Brez izhoda: alternativni predlog za Grčijo

Aleš Praprotnik

Robert Parentau na INET blogu podaja zanimiv predlog za Grčijo, ki je seveda že dalj časa v primežu med zahtevami trojke in potrebo po rasti ter zmanjšanju socialnih tegob doma. Ena opcija je, da Grčija zapusti evro območje (kar pa Grki v splošnem ne podpirajo), vendar bi to za seboj (vsaj kratkoročno) prineslo še večje probleme (beg kapitala iz bank, problemi s financiranjem, problemi z uvozom in s posojili v tujih valutah …) in še večjo socialno stisko. Druga opcija je, da Grčija pristane na diktate po odplačevanju posojil in strukturnih reformah, kar pa nova grška vlada ne želi storiti in se bori za izpogajanje boljših pogojev in dogovora z Evropo. Vendar, poudarja Parentau, obstaja še tretja opcija, ki daje Grčiji možnost, da za potrebe okrevanja izstopi iz evroobmočja, ne da bi v resnici iz njega izstopila.

Parentau predlaga uvedbo alternativnih instrumentov financiranja, t. i. TAN ali tax anticipation notes, ki jih v ZDA pogosto izdajajo vlade posameznih držav. Grška vlada bi jih lahko dala svojim uslužbencem, dobaviteljem in prejemnikom socialnih transferjev. Nanje ne bi plačevala obresti, denominirani bi bili v evrih (menjalno razmerje bi bilo 1:1), ne bi bili oblika dolga in bili bi prenosljivi. Tako bi zadostili nekaterim pravilom EU, obenem pa bi zagotovili določena sredstva za stimuliranje gospodarstva. Pri vsem tem je morda najbolj pomembno, poudarja Parentau, da bi jih vlada sprejemala za plačevanje davkov in drugih pristojbin. S tem se naveže na razumevanje vrednosti fiat denarja, kot ga poudarja Abba Lerner (in neo-chartalisti), namreč, da vlada v sodobni državi lahko razglasi za denar karkoli, vendar mora to sredstvo tudi sprejemati za plačevanje davkov, če želi da bo uvedba uspešna (zgodovinsko lahko tak pristop najdemo od Mezopotamije do danes).

To accomplish this return to growth through increased fiscal autonomy, an alternative public financing instrument could be unilaterally adopted.  Federal governments could issue tax anticipation notes (TANs) to government employees, government suppliers, and beneficiaries of government transfer payments. These tax anticipation notes, which are a well-known instrument of public finance used by many state governments across the US, could have the following characteristics:

  1. zero coupon: no interest payment is due to the holder of the TAN
  2. perpetual: meaning there is no maturity date requiring repayment of principal, meaning TANs would not increase the public debt to GDP ratios, just like the issuance of perpetual debt by banks counts as equity that helps them meet capital requirements
  3. transferable:  can be sold onto third parties in open markets, as are bearer bonds
  4. Accepted at 1 TAN = 1 euro by the federal government in settlement of private sector tax liabilities.

As the government fulfills expenditure plans, TANs could be distributed electronically to the bank accounts of firms and households due to receive these payments using an encrypted and secure transaction system. Because there are large backlogs of payments due by the Greek government, and there are also backlogs of unpaid taxes, TANs should find ready acceptance. Essentially, the government would be securitizing the future tax liabilities of its citizens, and creating what amounts to a tax credit. This tax credit will not be counted as a liability on the government’s balance sheet (British consols were are a historical example of this), and will not require a stream of future interest payments – payment that could increase fiscal expenditures, and hence fiscal deficits, in future budgets. Governments issuing TANs could thereby pursue the expansionary fiscal plans that are required to return their economies to a full employment growth path.

Questions have been raised as to whether TANs are a parallel currency in all but name, and whether TANs might “trade” at a discount to euros. As noted above, TANs are accepted by the government at 1 TAN = 1 euro. TANs are perpetual, zero coupon bearer bonds denominated in euros, not in new drachmas. Since even under the various treaties ruling the eurozone, governments retain the right to impose taxes on its citizens, and can define what they will accept for taxes, there is a “market maker” with fairly unrestricted “buying power” to insure the 1 TAN = 1 euro link is upheld. For example, should TANs begin to trade at a persistent discount between private citizens, demand by taxpayers for TANs would increase (since this would be the less costly way to meet tax obligations), pushing the TANs back to parity with the euro.

Questions have also been raised as to whether TANs would trigger default clauses in existing government bonds. Recall that TANs were not designated for payment of interest or principal on existing debt. Citizens will also have full discretion over whether to use TANs or euros to pay taxes. There can be no argument that TANs represent a prior claim on tax revenues, thereby subordinating existing bonds.

One explicit cost of the TAN approach could be the imposition of fines if the 3% fiscal deficit to GDP ratio of the Growth and Stability Pact is violated. However, Germany and France openly violated this threshold in 2004 with no fines imposed, possibly setting a precedent for contesting any such fines. Moreover, if expansionary fiscal plans are pursued with the use of TANs, and that fiscal stimulus is successful enough to revive income growth, tax revenues will be likely to rise, and realized fiscal balances may end up above the 3% deficit threshold. After all, the outcome of recent episodes of fiscal consolidation has been rising, not falling debt to GDP ratios.

This proposal is based on a deeper understanding of what money actually is, and the many roles that it plays in the economies we inhabit. In this regard, Abba Lerner captured the essence of modern fiat currencies, which are created out of thin air by modern states with sovereign currency arrangements. Lerner’s essential insight is contained in the following passage from over half a century ago (and, you will note, Lerner’s view informs much of the neo-chartalist view espoused by advocates of what is called Modern Monetary Theory):

“The modern state can make anything it chooses generally acceptable as money…It is true that a simple declaration that such and such is money will not do, even if backed by the most convincing constitutional evidence of the state’s absolute sovereignty. But if the state is willing to accept the proposed money in payment of taxes and other obligations to itself the trick is done.”

The modern state, then, imposes and enforces a tax liability on its citizens, and chooses that which is necessary to pay taxes. That means a state with a sovereign currency is never revenue constrained. In fact, the government has to first create the money before the private sector can find a way to get the money it requires to pay taxes and by government bonds. Taxes and bonds are therefore not really the source of government funding or finance. Wait, what?

The government itself ultimately is the source of money required to pay for government expenditures. Taxes simply give value to money, as households and nonbank firms cannot create money – that is counterfeiting.  Instead, they have to sell an asset or a product or a service to the government to get money, or they need to be beneficiaries of government corporate subsidy or household transfer programs to get money.

It is in this context that one has to look at the TAN proposal.

Vir: Robert Parentau

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