Saturday, September 20, 2014
9

约束重重的美国选择

纽波特海滩—关于11月的美国总统大选,传统智慧只能说是部分正确。是的,经济问题将在结果决定中起到很大作用。但下一个阶段——在日趋丑陋的竞赛中获胜的那一方是否拥有采取与其对手截然不同的政策的奢侈——的不确定性要大得多。

新总统的任期将从2013年1月开始,与目前奥巴马和罗姆尼竞争口号中所描述的情形相反,上台者将会发现没有多少空间可以用于调整经济政策。事实上,美国的潜在分歧随处可见,选民们对此并没有充分的认识。他们将注意力集中在伴随着范围甚广的类似经济政策的社会政策上;而在这方面,候选人之间的分歧将产生重大后果。

不管谁当选,都将在明年面临经济增长只有2%的局面,并伴随着完全停滞的风险。失业率仍处于过高的水平,大约有一半的失业者是难以找到工作的长期失业者——要是我们把退出劳动力市场的美国人也算上的话(理应如此)这个比例还会更高。

经济的财政面也值得担忧。财政赤字将继续在10%GDP的水平上徘徊,令人对美国中期债务动态愈加担心了。银行部门仍在“去风险”,因此限制了流向中小企业、提振招聘和产房设备投资所必须的信贷流。而家庭部门痛苦的去杠杆化阶段也只进行了一半。

政策面也同样令人不安。在犹豫和扯皮了太久之后,美国国会将发现,不能在拖延应对这些挑战的措施了。与此同时,美联储翻唱的激进主义——包括不断延长的“摸石头过河”措施清单——收效将越来越少,而成本与风险将越来越大。

美国经济运行的全球环境也越来越困难。在未来几个月中,欧洲债务危机极有可能会继续恶化。由于新兴市场(包括中国)的减速,同时有意义的多边政策协调始终不够充分,主要贸易大国将竞争一块不再变大的饼,因此保护主义压力将会大增。

因此,不管现任总统奥巴马还是罗姆尼在11月胜出,新总统都将受到双重压力的约束——一边是急需稳定经济,一边是长期改革。而在欧洲危机和世界各国同时放缓的压力下,两位候选人别无选择,只能采取相似的经济政策重建就业创造活力和金融稳定,至少在任期开始时是如此。

在寻求短期经济刺激和中期财政可持续性之间的平衡的过程中,最要紧的步骤是合理处置因暂时性减税政策到期结束以及深度跨部门削减支出自动开始所导致的财政悬崖。在这方面失败将大大增加美国陷入全面衰退的风险。

深度中期预算改革是应对国会一再不作为所造成的问题之所必须。此外,如能了解到真实的数字,下任总统很快就会认识到,正确的税收和支出改革之路已经非常狭窄,远非今天竞争性政治口号所描绘得那样宽阔。这绝对不是一个要么/要么命题。

财政改革在充满活力的经济中才能取得最佳效果。在这方面,奥巴马和罗姆尼必须排除万难,实现增长和就业创造。与房地产、劳动力市场、信用中介和基础设施等领域一样,在这一领域,办法并不像政客们希望我们所认为的那样多。

但这并不意味着一点改变都无法做出。改变的空间是有的,这反映出一个事实:总体经济趋势将伴随多重水平不同速度的动态。根据技能和教育程度的不同,失业率存在持久差异;收入和财富不平等性正在创出历史记录——从分配效应看,任何经济决策都将伴随着社会调整的需要,这种需要可能是直接的,但更多情况下将是隐含的。

在经历了过度杠杆化、债务创造和信贷泛滥、并在2008年全球金融危机爆发前达到顶峰的“时代”后,美国仍然面临着一项艰巨的挑战——如何分配持久抑制投资、就业和竞争力的累积损失。到目前为止,国会的过度政治极端化已经产生了让承受能力较弱者经受更多调整负担的效果。

在理想世界中,美国新总统应快速实施两步走计划以重塑就业活力、重振金融稳定性。首先,他应该设计可行而令人满意的全面经济政策计划组合——在这方面,做出重大不同的空间是有限的。其次,对于这些经济政策,应辅之以明确的社会政策组合——在这方面,潜在改变空间极大——以满足公平负担共担的需要。

