Following the headlines of the international media, Slovenia is a fine land consisting of happy people, whose country's nobility is enriched by the fact that Slovenia is the wealthiest post-communist economy which recently entered the European Monetary Union, and a country enjoying the highest GDP per capita and standard of living in the Eastern Europe.
However, the reality is something completely different as I try to demonstrate in the words below.
Being a student is a nice slice of lifetime. I do not pay attention to attending student parties and thus, I rather wisely invest my time into sitting at the library and studying the economic theory, policy and philosophy besides regular study courses. The fact is that the opportunity cost of attending parties is huge and it'd be completely irrational to neglect it or ignore it respectively. For example, Kobe Bryant understands his opportunity cost very well. He can, for instance, spent 2 hours mowing his lawn, having low overall return.
Contrary, he can record a TV commercial, earning $10,000 USD in two hours. His neighbor, Sally, might spent 2 hours working in McDonald's, earning $8 USD. Despite the fact that Kobe might mow the lawn faster than Sally, it'd be rational for Kobe to record a TV commercial while it'd be equally rational for Sally to mow the lawn, because of the opportunity cost.
Economically, my interest as a student is to finish the undergraduate study as soon as possible and get an overall return from the education. The opportunity cost of the education is, of course, my time. But in a broader perspective, higher earnings and human capital value is what shall count as a compensation for investing my time into the education, getting both: better education and better job opportunities.
As an economist, I strongly favor free choice; an ability to choose among the greatest possible set of alternatives in the course of human life. In fact, individual, economic and political liberty and individual responsibility to the fullest possible extent, is what has unlocked creative and talented entrepreneurial and intellectual minds to pursue intuitive and powerful ideas that shaped the economic future.
But I don't understand, why on earth, should the students jump on the streets, wear red suits, head old Soviet flags and shout in favor of the welfare state extensively. Slovenia's student organization, pensioners, public sector employees and trade unions claim that wage increases should be more robust subject to Slovenia's sound current economic shape and, on Saturday morning, they will march on the streets of Ljubljana and promote the spellings of socialism, social security and generous welfare services respectively. Slovenia's student organization says the following:
"An accessible education without scholarships for all, higher pensions and greater social justice. These are the ideas that will make everyone better off."
Over at the faculty field, I noticed a socialistic parole, saying: "Factories in the hands of workers, universities in the hands of the students!" added with Soviet-styled propaganda and typical communist star. This situation rather reminds on a retarded Soviet satelite grunged by Leninism and Marx's diallectical materialism. The origins of socialistic mentality in Slovenia are strong roots of collectivism. In this post, I explain why student protests against pro-growth tax and economic policy, school choice and competition in higher education, reform of the budget-funded health care system and social security reform are based on the false assumptions, myths and hostility against individual, economic and political liberty.
1. Population crisis in Slovenia is estimated to hit negative numbers. Aggregate labor supply is falling respectively and the number of retired persons is growing significantly. In Slovenia, when a person retired, the main slice his pension in financed through 1st pillar of pension fund which is funded directly through taxes on labor supply. The impact is clear: tax burden on labor supply is rising, public debt is growing respectively and fiscal outlays are expanded every year.
Consider the gross cost of an educated and intelligent worker in Slovenia, which an employer has to bear. Assume that monthly salary of the worker equals $3500 EUR in gross terms. The contribution rate to the retirement fund is 15,5 percent. Basic health care insurance deducts additional 6,36 percent. Personal income tax rates are composed into three brackets; 16 percent for the lowest quantile, 33 percent for the middle-income earners and 41 percent for the workers in high-income groups.
Obligated voluntary health insurance contribution rate is small compared to basic coverage rate of contribution, but it deducts the disposable income respectively. Additionally, employers have to pay the payroll tax and enhance the worker's income by compensating the costs of food and transport. In addition, an employer in Slovenia has to slice a contribution share to health care, social security and pension fund, at the expense of worker's productivity. Now, calculate the disposable income of the employee and see the tax wedge, squeezing his productivity after the hours he spends on the market.
2. Moderate tax cuts by the center-right government stimulated the growth of incomes by a narrow rate. Modest cuts in the labor taxation showed that tax cuts are self-financing, the unmistakeable notion of the Laffer Curve. Recently, the growth of economic activity in Slovenia reached historic highs. In 2007, the growth is estimated to reach 5,6 percent, which is quite uncompetitive compared to Eastern European economies. In 2006, Estonian economy grew by 7,9 percent, Latvia accounted 10 percent rate of output growth, Slovakia recently announced the data, revealing 9 percent annual growth rate.
By 2012, Slovenia's economic growth is estimated to diminish straight-forward to 3,6 percent respectively, reflecting weak structural advancement, age-dependency pressures and rapid increase in retirement activity. In 2006, the rate of inflation sparked up primarily due to higher food prices and intensive demand for food in Asian high-growing economies. Economically, inflation is a monetary phenomena arising from too much money, chasing too few goods. In a simple equilibrium, the result is the increase in overall price level. By January 2007, Slovenia entered the European Monetary Union, and after fixing the monetary emissions, the growth of money supply calmed down which normalized the inflation rate.
Subject to deteriorating exchange rate regime and periodically stimulated high inflation in the past, it will take time for Slovenian economy to adjust to new stream of monetary policy whereby the money supply is determined through interest rate setup by the ECB.
