“I have only eight seconds left to talk about capital controls. But that’s OK. I don’t need more time than that to tell you: they don’t work, I wouldn’t use them, I wouldn’t recommend them…”
Agustin Carstens, Governador do Banco do México.
A citação de Carstens (retirada daqui), é uma boa súmula da visão convencional acerca de controlos de capitais. Ou pelo menos era até 2012, quando o FMI revisitou a questão e veio a público dizer que a gestão de fluxos financeiros devia, em certas circunstâncias, manter-se como uma opção aberta no toolkit dos decisores políticos (vejam a Institutional View on Capital Controls).
Mas por que é que a visão defendida por Carstens se enraizou de forma tão profunda na cabeça dos policymakers? Há razões económicas que justifiquem a desconfiança profunda com que os controlos de capitais são encarados? Ou está-nos a escapar alguma coisa?
Este é o tema de um novo paper do FMI – What’s in a name: That which we call capital controls -, que faz uma incursão histórica no discurso em torno dos controlos de capitais. E não revirem já os olhos: apesar do título, o estudo está cheio de factos interessantes e histórias curiosas. Por exemplo, sabiam que a liberalização da conta de capital nem sequer fazia parte das prescrições originais do Consenso de Washington?
This paper examines why capital controls on inflows have a “bad” name by delving into historical record dating back to the gold standard era. Throughout history, boom-bust cycles in capital flows have been a recurring theme, and thinking with regards to capital controls has tended to be influenced by experience in the previous years. The dangers of unfettered capital mobility were not lost to the advanced countries as they pursued their own domestic and external financial liberalization in the latter half of the last century, and they often resorted to temporary capital controls as preventive measures to restrict speculative inflows.
Our reading of the history yields several conjectures why inflow controls now evoke such visceral opposition. The simplest explanation is that, in the minds of many, inflow and outflow controls have become inextricably linked. Traditionally, the latter were more prevalent, more stringent, and typically associated with autocratic and repressive regimes preventing capital flight; governments trying to prop up failed macroeconomic policies; and financial crisis. The word “controls” thus brings to mind outflow controls, and inflow measures are often damned by this “guilt by association.” This is also obvious from some of the typical criticisms on inflow controls, which are actually much more pertinent to outflow controls (for instance, that they are persistent and pervasive; encourage poor macroeconomic policies; and are ineffective).
Likewise, capital account restrictions are often associated with current account restrictions because, historically, the most common form of capital control were exchange restrictions that impeded the movement of both goods and capital. As countries aspired to achieve greater trade integration, capital controls came to be viewed as incompatible with free trade rather than as aiding free trade (which was Keynes’ and White’s thesis). More generally, capital controls became associated with attempts at fine-tuning the economy (since part of their justification is that they give policy autonomy), which itself became discredited after the stagflationary 1970s—paving the way for the free market ideology that was highly prevalent till the global financial crisis.
Inflow controls thus appear to have an undeservedly bad name. While they are not a flawless instrument to manage the macroeconomic and financial stability risks associated with capital inflows, there is no reason to believe that they are inherently worse or costlier than any other policy measure.