Am 17. April 2022 geht es um Staatsschulden. Sind sie nun gut oder schlecht? Was ist zu viel? Zur Einstimmung einige Beiträge.
Olivier Blanchard, ehemaliger Chefvolkswirt des Internationale Währungsfonds (IWF), hat bereits vor einigen Monaten zusammengefasst, was die tiefen Zinsen für die Fiskalpolitik bedeuten. Es lohnt sich, die 45 Thesen kurz zu beleuchten:
- “Safe real interest rates have declined steadily since the mid-1980s. The decline is due neither to the global financial crisis nor to the COVID-19 crisis. It has been common to all advanced economies.” – bto: Wie wir wissen, dauert der Trend sogar seit Jahrhunderten an.
- “Taking a much longer view, safe real interest rates have actually declined since the 14th century (…) But the recent decline is much more pronounced.” – bto: Das weiß er natürlich, erkennt aber auch, dass der Rückgang in den letzten Jahren besonders schnell war. Könnte also doch …
- “The decline in safe real interest rates reflects a decline in neutral interest rates, i.e., the rates consistent with full employment. They reflect a chronic weakness in private demand—equivalently strong saving and weak investment, together with a strong demand for safe assets. This situation is what Alvin Hansen and, more recently, Lawrence Summers have called secular stagnation.” – bto: Man könnte auch sagen, es reflektiert eine viel zu hohe Verschuldung! Und die Safe Assets werden auch wegen der Käufe der Notenbanken knapp.
- “As central banks try to maintain full employment, the policy rates they set reflect this decline in safe neutral rates; central banks do not cause low rates.” – bto: Das sehe ich nun gar nicht so. Sie haben maßgeblich Verschuldung und Spekulation gefördert.
- “The decline in rates must be traced to deep low-frequency factors, shifts in saving, investment, risk and market risk aversion, liquidity, and preference for liquidity. Many suspects have been identified. None has been convicted. Going through the list, few of them, however, seem likely to quickly turn around. One cannot and should not be sure, but secular stagnation appears likely to last.” – bto: Das entspricht den Überlegungen von Paul Schmelzing, der ebenfalls von einem strukturellen Rückgang der Zinsen ausgeht.
- “The factor I see as potentially turning around is investment. The fight against global warming and green investment will require higher public investment but may also lead to spillovers to private investment. Depending on how it is financed, and on the size of spillovers, this could lead to higher neutral rates.” – bto: Es gibt also Kapitalknappheit. Das mag sein, vor allem, nachdem der Krieg in der Ukraine das Spiel noch mal verändert. Andererseits wissen wir, dass die Notenbanken die Finanzierung “erleichtern” werden.
- “Demographics, be it the decrease in fertility and the increase in longevity, have contributed to the decline in rates and are likely to continue to contribute to low rates in the future.” – bto: Das ist meines Erachtens nicht so sicher, man denke an die Thesen von Charles Goodhart.
- “There is little relation between growth rates and real rates. Theory does not imply a strong relation. The empirical evidence suggests that the decline in real rates is not due to a decline in growth rates.” – bto: stimmt. Es könnte auch sein, dass es an der Verschuldung liegt, die die realen Raten dämpft.
- “Neutral rates depend on fiscal policy. A fiscal expansion leads to higher aggregate demand, higher neutral rates, and by implication an increase in actual rates. This may indeed be what happens in the near future, especially in the United States, given the strong fiscal expansion in 2021.” – bto: Genau das passiert in den USA und Europa. Wir stehen vor deutlich höheren Ausgaben der Staaten.
- “As neutral rates have declined over the last 30 years, they have, on the way down, crossed two thresholds: first, becoming lower than growth rates (r*<g), and second, often becoming lower than the lowest safe real rate achievable by monetary policy given the combination of low expected inflation and the effective lower bound on nominal rates (r*<rmin).” – bto: Übersetzt heißt das, Piketty hat sich geirrt.
ON DEBT SUSTAINABILITY
- “The fact that r<g has important implications for debt dynamics. Put simply, it gives countries more fiscal space. They can run (some) primary deficits and keep their debt ratios (the ratio of debt to GDP) constant, or even decrease them.” – bto: Kann das funktionieren bzw. befeuert das die Inflation nicht noch mehr?
- “Debt sustainability is fundamentally a probabilistic concept. Debt can be said to be sustainable if the probability that the debt ratio explodes (or at least increases steadily) is very low.” – bto: Und man muss die verdeckten Verbindlichkeiten mitrechnen. Denn nur dann wissen wir, ob es zu einer Explosion kommen kann.