3. There is no such thing as free education. In fact, somebody has to pay the equipment, rent and maintain the facilities, lecture rooms, provide the electricity and heating. In addition, somebody has to hire and pay the academic services. Somebody has to pay and provide computers, internet access and modern means of study. Saying that education is free is like claiming that you can go into the mall and take away some furniture without payment. There is a dozen of proofs that private sector education is competitive in terms of quality of the future graduates.
The best and most respected universities in the world are private ones. Eight Nobel-winning economists have come from Chicago University which is funded by private means as well as Stanford University. Investment in education provides the best interest in the future. The time you give up to consume, is the cost you have to bear to have greater returns and personal welfare in the future.
There is no such thing as free lunch, and the education has never been a free lunch. Scholarships, by empirical proof, improve the standards of education and provide opportunities for thousands of individuals to unlock knowledge potentials and empower the intuitive mind whether it be in entrepreneurship, design, economics, medicine, mathematics and everywhere else.
4. The essential to understanding complex phenomena in society is the economic literacy and education. Thus, Slovenes should know that despite the same length of working time as Austrian or German workers, the latter earn more because of higher productivity and technological progress which stimulates the productivity through effective individual management of creativity and knowledge. In addition, Slovenia is, as shown above, one of the most taxed countries in the world (link), thus giving investors a sign of avoidance as an investment location. Empirically and practically, labor supply is highly sensitive to tax rates, meaning that the labor supply is elastic, ceteris paribus.
It means, that the labor supply strongly responds to the marginal changes in taxation of income. As a result of higher taxes, gross labor cost in Slovenia is huge, discouraging job formation and denying the opportunities to thousands of intellectual and entrepreneurial minds to show their skills and talent. I wonder whether trade unions and its anti-growth intellectual leaders will bear full responsibility for the actions they presume as socially just. To say it again, social justice is a mirage and a trojan horse riddled by the totalitarian governments and supported by the individuals who deny economic and personal liberty to others. Those who deny the enforcement of economic and personal liberty as a property right to others, neither deserve it for themselves.
The demands of trade union such as full employment, high taxes on productive behavior, high wages, expanded income and profit redistribution, extensive welfare and social security services, would propel the stagnation of growth as well as the productivity potentials which is the main engine of growth in standard of living. Claims of egalitarian pursuit of redistribution, material and income equality, under which trade unions in Slovenia delegate the course of living order, can only be met under governments with totalitarian powers. Extensive unionism and its influence on structural and economic policy is perhaps the most powerful evidence that Slovenia is de facto the most socialist country in Europe.
5. At last, Slovenia's economic policy in the past 15 years is the most notable proof about the negative impacts of gradualism entailed into the course of public policy. Slovenia kept persistently the highest inflation among advanced countries in Eastern Europe. When the left-wing government took over the chairmanship in government, wages in public sector trimmed up enormously by 40 percent, creating an additional source of inflation pressures. The deadweight loss from economic depression was vast. Meanwhile, Slovenia's international competitors grew rapidly and thus a development was geared-up. In addition, the policy of early retirement enabled the formal retirement before the age of 50. In just one year, between 1992 and 1993, the number of retirees rolled-up by more than 100 percent.
Over the years, Slovenia's pension system, in terms of outlays, has been financed through budget and the first pillar of retirement insurance is estimated to be depleted in the medium run consequently because of the abovementioned reasons including early and beneficial retirement, high pensions and sky-rocketing continual spirals of wage increases in the public sector, adding a burden to high government spending.
6. In 1950, in terms of current prices, Slovenia's real GDP per capita was higher than Austria's which suffered war losses. From 1960 onwards, Austria's prosperity increased tremendously after Austrian early reformist government and its minister of finance Reinhard Kamitz adopted low taxes, imposed deregulation and liberalized trade and prices, while Slovenia's GDP growth started to trick towards relative stagnation. When Austria's technological development accelerated productivity growth, its standard of living grew tremendously, at the fastest pace in Western Europe.
When Austria enjoyed the fruits of market economy and remarkable output growth rate, Slovenian economy was mischiefed by socialist self-management which demolished the efficiency of entrepreneurial investment by wrongful decisions embraced by politicians, political entrepreneurs, workers and union leaders, who knew neither risk nor ambitious agenda, as there was no private means of production under socialism.
Finally, when Slovenia gained independence from communism, Austria's economy advanced the output growth while "the wealthiest ex-communist country" slid into depression while its central bank tacitly led the policy of high inflation through deteriorating exchange rate. Thus, the hourly output per average Austrian worker is higher relative to the output of Slovenia's worker per hour, because of higher productivity, greater innovative and entrepreurial capacity, and succinctly utilized gains from hours spent in the market.
7. Tomorrow, the streets in Ljubljana will shout and scream again, reflecting the misery of sub-Alpine socialism, which has always known nothing else but envy, misery, lies and deception. I will rather spend my time studying and reading Friedrich August von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty, Greg Mankiw's Principles of Economics, Imre Lakatos's Proofs and Refutations, Karl Popper's Logic of the Scientific Discovery, James Buchanan's Demand and Supply for Public Goods, Kenneth J. Arrow's Social Choice and Individual Values and Wilhelm Roepke's Economics of Free Society.
Rok SPRUK is an economist
Copyright 2007 by Rok SPRUK