Nonsens proizvodne vrzeli in fatalistična tragedija EU

Adam Tooze, izvrsten britanski ekonomski zgodovinar, profesor na Columbia University in avtor uspešnice “Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World“, se je pridružil trendu denunciacije nesmiselnosti koncepta proizvodne vrzeli, ki je osnova za katastrofalno oblikovanje fiskalnih politik v EU. Spodaj je nekaj odstavkov iz njegovega komentarja v Social Europe. Opozoril bom na njegov ključni logični razmislek ob dejstvu, da je Evropska komisija tako Italiji kot Nemčiji za leto 2019 ocenila pozitivno proizvodno vrzel v višini 0.3% potencialnega BDP (torej dejanski BDP je nad potencialnim in gospodarstvo se pregreva !), pri čemer je nemško gospodarstvo od leta 2007 realno zraslo za 12%, italijansko pa realno upadlo za 8% (razlika je 20 odstotnih točk). V skladu s temi ocenami proizvpdne vrzeli bi morali obe državi zaradi pregrevanja gospodarstva zategovati fiskalno politiko (zmanjševati strukturni proračunski primanjkljaj).

Zgornje je seveda nonsens, saj pomeni, da je to, da je bil italijanski potencialni BDP revidiran navzdol za 15 do 20%, lahko odraz (dejanskega) stanja, kot da bi udarila atomska bomba in uničila petino proizvodnih kapacitet države. Če ta statistična ocena drži, potem bi danes Italija morala biti deležna ogromnega stimulusa za financiranje investicij v obnovo proizvodnih kapacitet (kot cela Evropa po 2. svetovni vojni). Če pa ta statistična ocena ne drži in je italijansko gospodarstvo danes globoko izpod potencialno dosegljivega BDP, pa bi Italija prav tako morala začeti z velikim fiskalnim stimulusom za povečanje agregatnega povpraševanja.

Kakorkoli pogledate, daje koncept proizvodne vrzeli nesmiselne napotke ekonomski politiki, ki vodi državo v poglabljanje tragedije, in ima italijanska vlada prav, ko dokazuje Evropski komisiji, da Italija trenutno potrebuje fiskalni stimulus in ne stiskanja.

Bad estimates of output gaps don’t just make for bad economic policy. They make for terrible politics too. If one wanted to write a script to bolster the claims of anti-system politics in Europe, it would look like the policy position of the commission. Right-wing nationalist politicians promise a bold new future. Many of those promises are unrealistic and irresponsible; it is right to denounce them as such. But to adhere to the absurd claim that Italy in the spring of 2019 is broadly in the same cyclical position relative to its national potential as Germany—around 0.3-1 per cent above potential—positively invites such a wilful response.

If centrists want to win the political argument they must offer their own constructive vision of the future. A technocratic sliding scale, which limits the notion of a member state’s potential to mechanical projection of the last dismal decade, is not realistic but fatalistic.

As the sociologist Harold Garfinkel once remarked, there are usually good organisational and political reasons for bad data. The EU is a highly complex political body. Since 1999 the so-called Output Gap Working Group of the Economic Policy Committee of the European Council has developed formalised working procedures. The basic criteria of the model it has developed, which underpins the commission’s published estimates, are transparency and assurance of equal treatment of members. Politics dictates that it must be a one-size-fits-all approach.

This is bound to work for some states better than for others—which is where the unspoken third requirement comes in. Whatever formula is devised must gain the approval of the most conservative member states. The output-gap estimates, in short, are politics pursued by the technical means of economics.

Who then can shake the commission out of its intellectual reproduction of a regime of economic stagnation? Criticism from the broader public is important, but it is too easily ignored by those on the inside of the apparatus. That is why the social-media campaign ‘Against nonsense output gaps’ mounted by Robin Brooks, chief economist of the Institute of International Finance, is noteworthy.

The IIF is the lobby group of the financial industry. It represented the banks in the negotiations over Basel III regulation and the creditors in the Greek debt talks of 2011-12. These are no outsiders. And Brooks seeks to mobilise an even more important expert constituency, the IMF.

The fund might not seem an obvious partner to call on in critiquing an excessively restrictive fiscal mechanism. From the first Greek bailout of May 2010, it was deeply involved in the botched handling of the eurozone crisis. But its retrospective reviews have been admirably frank in their criticism of its entanglement with the disastrous policy of ‘extend and pretend’, particularly in Greece. Several IMF economists came forward to criticise the deal in Ireland. As chief economist Olivier Blanchard demolished the intellectual rationale for austerity. When it comes to the present state of the eurozone, however, the fund relapses into whitewash.

Extraordinary claim

In the spring of 2019, the IMF published its assessment of the state of the major advanced economies. Inevitably this included estimates of the output gap. Unlike the commission the fund assesses Italy as below its potential, but only by 1 per cent. This is an extraordinary claim. According to the IMF’s own data, in per capita terms Italy’s economy has shrunk by 8 per cent since 2007. At the same time Germany’s has grown by 12 per cent and that of the US by 10 per cent—yet in cyclical terms all three are judged to be within 1-1.4 per cent of their potential output.

Such misleading statistics obscure what ought to be at the centre of policy debate. If we accept the output-gap estimates at face value, then all attention needs to focus on the fact that Italy’s growth potential has collapsed. It has suffered an exceptionally severe structural crisis and reviving investment has to be the priority. If the potential-output figure is wrong, however, then Italy is, in fact, well below trend and the IMF should be calling on the eurozone to orchestrate a significant counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus.

Vir: Adam Tooze, Social Europe

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