Sobre Custos Públicos de Transação


“Economic Growth, Inequality and Crony Capitalism: The Case of Brazil” (2021) é outro livro recente sobre a economia política brasileira. Também muito caro, limitei-me a ler a sua introdução, disponibilizada pela Amazon gratuitamente. Aparentemente, ele tem tudo para ser um marco na área. Além de uma análise inovadora e sofisticada, o autor testa as suas hipóteses centrais por meio de estudos de caso baseados no nosso sistema tributário, na indústria farmacêutica e na agropecuária. Seguem oito passagens que, a meu ver, resumem os argumentos do autor:

High costs of doing business provide politicians with power resources to manipulate transaction costs by using discretionary regulation, rules and policies. They can switch transaction costs on and off at targeted firms in the business sector. A small group within the business community, the insiders, colludes with government agents to access the loopholes that decrease the cost of doing business, thus gaining a competitive edge over the outsiders, those who cannot access the government. While politicians have all the short-term incentives to thwart reforms and cling to these power resources, the business insiders have weak preferences for reforms that could make the market economy accessible to all because that would imply they are losing their competitive edge. In such an equilibrium, it is unlikely that reforms that could decrease the cost of doing business could be achieved.

This book looks at an element other than secure property rights and government interventions to provide a better account of [any outsider]’s predicament. This element also generalizes into an explanation of long-term prosperity that is at least as important (…): state-imposed transaction costs. This element has been either misconceptualized or overlooked by both sides in the debate. While proponents of government interventions have underestimated the impact of these policies on economy-wide transaction costs, the proponents of secure property rights have conflated it (property rights) with state imposed transaction costs.

A healthy business environment with low transaction costs is a public good and there are collective action dilemmas blocking its provision. These dilemmas derive from strategic interactions between subsets of political agents and businesses. They do not have enough incentives to change their behavior towards the provision of this public good.

As long as politicians have discretionary power to reduce transaction costs for well-connected businesses and those businesses gain a competitive edge from this, both actors have no reason to deviate from this symbiotic relationship. The whole economic system becomes stranded in a low-level equilibrium of high transaction costs that harm long-term prosperity.

There is a fundamental gap in the NIE [new institutional economics] synthesis. For these [current], transaction costs, property rights and economic growth are connected through the uncertainty about losing one’s investment due to high costs of enforcing property rights or contracts. I contend, alternatively, that the transmission channel through which high transaction costs harm prosperity is a different, simpler and yet more pervasive one. Rather than the uncertainty of property rights and the risk of expropriation, high transaction costs imply a sheer waste of entrepreneurial time and capital. These costs dissuade investments not because there is a perceived risk of expropriation of the fruits of this investment, but rather because they divert the allocation of physical and human capital away from productive activities because most of the output will be wasted on non-productive activities. The consequence of waste in non-productive activities is two-fold: first, the ratio of capital invested over output is decreased because a good part of capital ‘leaks out’; i.e., it is wasted on activities that have little or no value (rubberstamping, dealing with senseless procedures, negotiating with government officials and other activities that will become clear in the empirical investigation). Second, only the few who can bear the high transaction costs, or who have the right means to decrease them through privileged connections, will be able to invest time and capital in entrepreneurial activities. This reduces the pool of talent and capital that can actually be translated into productive investment and create growth and prosperity.

(…) a combination of pervasive state penetration in the economic realm, high transaction costs and discretionary power over these costs reinforces cronyism. The costly business environment becomes a power resource for political agents and well-connected businesses.

(…) the Weberian bureaucratic (…) actors [in Brazil] operate under an incentive structure that prompts them to maintain control over opportunities for profit, to focus on processes rather than economic efficiency and to be risk averse instead of result-oriented. The outcome is a state apparatus that is slow and unresponsive to stakeholders’ needs, driving up transaction costs.

Taxation rules evolve much more as a response to the material interest of groups pulling them in different directions, lacking minimal commitment to long-term functionality. The high complexity is path-dependent because different tax regimes create their own constituents and grant politicians and bureaucrats discretionary power which they then cling to. In sum, the short-term pursuit of self-interest by a fragmented business community and politicians created a byzantine tax system.

Concluindo, não posso deixar de comentar a preocupação do autor, no final da introdução, de se dissociar, de modo apressado, do que chama de “direita”, enquanto apela, mais demoradamente, ao que chama de “esquerda” para que esta inclua a temática “melhoria no ambiente de negócios” no seu programa. Ele chega a endossar, sem maior reflexão, os prognósticos do economista Thomas Piketty sobre a questão da desigualdade. Vejo nisso uma típica defesa preventiva da própria reputação. Bem, cada um sabe onde lhe aperta o calo. Questiono, contudo, a eficácia dessa estratégia. No final, arrisco, será no complexo FGV-RJ, Insper e PUC-RJ, entre outros, que seu livro será devorado, enquanto que o complexo UFRJ, UFU e Unicamp, entre outros, irá ignorá-lo solenemente.

About Alexandre Rocha

I am a professional committed to applying economic and statistical techniques to the evaluation of public policies.
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