Austerity and the New Engines of Growth
How come the Moroccan mainstream media doesn’t provide comparable levels of debate? Surely Ministers Nizar Baraka and Driss Azami El Idrissi, or even the parliamentary leadership (Said Khairoun, Chairman of the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Public Finances) can afford to go on TV or the radio and be scrutinized on more than just platitude (I doubt Milouda Hazib, senior ranking PAM member in the same committee fully grasps the implications of the marginal income tax rate. Mr Technocrat himself, Ahmed Reda Chami seems to be more interested in pandering in view of the next USFP convention than actually doing his job as a member of the said parliamentary committee) The Finances ministry uploaded not long ago a useful compendium of new fiscal measures, but as far as I can tell, no mainstream journalist has had the interest of writing a paper on how effective the revenue enhancement in car stamps and duties have on reducing car use and, indirectly on oil consumption. Government officials go on with the business of making the Budget bill, the elected representatives supposed to scrutinize them do not seem to be interested in the policy implication of these decisions, and the fourth estate is far behind on this particular piece of news.
That decision to lift moderately oil subsidy on industrial and car fuel is not a sign of the government coming to their senses regarding the compensation fund, it is merely a half-measure designed to curtail the runaway cost of the said fund. At best, the deficit will remain within the 5% projected for 2012, otherwise that decision will hurt significantly growth, paradoxically even more so if a more radical scheme was introduced with the idea of replacing fuel-inefficient vehicles.
Suffice to say there are about 2.001.458 cars and other vehicles in Morocco (2009 figures) and 74.4% of these are more than 6 years-old (2008 figures) more than half have more than 10 years of service. Older car models tend to consume more, and these are usually (mainly) driven by less well-off Moroccan households and businesses. In effect, the decision to increase diesel and fuel by about 14% overnight will hurt a majority while the better off minority will not adjust their behaviour and continue to take full advantage of an indiscriminate and ultimately unfair subsidy system.
I am drifting here… Paul Krugman makes a very good case for the stimulus package, and warns austerity measures would plunge the US economy into a recession similar to that experienced by Spain, Portugal and many other countries in Europe. And yet Morocco is experiencing increasingly dangerous economic hardships, a piling public debt, a sluggish growth in M3 aggregate, and finally, that problem no one in Morocco can actually address, the abysmal trade deficit. a research paper by the IMF points out to the effects of European economic fluctuations on Morocco’s growth, and their conclusions are daunting: the recover in the Eurozone will be slow, and almost certainly not pulled by domestic consumption:
Our analysis confirms the important role played by the European Union for the Moroccan and Tunisian economies. We note, however, that this close tie might also represent a challenge for the future.
For the two countries, enhancing competitiveness and diversifying trade flows is essential for sustaining future growth.
This means Morocco’s foreign demand is unlikely to improve over the next couple of years, and with it, any possibility of growth around the government’s objective of 5.5% average by 2016. The best of best scenario (net) exports can do is to give a modes 1.5 percentage point to growth, which is way below what the economy needs to reach the vicinity of 5% to 5.5%.
Morocco’s growth is therefore left to domestic consumption and government expenditure. This is a particular recipe for disaster: on the one hand, any consumption-led growth means about 30% of household consumption will be insured by a wealthy few less than 600,000 households, and these people are very hungry for transportation, luxury and imported goods. To these top-tier consumers, one needs to take into accounts the demand pressure implied by the aspiring middle-class, the various increases in public sector payroll. As for government expenditure, assuming our elected officials are taking their pledge to bring the deficit back under 3% GDP seriously, an expansionary budget cannot go one forever, as the pressure on rates, barely alleviated by Bank Al Maghrib’s decision to cut rates 25bps, is going to eventually penalize the private sector, if it is not already the case.
So Morocco and its public finances are between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, any Keynesian-like stimulus program is unlikely to restore Morocco’s economic stability, and might well turn out to be a bad temporary fix, whose price are high borrowings now and higher taxes next; on the other hand, growth cannot be fuelled by domestic demand indefinitely because it will result in deteriorating Morocco’s terms of exchange and trigger a run on the currency. That is where cutting the budget comes in: to rebalance the engines of growth.
Government expenditure and Household consumption have contributed an average of .72 and 1.52 percentage points respectively of the 3.58% average growth over the 1992-2010 period. Their contribution goes higher in the last decade with respectively .79 and 2.31 percentage points for an average growth of 4.64% since 2000. An austerity program, that is, discretionary cuts in government expenditure mean a reduction of the budget’s contribution in growth, and in the short term results in a small contraction of GDP, with an undetermined time lag for agents in the economy to adjust themselves, and then growth goes on.
The picture is quite clear as to why government expenditure has to be halved: the Moroccan economy cannot sustain itself with high levels of of consumption and government spending; there are arbitrages to be made, and these come to the expenses of two other equally important national accounting aggregates, Investment (Gross Capital Formation) and Exports (Trade Balance): Y = C + G + I + NX
Cutting the budget by means of restraining public service payroll with growth rate well below inflation rate (since 1992, payroll increased 6.6% on annual average, while CPI inflation rate established itself around 2.6% over the same period of time) is necessary because the available resources have to be used somewhere else. It is a bit of a vicious circle: high public payroll means high household consumption and higher imports, which in turns means high receipts from VAT – these make out 21% of total fiscal receipts, and the trend is upward since 2004. Obviously, the government cannot just agree to kill a lucrative source of income for the sake of economic stability, but the fact of the matter is, the economy badly needs it.
We will have to agree to the unbearable fact that we cannot secure anything near 5% by 2016. Growth has been the magic wand to solve, or at least hide Morocco’s deep structural and social problems: trickle-down effects from income inequality were relied upon to improve (marginally) the condition of poorer households, and government jobs were there to appease unions and the unemployed graduates. On the other hand, other engines of growth have been neglected: Investment makes up for 1.5 percentage point of GDP growth since 1960, 2.38 points since 2000. Same goes for Gross Exports, with 2.19 percentage points as well. High consumption and higher government expenditure means higher imports, with the immediate effect of penalizing promising prospect for the Moroccan economy.
Investment and Exports: the first is just a matter of corporate interest in buying assets, the second needs to adjust to the end of an era: the Europeans are no longer a good trading partner.