其实,此次选举绝非选择外包和增税还是福利改革;选择政府控制生产还是自由放任私人部门活动;选择就业创造还是免费搭车等热门话题。此次选举中兹事体大者在于它所伴随的社会公平、福利、平等呢个性以及富庶文明社会行为准则等概念。

这是一场事关社会责任的选举。所谓社会责任,即社会支持因并非由其自身造成的错误而承受寻找工作、实现收支平衡压力的群体的义务。这场选举事关通过让他们获得健康保险保护社会最脆弱群体。这场选举事关改革让美国年轻人落于人后的教育制度(以及向需要者提供合适的再培训)。在诸多公平和公正问题中,让富人回馈给他们带来不可想象的财富的制度才是此次选举的重点。

奥巴马和罗姆尼的分歧之所以重要,原因就在这里。竞选活动越早以此为重心,美国人民就越有可能做出信息更充分的选择,从而采取必须的集体行动让美国免蹈倾覆之辙。

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  1. CommentedAlexander Antonov

    Reality of crisis-proof economy
    Alexander A. Antonov
    telan@bk.ru

    Economics as an exact science has not yet been developed. This is confirmed by the fact that the major economic phenomenon – economic crises – has no comprehensive explanation. This is accounted for by the lack of an appropriate mathematical description of economics, which is natural, because none of the mathematical tools used in economics allow giving such a mathematical description.
    Firstly, all of them are aimed at the investigation of mass phenomena, because the economic behavior of an individual is unpredictable. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton wrote on the issue that simulating human behavior is a more complicated task than predicting planetary motion. However, try to imagine the development of radio-electronics, if it refused to study the processes in radio-electronic components comprising all complicated radio-electronic systems due to the unpredictable behavior of single electrons.
    Secondly, the methods for analysis of economic situations widely used at present – graphical, statistical, econophysical – allow defining only states, and not processes.
    Processes are defined by differential equations, which have found quite restricted application in economics.
    This is why, using the term introduced by William Ross Ashby, economics can be referred to as ‘the black box’ and studied using the methods borrowed from the exact sciences. In particular, the term ‘the white box’ introduced by Norbert Wiener can be used; it corresponds to the object under investigation where processes identical in terms of their mathematical description to those in ‘the black box’ are observed. Moreover, mathematical description of the processes in ‘the white box’ is available. That is, basically, the analogy approach is used.
    Unfortunately, ‘the white box’ in the exact sciences has not yet been found for the current market economy. This is how complicated and unique economic phenomena are. Nevertheless, ‘the white box’ does exist for the economy reformed as suggested below.
    However, to begin with, let us find ‘the white box’ not for economics in general, but for the basic process, which is the ‘goods-money-goods’ process. The author demonstrates that this process is potentially oscillating and can be described with a second-degree differential equation with constant coefficients, similar to the mathematical description of the process in a radio-electronic oscillation circuit. That is, an electric oscillation circuit can be used as ‘the white box’ with regard to the ‘goods-money-goods’ process.
    However, such an oscillation process is unknown in the economy and has never before been implemented. The matter is that its implementation requires special conditions which cannot be created in a random way. Similarly, for instance, TVs and cars are not assembled at random, houses and bridges are not built in a random fashion, and food cannot get into a supermarket randomly, and so on. Any constructive activities always require certain knowledge, and economics is not an exception.
    In this respect, it is quite natural to ask whether economics needs these oscillation processes and the respective knowledge about them. Actually, it does, because only in this case money works all the time and most efficiently. Otherwise, there is always either shortage or surplus of money. As for oscillation processes, they are preferred and widely used not only in economics, but in nature and the exact sciences, as well. Here belong, for example, rotation of electrons around the nucleus and the revolution of planets about the Sun. Nothing can exist without the oscillation processes. Therefore, they should not be ignored in any science.
    However, due to ignorance of these circumstances, the actual economic process ‘goods-money-goods’ is described not with a linear differential equation with constant coefficients, but with a linear differential equation with variable coefficients, which is often referred to as the parametric differential equation. This is accounted for by the aforementioned unpredictability of human behavior, or the human factor, which was referred to as ‘the invisible hand’ by Adam Smith. For this reason, the coefficients of the parametric differential equation describing the real ‘goods-money-goods’ process are not just functions of time, but random functions of time. Therefore, these differential equations have no analytical solution. As for the market economy which is described by systems of these parametric differential equations, it is unpredictable; this is why economic crises in it are inevitable.
    Consequently, in order to be able to prevent economic crises, it is necessary to reform the economy. To this end, it is necessary to create the conditions providing for minimization of the human factor. The author suggests new economic tools enabling to solve the problem. Here belong business-interfaces, which provide for minimization of the internal human factor, and the new global information network free from the shortcomings of the Internet, which provides for minimization of the external human factor. The latter offers its users numerous business- and intellectually-oriented services.
    Socialist economy also provided for the successful suppression of the human factor (at that, contrary to business-interfaces, human rights and freedoms were suppressed, as well). Nevertheless, it was a prosperous economy. Therefore, business-interfaces must provide for linearization of the actual ‘goods-money-goods’ processes, i.e., for minimization of non-linear factors.
    The economy reformed as suggested above will become crisis-proof, and economics will become an exact science similar to the theory of electric circuits and systems, which is ‘the white box’ with regard to ‘the black box’ of economics.

