Today’s debt is tomorrow’s tax (KOR)

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Today’s debt is tomorrow’s tax (KOR)

The author is a finance team editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

John Maynard Keynes once wrote to his friend George Bernard Shaw, “I believe myself to be writing a book on economic theory which will largely revolutionize the way the world thinks about its economic problems.” And his prediction was right. “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” was published in 1936. Here, he argued that valid demand could be created by increased government spending, and the economy could be boosted. Since then, Keynesian theory has become the golden rule for governments fighting economic slumps.

Korea, which is faced with an economic slowdown, is not the exception. As the economy contracted by 0.4 percent in the first quarter, the government increased spending, and the economy grew by 1.1 percent in the second quarter. The government spending created growth of 1.3 percent, making up for the 0.2 percent negative growth in the private sector. The government has used money as much as possible. In the first half, the central government’s budget execution rate was the highest-ever, at 65.4 percent, or 191 trillion won ($161.3 billion).

The government may feel that it is still short and wants a supplementary budget of 6.7 trillion won. The problem is the funding source that is drying up. The aggregate tax revenue from January to May declined by 1.2 trillion won compared to the previous year. Unlike in the 2016 to 2018 period, when a supplementary budget was drawn up based on expected tax revenue, more than half of the supplementary budget — or 3.6 trillion won — will come from issuing government bonds this time.

I am worried about growing government spending. Raising more tax revenue or issuing government bonds to increase spending and boost the economy could discourage the recovery of the private sector. It is the so-called “crowding out effect,” where the government pushes out the private sector. Household and business demand and investments could decrease, while the efficiency of government spending is lower than the private sector.

According to David Ricardo’s equivalence proposition, today’s debt is tomorrow’s tax. An economic boost using public debt is an expensive tax bill. While government’s power is needed to revive the economy, too much is as bad as too little. The priority is creating conditions for the private sector, including the corporate sector and households, to recover.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 29, Page 31

‘오늘의 부채는 내일의 세금’ 하현옥 금융팀장
“경제 문제를 생각하는 방식을 혁명적으로 바꿔 놓을 책을 쓸 것 같네.” 존 메이너드 케인스가 친구인 조지 버나드 쇼에게 호언장담했다. 예감은 적중했다. 1936년 펴낸 『고용, 이자 및 화폐의 일반이론』이다. 그는 정부 지출을 늘려 유효수요를 창출해 경제를 살릴 수 있다고 주장했다. 이후 케인스의 이론은 불황에 맞서는 정부의 금과옥조가 됐다.
경기 둔화에 직면한 한국도 마찬가지다. 1분기 뒷걸음질(-0.4%) 쳤던 경제는 정부가 재정 지출을 늘리며 2분기 1.1% 성장했다. 곳간을 연 정부(1.3%포인트)가 성장률을 갉아먹은 민간(-0.2%포인트)의 부진을 메웠다. 정부는 돈을 최대한 끌어다 썼다. 상반기 중앙재정 집행률(65.4%ㆍ191조원)은 역대 최고다. 호황이었던 세수를 바탕으로 한 ‘정부주도성장’이다.
이것도 부족해 정부는 추가경정예산(추경ㆍ6조7000억원)에 목을 매고 있다. 문제는 마르는 돈 줄이다. 지난 1~5월 누적 국세 수입은 1년 전보다 1조2000억원 줄었다. 때문에 예상 세수를 재원으로 추경을 편성했던 2016~18년과 달리 이번에는 추경의 절반이 넘는 3조6000억원을 국채 발행으로 충당했다.
커지는 정부의 씀씀이는 걱정을 자아낸다. 경기를 살리겠다고 세금을 더 걷거나 빚을 내(국채 발행) 지출을 늘리면 민간의 회복세를 위축시킬 수 있다. 정부가 민간을 밀어내는, 이른바 구축효과(驅逐效果)다. 가계와 기업의 수요와 투자가 줄어들고, 정부 지출의 효율성이 민간보다 떨어지기 때문이다.
데이비드 리카도의 ‘등가성 원칙’에 따르면 ‘오늘의 부채는 내일의 세금’이다. 빚으로 조달한 경기부양은 값비싼 세금 고지서다. 경기를 살릴 ‘정부의 힘’은 필요하지만 과유불급(過猶不及)이다. 기업과 가계 등 민간이 회복할 여건을 만드는 게 급선무다.

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