Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Devaluation vs. salary cuts, part 1

In December 2008, Latvia, IMF and EU had the choice between devaluating lat or trying to pursue the "internal devaluation via salary cuts" strategy. The second option was chosen. A half-year has passed from that decision and we now have a substantial amount of evidence (both statistical and anecdotal) about the consequences of that decision. Latvian Statistical Office press release says:

Compared to the first quarter of 2008 growth of wages and salaries in
private sector in first three months of 2009 comprised 5.1% (from LVL 422 to LVL
444), but in public sector wages and salaries reduced by 1.4% (from LVL 520 to
LVL 512).


How is that possible? The private sector is in deep crisis, with GDP declining by 18% and the public sector salary budgets were cut by 15%. How does that all match up?

The explanation comes in the next paragraph:

It should be noted that number of employees for which wages and salaries
were calculated has decreased. Compared to the first quarter of previous
year the number of employees recalculated in full-time units,
which are used for the calculations of average monthly wages and salaries, in
the first quarter of this year reduced by 125.8 thsd or by
13.9%.
Fund of wages and salaries during this period diminished by LVL
134.0 mln or by 10.9%, but compared to the fourth quarter of previous year – by
LVL 227.3 mln or by 17.2%.

We have indeed had massive cuts in both public and private sector but, often, they have been in the form of layoffs, rather than salary cuts. The public sector organizations were free to choose whether to cut salaries or people - and, often, they choose to cut people, rather than salaries. Same in the private sector.

With a 15% devaluation, we would have had everyone losing 15% of the salary. Now, we have 13.9% people losing all of their income. The unemployment rate approaching 20% (17.4%, by the latest Eurostat number, and rising). I now think the devaluation, with losses distributed more evenly across the society, would have been the less destructive option.

The same choice, devaluation vs. salary cuts is coming up again and it looks like the government/Bank of Latvia will make the same choice. Not enough economic destruction?

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