À quel moment la dette publique devient-elle risquée ?

BERKELEY – Un gouvernement n’appliquant pas un impôt suffisant pour couvrir ses dépenses s’expose inexorablement à toutes sortes de difficultés générées par la dette. Ses taux d’intérêt nominaux sont voués à augmenter à mesure de la crainte croissante des détenteurs d’obligations à l’égard de l’inflation. Ses chefs d’entreprise auront quant à eux tendance à courber l’échine, et s’efforceront d’exfiltrer leurs richesses hors des sociétés qu’ils dirigent, de peur d’être soumis à un futur impôt sur les sociétés élevé.

Par ailleurs, les taux d’intérêt réels auront dans ce cas également tendance à augmenter, en raison de l’incertitude des politiques, rendant peu rentables de nombreux investissements pourtant socialement productifs. De plus, lorsque l’inflation s’installe, la division du travail diminue. Ce qui constituait auparavant une large toile de fond tissée par de très fins liens monétaires se fragmente alors en réseaux de petite taille solidifiés par d’épais liens de confiance personnelle et d’obligation sociale. Or, faible division du travail signifie également faible productivité.

Tout ceci est voué à se produire – tôt ou tard – lorsqu’un gouvernement ne taxe pas suffisamment pour couvrir ses dépenses. Mais ceci peut-il arriver aussi longtemps que les taux d’intérêt restent bas, que les cours boursiers demeurent porteurs, et que l’inflation reste modérée ? Selon moi, comme pour d’autres économistes parmi lesquels Larry Summers, Laura Tyson, Paul Krugman et beaucoup d’autres, la réponse est non.

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