Brazil: The more the government “gives”, the more industrial production falls

The chart shows the behavior of industrial production in the world as a whole, in emerging markets and in Brazil.

Brazil_IP

Although far below the performance of industrial production in emerging markets (note that the data begins when China began the “big pull”), at least it evolved according to the world average.

For the past six years, however, it “dismounted from the world horse”. Curiously and more important, instructively, that coincides with the moment the government thought it had to adopt an authoritarian industrial policy:

  • Increase in subsidies from state banks
  • Reduction of industrial costs (lower payroll taxes and lower energy prices)
  • Local preference in government purchases
  • Local content policy in the oil and gas sector
  • National champions policy spearheaded by the national development bank (BNDES)
  • Rise in import barriers

The “gun”, however, backfired!

Brazil seems eager to relive the ‘good ole days’

In December 1985, Thomas Sargent spent some time in Brazil, giving speeches and talking to policymakers. Back home in January 1986, he published in the WSJ an Open Letter to the Brazilian Finance Minister:

…When you have exhausted all of your opportunities to borrow, you will have to make one or more of these unpleasant adjustments: raise taxes, lower government expenditures, or default on some of you debt…

Inflation is very useful to you because it raises an “inflation tax” of substantial proportions…Reducing your inflation tax by borrowing more in your domestic market is counterproductive…So my first piece of advice is that you had better retain the inflation tax and make heavy use of it, until other adjustments have been made in your finances…

The economics behind Sargent´s Letter:

In order to be solvent, the government must be ready to back up the existing amount of debt with either future seignorage, or with taxes.

More formally, the current debt must be equal to the discounted present value of all future revenues from taxes and/or from seignorage.

Implications (for those interested, see Sargent & Wallace “SomeUnpleasant Monetary Arithmetic“):

If the government implements a stabilization scheme, such that the revenues from seignorage go to zero, and it has some outstanding debt, it must raise taxes sooner or later.

If the government does not change its fiscal policy, it must go back to printing money at some point.

This is why in the experiences of hyperinflation the fiscal reform made the stabilization program more credible.

Inflation can begin also without growth in the money supply, if fiscal policy induces people to believe that deficits will be monetized.

The chart shows what happened to inflation shortly after Sargent´s Letter. After trying to “control” inflation by freezing prices, the (hyper)inflation process became much more acute (yes, that´s thousand %!). The government was only successful in “eliminating” inflation after 1994, with the introduction of the Real Plan.

Brazil_1

Fast forward almost 3 decades.

For the last fifteen years Brazil been an inflation targeting country. Since 2004, the mid-point of the target range has been 4.5%, plus or minus 2.0%. So it´s a wide band. Even so, over the past several years the Central Bank has barely managed to keep inflation within the band, and more recently, the “genie has escaped from the bottle” completely.

Brazil_2

We seem to be back to Sargent´s worries of 1985. Since April of last year, the primary surplus began to fall dramatically, more recently turning into deficit. With that, the nominal deficit (which includes interest payments) ballooned. The result has been a steep and fast rise in the public debt/GDP ratio.

Brazil_3

The political background is inimical to the introduction of a credible fiscal adjustment. Therefore, higher inflation is inevitable.

In other words, the central bank is fast loosing the power to control inflation. Worse, the more it tries, by raising interest rates, for example, the higher inflation rises, since the increase in interest rates worsens the debt dynamics, requiring more inflation to produce the requisite seignorage revenues (in addition to reducing the present value of real debt through a rise in the price level). This is shown in the next chart.

Brazil_4

So Brazil has better get its act together fast. Otherwise…

Brazil: A Keynesian paradise

A James Alexander post

Reading through the charts from this Economist blog made me wonder why the economy is doing so poorly.

The primary balance is going nicely into deficit. None of that fetish about austerity. Tick.

Public sector wages and government spending have been rising well ahead of RGDP. Tick.

Total debt has been rising nicely as households and government invest for the future. Tick.

There are some other great Keynesian ideas in practice too:

There has been a sort of “helicopter money” drop via a huge social welfare programme, Bolsa Familia. Two years ago the socialists at The Economist were very keen on it.

There has been a huge government-backed, more or less state-owned company led investment programme to develop nature’s offshore bounty in the oil fields of the Santos Basin.

Minimum wages have been hiked consistently faster than private wages or inflation.

There has been a massive expansion in subsidised housing finance for the poor.

What could possibly go wrong?

Two hints:

Brazil ranks 120 out of 189 in the World Bank’s 2015 “Ease of Doing Business” survey

Brazil ranks 69 out of 175 in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception index, and may well drop lower.