Monday, 15 August 2011
The Portuguese Ministry of Finance has posted a report on the implementation of a fiscal devaluation in Portugal.
I wish to make a few comments:
1. The authors should state that the report is preliminary. The report does not contain any conclusion, therefore, in its current form, it is still incomplete and preliminary.
2. The report is acknowledged to be a patchwork of views of four different institutions (Bank of Portugal, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of the Economy and Employment, Ministry of Solidarity and Social Security). While a list of all four different stances is a useful starting point, the final document must find a coherent and unique position on the matter. After all there is only one entity that must fiscally devaluate, Portugal.
3. The structure of the document appears to be biased against the fiscal devaluation.
3.1. The first quarter of the study consists in a detailed description of the social security's financing sources. It is useful to know these details, and there is a lot of interesting information (see below Remark in 3.3). It is important to know which laws should be abrogated and/or changed if the government implements the reduction of the social security contributions paid by employers. The chapter ends with a comparison between Portugal and EU's fiscal revenues structures and states that Portugal relies more heavily than the rest of EU on indirect taxation (read VAT) and less on social contributions (paid by employers). These numbers are obviously influenced by the composition of aggregate demand and income shares. For example, in Germany private consumption (basically the tax basis for VAT) is around 56% of GDP and in the Netherlands private consumption is 45% of GDP. In Portugal private consumption is around 64% of GDP. I would imagine this section as an appendix and not as the initial chapter of the report.
3.2 The second section which addresses the macroeconomic effects (the core of the matter) of the fiscal devaluation is short. The evaluation is performed using a dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) model developed at the Bank of Portugal. Two similar DSGE models developed by the ECB and the European Commission have also been used to confirm the results. Personally I believe that these models are very useful for theoretical guidance but should be complemented by more empirical approaches for a more robust quantitative evaluation of the suggested policy. [For the more analytical inclined readers : in the technical description of the macroeconomic effects, a neat identification of short term effects (fiscal devaluation), medium term effects (firm entry in the tradable sector) and long term effects (new steady state due to possible non neutral shift in aggregate labor demand and labor supply) is absent, which makes the quantitative results difficult to interpret].
3.3 The third section is the central part of the report and describes a menu of options to implement the measure. The benchmark measure, the only one that can be labeled as a fiscal devaluation, is the reduction of the payroll tax across all sectors compensated by an increase in VAT (and/or a decrease in public expenditure). The report correctly identifies the main weakness of the measure in the market power of the non-tradable sector (Remark: I noticed that in Table 3 Section1, a large non-tradable industry, or network industry, such as Telecommunication pays a payroll tax of 7.8%, as opposed to the general rate of 23.7%. Given that such a company-industry will not see its payroll tax being reduced the above weakness does not apply).
The alternatives suggested are not fiscal devaluations but could be labeled as :
a) Incentives to job creation (low payroll tax only for new jobs) ;
b) Export oriented Industrial policy (payroll reduction in export industries);
c) Tradable (?) oriented industrial policy (reduction of payroll tax only for lower wages).
3.4 The last page and a half is concerned with the financing of the payroll tax reduction. The last sentence briefly mentions that if the measure is implemented, the necessary fiscal revenues will have to be found by increasing the lower VAT rates. Obviously the financing of the reduction in the payroll tax is a (the) key aspect for the implementability of the measure. After all, who would disagree to lower labor costs if the sustainability of the social security system was secured? This is the section I would have expected the government to put more (all) efforts in order to reach an educated opinion on how much revenues an increase in the lower VAT rates could generate (0.5% of GDP, 1% of GDP, 2% of GDP…4% of GDP?).
As a final remark: I am confident international observers would welcome a report in English (only the executive summary and a technical appendix by the Bank of Portugal are in English), especially if the government plans to convince the troika not to implement the measure or to transform it in a different policy.
Posted by Francesco Franco at 11:08