Das makro­ökonomische Tri­lemma der säku­laren Stag­nation

Joachim Klement, dessen Newsletter „Klement on Investing“ immer sehr lesenswert ist, hat im Oktober 2022 über ein Paper des französischen Ökonomen Jean-Baptiste Michau berichtet. Ich fand das so interessant, dass ich Michau gebeten habe, mit mir über seine Thesen in meinem Podcast zu sprechen. Dieses Gespräch erscheint am kommenden Sonntag (5. März 2023). Zur Vorbereitung gibt es hier die Zusammenfassung von Klement in Auszügen. Sein Aufhänge waren die damaligen Turbulenzen in Großbritannien anlässlich der Politik der Kurzzeit-Premierministerin Lizz Truss: „Why Trussonomics cannot work“.

  • Zunächst zu der (bekannten) Ausgangslage: „The first thing to understand about the UK and indeed the US and all other developed countries is that trend GDP growth today is much, much lower than it used to be. Ageing demographics, declining productivity growth, and rising income inequality all conspire to create lower trend growth. The OECD estimates that trend growth in the decade from 2020 to 2030 in the UK will average 1.8% per year (1.7% in the US and 1.2% in the Eurozone).“ – bto: Und in der Eurozone liegt es an strukturellen Faktoren. Die Einkommensungleichheit ist ein weitaus geringeres Problem als in den USA und in UK. Es sieht auch nicht danach aus, als ob die Politik etwas gegen die Wachstumsschwäche tun würde.
  • Trying to average 2.5% real GDP growth as the Chancellor in the UK proclaimed on 23 September is practically impossible over the long run. If you try to push growth so far above trend, you are inevitably causing high inflation that needs to be reined in with higher interest rates and a recession. You might get a year or two of 2.5% growth, but the economy and the people will pay the price afterwards in the form of low and negative growth.“ – bto: Das bedeutet, man bekommt einen Zuckerschock, den man mit anschließendem Leistungsabfall bezahlt.
  • Such low trend growth also means that the natural real rate of interest is very low indeed. Economic theory says it should be somewhere in the range of 1% to 2% but practically it might even be lower than that. (…) if the natural real rate of interest is that low, fiscal and monetary policy get into serious trouble.“ – bto: … weil man wenig Hebel hat, die Wirtschaft über Zinssenkung zu stimulieren.
  • Jean-Baptiste Michau has published a nice paper that shows that in a low interest rate environment, a country can achieve at best two out of the following three goals: Low inflation, full employment, low government debt with no Ponzi scheme.“ – bto: Damit wird es interessant, weil wir praktisch beobachten können, ob die These stimmt.
  • What does he mean by low government debt with no Ponzi scheme? Well, it means that the government is running deficits that are so low that they can credibly be paid back in some distant future through higher tax revenues or government spending cuts. If the government must resort to new borrowing to pay maturing debt, government deficits become a Ponzi scheme where new debt is used to pay off old debt and the debt mountain will grow indefinitely.“ – bto: Da würde ich mit Blick auf einige Staaten sagen, dass wir uns darin befinden…
  • Assume you are an economy with low trend growth and hence a low real rate of interest. If you have low inflation, the central bank may be tempted to achieve full employment by reducing the real rate below the natural rate of interest. However, if inflation is low and the natural rate of interest is low, the central bank may reduce nominal interest rates to zero and still encounter a situation of real rates that are similar to the natural rate of interest. But if real rates are about the same as the natural real rate, there is no economic stimulus from monetary policy and employment will not rise. The zero lower bound acts as a limit to the power of monetary policy.“ – bto: Man kann es auch mit der Liquiditätsfalle vergleichen. Es gibt keine wirksame Geldpolitik mehr.
  • This is the situation that the US, the UK and the Eurozone have found themselves in from 2008 to 2020. No matter how low central bank policy rates dropped, unemployment rates would not drop by much and inflation remained stubbornly low. In this environment, you need to increase budget deficits to stimulate growth and generate higher employment. And you typically have to increase budget deficits to levels that are unsustainable in the long run. This is what most countries did during the Covid pandemic. They turned their fiscal policy into a temporary Ponzi scheme to save us from a major global depression. The result was higher employment and higher inflation.“ – bto: Das war natürlich zunächst einmal willkommen.
  • On a long-term basis, most countries across Europe as well as the United States have so far committed themselves to sound fiscal policies that are not a Ponzi scheme.“ – bto: Das stimmt eigentlich nicht, wenn man die verdeckten Verbindlichkeiten mitberücksichtigt – was man tun muss.
  • Furthermore, central banks in these countries try to bring inflation down to the 2% target they aim for. This means that the real rate has to rise to levels above the natural real rate creating a slowdown in growth and higher unemployment. And because fiscal policies remain sound and no fiscal stimulus is unleashed to boost growth that means that growth will remain structurally low. (…) The price to pay for low inflation and sound fiscal policies is a recession and high unemployment in the short term and structurally low growth in the long run.“ – bto: Und das ist nicht willkommen. Denn es erhöht die Verteilungskonflikte.
  • There is one developed country that has gone down a different route, though. A route of low inflation, full employment and a government debt situation that is effectively a Ponzi scheme: Japan. Japanese unemployment numbers are something to behold. They currently are at 2.5%, having steadily declined from 5.4% in September 2009. But famously low inflation and low unemployment in Japan came at the price of the government running persistent deficits in the range of 6% to 8% of GDP each year and accumulating a debt/GDP-ratio of 260%. The risk of this Ponzi scheme of government debt is that there is a small probability that investors will stop buying Japanese government bonds, creating both a debt crisis and a currency crash in the Japanese Yen.“ – bto: … wobei wir in den letzten zwölf Monaten doch etwas in diese Richtung gesehen haben.
  • This brings us to the proposed change in fiscal policy under Liz Truss in the UK. (…) Instead of accepting low growth as a price to pay for low inflation and sound fiscal policies, the government put the UK on a path similar to Japan of low inflation, low unemployment and high budget deficits that amount to a Ponzi scheme.“ – bto: Das erklärt noch nicht, warum die Märkte so reagiert haben. Ich denke es lag auch daran, dass die Bank of England, anders als die von Japan, nicht als Finanzier bereitstand.
  • „(…) there is a small chance that running a Ponzi scheme with your government finances will trigger a debt and currency crisis. In Japan, this has not happened (yet) and one key reason is that people need Japanese Yen and cannot simply run away from owning Yen and Japanese bonds. Yes, Japanese bonds are not held by too many foreigners, but even so, 14% of all Japanese government bonds are owned by foreigners. That is a sum as much as 36.4% of Japanese GDP. Why do foreigners not dump these holdings and create a Japanese debt crisis and tank the Yen in the process?“ – bto: Auch das haben sie im letzten Jahr doch gemacht?
  • Well, Japan currently runs a current account surplus of 1.75% of GDP. In other words, Japan is a net lender to the world and to get that money from Japanese institutions, businesses and households, foreigners need to accept Japanese Yen. To run away from the Japanese Yen is tantamount to not accepting Japanese investments anymore, which would hurt the economy of the countries that receive these investments.“ – bto: Das erklärt auch, warum der japanische Staat so viele Schulden machen konnte. Das gilt nicht für Italien beispielsweise.
  • The UK is a net borrower from the world and relies on foreigners’ willingness to invest in the UK. (…) The UK is a relatively small part of global GDP and thus can be ignored by investors as part of their portfolio if they think Sterling isn’t a stable currency. (…) the UK has both a current account deficit and a trade deficit making as a net importer of goods and services and a net borrower from the world.“ – bto: Es macht Großbritannien anfällig und erklärt, wieso die Wirtschaft entgegen der Erwartung (auch meiner) mit dem Brexit solche Schwierigkeiten bekommen hat.
  • Trying to run a Ponzi scheme with your government finances is possible if people have to hold your currency, which means you have to have a current account surplus and/or your currency has to be the world’s reserve currency. Japan can do that, the US could do that, and so could countries like Germany or Switzerland. The UK, Italy, or Greece cannot.“ bto: Wobei man nur sagen kann, dass Italien ebenfalls einen Handelsüberschuss aufweist. Das dürfte teilweise stabilisierend wirken. Außerdem verfügt es über einen unfreiwilligen Lender of Last Resort – die Bundesbank.

