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Incentivos errados - a penalização da prudência ou a poupança como pecado

BORROWERS get bailed out. Run your bank into the ground and the taxpayer will lend it money. Buy a house you cannot afford and the central bank will cut interest rates to ease your burden.

Meanwhile those who have lived within their means and put money aside for the proverbial rainy day, have seen interest rates slashed to 2% in the euro zone, 1% in Britain and virtually nothing in America. No one offers to help them out, even though saving is needed to allow business investment which, in turn, generates growth. Asians, told off in the 1990s for their current-account deficits, now get lectured for saving too much.

This is quite a different paradox of thrift from the usual one. In theory, everybody regards thrift as a virtue. In practice, they treat it as a vice.

Of course, politicians and economists will argue that they are only talking about the short run. They need people to spend to lift the economy out of recession. As John Maynard Keynes remarked: “Whenever you save five shillings, you put a man out of work for the day.”

One could argue that savers should do well in the event of outright deflation. Nominal interest rates may have fallen sharply. But they cannot fall below zero. So in a world of falling prices, real rates will be high.

Nevertheless, savers are far from content. Those who have built diversified portfolios (another hallmark of prudence) will have suffered losses in equities, property and corporate bonds. Even those who have been clever enough to keep their money in cash have had to fret about the security of banks and money-market funds.

In any case, the community of savers is a diverse one. Take the many elderly people who depend on their savings for retirement income. When interest rates fall as quickly as they have in recent months, their income falls, and they will be forced to spend less.

The retired do not have the option of making up lost income. They are too old to work, or companies may not consider them employable. They could take more risk by moving into corporate bonds or equities. But that strategy incurs the danger of a permanent loss of capital.

In many countries the system is biased against the saver.

[A lament for savers, Feb 12th 2009, The Economist]

O preço do dinheiro artificialmente baixo, resultante da política monetária do FED nos últimos 10 anos ou mais, conseguiu o pior de dois mundos: ao mesmo tempo aumentou a «exuberância irracional» puxando pelos mercados de capitais e imobiliário, estimulou o consumo, desincentivou a poupança e, inevitavelmente, acelerou o endividamento das famílias, das empresas e dos estados.

Esperemos pelos resultados da política de substituição da heroína pela metadona.

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