, since everybody got a basic understanding of the situation people would accept it willingly.

  3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Answer to Thomas Adam:
    I do not know what exactly you expect, what secrets you would like me to disclose.
    We evolved through multiple factors into a global, integral world where each and every human being depends on the other. Besides we live in a closed, finite system where the "constant quantitative growth, expansive economic model" cannot work infinitely. These two factors combine to give us the global crisis.
    I did not invent this, please search the internet for those keywords I typed into this comment, or search Project Syndicate for related articles.
    Do you see any solution on the horizon from any leading expert or politician at the moment? Have they come up with any future plan at the G8 or G20 meetings?
    They still try solutions from within the same framework where we run into the crisis.
    Has anything changed from the conditions that caused the 2008 banking crisis, apart from pumping trillions of dollars into the system trying to cover up the shortcomings?
    Is there any sign anybody tries to solve social inequalities?
    Do you see any true breakthrough in creating more jobs?
    Is there not enough evidence how much all of this effects each and every country, and for example the daily events of the Greek situation has a profound effect on Wall Street or other global markets?
    Of course it is a very bitter pill to accept that our present lifestyle self destructs and we ourselves have to change instead of continuing to point fingers at imagined scapegoats, trying to change governments, demonstrate on the streets, or wait for heroes or prophets to come with miracle solutions so we can continue life as if nothing happened.
    But we already have all the scientific data supporting what I commented, none of it is my own idea, I am just repeating what I heard and read.
    If we are wise we try to understand what this new state means and adapt to it, this is why we need education, spreading the already available data the Internet is full of in a comprehensive accessible format for everybody, because the whole of humanity has to change.
    Which question did I not answer?
    In terms of nature every living system thrives to achieve balance, homeostasis, and each element except humans do it automatically. At the moment we are like cancer cells because we apply an excessive, vastly beyond necessities approach to life.

  4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Answer to Shan Jun Chang (continued):
    We are making two major mistakes when we evaluate ourselves:
    1. We think we are above nature and we can do whatever we want.
    2. Evolution somehow stopped, and we do not need to adjust any more.
    I do not see why mentioning natural laws, or nature would be esoteric. Our whole life is based on natural laws we use each and every second, our biological body works by the same laws any other living creatures work. All human inventions, discoveries are simply revelations of nature, copying patterns, functions we discover from nature. There is nothing esoteric in this it is pure science.
    I try to give you a more technical example about what is happening today. Imagine you work on your computer one day and you do all the tasks you have to do. Next day you try to do the same but somehow nothing works, whatever you try everything freezes, and all the experts you are calling trying the usual recovery methods fail as well. Then you realize that while you were "away" somehow the operating system changed, none of your previous programs, solutions work, you have to install completely new programs, you have to learn the new operating system.
    The change of operating system is called evolution. And today we are in a completely new operating system.
    The global, integral, interdependent human network is this operating system and we can only progress if we get to know all its details and the laws it is working by.

      CommentedThomas Adam

      As I see it, Mr Hermann, you still haven't answer his question, because you've basically said over and over again in different ways, "we must understand the natural laws because our world is evolving". I want to know is what EXACTLY these laws are, how EXACTLY the world is evolving, and how your single substantive proposal " novel global education" is supposed to work. If you can't do this, then you're wasting comment space.

  5. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Answer to Shan Jun Chang:
    What I was commenting is not mystical or esoteric. Even on this very website you will find many articles where respected experts are saying the same things, maybe my use of words is not the best, but you can find the same meaning in strictly scientific fashion in other places.
    And if you read my other comments you could see that the first step in any direction is knowledge, going in a direction we know instead of reacting like headless chicken, just rehashing and trying again all the solutions we tried before and failed with.
    There is no overnight solution snapping our fingers as we get used to from this Hollywood culture that the hero comes and turns everything upside down immediately.
    We have to study reality around us as seemingly nobody understand what it means to live in a global, integral world where we depend on each other, and what it means that in a closed finite world with our present lifestyle we exhaust our resources within our lifetime. We can only act when we have an understanding where we are and where we should be heading.
    Thus the solution you are asking for is a global education program for everybody, we are in a completely new situation without any historical example or precedent, with our old methods we keep going against the wall.

  6. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    It becomes clearer each day that we are facing a situation all over the globe we have never been in before.
    The present financial economical system is stuttering, even the political structure is failing stumbling from one deadlock to another both on national levels, and also internationally.
    Additionally we realize we live in a global, integral world with such interconnections that make us interdependent in a way we never experienced all through our history.
    We still behave like we always did, thinking we are above the vast natural system we exist in and we keep stubbornly devising newer and newer plans, and solutions, usually repeating the same ones which failed before.
    The first wise step we could take is the recognition that we are actually not in control. Now when even the human institutions we ourselves built are slipping through our fingers, from democratic institutions to economics and finances, from education to health services, from art and culture to environmental issues, it is time to take stock and stop for a minute.
    We are like a swimmer who desperately tries to swim against a very fast current that wants to take him somewhere but he stubbornly decides we want to go in another direction although he does not stand a chance.
    We are living in a vast, natural living system with unbending natural laws, driving the whole system towards homeostasis, an overall harmony. All elements of nature in the Universe, except humans, follow the natural laws blindly, automatically on an instinctive level.
    Humans are the only living creatures with a free choice, but so far and even at the moment we use our free choice for our own selfish benefit, exploiting everything and everybody around us, but by today with this attitude we have positioned ourselves in total opposition with the rest of the system. Thus we are sinking deeper and deeper in crisis.
    We have no choice against this system, our only choice is in learning the laws in all their details, and adapting to them, but since we would do it consciously, with our free agreement we would become "owners" of the system knowing exactly how to maintain its balance, elevating our existence onto a whole new level, revealing such opportunities and resources we haven't even dreamed about before.
    Of course we could also choose to continue playing our present games, adjusting finances here and there, electing presidents without any free choice and live life obliviously until we can, it is all up to us...

      CommentedShan Jun Chang

      Oh masterful Sensei! Please spare us the metaphor and esoteric bollocks and tell us what exactly these natural laws of which you speak are? What are your policy recommendations? If you must insist upon tarring every single article on this website with your nascent state-of-nature theory, at least give the world some specific information about how we can "elevate our existence to a whole new level" instead of simply alluding to the possibility.

  7. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    As a downpayment on fiscal consolidation, next January 1 let dividends return to ordinary income status (where they were for about a century) and let the top income tier return to 39 percent from 35 percent. Return lower brackets to the old rates over the next half dozen years, starting with the highest first. Let's leave cant about revenue off the table.

    On the spending side, move forward on implementing Medicare cost containment measures. With regard to overall health care, implement health insurance exchanges sooner and be more tough minded about what is covered. Give consideration to including Ryan's Medicare proposals in the health insurance exchange mix. Spending at the end of the day is mostly about health care.

    Start thinking about a smaller Defense establishment.

    I think the American people are very similar to the 80 percent of Greeks who want to stay with the euro: they want the public goodies but aren't much interested in paying for them.

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