En el siguiente escrito, critica las medidas de austeridad impuestas a España y Grecia por los mismos expertos y acreditadores que provocaron la crisis mundial, advierte que España podría estar encaminada a una debacle financiera como la de Argentina, y favorece una política económica que en lugar de reducir el gasto público, aumente los impuestos a las corporaciones que no reinviertan y a los individuos de altos ingresos, y los reduzca a las corporaciones que sí reinviertan y a los individuos de bajos ingresos.
Cualquier resonancia entre las políticas que critica Stiglitz y las que segundo a segundo destasajan la economía puertorriqueña, no es casualidad. Pero la duda persiste, ¿porqué tanto aparente sentido común sigue cayendo en oídos sordos? Žižek tiene una posible respuesta…
El escrito es un extracto del Epílogo a la nuevo versión en carpeta blanda de su libro, Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy. Dicho extracto fue publicado recientemente en el diario británico The Sunday Telegraph. El Periódico tiene una breve reseña del extracto, en español
La siguiente traducción al español de algunos párrafos selectos, es mía.
Algunos asuntos – la crisis en Europa y la magnitud de las práctical fraudulentas y anti-éticas de los bancos – fueron peores de lo que anticipé, y algunos asuntos – el tamaño de las pérdidas en los rescates de los bancos – un poco menos. Las reformas en la regulación del sector financiero han sido más fuertes de lo que esperaba.
Sin embargo, los bancos han podido atemperar las regulaciones lo suficiente para que la posibilidad de otra crisis más adelante siga siendo nada insignificante: sólo hemos ganado un poco de tiempo adicional antes de que la próxima crisis y, tal vez, reducido el costo probable a nuestra economía.
La verdadera noticia de los últimos ocho meses ha sido la lenta aceptación de los oficiales gubernamentales y economistas del triste panorama sobre el cuál yo había advertido: una nueva “normalidad” con tasas de desempleo más altas, crecimiento más bajo y niveles de servicios públicos más bajos en los países industriales avanzados.
A pesar de que auguraba mal para la economía mundial, llamados a reducir los déficit pronto emanaron desde Wall Street y los mercados financieros.
Su miopía había creado la crisis, y ahora estaban siendo igual de miopes al exigir políticas que conllevarían su prolongamiento.
Exigieron recortes presupuestarios. Sin ellos, advirtieron junto con las agencias acreditadoras, las tasas de interés crecerían, el acceso al crédito se cortaría y los países no tendrían otra opción que hacer recortes.
Pero en el instante en que España anunció sus recortes presupuestarios en mayo, las agencias acreditadoras y mercados respondieron: reclamaban, y creo que con razón, que los recortes atrasarían el crecimiento.
Con un crecimiento más lento, los ingresos contributivos mermarían, los gastos sociales (como los beneficios por desempleo) aumentarían y los déficits se mantendrían inflados. Fitch, una de las tres principales agencias acreditadoras, devaluó la deuda de España y las tasas de interés que ésta debe pagar siguieron aumentando. Evidentemente, en cuanto a los recortes presupuestarios, palo si bogas y palo si no bogas.
Los ataques de los mercados financieros contra Grecia demuestran que los déficit no pueden ser ignorados. Grandes déficit pueden conllevar aumentos en las tasas de interés, empeorando los problemas fiscales de un país.
Pero la respuesta ingenua – recortar el dasto y/o aumentar los impuestos – sólo empeorará las cosas, como demostró tan dramáticamente la respuesta de los mercados al retraimiento de España.
Hay una metáfora que asemeja a los gobiernos a los hogares; sin embargo, esta manera de mirar las finanzas públicas no sólo es equivocada, sino que es peligrosa. Los hogares que viven más allá de sus medios – es decir, sus gastos exceden sus ingresos – y no pueden encontrar un bano que financie su consumo no tienen otra opción que reducir gastos. Una reducción suficiente pondrá en orden las cuentas del hogar. Pero cuando los gobiernos recortan el gasto público, el crecimiento se atrasa, el desempleo crece y el ingreso – y las contribuciones – decae.
Hay una forma de salir de esta aparente dilema. Las preocupaciones sobre el tamaño de la deuda deberían llevar a un cambio en el patrón de gasto gubernamental, hacia un gasto que devengue frutos económicos cuantiosos.
