October 07, 2014

Lawrence Summers, if you tell governments there’s abundance, you guarantee your grandchildren much scarcity.

Sir, I refer Lawrence Summers’ “Why public investment really is a free lunch” October 7 and in which he writes: “Most notably, the IMF asserts that properly designed infrastructure investment will reduce rather than increase government debt burdens. Public infrastructure investments can pay for themselves.”

I must ask, what is so notably about that? Though of course, jumping from that to the conclusion expressed in the title, which throws indispensible criteria of scarcity of resources out the window, seems indeed notable and horribly so. 

That would certainly guarantee the construction of not properly designed, too expensive and not really useful infrastructures… which would clearly negate his: “So infrastructure investment actually makes it possible to reduce burdens on future generations”.

Summers, quite similarly to what Martin Wolf does when he also preaches for public infrastructure investments, bases much of his argument on: “Real [public] interest costs, that is interest costs less inflation, are below 1 per cent in the US and much of the industrialised world over horizons of up to 30 years.” That is, by a long shot, not necessarily true.

We have no idea of what would be the real interest rates on sovereign debt, were regulators, as they should, eliminate that distorting regulation which establishes that banks need to hold much more capital (equity) when lending to a citizen or an SME, than when lending to what they have deemed as infallible sovereigns.

And, were these interest rates to change, someone would pay enormously, whether the government meaning taxpayers, or all those pension funds which will find the public debt they are holding worthless.

IMF must be very careful when sending out messages of this nature, as there are too many out there who when offered a hand, grab the whole arm… plus a leg or two.