El irrelevante debate europeo sobre la austeridad

BRUSELAS – El síntoma más visible de la crisis en la zona del euro han sido las elevadas y variables primas de riesgo que ahora deben pagar los países de su periferia por la deuda pública. Por otra parte, un influyente escrito de los economistas estadounidenses Carmen Reinhart y Kenneth Rogoff sugiere que el crecimiento económico cae bruscamente cuando la deuda pública de un país supera el 90 % de su PBI. Entonces, la receta de política para resolver la crisis parece simple: austeridad. Los déficits fiscales deben recortarse para reducir los niveles de deuda.

Pero el debate sobre la austeridad y el costo de los elevados niveles de la deuda pública deja de lado un punto clave: la deuda pública contraída frente a extranjeros es distinta de aquella que se adeuda a residentes. Los extranjeros no pueden votar a favor de los mayores impuestos o el menor gasto necesarios para pagar los servicios de la deuda. Además, en el caso de la deuda local, una mayor tasa de interés o prima de riesgo solo conduce a una mayor redistribución dentro del país (de los contribuyentes a los tenedores de bonos). Por el contrario, en el caso de lo adeudado a extranjeros, las mayores tasas de interés llevan a una pérdida de bienestar para el país en su conjunto, porque el gobierno debe transferir recursos al exterior y eso habitualmente requiere una combinación de depreciación del tipo de cambio y reducción del gasto local.

Esta distinción entre la deuda externa y la local es particularmente importante en el contexto de la crisis del euro, porque los países de la zona del euro no pueden devaluar para aumentar sus exportaciones si esto es necesario para pagar los servicios de la deuda externa. Y la evidencia confirma que la crisis del euro no depende verdaderamente de la deuda soberana, sino de la deuda externa.

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