30 maio 2016

Austeridade Fiscal: custos e benefícios


Curbing the size of the state is another aspect of the neoliberal agenda. Privatization of some government functions is one way to achieve this. Another is to constrain government spending through limits on the size of fiscal deficits and on the ability of governments to accumulate debt. The economic history of recent decades offers many examples of such curbs, such as the limit of 60 percent of GDP set for countries to join the euro area (one of the so-called Maastricht criteria).­

Economic theory provides little guidance on the optimal public debt target. Some theories justify higher levels of debt (since taxation is distortionary) and others point to lower—or even negative—levels (since adverse shocks call for precautionary saving). In some of its fiscal policy advice, the IMF has been concerned mainly with the pace at which governments reduce deficits and debt levels following the buildup of debt in advanced economies induced by the global financial crisis: too slow would unnerve markets; too fast would derail recovery. But the IMF has also argued for paying down debt ratios in the medium term in a broad mix of advanced and emerging market countries, mainly as insurance against future shocks.­

But is there really a defensible case for countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, or the United States to pay down the public debt? Two arguments are usually made in support of paying down the debt in countries with ample fiscal space—that is, in countries where there is little real prospect of a fiscal crisis. The first is that, although large adverse shocks such as the Great Depression of the 1930s or the global financial crisis of the past decade occur rarely, when they do, it is helpful to have used the quiet times to pay down the debt. The second argument rests on the notion that high debt is bad for growth—and, therefore, to lay a firm foundation for growth, paying down the debt is essential.­

It is surely the case that many countries (such as those in southern Europe) have little choice but to engage in fiscal consolidation, because markets will not allow them to continue borrowing. But the need for consolidation in some countries does not mean all countries—at least in this case, caution about “one size fits all” seems completely warranted. Markets generally attach very low probabilities of a debt crisis to countries that have a strong record of being fiscally responsible (Mendoza and Ostry, 2007). Such a track record gives them latitude to decide not to raise taxes or cut productive spending when the debt level is high (Ostry and others, 2010; Ghosh and others, 2013). And for countries with a strong track record, the benefit of debt reduction, in terms of insurance against a future fiscal crisis, turns out to be remarkably small, even at very high levels of debt to GDP. For example, moving from a debt ratio of 120 percent of GDP to 100 percent of GDP over a few years buys the country very little in terms of reduced crisis risk (Baldacci and others, 2011).­

But even if the insurance benefit is small, it may still be worth incurring if the cost is sufficiently low. It turns out, however, that the cost could be large—much larger than the benefit. The reason is that, to get to a lower debt level, taxes that distort economic behavior need to be raised temporarily or productive spending needs to be cut—or both. The costs of the tax increases or expenditure cuts required to bring down the debt may be much larger than the reduced crisis risk engendered by the lower debt (Ostry, Ghosh, and Espinoza, 2015). This is not to deny that high debt is bad for growth and welfare. It is. But the key point is that the welfare cost from the higher debt (the so-called burden of the debt) is one that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered; it is a sunk cost. Faced with a choice between living with the higher debt—allowing the debt ratio to decline organically through growth—or deliberately running budgetary surpluses to reduce the debt, governments with ample fiscal space will do better by living with the debt.­

Austerity policies not only generate substantial welfare costs due to supply-side channels, they also hurt demand—and thus worsen employment and unemployment. The notion that fiscal consolidations can be expansionary (that is, raise output and employment), in part by raising private sector confidence and investment, has been championed by, among others, Harvard economist Alberto Alesina in the academic world and by former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet in the policy arena. However, in practice, episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output. On average, a consolidation of 1 percent of GDP increases the long-term unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage point and raises by 1.5 percent within five years the Gini measure of income inequality (Ball and others, 2013).­

In sum, the benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed. In the case of financial openness, some capital flows, such as foreign direct investment, do appear to confer the benefits claimed for them. But for others, particularly short-term capital flows, the benefits to growth are difficult to reap, whereas the risks, in terms of greater volatility and increased risk of crisis, loom large.­

In the case of fiscal consolidation, the short-run costs in terms of lower output and welfare and higher unemployment have been underplayed, and the desirability for countries with ample fiscal space of simply living with high debt and allowing debt ratios to decline organically through growth is underappreciated.
An adverse loop­

Moreover, since both openness and austerity are associated with increasing income inequality, this distributional effect sets up an adverse feedback loop. The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting. There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth (Ostry, Berg, and Tsangarides, 2014).­

The evidence of the economic damage from inequality suggests that policymakers should be more open to redistribution than they are. Of course, apart from redistribution, policies could be designed to mitigate some of the impacts in advance—for instance, through increased spending on education and training, which expands equality of opportunity (so-called predistribution policies). And fiscal consolidation strategies—when they are needed—could be designed to minimize the adverse impact on low-income groups. But in some cases, the untoward distributional consequences will have to be remedied after they occur by using taxes and government spending to redistribute income. Fortunately, the fear that such policies will themselves necessarily hurt growth is unfounded (Ostry, 2014).­


Fonte: aqui

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