Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Social Justice

Tyler Cowen points out a great interview with the head of a major Slovakian political party on why Slovakia isn't necessarily thrilled about the plans in Europe:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, banks could run into significant problems should they be forced to write down billions in sovereign bond holdings.

Sulik: So what? They took on too much risk. That one might go broke as a consequence of bad decisions is just part of the market economy. Of course, states have to protect the savings of their populations. But that's much cheaper than bailing banks out. And that, in turn, is much cheaper than bailing entire states out.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does one of your reasons for not wanting to help Greece have to do with the fact that Slovakia itself is one of the poorest countries in the EU?

SulĂ­k: A few years back, we survived an economic crisis. With great effort and tough reforms, we put it behind us. Today, Slovakia has the lowest average salaries in the euro zone. How am I supposed to explain to people that they are going to have to pay a higher value-added tax (VAT) so that Greeks can get pensions three times as high as the ones in Slovakia

I think that this is becoming one of the real flashpoints in our economic discourse. I am a huge supporter of pensions. But I can see the potential moral hazard in the Eurozone where making reckless promises can result in being bailed out (and working through your problems can result in being billed for others failure to do so). That sort of "tragedy of the commons" is a much bigger threat to economic stability than I had previously suspected.

We will have some of the same issues between generation here in the United States. There have been proposals to limit Medicare to people who are currently 55 plus. That will mean my generation (which began their careers with a terrible job market) will be playing taxes so that the generation ahead of it (which did comparatively well) can retire at a higher standard of living. These sorts of approaches can be toxic to any social contract.

But I can see Slovakia's position now, even if I am not necessarily in favor of it.

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