De igual forma, la estructura de los impuestos puede cambiar, conllevando un crecimiento mayor y déficit menores. Aumentar los impuestos corporativos para corporaciones que no reinvierten en sus negocios, y reducirlos para aquellas que sí lo hacen (a través, por ejemplo, de créditos contributivos por inversión), es un ejemplo. Mayores inversiones llevan a mayor crecimiento, y mayor crecimiento lleva a mayores ingresos contributivos. Aumentar los impuestos a individuos con altos ingresos, y reducirlos a individuos de ingresos menores, es otro.
Joseph Stiglitz sees bleak future for euro as New Malaise takes hold
Exclusive extract: In an updated edition of his critically acclaimed book, Freefall, Joseph Stiglitz analyses the response to the financial crisis and finds new threats stalking the global economy
In the eight months since the hardcover version of Freefall was published, events have (sadly) unfolded much as expected: growth has remained weak, sufficiently anaemic that unemployment has remained stubbornly high; mortgage foreclosures have continued apace and, while bank bonuses and profits have been restored, the supply of credit has not, even though the resumption of credit was supposedly the reason for the bank bail-out.
A few matters – the crisis in Europe and the extent of the banks’ fraudulent and unethical practices – were worse than anticipated, and a few matters – the size of the losses on the bank bail-outs – somewhat less. The reforms in financial sector regulation are stronger than I anticipated.
However, the banks were able to temper the regulations enough that the prospect of another crisis down the road remains not insignificant: we have bought ourselves a little extra time before the next crisis and, perhaps, have reduced the likely cost to our economy.
The real news of the last eight months has been the slow acceptance by government officials and economists alike of the dismal picture of the immediate future about which I had warned: a new “normal” with higher unemployment rates, lower growth and lower levels of public services in the advanced industrial countries.
Prosperity has been replaced by a Japanese-style malaise, with no end in sight. But at least in Japan’s “lost decade,” in spite of low growth, unemployment remained low and social cohesion remained high.
In Europe and America, by contrast, some economists are talking about a persistent unemployment rate of 7.5pc, well above the 4.2pc we enjoyed in the 1990s. The financial crisis has indeed done long-term damage to our economy, from which we will only gradually recover.
It was not just the private sector that had been living in a dream world sustained by housing and stock bubbles. Governments had been indirectly sharing in that dream, as they received some of the “phantom income” of the bubbles in the form of tax revenues.
For fiscally reckless countries like the United States and Greece, matters were even more unpleasant. By 2009, the US deficit soared to almost 9.9pc of GDP, Greece’s to 13.6pc.
Returning those deficits to zero will not be just a matter of waiting for recovery, because these countries had run deficits even when their economies enjoyed close to full employment and their tax receipts were enriched by taxes on the bubble profits, but will entail substantial increases in taxes or cuts in expenditures. But there’s the rub: with the global recovery faltering, any cutbacks in expenditures or increases in taxes will surely lead to even slower growth, perhaps pushing many economies into a double-dip recession.
Despite these stark prospects for the world economy, cries for curbing deficits soon emanated from Wall Street and the financial markets.
Their shortsightedness had created the crisis, and now they were being equally shortsighted in demanding policies that would lead to its persistence.
They demanded budget cutbacks. Without them, they and the rating agencies warned, interest rates would rise, access to credit would be cut off, and countries would have no choice but to cut back.
But no sooner had Spain announced budget cutbacks in May than the rating agencies and markets responded: they claimed, I believe correctly, that the cutbacks would slow growth.
With slower growth, tax revenues would decrease, social expenditures (such as on unemployment benefits) would increase and deficits would remain large. Fitch, one of the three leading rating agencies, downgraded Spain’s debt, and interest rates that it had to pay continued to rise. Evidently, countries were damned if they cut back spending and damned if they didn’t.
These outcomes prove all the more distressing when you consider that there was a moment of national and international unity at the height of the crisis, when countries stood together facing a global economic calamity. For the first time, the G20 brought developed countries together with emerging market countries to solve the world’s global problem. There was a moment when the whole world was Keynesian, and the misguided idea that unfettered and unregulated markets were stable and efficient had been discredited.
