奥巴马太谨小慎微

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奥巴马太谨小慎微 Obama’s mistake was being too cautious in fearful times英国《金融时报》 马丁·沃尔夫  

 

Suppose that the US presidential election of 1932 had, in fact, taken place in 1930, at an early stage in the Great Depression. Suppose, too, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had won then, though not by the landslide of 1932. How different subsequent events might have been. The president might have watched helplessly as output and employment collapsed. The decades of Democratic dominance might not have happened.

假设1932年的美国总统选举发生在1930年,即“大萧条”(Great Depression)初期,假设还是富兰克林•德拉诺•罗斯福(Franklin Delano Roosevelt)获胜——尽管不是1932年的那种压倒性胜利——后来的形势会多么不同啊。面对产出和就业大滑坡,罗斯福也许只能望而兴叹。而民主党独领风骚几十载的局面恐怕也不会出现。

On such chances the wheel of history turns. But this time was different: the crisis brought Barack Obama to power close to the beginning of the economic collapse.

藉着这类机缘,历史的车轮滚滚向前。但这次有所不同:此次危机将巴拉克•奥巴马(Barack Obama)推上台,正是经济接近要崩溃之际。

I (among others) then argued that policy needed to be hugely aggressive. Alas, it was not. I noted on February 4 2009, at the beginning of the new presidency: “Instead of an overwhelming fiscal stimulus, what is emerging is too small, too wasteful and too ill-focused.” A week later, I asked: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed? In normal times, this would be a ludicrous question. But these are not normal times. They are times of great danger. Today, the new US administration can disown responsibility for its inheritance; tomorrow, it will own it. Today, it can offer solutions; tomorrow it will have become the problem. Today, it is in control of events; tomorrow, events will take control of it. Doing too little is now far riskier than doing too much.” This was right.

我(还有许多人)当时指出,必须采取大力度的激进政策。唉,美国政府没有出台这样的政策。我在2009年2月4日(奥巴马上台伊始)指出:“这不是压倒性的财政刺激方案,出台的方案规模太小、过于浪费、重点过于模糊。”一周后,我问道:“巴拉克•奥巴马作为总统是否已经失败?在正常时期,这将是个可笑的问题。但目前是非常时期,是面临巨大危险的时期。现在,美国新政府可以声明对继承的政策“遗产”不负责任;但在不远的将来,它将必须负责。现在,它可以提供解决方案;将来,它自己将变成问题。现在,它掌控着时局;将来,它将被时局掌控。如今,做得太少远比做得太多更危险。”我说得没错。

The direction of policy was not wrong: policymakers – though not all economists – had learnt a great deal from the 1930s. Sensible people knew that aggressive monetary and fiscal expansion was needed, together with reconstruction of the financial sector.

政策方向是正确的:政策制定者(尽管不是所有的经济学家)已经从上世纪30年代汲取了许多教训。有识之士知道,有必要实施激进的货币和财政扩张政策,同时重组金融业。

But, as Larry Summers, Mr Obama’s chief economic adviser, had said: “When markets overshoot, policymakers must overshoot too”. Unfortunately, the administration failed to follow his excellent advice. This has allowed opponents to claim that policy has been ineffective when it has merely been inadequate.

但是,正如奥巴马首席经济顾问拉里•萨默斯(Larry Summers)曾经说过的那样:“当市场过激时,政策制定者也必须采取过激的行动。”遗憾的是,美国政府未能听取他的良策。这让反对派可以宣称,刺激政策是无效的。其实只是力度不够。

In consequence, the administration has lost credibility with the public and the chances of a renewed fiscal expansion have disappeared. With the Federal Reserve cautious, too, the likelihood of a lengthy period of weak growth and heavy joblessness is high. So, too, are the chances of domestic and global political friction.

结果是,美国政府失去了公众的信赖,也丧失了再次实施财政扩张政策的机会。而由于美联储(Fed)也过于谨慎,美国很有可能长期深陷经济增长疲弱和失业率高企的局面。在国内和国际上发生政治摩擦的可能性同样也很高。

True, the idea that the policies adopted in the last few months of the Bush administration and the first months of this one were far better than nothing is weirdly controversial in the US. A recent paper by Alan Blinder, former vice-chairman of the Fed, and Mark Zandi of Moody’s argues that such critics are wrong. They use a standard macro-economic model to assess what would have happened without any intervention, without the financial interventions (including monetary policy) and without the fiscal action. They conclude that the peak to trough decline in gross domestic product would have been close to 12 per cent with no policy response, compared to an actual decline of just 4 per cent (see chart). Similarly, the unemployment rate would have peaked at 16.5 per cent, instead of the actual 10 per cent. The bigger collapse would also have meant a fiscal deficit of $2,600bn in fiscal year 2011. The outcome is also disastrous with the modest fiscal response but no financial policy response. It is a little better the other way round.