- “Debt sustainability must be assessed in two steps. Given current policies, is debt sustainable? If not, will the government be willing and able to implement policies to make it sustainable?” – bto: Oder kann man andere Einnahmequellen finden, indem man Schulden gemeinsam mit anderen aufnimmt, deren Schuldentragfähigkeit noch besser ist?
- “The answer cannot be reduced to a simple universal debt or/and deficit number. The answer to the first question clearly depends on the first and the second moments of current and future primary balances, real interest rates, and growth rates. The answer to the second question depends on the nature and credibility of the government, the nature of political institutions, the initial level of taxation, etc.” – bto: Je glaubwürdiger die Politik die Bürger belasten kann und will, desto sicherer sind die Forderungen der Gläubiger.
- “Because of the complexity of the answer, simple rules, such as the Maastricht Treaty’s 60 percent debt ratio and 3 percent deficit ratio numbers (both in ratios to GDP), or the German black zero rule, will not work well. They may ensure debt sustainability but at the cost of standing in the way of the appropriate fiscal policy, sometimes at very high output cost.” – bto: Das stimmt sicherlich. Aber die Grundvoraussetzung ist, die Schulden vollständig zu erfassen.
- “If, nevertheless, a rule is adopted, debt dynamics suggest that it should make the required minimum primary balance a function of debt service—defined as (r–g) times the debt ratio—rather than of the debt ratio itself and allow for deviations from this bound if the policy rate is constrained by the effective lower bound.” – bto: Das Problem ist, dass die Politik immer dazu neigen wird, die für höhere Schulden erforderlichen optimistischen Annahmen bezüglich dieser Größen zu treffen.
- “Public investment spending, to the extent that it generates future increases in fiscal revenues, can be partly financed by debt without threatening debt sustainability, something that any rule should reflect. Too often, the application of simple rules has led to inefficient cuts in public investment.” – bto: Ich finde die Argumentation von Prof. Kooths in einem der letzten Podcasts interessanter. Demnach sollte alles, was der Staat wirklich machen soll – wie Verteidigung – aus Steuern bezahlt werden.
- “This does not imply, however, that all public investment should be financed by debt. Even if the investment generates large social returns, if it does not generate sufficient fiscal revenues, directly in the form of fees or indirectly from higher revenues from higher future output, it may still potentially threaten debt sustainability.” – bto: Klar, aber die Politik wird Renditen versprechen, weil es um politisch gewollte Ausgaben geht. Es gibt keine Kontrolle.
- “The approach to public investment should separate the decision about the level of public investment from its financing. Public investment, e.g., green investment, should proceed so long as the risk-adjusted social rate of return exceeds the corresponding borrowing rate. Whether it is financed by debt or by taxes should depend, however, both on how much it increases future fiscal revenues and on macro stabilization objectives, discussed below.” – bto: Das klingt auch gut, doch wie stellen wir das sicher?
- “Fundamentals suggest that rates are likely to remain low for a long time. Sovereign bond markets are, however, subject to multiple equilibria/sunspots/sudden stops, in which the interest rate may increase quickly and substantially. Central banks can, by playing the role of stable investors and by being willing to intervene if needed, stop pure sunspot equilibria.” – bto: Aha, die Notenbanken in der Rolle des (indirekten) Staatsfinanzierers. Das bedeutet aber Inflation?
- “It is less clear that central banks can keep rates low when rates reflect worse fundamentals and a higher risk of debt unsustainability. In this case, the purchase of long maturity bonds financed by interest-paying central bank reserves is just a change in the composition of the liabilities of the consolidated government (the central government plus the central bank) and does not change, by itself, default risk. Indeed, if bank reserves are perceived as safer, long bonds will be seen as riskier and, as a result of quantitative easing, investors will require a higher spread. Long rates will go up, not down.” – bto: wobei es Ansätze zu einer Steuerung der Zinskurve gibt. Letztlich gilt MMT.
- “Longer maturity debt allows governments to reduce the effects of temporary increases in real rates, and to have more time to adjust to permanent increases. In this respect, the purchase by central banks of long maturity bonds financed by zero maturity interest-paying bank reserves decreases maturity and goes in the wrong direction.” – bto: Das stimmt, allerdings kann die Notenbank die Zinsen auf einem Niveau halten.