There was the hope that a new, more tempered capitalism and a new, more balanced global economic order would emerge – one that might at last achieve greater stability in the short run and address the long-standing issues such as the large and growing inequalities between the rich and poor, adapting our economy to the threat of global warming, freeing it from its dependence on oil and restructuring it to compete effectively with the emerging countries in Asia.
The hope that suffused those early months of the crisis is quickly fading. In its place is a new mood of despair: the road to recovery may be even slower than I suggested, and the social tensions may be even greater. Bank officials have walked home with seven-figure bonuses while ordinary citizens face not only protracted unemployment but an unemployment insurance safety net that is not up to the challenges of the Great Recession.
Critics claim that Keynesian economics only put off the day of reckoning. But I argue that, to the contrary, unless we go back to the basic principles of Keynesian economics, the world is doomed to a protracted downturn.
The crisis has moved the world into uncharted territory, with great uncertainties. But there is one thing about which we can be relatively certain: if the advanced industrial countries continue along the path they seem to have embarked on today, the likelihood of a robust recovery any time soon is bleak; the relative economic and political positions of America and Europe will, as a result, be greatly diminished; and so will our ability to address the long-term issues on which our future wellbeing depends.
Nearly three years after the beginning of the recession, it is clear that, while the economy may be on the path to recovery, that path is marked with unforeseen obstacles.
Changing politics and public attitudes are among the most unpredictable factors as we look forward.
Even before the economy’s growth had been restored and even as the US seemed mired in high unemployment, attention – at least in some quarters – shifted to inflation and the national debt. Right now, inflation is not a threat, and is unlikely to be so as long as unemployment remains high. The low interest rates on longterm bonds and inflationindexed bonds that the government issues to pay its debts suggest that the “market” itself is not too worried about inflation, even over a longer period.
To me, the real problems – not now, but possibly in the next few years – are not so much inflation and debt but the financial markets’ concerns about inflation and debt. If the market starts to anticipate inflation, then it will demand higher interest rates to compensate for the reduced value of the dollars received in repayment. Higher interest rates will lead to higher government deficits and debts, and combined with the inflation worries, these will create pressure for cutbacks in government spending before the economy is on firm footing.
Today, the real problems remain unemployment and a lack of aggregate demand, precisely the problem John Maynard Keynes faced 75 years ago during the Great Depression. Monetary policy then and now had reached its limits: further declines in interest rates either are impossible or won’t have much effect in stimulating the economy.
We must then rely on fiscal policy to help restore the economy to health. The evidence that it will work is overwhelming. China deployed one of the world’s largest stimulus packages and had one of the strongest recoveries, in spite of facing signifi-cant shocks to its economy. In Europe and America, the stimulus packages were too small to offset fully the “shock” from the financial sector, but had it not been for these actions, unemployment rates would have been much higher.
The financial markets’ attack against Greece shows that deficits cannot be ignored. Large deficits can lead to increases in interest rates, worsening a country’s fiscal problems.
But the naive response – cut back spending and/or raise taxes – will make matters only worse, as the market response to Spain’s retrenchment showed so dramatically.
There is a metaphor that likens governments to households; however, this way of looking at public finances is not just wrong, but dangerous. Households that are living beyond their means – that is, their spending exceeds their income – and can’t find a bank to finance their consumption spree have no choice but to cut back on their spending. A large enough cutback will bring the household accounts into order. But when governments cut spending, growth slows, unemployment increases, and income – and tax revenue – declines.
There is a way out of this seeming quandary. Worries about the size of the debt should lead to a shift in the pattern of government spending, toward spending that yields a high economic return.
So, too, the structure of taxes can change, leading to higher growth and lower defi-cits. Raising corporate income taxes for corporations that don’t reinvest in their businesses, and lowering them for those that do (through, say, investment tax credits), is one example. The increased investment leads to higher growth, and the higher growth leads to more tax revenues. Raising taxes on high-income individuals and lowering them on lower-income individuals is another.
Government can do still more to help the private sector grow – if the old banks won’t lend, create some new banks that will. For a fraction of what was spent on dealing with the bad loans of the old banks, the Government could have created a set of new financial institutions, unencumbered by past bad decisions.
