Réduire la dépense, épargner les pauvres

PARIS – Pourquoi certains États dépensent-ils plus que d’autres ? Répondre à cette question se révèle plus difficile qu’il n’y paraît, particulièrement pour les pays européens.

La raison peut pourtant sembler évidente. Lorsque l’on compare par exemple le Danemark (dont la dépense publique, hors intérêts de la dette, s’élevait en 2012 à 58% du PIB) avec les États-Unis (où ce pourcentage n’était que 35%), l’explication saute aux yeux : le premier est doté de services publics étendus et d’un État-providence généreux. Les chiffres semblent valider la fameuse déclaration d’Angela Merkel, selon laquelle le problème de l’Europe est que le continent rassemble 7% de la population mondiale, représente 25% du PIB, mais effectue 50% des dépenses sociales de la planète.

Si tel est bien le cas, les gouvernements européens sont confrontés à un choix inconfortable. La plupart d’entre eux s’efforcent de trouver les moyens de contenir l’endettement public, de réduire les déficits et de tailler dans les dépenses, sans pour autant appauvrir encore les pauvres. Ce que suggère la comparaison avec les États-Unis et d’autres pays non-européens, c’est qu’il leur faut choisir entre risquer l’insolvabilité et aggraver les inégalités. Ayant en effet atteint un seuil au-delà duquel les impôts ne peuvent guère plus être augmentés, ils ne peuvent en effet à la fois honorer leur dette et maintenir les dépenses sociales aux niveaux actuels.

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