- “The purchase of long bonds financed by interest-paying central bank reserves does not generate inflation any more than the purchase of long maturity bonds against short maturity assets by an investment fund. Nor is such purchase a bailout of governments by central banks.” – bto: Es ist zunächst ein Asset-Tausch. Aber es führt natürlich zu einer Einschränkung der Flexibilität der Notenbanken.
- “The cancellation of the government debt on the balance sheet of the central bank has no effect on the liabilities of the consolidated government, and thus does not increase its fiscal space. It is at best useless and at worst counterproductive by decreasing the perceived independence of the central bank.” – bto: Das ginge also nur, wenn auch die Verbindlichkeiten der Zentralbank annulliert würden.
ON OPTIMAL FISCAL POLICY
- “On the welfare costs of debt: Other things equal, higher debt crowds out capital, and thus is widely perceived by policymakers and the general public as mortgaging the future and burdening future generations. The fact that r is less than g forces a reconsideration of this proposition.” – bto: Weil wir heute geringe Zinsen haben, spielt es keine Rolle? Aber was ist, wenn die Relation zum Zeitpunkt der Umschuldung wieder andersherum ist?
- “A fundamental result in growth theory is that when r is less than g, an increase in debt can actually increase welfare for all generations. r<g means the net marginal product of capital is smaller than the investment needed to keep the capital growing at rate g. Thus, while lower capital indeed means lower future output, the decrease in the required investment allows higher future consumption.” – bto: Es erhöht nicht den Wohlstand der Sparer.
- “This result, due to Edmund Phelps and Milton Friedman, and developed later by Peter Diamond, has been derived, however, under certainty, in which case interest rates are all equal, and equal to the net marginal product of capital.” – bto: Diese Annahme stimmt allerdings nicht in einer Welt mit zu viel Ersparnis/Schulden.
- “Under uncertainty, there are many rates, from the safer rate to the (typically higher) average net marginal product of capital. Which rate is relevant in assessing whether debt increases or decreases welfare turns out to be difficult to assess. Theory suggests that the relevant rate depends on the nature of the production function, the existence of other distortions, and that it is somewhere between the safe rate and the average marginal product of capital.” – bto: Mag sein, ist aber letztlich sehr von den Annahmen abhängig.
- “Empirically, it is thus not clear whether the relevant rate is higher or lower than the growth rate. A pragmatic approach is to assume that, other things equal, debt is not good but is not very bad. And the lower the neutral rate, the less bad it is.” – bto: Das führt leider leicht zu der Situation, dass die Politik zu optimistische Annahmen treffen könnte.
- “Turning from the costs to the benefits of debt and deficits, the second threshold is the most important. In the absence of an effective lower bound, we can think of central banks as setting the policy rate equal to the neutral rate, thus maintaining output at potential. When central banks are constrained by the effective lower bound, the policy rate cannot be set to the neutral rate and monetary policy cannot be used to maintain output at potential. This role then falls to fiscal policy.” – bto: Das ist die Argumentation, die jetzt genutzt wird, um den Staat zu mehr Ausgaben zu ermächtigen – vor allem in Europa.
- “The evidence on so-called multipliers —i.e., the effects of various dimensions of fiscal policy, be it spending, taxes, or the level of debt itself—on output, is that, most of the time, a fiscal expansion increases aggregate demand. And that the effect is stronger when monetary policy is at the effective lower bound.” – bto: Ja, und damit trägt sie zur Inflation bei.
- “In discussing optimal fiscal policy, it is useful to start with two extreme views. The first can be called the “pure public finance” view. It implicitly assumes that monetary policy can maintain output at potential and focuses on the role of debt in smoothing taxes in the face of variations in spending or in affecting the welfare of current versus future generations.” – bto: Dabei ist diese Geldpolitik, wie wir wissen, keineswegs ohne negative Nebenwirkungen.
- “The second view assumes implicitly that monetary policy is not or cannot be used and that the main task of fiscal policy is thus macro stabilization. This view is known as the “functional finance” view, so baptized by Abba Lerner. In this case, fiscal policy must compensate for variations in private demand in order to maintain output at potential. If private demand is chronically low, then governments must run sustained deficits.” – bto: Aber was sollen denn diese dauerhaften Defizite bewirken? Ja, sie stabilisieren damit die Nachfrage, doch offensichtlich ist das keine sinnvolle Nachfrage.