When the euro was created as a common currency in Europe, I raised concerns along with many others. Countries that share a currency have a fixed exchange rate with each other and thereby give up an important tool of adjustment.
Had Greece and Spain been allowed to decrease the value of their currency, their economies would have been strengthened by increasing exports. Moreover, in switching their currencies to the euro, the two countries gave up another instrument for reacting to downturns: monetary policy. Had they not done so, they could have responded to their crises by lowering interest rates to stimulate investment.
Instead, the hands of the countries of the eurozone were tied. So long as there were no shocks, the euro would do fine. The test would come when one or more of the countries faced a downturn. The recession of 2008 provided that test – and it appears that Europe may be failing the test.
To make up for the losses of these vital tools for adjustment, the eurozone should have created a fund to help those facing adverse problems. The US is a “single currency” area, but when California has a problem, and its unemployment rate goes up, a large part of the costs are borne by the federal government.
Europe has no way of helping countries facing severe problems. Spain has an unemployment rate of 20pc, with 40 to 50pc of young people unemployed. It had a fiscal surplus before the crisis; after the crisis, its deficit exceeded 11pc of GDP.
But under the rules of the game, Spain must now cut its spending, which will almost surely increase its unemployment rate still further. As its economy slows, the improvement in its fiscal position may be minimal.
Spain may be entering the kind of death spiral that afflicted Argentina just a decade ago. It was only when Argentina broke its currency peg with the dollar that it started to grow and its deficit came down. At present, Spain has not been attacked by speculators, but it may be only a matter of time.
It was, perhaps, not a surprise that Greece was the first to be attacked. Speculators like small countries – they can mount an attack with less money. And Greece’s problems were, in many ways, the most serious (though its unemployment rate of 10pc was in line with the euro-area average, its deficit, at 13.6pc of GDP in 2009, was the second largest in Europe, after Ireland). Its debt was 115pc of GDP. Like the United States, it had a deficit before the crisis (5.1pc of GDP in 2007, even worse than that of the US, which was 2.5pc).
Like many governments and many firms in the financial sector, Greece had engaged in deceptive accounting, aided and abetted by financial firms. America’s financial firms, having discovered how they could use such accounting practices and financial products (like derivatives and repos) to deceive shareholders and the government alike, marketed these techniques and products to governments wanting to hide their deficits.
The worry is that there is a wave of austerity building throughout Europe (and, as I noted earlier, even hitting America’s shores). As so many countries cut back on spending prematurely, global aggregate demand will be lowered and growth will slow – even perhaps leading to a doubledip recession.
America may have caused the global recession, but Europe is now responding in kind.
The eurozone needs better economic co-operation – not just the kind that merely enforces budget rules, but cooperation that also ensures that Europe remains at full employment, and that when countries experience large adverse shocks, they get help from others.
Europe created a solidarity fund to help new entrants into the European Union, most of whom were poorer than the others. But it failed to create a solidarity fund to help any part of the eurozone that was facing stress. Without some such fund, the future prospects of the euro are bleak.
There is one solution: the exit of Germany from the eurozone or the division of the eurozone into two subregions.
The euro has been an interesting experiment but, like the almost forgotten ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism) system that preceded it, and that fell apart when speculators attackedsterling in 1992, it lacks the institutional support required to make it work.
If Europe cannot find a way to make these institutional reforms, then it is perhaps better to admit failure and move on than to extract a high price in unemployment and human suffering, all in the name of flawed institutional arrangements that did not live up to the ideals of their creators.
The first decade of the 21st century is already being written down as a lost decade. For most Americans, income at the end of the decade was lower than at the beginning. Europe began the decade with a bold new experiment, the euro – an experiment that may now be faltering.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the optimism of the beginning of the decade has been replaced with a new gloom. As the weeks of the downturn – the New Malaise – stretch into months, and the months become years, a new grey pallor casts its shadow.
Earlier this year I wrote that muddling through would not work, and that it was still not too late to set an alternative course. We have continued to muddle through – in some areas, like regulatory reform, better than I had feared but worse than I had hoped; in others, like the creation of a new vision, my fears have been fully realised. It is still not too late. But the window of opportunity may be rapidly closing.