的确,有关布什政府最后几个月和本届政府头几个月出台的各项政策都聊胜于无的观点,在美国国内引起了奇怪的争议。美联储前副主席艾伦•布林德(Alan Blinder)和穆迪(Moody's)的马克•赞迪(Mark Zandi)最近发表的一篇文章辩称,这种批评是错误的。他们采用一个标准的宏观经济模型,评估在不实施任何干预,即没有金融干预(包括货币政策)以及财政举措的情况下,结果会怎样。他们得出结论称,如果没有采取任何政策举措,国内生产总值(GDP)从波峰到谷底的下跌幅度会接近12%,而实际情况仅下降了4%(见图表)。同样,失业率本应达到16.5%的峰值,而实际水平是10%。在产出更大幅下跌的那种情况下,2011财年的财政赤字会高达2.6万美元。如果不出台任何金融政策,而只采取温和的财政应对措施,后果也会是灾难性的。反过来效果会好一点。

The implication that the modest stimulus package of February 2009 – a mere 5.7 per cent of 2009 GDP, spread over several years – made a positive contribution is supported by the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office: it argues that in 2010, US GDP will be between 1.5 per cent and 4.1 per cent higher and the unemployment rate between 0.7 and 1.8 percentage points lower, as a result of the package.

他们的意思是,2009年2月推出的温和刺激方案(规模仅为当年GDP的5.7%,并分摊到好几年实施)对经济做出了积极贡献。这受到了国会预算办公室(Congressional Budget Office)分析结果的支持:2010年美国GDP将在刺激下增长1.5%至4.1%,失业率将下降0.7至1.8个百分点。

Panglossians who believe the private economy is always in equilibrium, unless governments intervene, disagree. I wish there were some way to run this experiment without hurting hundreds of millions of people. But I find the idea that allowing the collapse of much of the financial system, avoiding unconventional monetary policy and struggling to close the fiscal deficit would have been consistent with a more rapid and sustained recovery quite bizarre.

有些人相信,如果没有政府干预,私人经济部门总是处于均衡状态——这些盲目乐观的人当然不赞同上述观点。我希望,在不伤害数亿人的情况下,能以某种方式进行这个实验。但我觉得以下观点相当荒谬:任由金融体系大片崩溃,避而不采取非常货币政策,竭力消除财政赤字,会有利于经济迅速而持续的复苏。

A fascinating perspective does come, however, from comparisons with what happened in other advanced countries. The recession in US output (and so demand) has been relatively small, but the decline in employment has been exceptionally large, as a result of an extraordinary surge in US productivity (see charts). This contrast between what would happen to output and what would happen to employment was missed in the initial Congressional Budget Office analysis of the stimulus.

然而,与其它发达国家的形势相比,的确可以得出一个吸引人的观点。美国的产出衰退(需求也是如此)相对较轻,但因为美国生产力飙升,就业的下降规模就异常庞大(见图表)。国会预算办公室对刺激方案的初步分析中,没有谈到产出和就业变化情况的对比。

Since the US was the epicentre of the financial crisis, the relatively small decline in output is remarkable. Moreover, since fiscal and monetary stimuli bear directly on demand and output, not jobs, this is a policy success. At the same time, the enthusiasm with which US managers laid off workers is also extraordinary. No doubt, some of this is due to the collapse in construction. But some of it must be due to the ease with which US companies can lay off workers and the incentives for managers to maintain profits in a downturn at the expense of jobs.

由于美国是本轮金融危机的“震源地”,产出下降较小规模,都会显得非同小可。此外,既然财政和货币刺激直接针对的是需求和产出,而不是就业,所以这已经算是一种政策上的成功。另一方面,美国的管理人员在这个时候也动辄就爱解聘员工。无疑,这一定程度上源自建筑业的萎缩,但一部分也肯定源自美国企业可以轻易解雇员工,以及经济低迷时期经理人希望通过裁员来维持利润。

Debate is emerging on how much of the surge in unemployment is structural. My answer, from European experience, is that one way to ensure it becomes structural is to let it linger. In the short run, the simplest way to prevent that from happening is to expand demand and so output. Since there is huge slack in the labour market, not the slightest threat of inflation – far more a risk of deflation – and no constraint from bond or foreign exchange markets on further monetary and fiscal stimulus, these are the policies that have to be pursued. Yet, alas, the Fed seems to have decided to fall asleep and the administration has lost the initiative.

关于失业大幅增加,人们开始辩论,当中有多少是属于结构性失业。从欧洲经验来看,我认为,任这种情况发展下去,结果肯定会演变为结构性失业。短期而言,要防止这种情形,最简便的方法是扩大需求,从而扩大产出。由于劳动力市场明显供过于求,通胀威胁微乎其微——更多的是通缩风险——而债券和外汇市场的形势对进一步实施货币和财政刺激也没有任何约束,因此这些都是必须实施的政策。然而,美联储似乎决定埋头大睡,而政府已经丧失了主动权。

So what is going to happen? I assume that, after the midterm elections, resurgent Republicans will offer new tax cuts and ignore the fiscal deficits. They will pretend that this has nothing to do with any reviled stimulus, though it is much the same thing – increasing fiscal deficits, thereby offsetting private frugality. That would put the administration on the spot. It would have to choose between vetoing the tax cuts and accepting them, so allowing the Republicans to get the credit for their “yacht and mansion-led” recovery. Any recovery is better than none. But it could have been much better than this. Those who were cautious when they should have been bold will pay a big price.

今后会发生什么情况?我猜想,在中期选举之后,东山再起的共和党将提出新的减税措施,而无视财政赤字。他们将佯称这与任何遭受非议的刺激措施无关,尽管它与增加财政赤字、从而抵消私人部门节省开支之举大体上是一回事。这将让政府陷入困境。政府将须在否决和接受减税措施之间做出选择,而共和党将因提出“游艇豪宅引导”的复苏策略而受到称许。有复苏总比没有好。但结果本应比现在好得多。本该大胆出手却谨小慎微的人将会付出沉重代价。

 

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