The Press Takes Notice of a Small Problem
We have previously discussed the plans announced by EU commission president JC Juncker to “rescue” the euro area economy by means of € 300 billion of state-directed spending (see “Juncker’s Solution” for details). Now the mainstream press is also beginning to wonder where the money for this ambitious spending plan is supposed to be coming from.
A report by Reuters contains a few points worth commenting on:
“New European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is preparing a 300 billion euro ($375 billion) investment plan he will present as a cornerstone of efforts to revive an ailing economy. But history suggests the program risks becoming an exercise in financial engineering rather than a conduit for the new money the region needs to help boost output and create jobs.
A flagship project of the new European Union executive, the investment scheme is due to be unveiled before Christmas. It is still being finalized and few details have been made public. If all the money it promises is raised and spent, it could provide the 28-nation EU with roughly an additional 0.7 percent of GDP in investment per year over three years.
“It is significant,” said Carsten Brzeski, economist at ING bank in Frankfurt. “You would expect some kind of a multiplier effect from investment on jobs and purchasing power and it would increase the growth potential. The downside is that public investment can take years before it gets started.”
But even more than “when?”, the big question hanging over the plan is “how much?”. The 300 billion euros is an overall target for both the public and private money that the Commission hopes to mobilize. The Commission itself does not have any money and is funded through annual EU budgets that must be balanced. Of the region’s 28 governments, only Germany seems to have public finances strong enough to significantly increase investment. But in its drive to have a balanced budget, Berlin is not keen to spend more.
So the Commission plans to use what little public money is available to lure bigger private funds into projects that would otherwise seem too risky or with too low a rate of return.
“Our aim is to ‘crowd in’ private money for big infrastructure projects in the energy sector, transport, broadband or research and development. The private sector cannot take all the risks,” Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told Reuters.
First of all, the money can evidently not be raised by EU governments if they try to fulfill the obligations of the fiscal compact. To this we would note that the compact, if anything, suffers from still not being truly enforceable when it comes to larger member nations such as France and Italy. From our perspective, the attempt to impose some sort of fiscal discipline is praiseworthy in principle, but the actual approach to “austerity” and economic reform leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly.
Unfortunately the compact does not contain a specific clause with respect to spending – it merely refers to debt and deficits as a percentage of GDP. As a first measure, several countries have taken steps to artificially boost their GDP statistics by adding what seem highly subjective estimates of the value added by drug dealing, prostitution and other “black market” activities to the data. Worse though is that wherever possible, governments have avoided shrinking the State, and have instead imposed new burdens on the private sector, in many cases coupled with draconian enforcement. The additional taxes harm the economy, while the more drastic enforcement is obviously detrimental to liberty and peace, as it requires additional invasions of privacy, encourages snitching, and so forth.
EU government deficits (annual) as a percentage of GDP – click to enlarge.
A Plan that Will Consume Scarce Capital
Secondly, the belief in a “multiplier effect” once again runs into the problem that capital is both heterogeneous and scarce. If it is employed in state-directed investment projects, it must be removed from other employments. It is an apodictic certainty that in the vast majority of cases, it would be better employed in undertakings to which market participants have allocated it voluntarily. It seems obvious that investment projects planned by bureaucracies lack an important ingredient, namely the profit motive. They have therefore no reason to compare input costs to expected returns and to decide whether to undertake certain projects on that basis – and yet, the real capital to pursue these projects will have to be freed up elsewhere.
In the article excerpted above it is in fact admitted that the planned investment projects wouldn’t be touched by the private sector because they do not promise an adequate return. It really takes some doing for long-range investment projects to be so wasteful that they are seemingly not even able to produce a large enough illusory profit when the central bank’s administered interest rate stands almost at zero. Obviously, the private sector could and would gladly “take the risks” associated with these projects if they promised to produce profits in excess of the returns available in other investments. The fact that higher returns are available elsewhere is the market’s way of telling entrepreneurs that there are consumers wants the satisfaction of which is more urgent.
The lack of returns proves ipso facto that the proposed projects are destined to waste scarce capital. The so-called “multiplier effect” is an illusion – it is certainly possible for capital consumption to masquerade as “growth” for a while, but its true nature will eventually always be revealed.
As Mises noted to this:
“Today the majority of the citizens look upon government as an agency dispensing benefits. The wage earners and the farmers expect to receive from the treasury more than they contribute to its revenues. The state is in their eyes a spender, not a taker. These popular tenets were rationalized and elevated to the rank of a quasi-economic doctrine by Lord Keynes and his disciples. Spending and unbalanced budgets are merely synonyms for capital consumption.”
In reality, these spending programs are simply slightly more elaborate and sophisticated versions of Keynesian ditch digging. They make precisely as much sense. If European politicians really want to help to spur economic growth, they must bid adieu to the notion that economies can be “jump-started” by spending on undertakings that are mainly characterized by their inability to produce a return. What is instead needed is a repeal of the ubiquitous red tape hampering entrepreneurs, lower taxes and less government involvement in the market economy.
Top-down investment decrees are bound to do more harm than good in the end. The urge of local governments in Spain to build a new airport in every two-bit town during the boom has left the landscape dotted with a number of large mute witnesses attesting to this.
JC Juncker: trying to spend money he doesn’t have on projects that everybody knows already won’t produce a return. It is not exactly the most brilliant plan ever conceived.