Was sind die Optionen?

  • First, if the government is adamant about running large budget deficits for a long time, it needs to create a current account surplus.“ – bto: Also muss man wie Japan werden, was im Falle von UK sehr schwer geht (Abwertung, massiv höhere Sparquote, …), aber im Falle von Deutschland ginge.
  • The second way forward (is to) accept that like the US, Germany, France and many other countries the UK needs to focus on low inflation and low budget deficits. A combination of sound fiscal policies and low inflation leads to low growth and less than full employment (…)“ – bto: Wobei die Demografie hier sogar helfen könnte. Es gäbe trotz geringem Wachstum nicht so viel Arbeitslosigkeit.
  • The third option (…) is to (…) push real rates below the natural real rate. This can be done if inflation is allowed to be permanently higher. If inflation in the UK would average 4% to 5% while nominal interest rates are held at 2% to 3% one can achieve full employment and strong growth while running limited budget deficits. The problem with this option is that i) the Bank of England has to abandon its 2% inflation target and allow inflation to remain permanently higher, and ii) permanently higher inflation has its own costs, not the least of which is a weak currency, unattractive equity market returns and rising inequality that can lead to social unrest.“ – bto: Drei Optionen – alle haben ihre Vor- und Nachteile.

Und weil es dieses Trilemma zu geben scheint, habe ich mich mit Jean-Baptiste Michau darüber unterhalten: morgen an dieser Stelle.

klementoninvesting.substack.com: „Why Trussonomics cannot work“, 12. Oktober 2022

Und hier der Link zum Paper:

crest.science: „The Trilemma for Low Interest Rate Macroeconomics“, September 2022