  2. CommentedThomas Haynie

    This is all well and good but to get ANYTHING done we need a Congress that is willing to play ball in ANY form if Obama gets it. The blatant obstruction to anything possibly beneficial is flat out shameful. Of course if Mitt’s policies turn out to be quite similar it will be all rainbows and sunshine.

  3. CommentedMark Pitts

    Sorry for the typo. That should have read "1/4 to 1/2 of 1% of annual GDP." The point is that any net benefit to the average citizen is de minimus.

  4. CommentedMark Pitts

    Mr. El-Erian misrepresents the nature of the competing tax proposals. A few facts to consider:

    Higher taxes for the truly wealthy may have sentimental and political appeal, but they have few practical effects. For example, the CBO estimated the annual taxes to be gained from the Buffet Rule. The resulting number was between ¼ and ½ of 1% of the annual deficit - hardly enough to matter.

    Increased tax revenue from Obama’s proposals will come primarily from those making less than $1million, most of whom live in high cost urban areas. This then is hardly a question of “the rich giving back to a system that has brought them unimaginable wealth.”

    The problem is one of growth, or more precisely, lack of growth. Economic problems will be solved by growth oriented economic policies, not by symbolic changes in social policies that lack a firm economic foundation to support them

      CommentedMark Pitts

      The amount to gained from the Buffet rule is about 4% of the deficit, but only about 0.4% of the debt or of GDP (please excuse my typo in the original post). This is hardly going to change anything for the middle class. It may get votes, but it changes nothing. Only resumed economic growth will change the trajectory of the middle class.

      CommentedMichael Nikolaou

      I am questioning your assertion that "increased tax revenue will have few practical effects".

      The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center
      (http://www.npr.org/2012/04/11/150406660/what-would-the-buffett-rule-mean-for-the-u-s-economy)
      estimates that "217,000 households would be subject to the Buffett rule. While the actual amount would vary enormously from person to person, those households would pay an additional $190,000 in taxes, on average".

      This is a total of about $42 billion. While this amount is unquestionably small - compared to a $1000 billion deficit - and will not wipe out the entire deficit in a single stroke,
      it will have a discernible effect on the deficit, which is an order of magnitude higher than your 0.25-0.5% estimate.

  5. CommentedTim Chambers

    I read Schumpeter's book thirty some odd years ago, and as I remember it, he defined creative destruction as the sloughing off, onto other countries, of production that can no longer be done at favorable ROI, as happened with consumer electronics in the 1960s, and garment work in the 1980s. It had nothing to do with the present day problem of companies seeking absolute advantage in labor costs through off-shoring.

    New investment would, in theory, take the place of moribund industries and labor would, supposedly, be retrained for better jobs. Schumpeter's theory may have been true at the time he wrote his book, but it hasn't been operable for the past several years, since massive amounts of work was needlessly outsourced overseas in pursuit of ever increasing profits, and production workers replaced by robots on the factory floor.

