Thursday, June 5, 2003

An Unsustainable Sustainability

The latest fashion in the academic world of international finance is to calculate what is known as the Sustainable Debt Level (SDL). As you may have guessed, it has to do with the level of public debt a country can sustain without entering into a crisis. Normally the SDL is calculated based on the size of the economy (GNP) or on a country’s exports.

Whatever scientific approach is given to the SDL issue, it sure seems somewhat obscene to the citizenry of countries where it is evident that public debt engenders low or even no productivity.

If a credit is granted properly, the credit is repaid and then debt levels never become a problem. It is only the bad or mediocre loans that accumulate—those that do not generate their own repayment. So it could be said that what is really being calculated with the SDL is the level of bad debt that a country can get saddled with. Quite frankly, a developing country with real needs cannot afford the luxury of canceling even one cent in interest on a debt level arising from a series of credits that are nonproductive on the average.

From this perspective and since what we really mean is sustaining something that is unsustainable, this question remains: wouldn’t it be better to skip calculating this debt level and try to free ourselves once and for all from these mortgages, instead of condemning future generations to live forever under the weight of an SDL that has been perfectly calculated? How much torture can the torture victim take before passing out?

And who encouraged these countries to go into debt? Ask those who are well-acquainted with the temptation that credits pose to politicians. In China, they say that you wish for your enemies to live in interesting times. In Argentina, because of the suffering provoked by excessive debt, it would seem that what their enemies could have wished upon them was the trust and confidence of international markets.

On the day that our country Venezuela firmly and irrevocably sets upon the path of totally canceling its debt, on this day an enormous opportunity will open for all those private and collective initiatives that need financial oxygen. Unfortunately it will not be easy, since our politicians, while condemning past debts, have mastered the magic of simultaneously preaching the benefits of new credits.