(Photo via Reuters)
Charts by: Euro-Stat
Dear Readers! We are happy to report that we have reached our turn-of-the-year funding goal and want to extend a special thank you to all of you who have chipped in. We are very grateful for your support! As a general remark, according to usually well informed circles, exercising the donation button in between funding drives is definitely legal and highly appreciated as well.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
2 Responses to “EU – Planning to Spend Money It Doesn’t Have”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- How the Welfare State Dies
Hollande Threatens to Ban Protests Brexit has diverted attention from another little drama playing out in Europe. As of the time of writing, if you Google “Hollande threatens to ban protests” or variations thereof, you will find Russian, South African and even Iranian press reports on the topic. Otherwise, it's basically crickets (sole exception: Politico). Gee, we wonder why? They don't like him anymore: 120.000 protesters recently turned Paris into a war zone. All...
- Toward Freedom: Will The UK Write History?
Mutating Promises We are less than one week away from the EU referendum, the moment when the British people will be called upon to make a historic decision – will they vote to “Brexit” or to “Bremain”? Both camps have been going at each other with fierce campaigns to tilt the vote in their direction, but according to the latest polls, with the “Leave” camp’s latest surge still within the margin of error, the outcome is too close to call. The battle lines are...
- Going... Going... Gone! The EU Begins to Splinter
Dark Social Mood Tsunami Washes Ashore Early this morning one might have been forgiven for thinking that Japan had probably just been hit by another tsunami. The Nikkei was down 1,300 points, the yen briefly soared above par. Gold had intermittently gained 100 smackers – if memory serves, the biggest nominal intra-day gain ever recorded (with the possible exception of one or two days in early 1980). Here is a picture of Haruhiko Kuroda in front of his Bloomberg monitor this...
- A Market Ready to Blow and the Flag of the Conquerors
Bold Prediction MICHAELS, Maryland – The flag in front of our hotel flies at half-mast. The little town of St. Michaels is a tourist and conference destination on the Chesapeake Bay. It is far from Orlando, and even farther from Daesh (a.k.a. ISIL) and the Mideast. St. Michaels, Maryland – the town that fooled the British (they say, today). Photo credit: Fletcher6 Out on the river, a sleek sailboat, with lacquered wood trim, glides by, making hardly a...
- Rule Britannia
A Glorious Day What a glorious day for Britain and anyone among you who continues to believe in the ideas of liberty, freedom, and sovereign democratic rule. The British people have cast their vote and I have never ever felt so relieved about having been wrong. Against all expectations, the leave camp somehow managed to push the referendum across the center line, with 51.9% of voters counted electing to leave the European Union. Waving good-bye to...
- The Problem with Corporate Debt
Taking Off Like a Rocket There are actually two problems with corporate debt. One is that there is too much of it... the other is that a lot of it appears to be going sour. Harvey had a good time in recent years...well, not so much between mid 2014 and early 2016, but happy days are here again! Cartoon by Frank Modell As a brief report at Marketwatch last week (widely ignored as far as we are aware) informs us: “Businesses racked up debt in the...
- The Fed’s Doomsday Device
Bezzle BALTIMORE – Barron’s, in a lather, says the market is facing the “Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Huh? Only two? There were four last time! Supposedly, the so-called Brexit – the vote in Britain this Thursday on whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) – and uncertainty over where the Fed will take U.S. interest rates are cutting down stocks faster than a Z-turn mower. But Brexit is a side show. As our contacts in London...
- Janet Yellen’s $200-Trillion Debt Problem
Blame “Brexit” BALTIMORE – The U.S. stock market broke its losing streak on Thursday [and even more so on Monday, ed.]. After five straight losing sessions, the Dow eked out a 92-point gain. The financial media didn’t know what to say about it. So, we ended up with the typical inanities, myths, and claptrap. “Investors” are pushing the DJIA back up again..apparently any excuse will do at the moment. The idea may backfire though, as exactly the same thing happened...
- In Gold We Trust, 2016
The 10th Anniversary Edition of the “In Gold We Trust” Report As every year at the end of June, our good friends Ronald Stoeferle and Mark Valek, the managers of the Incrementum funds, have released the In Gold We Trust report, one of the most comprehensive and most widely read gold reports in the world. The report can be downloaded further below. Gold, daily, over the past year - click to enlarge. The report celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. As...
- Gold and Brexit
Going Up for the Wrong Reason Gold is soaring. It should—and a lot—but in my view not for the reason it is. Indeed gold is insurance for uncertain times, a time that Brexit seems to represent. But insurance is an administrative cost — one must minimize its use. August gold contract, daily – gold has been strong of late, but this seems to be driven by “Brexit” fears - click to enlarge. Moreover, insuring against Brexit might ironically be equivalent...
- Brexit Paranoia Creeps Into the Markets
European Stocks Look Really Bad... Late last week stock markets around the world weakened and it seemed as though recent “Brexit” polls showing that the “leave” campaign has obtained a slight lead provided the trigger. The idea was supported by a notable surge in the British pound's volatility. Battening down the hatches... On the other hand, if one looks at European stocks, one could just as well argue that their bearish trend is simply continuing – and...
- Vive la Revolution! Brexit and a Dying Order
A Dying Order Last Thursday, the Brits said auf Wiedersehen and au revoir to the European Union. On Friday, the Dow sold off 611 points – a roughly 3.5% slump. What’s going on? Surprise winners of the “Britain has political talent” contest... In Europe and the U.S., the masses are getting restless. Mr. Guy Wroble of Denver, Colorado, explained why in a short letter to the Financial Times: The old liberal world order is dying because the...