    One of the reasons for lack of demand is that robots don't make good consumers of anything but lubricant. Just try to build a consumer economy of that! I dare you!

    http://bonalibro.us

  6. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

    The choice is designed to be narrow. The American problem is of inequality. The evidence is clear: great inequality is inefficient. America has redistributed wealth in the wrong direction.

  7. CommentedJohn A Werneken

    Suppose we stand this on its head and continue the Bush tax rates, or better, limit all deductions on a progressive basis beginning at the AVERAGE income and reaching ZERO at $250,000.00, with a flat rate income tax; repeal the non-entitlement spending cuts but go take the entitlement cuts, and take them much farther: FUND retirement by a combination of "Retirement Savings Accounts" with tax privileges, increasing the retirement age gradually but over no more than 10 years to 70, fixing the COLA adjustments; limit Medicare and Medicaid to current levels plus a COLA no larger than the rate of inflation; require all additional entitlement spending to either cease or be VAT funded.

    SURE we get a recession. We might also get a stable currency, liquidation of debt overhang, and a restoration of growth.

    My own income is closer to a full time minimum wage than any other broadly grasped number, but those are the policies I favor. To hell with equity, lets have progress and opportunity.

  8. CommentedRobert Winter

    It is always interesting to read a carefully balanced and thoughtful analysis of the constraints upon the candidates and the issues they should be confronting. The author states "This is not really an election about such hotly-debated issues as outsourcing, tax increases versus entitlement reforms, government control of production versus unfettered private sector activity, or job creators versus free riders. It is much more about the accompanying concepts of social fairness, entitlement, equality and, yes, standards of behavior for a rich and civilized society.

    CommentsThis is an election about social responsibility – a society’s obligation to support those who are struggling, through no fault of their own, to find jobs and make ends meet."

    The author presumably having had months to consider the views of the candidates, it would have been of interest to get his perspective upon how the candidates are approaching the issues he sees as central. And, whether he sees any differences in their approach worth commenting upon.

      CommentedSid Knight

      Hey, c'mon. Take what you can get. This is pretty good coming from Wall Street.

  9. CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

    Unfortunately, without being aware of it, we have developed numerous “job-killing machines” in the real market (or supply chain process) through the use of IT and networking technology over the last 20 to 30 years of the Modern Information Age. In this situation, structurally, the market as a whole cannot self-generate enough businesses and jobs to keep consumer spending at the desired level, no matter how powerful expansionary or stimulus economic policies are adopted.

    Please see: “Job-Killing Machines in the Modern Information Age” http://savingtheworldeconomy.blogspot.com/2012/07/job-killing-machines-in-modern.html

    I believe our leaders and economic experts should consider this very seriously in their ruminations about the economy.

      CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

      The ability of markets to self-generate enough employment opportunities that can take care of the destruction of jobs that stem from innovation in the IT and networking technology gets tested through one single metric, which is GDP growth; an overall growth that is indifferent to the current spate of activities in the IT sector plays truant to the theory of creative destruction, in which case destruction must balance out. Unfortunately this is never a measured and controlled activity and we have a phase lag and the extent of the time gap cannot be estimated in advance as innovation and its disruptive habits are never predicated by firm evidence. It is therefore important to supplement through the machinery of government spending, a job creation process that acts as a catalyst or a complementary function; the reluctance of the polity to accept this as an efficient denouement is another question.

      Procyon Mukherjee

      Portrait of Ryan Shyu

      CommentedRyan Shyu

      There is an important distinction between unemployment as a result of inadequate economic stimulus, and the so-called "job-killing machines" you mention.

      Economic growth has always been predicated on technological advances, and technological advances inevitably render sectors of the economy outdated. This process does imply a temporary loss of jobs, but in the long run consumers benefit from lower prices and the labor force can flow into more productive fields. This is the "creative destruction" championed by Schumpeter as a defining characteristic of capitalism.

      On the other hand, inadequate economic stimulus is a pure loss in the sense that our economy is currently exhibiting a shortfall of demand--the ongoing banking-sector and household deleveraging mentioned by El-Erian are two causes of this. In this situation expansionary policies can provide an unambiguous boost to the economy--there is no broader purpose to the jobs lost from a too-weak stimulus.

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