Samoubijajoče se fiskalno varčevanje

To, da ima fiskalno varčevanje v času (povpraševalne) krize diametralno nasproten učinek od pričakovanega, torej zelo negativen učinek na BDP, je zdaj menda jasno tudi že najbolj pravovernemu uradniku IMF in najbolj okorelemu desničarskemu politiku. Toda problem je še hujši: zmanjševanje javnih izdatkov v času krize ne zmanjšuje samo jutrišnje gospodarske rasti, pač pa pusti zelo trajne dolgoročne posledice. Vpliva namreč na znižanje prihodnje trendne rasti BDP oziroma na trajno uničenje dela produktivnih kapacitet in poglobitev negotovosti. En del negativnega učinka gre prek Blanchard-Summersovega (1986) učinka histereze na trgu dela (del delovne sile se trajno umakne v neaktivnost), del pa prek negativnega vpliva trajanja krize na negotovost med potrošniki in podjetji (trajno zmanjšanje ravni trošenja in investicij).

Trajni negativni učinek krize je viden v stalnih letnih popravkih prihodnjega (potencialnega ali trendnega) BDP navzdol, pri čemer se trendna raven, h kateri naj bi se gibala trajektorija aktualnega BDP ob okrevanju, dejansko premika navzdol proti aktualni (nižji) ravni BDP. Blanchard, Cerutti & Summers (2015) so analizirali več  kot 100 (122) kriz v zadnjih 50 letih v razvitih državah in ugotovili, da se v več kot polovici (2/3) primerov rast ne povrne na nekadanjo trendno raven. V drugi, pravkar objavljeni raziskavi pa sta Fatas & Summers (2015) z empirično raziskavo pokazala, da je pomemben odziv fiskalne politike v času krize: fiskalno varčevanje (znižanje proračunskega deficita) v času krize vodi v dolgoročno povečanje dolga glede na BDP zaradi trajno negativnega učinka na rast BDP.

Spodaj je kratek izsek iz sveže raziskave Fatas & Summers (2015):

After more than six years since the global financial crisis started, most advanced economies are still suffering from its aftermath and GDP remains far from its pre-crisis trend. Relative to previous business cycles, the current cycle can be characterized by a much more protracted and persistent recession without a strong recovery that has allowed for a return to trend.

In addition, it has taken years to recognize the persistent negative effects of the crisis. When the crisis started, the original forecasts suggested a progressive return towards previous trends, as it would be expected from a standard recovery phase. But that return never happened, GDP forecasts were revised downwards as the crisis unfolded leading to a succession of positively correlated forecast errors. As time passed, pessimism grew about the potential level of GDP.

Trend output EUWhat is clear from the chart is that the current crisis is very persistent. Relative to the trend that the Euro area was following since the Euro was launched in 1999, GDP today is still far below that level (about 13% below). In addition, potential has been revised downwards by a similar amount. The IMF expects today that by 2019 the Euro area will be about 15% below the level implied by its pre-crisis trend. The revisions to potential output have gone hand in hand with the change in output. By 2011 both output and potential had fallen relative to 2007 projections. By 2014 as output remains far below the 2011 projections, potential output has also been revised downwards and by a similar magnitude.

In some ways the persistence of GDP during the crisis does not entirely come as a surprise. The fact that recessions are persistent and can even leave permanent effects on GDP trend is well known in the academic literature since the discussions on the presence of unit roots in GDP. There is also evidence that crises with a strong financial component, as the one we have just witnessed, tend to last longer. However, there is no consensus on the origin of the persistence and how it should enter economic policy discussions. While some see it as a sign of structural changes and the illustration of long-term problems where stabilization economic policies have little role to play, others see it as the permanent effects of cyclical phenomenon that might have been exacerbated by poor economic policy choices.

The debate is particularly relevant for the current crisis. Many advanced economies have been dealing with the consequences of large fiscal deficits and debt that required a process of fiscal consolidation. In order to design a process of fiscal consolidation, policy makers need to incorporate their views on GDP and its future growth rate to assess debt sustainability. As fiscal consolidation is implemented, we are likely to see the negative effects on output growth. While there is never-ending debate on the size of fiscal policy multipliers, the work of Blanchard and Leigh (2013) presents convincing evidence that during the crisis multipliers were larger than expected. But if multipliers are large and the negative effects on growth leads to policy makers becoming pessimistic about GDP we can imagine a negative loop in which consolidations lead to lower growth that will need to be addressed by an even larger fiscal adjustment in the years ahead.

In order to avoid this potential negative loop, policy makers look at measures of sustainability that are based on a long-run perspective to avoid the pessimistic bias introduced by using current GDP. For this reason it is common practice for debt ratios to be calculated as a % of potential GDP. But as shown in Figure, potential GDP measures were changing as a result of the crisis in a way that was not too different from GDP. This is the focus of our paper. By extending the methodology of Blanchard and Leigh (2013) to longer horizons as well as to estimates of potential output we analyze how fiscal consolidations changed the long-term views on GDP and how this relates to the observed persistence of the crisis. We make use of IMF forecasts of both actual and potential GDP and analyze how they changed in responses to fiscal consolidations plans implemented in the early years of the crisis (2009-2011).

The results suggest a strong correlation between fiscal consolidations and revisions to potential GDP. In fact, our estimates provides evidence supporting the argument of DeLong and Summers (2012) who bring up the possibility of self-defeating fiscal consolidations, i.e. reductions in deficits that end up delivering higher debt-to-GDP ratios because of their negative effects on GDP growth. This has strong implications for the assessment of economic policies during the crisis and provides strong support for the notion that austerity policies not only have caused significant temporary damage to growth but that they might have resulted in exactly the opposite outcome that they were seeking by permanently reducing output.

Vir: Fatas & Summers (2015), The permanent effects of fiscal consolidations. CEPR Discussion paper No. 10902, October 2015

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