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CASE STUDY: No pain, no gain - a crise sueca dos anos 90

No princípio dos anos 90, depois de uma década de forte crescimento, a Suécia atravessou a recessão mais profunda desde a grande depressão dos anos 20-30. Iniciada com o rebentamento da bolha imobiliária provocada pelo crédito fácil tornado possível com a elevada alavancagem dos bancos a crise arrastou-se até ao final da década. O rebentar da bolha imobiliária causou o colapso da banca que foi nacionalizada. Nos 3 anos seguintes a dívida pública duplicou, o desemprego triplicou e o défice orçamental aumentou de 1 para 10 por cento, passando a ser o mais alto na OCDE à época.

Göran Persson ministro das Finanças a partir de 1994 e primeiro-ministro do partido Social-Democrata a partir de 1996 teve um papel fundamental na resposta à crise. Em 2006 a dívida pública estava reduzida para 40%, metade do rácio de 1994.

Em Junho passado, em entrevista à McKinsey Quarterly, Göran Persson falou sobre as condições necessárias para consolidar as finanças públicas, reformar a administração pública e melhorar a sua eficiência. Dessa entrevista, que deveria ser leitura obrigatória para o governo português e matéria para decorar pela liderança do partido Socialista, vou citar algumas passagens realçando a rosa para o PS e a verde para o governo as partes com maior impacto para cada um deles.

O que está em causa não é a semelhança das situações e da génese da crise da Suécia dos anos 90 do século XX e do Portugal da 2.ª década do século XXI, que têm poucos pontos de contacto, mas os requisitos que um governo deve cumprir para combater com sucesso uma crise.

«The Quarterly: What is the prerequisite for implementing a successful crisis program?

Göran Persson: The electorate must understand that drastic measures are required. A crisis program will hurt, and you will need a mandate from the voters if you are to succeed. This makes it difficult for an administration that is in power without such a mandate to take the lead. But it is a fantastic chance for the opposition, provided that there is broad awareness of the gravity of the situation. My party was elected in 1994 because we promised to carry out the harshest program with the deepest budget cuts and the sharpest tax increases.

The Quarterly: What advice would you give incumbent leaders who don’t have a mandate from the voters for instituting radical reform?

Göran Persson: You have to make it absolutely clear that you are putting your office at stake; that you are prepared to call new elections or, if your parliamentary group is not behind you, to resign. The forces working against a harsh crisis program are very strong—almost every area of the public sector has its own vested interests—so any sign that you might waver in your commitment will doom the program to fail.

The Quarterly: Please summarize the lessons you have learned about leading, designing, and implementing the process for putting state finances in order.

Göran Persson: First, it is extremely important to be in the driver’s seat. You must make it clear that you are responsible for the process and that you are prepared to put your position at stake. Second, the consolidation program must be designed so that the burdens are shared fairly. Public-sector cuts will hurt the most vulnerable people in society, so those who are better off need to contribute—for example, by paying higher taxes. Public support for tough policies would quickly deteriorate if they were not perceived as fair, and parliament would lose the political will to make hard decisions. Third, the consolidation program has to be designed as a comprehensive package; if you are in as deep trouble as we were, an ad-hoc hodgepodge of measures will only have a limited chance of success. Moreover, by presenting the measures together, it becomes clear to all interest groups that they are not the only ones being asked to make sacrifices. It also has to be a front-loaded program. By starting with the most difficult measures, you demonstrate your resolve and increase the chances of achieving the early results, which will be important for getting the continued support that is critical for sustaining the effort.

Transparency is the fourth lesson. You must never play down the effects of the program’s measures. On the contrary, remind the public again and again that this will hurt. It is one thing to get support in parliament for the program; it’s another to stay in control during the implementation phase, when the measures become real for ordinary people in their daily lives. You must also be completely honest when you communicate with financial markets. Clarify assumptions and calculations. Don’t use any bookkeeping tricks. Only then can you recover credibility; only then can the program earn legitimacy. Indeed, you should always go for conservative estimates. If, for instance, you estimate that economic growth will be 1.5 percent and you end up with 2.5 percent, you will have solved much of the credibility problem.

The Quarterly: The electorate’s patience is never endless. How much time do you have until it runs out?

Göran Persson: You have two years. If you are not in command of the process by then, you will lose momentum and soon face the next election—where you will be replaced. We survived the 1998 election and were rewarded politically for what we had done by being reelected once more in 2002, when the good times returned and we were in firm control of the public finances.

The Quarterly: Cutting the state budget during a crisis puts pressure on the public sector at a time when its services are perhaps more important than ever. How did you handle this problem?

Göran Persson: Restoring the health of our public finances was the prerequisite for preserving the Swedish public sector in the long term, and this would not have been possible without sacrifices. One-third of our program consisted of tax increases, and two-thirds of spending cuts, both in the operational budgets of the central and local authorities and in the legislated levels of welfare transfers. We cut pensions, sick-leave compensation, and unemployment benefits, which hurt people who already had only small margins in their household finances. That shouldn’t have been necessary in an ideal world, because lower welfare transfers reduced domestic demand and tax revenues and thus had a negative impact on growth and employment and a small net effect on the budget. But we had no choice. High interest rates made it necessary to regain the confidence of investors all over the world whose perception was that Sweden’s generous welfare model was to blame for the crisis. In fact, it wasn’t until we cut unemployment benefits and got into open conflict with the trade unions that market interest rates started coming down.

The Quarterly: It’s often said that with a crisis comes an opportunity for reform. Did you use this opportunity to improve the long-term performance of the public sector?

Göran Persson: Yes, the cuts in government consumption became a driver of improved efficiency, since public authorities were forced to do the same job on unchanged or reduced budgets.

In addition, we pursued targeted policies with various objectives. One strategy—aiming to improve productivity, service quality, and freedom of choice—involved the liberalization of telecommunications, mail, railways, and other infrastructure industries. It also involved allowing privately run providers to compete with public ones in providing tax-financed services for the school system, health care, child care, and care for the elderly.


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