- “This suggests the following characterization of optimal fiscal policy, in relation to the two thresholds for the neutral rate. First, the lower the interest rate relative to the growth rate, the lower both the fiscal and welfare costs of debt. Second, the closer the interest rate is to the effective lower bound, the smaller the room for monetary policy to stabilize output, and the more important is the use of fiscal policy for macro stabilization.” – bto: Mit anderen Worten, heute können wir Schulden machen, weil es viele rentierliche Projekte (zumindest werden sie so dargestellt) gibt und wir haben schon so tiefe Zinsen, dass es nur der Staat machen kann.
- “The case for output stabilization is strongest when the effective lower bound is strictly binding. But it remains relevant when it is only potentially binding, leaving little room for monetary policy to react to decreases in private demand.” – bto: Hier haben wir allerdings die Lage, dass die Beschäftigung hoch ist und wir es eher mit verknappten Angeboten zu tun haben.
- “Put another way, the weaker private demand, and thus the lower the neutral rate, the smaller the costs and the larger the benefits of deficits and debt.” – bto: Diesen Zustand haben wir heute nicht.
- “Put yet another way, the weaker private demand, and thus the lower the neutral rate, the larger the weight on functional finance, and the smaller the weight on pure public finance.” – bto: Das geht mit dem Risiko einher, dass bei der Umschuldung in Zukunft das Zins-/Wachstumsverhältnis deutlich schlechter ist.
- “I interpret Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as putting all the weight of functional finance, on the use of fiscal rather than monetary policy to keep output at potential. If so, this is too extreme a view.” – bto: Na ja, es ist die Politik, die sagt, dass es keine Rolle spielt, was der Staat macht, weil die Notenbank immer alles finanziert.
- “Fiscal policy affects the neutral rate. One can then think of optimal fiscal policy as setting the neutral rate high enough that monetary policy has enough room to sustain output except against extremely bad demand shocks but low enough that the welfare and fiscal costs of debt remain limited.” – bto: Über Kapitalnachfrage und Wachstumseffekt der Ausgaben steigen die Zinsen. Nun gut. Heute verhindern wir das aber.
- “Going back to debt sustainability: Chronically weak private demand may keep central banks at the effective lower bound and lead governments to run deficits so large as to lead to a steady increase in debt ratios, potentially raising issues of debt sustainability. This raises the issue of whether there are alternatives to deficits to sustain aggregate demand.” – bto: Zu beobachten war das in den letzten Jahren aber vor allem in Japan.
- “One approach is to relax the effective lower bound, either by increasing the target rate of inflation, and by implication average inflation and nominal interest rates, giving more room for monetary policy to decrease nominal rates if needed, or, as suggested by Kenneth Rogoff, by shifting to digital money and making cash illegal (…).” – bto: Wobei man sich hier immer vor Augen führen muss, dass es sich um Wege handelt, um die Gläubiger zu enteignen. Nur mal so.
- “Another approach is to work on the factors that determine the neutral rate, especially if some of these factors represent distortions that should be removed, independently of their effect on private demand and fiscal policy. For example, offering more social insurance, such as Medicare for all, may decrease precautionary saving and increase the neutral rate without increasing deficits.” – bto: einfach, weil es mehr Konsum gibt. Ob das so stimmt?
ON FISCAL POLICY IN THE FLESH: THREE APPLICATIONS
- “A case of too little? The shift from output stabilization to debt reduction in the wake of the global financial crisis in Europe was too strong and too costly, reflecting an excessive weight on the costs of debt and an insufficient belief in the adverse effects of contractionary fiscal policy on demand and output.” – bto: Das ist die Geschichte der falschen Austerity. Das Problem ist nur, dass es nie einen guten Zeitpunkt dafür gibt.
- “A case of just right? Faced with a strong case of secular stagnation, Japan has run large deficits for three decades and debt ratios have increased to very high levels, while the Bank of Japan remained at the effective lower bound. Was it the right strategy (if indeed it was a strategy)? The answer is a qualified yes, but, looking forward, the high debt ratios raise issues of debt sustainability. Alternative ways of boosting demand should be a high priority.” – bto: Und woher soll das kommen in einer schrumpfenden Gesellschaft?
- “A case of too much? To boost the US recovery from the initial COVID-19 shocks, the Biden administration embarked in 2021 on a major fiscal expansion. The strategy (again, if indeed it was a strategy) was for fiscal policy to increase demand and thus increase the neutral rate, and for monetary policy to delay the adjustment of the policy rate to the neutral rate, and in the process generate temporary inflation. Inflation has turned out to be much higher than expected. Was the fiscal expansion too strong? Was the strategy a mistake?” – bto: Es war zumindest ein aggressiver Versuch, die Stagnation der ökonomischen Eiszeit zu überwinden.