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Los recortes necesarios para un mejor crecimiento

shutterstock_152290304-300x150¿Por qué deben ahorrar los gobiernos? En gran parte, por los mismos motivos por los que deben ahorrar las personas y las empresas, a saber, para invertir y ayudar a sus economías a crecer y prosperar. Aunque en América Latina y el Caribe el ahorro público corresponda a una parte menor del ahorro nacional que el ahorro de los hogares o de las empresas, no deja de ser vital para la salud económica general. Un aumento del ahorro público permitiría a los gobiernos aumentar los gastos de capital, mejorar la productividad del sector privado y estimular el crecimiento a largo plazo.

Sin embargo, alcanzar esa meta no será fácil. Las actuales tasas de ahorro público en la región son, en promedio, más de tres puntos porcentuales del PIB inferiores a las del Este de Asia. Además, en los últimos años estas tasas han caído, desde el 6% del PIB en 2007 al 2,8% del PIB en 2014, con aumentos en los gastos corrientes como salarios, subsidios y programas sociales. Invertir esa tendencia podría ser no sólo económicamente difícil sino, también, políticamente caro. Los votantes en la región sencillamente no soportan los recortes. Esto se debe a que los aumentos del gasto, una medida que debería haber sido pasajera para paliar la crisis financiera, actualmente, a ojos de los votantes, representa una medida permanente. Esperar que disminuyan en el actual panorama es más bien poco realista. Con precios de las materias primas actualmente deprimidos, con tasas de interés que aumentan y numerosas economías con problemas, es poco probable que los gobiernos encuentren apoyo para activar los medios tradicionales de aumento del ahorro público, es decir recortando gastos y subiendo impuestos.

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Descargue el libro aquí

Afortunadamente, los gobiernos tienen otras opciones. En lugar de recortar los gastos públicos de manera general, pueden proceder a ajustes “inteligentes”. Es decir, pueden analizar el presupuesto y reducir las ineficiencias. Un buen punto de partida son aquellos gastos relacionados con subsidios originalmente destinados a ayudar a los pobres sin cobertura de ayudas y terminar subsidiando a los más acomodados y ricos. Un ejemplo son los subsidios a la energía. Un país puede tener un subsidio a la electricidad para el consumo de los primeros 150 kW/h con el fin de ayudar a las familias que tienen dificultades para pagar sus facturas. Sin embargo, esto ayuda indiscriminadamente a todos los hogares en el consumo de sus primeros 150 kW/h, lo que constituye un despilfarro de los recursos, o filtración, más allá de la población focalizada. Si se implementaran políticas de focalización precisas para ésta y otras formas de la energía como la gasolina, el gas natural y el fuel oil, los gobiernos podrían obtener ahorros de más del 1% del PIB, dado que actualmente las dos terceras partes de los subsidios a la energía producen filtraciones que favorecen a los hogares no pobres.

También se pueden generar ahorros a partir de una mejor focalización de las transferencias condicionadas de efectivo y las pensiones no contributivas. Estos programas contribuyen a reducir la pobreza y la desigualdad. El gasto destinado a ellos ha aumentado y, en algunos países, incluso se ha triplicado entre 2003 y 2013. Sin embargo, debido a una focalización inadecuada también acaban subsidiando a personas que no necesitan los programas, lo cual cuesta a la Región un 0,5% de su PIB. Las reducciones en los gastos tributarios con un componente social, como las exenciones del impuesto al valor añadido (IVA) o las exenciones en alimentación, medicina y alquileres, entre tanto, producen pérdidas incluso mayores -cerca de 0,7% del PIB, en promedio, pero hasta el 2% del PIB en algunos países- y casi las tres cuartas partes de las reducciones benefician a los hogares no pobres.

También deberían volver a revisarse los gastos en educación y salud, sobre todo en casos donde el número de trabajadores es excesivo y los salarios superan la productividad. Sin embargo, el reto es enorme: en estos ámbitos se inscriben programas universales destinados a beneficiar a todos los sectores de la población, en lugar de sólo a los pobres. Sin embargo, se pueden utilizar diferentes metodologías para detectar las ineficiencias. Por ejemplo, se pueden utilizar países que son muy eficientes como referencia para medir el desempeño de otros países. Corea del Sur, por ejemplo, es una referencia útil para la educación, debido a sus altas puntuaciones en los exámenes y a un número relativamente bajo de maestros por alumno. Los salarios excesivos de los profesores para un determinado nivel de desarrollo también pueden ser parte del problema. El ahorro de las dos dimensiones podría sumar en promedio un 0,7% del PIB en educación y el 0,2% del PIB en salud, con amplias variaciones en diferentes países de la región.

Aunque constituye un problema políticamente difícil, el tiempo no corre a nuestro favor. Es necesario que el sector público pierda peso para seguir siendo sostenible. Entre 2007 y 2014, el gasto público total en la región aumentó en 3,7 puntos porcentuales del PIB, y más del 90% fue destinado a gastos corrientes y sólo el 8% la inversión pública, o ahorro. Esto significa que el dinero no se está destinando a gastos sumamente necesarios en infraestructura que, como porcentaje del PIB, acusa un rezago significativo en relación con otras regiones en vías de desarrollo, como Asia, el resultado de lo cual son caminos, puertos y aeropuertos deficientes. Significa que el ahorro será absolutamente inadecuado para aquel momento que se producirá más tarde durante el siglo, cuando el número de dependientes que no trabajan será casi igual al de las personas que trabajan, al tiempo que se dispara la demanda de los servicios de salud y las pensiones. Sumando todo esto, los ahorros por ineficiencias en la energía, los programas sociales, los gastos tributarios, la salud y la educación podrían llegar a aproximadamente el 3% del PIB. La reducción de las ineficiencias no sólo contribuirá a asegurar la solvencia fiscal sino también favorecerá inversiones productivas cruciales para situar a la región en una vía sostenible con mayor crecimiento.

Algunos de esos temas son abordados en la edición de 2016 de la serie de informes insignia del BID, Desarrollo en las Américas, titulado Ahorrar para desarrollarse: cómo América Latina y el Caribe puede ahorrar más y mejor. Haga clic aquí para descargar el libro.


Esta entrada fue originalmente publicado en el blog Ideas que cuentan del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.

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