Friday, August 1, 2014
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资本耸耸肩

洛杉矶—资本主义最大的优势在于其韧劲,即其在危机和商业周期的阵痛和挑战中生存下来、刺激创新和经济增长的能力。然而,如今,资本主义进入债务危机已逾四年,却仍然不知所向,这不仅让人们开始质疑这一优势。

尽管美国经济最近颇有些复苏的希望(比如2011年第四季度的存货补充),但其真实GDP增长仍然持久地低于趋势增长率。此外,尽管经季节调整的1月就业数据显示失业率下降到了8.3%(但实际上1月份的实际就业数量仍在减少),但更现实的“失业率”仍高达15%以上,劳动力市场参与率更是处于30年来的最低值。美国显然不是唯一一个步履维艰的国家,欧元区就面临着远比美国紧迫的主权债务危机。

那么,这一次为什么会不一样呢?安·兰德(Ayn Rand)用其1957年的名著《阿特拉斯耸耸肩》(Atlas Shrugged)中的绝望诅咒给出了答案:“谁是约翰·高特(John Galt)?”简言之,当国家夺走了资本投资的激励和领导权的时候,资本所有者就会罢工。

兰德描绘了一批类似希腊神话中的阿特拉斯的创新性实业家,在他们背上背负着一个不断膨胀的傲慢的集体主义政府的反乌托邦世界。英雄约翰·高特呼吁实业家耸耸肩,收回他们的生产性活动,让“世界的马达停下”,不要让这个世界在平均主义的伪装下产生保护政治关系集团经济利益的激励。

如今,兰德的虚构世界似乎变成了现实——以削弱生产率最高部门为代价给予生产率低下部门没完没了的救援和经济刺激、除此之外,还出现了向资本投资增税的呼声。当今世界充斥着错综复杂、相互关联的公司和政府资产负债表,需要兰德笔下的英雄创业家们的耸耸肩。

自2008年以来,美联储已经增加了超过2万亿美元的基础货币供应,这是前所未有的不可思议的巨额数字,实际上无异于给银行的大礼包,让它们覆盖巨额亏损、刺激借贷和投资。然而,由于银行仍处于去杠杆化阶段,这些新增货币几乎全部被用作超额储备存在美联储那里。

此外,公司也握有大量现金,如果用相对于资产和净值的标准衡量,公司现金持有量处于历史最高点。然而,尽管权威人士大谈资产负债表如何如何健康,但企业债务水平(相对应于资产和净值来说)也处于历史最高点附近。

现金就是王道。货币流动速度(即货币支出的频率,以GDP与基础货币的比值衡量)仍然徘徊在历史最低水平。因此,货币政策收效甚微一点都没有什么好奇怪的。作为经济增长引擎的资本被空置着——所有人都在耸肩。

或许兰德比所有经济观察家都更好地指出了激励在激发企业家创新行为和风险承担行为中的核心作用。激励的减少——以及市场通过价格信号传递激励信息的能力的下降——无异于收走增长引擎中的燃料。可是,很显然,采取利率控制和量化宽松的央行忽视了这一事实。

利率并不只是决定储蓄和投资水平的经济输入变量。正如奥地利经济学家米赛斯所强调的,利率是人们总时间偏好(即牺牲现在满足将来的渴望)的反映,而不是它的决定因素。

于是,利率激励并指导企业家如何在不同的时间间配置资本。比如,低利率和资本成本增加了未来现金流的相对吸引力,从而增加了资本投资,这便是系统对高储蓄、低消费的自动平衡机制。

然而,国家对利率的操控并不影响时间偏好,尽管它显示了这样的变化。由此产生的不一致性导致了扭曲:如同一切价格管制一样,资本得到了流向与实际供求不一致的投资的激励。

美联储在有目的地破坏激励系统——具体地说,是在扭曲资金价格所提供的信号——这将会导致投资不当(而当公债被货币化时,还会产生通货膨胀)。这一过程将维持一段时间,奖励生产率低下的投资,刺激认为美联储已经消除了风险的寡头投机者。但是,正如兰德所提醒我们的,总有一天,一切都会玩完。。

如今,在经历了史上最猛的信用扩张之后,引爆点显然已经被触发了。现在,冷漠的资本已经对虚假的市场信号无动于衷了,而随着恒定的时间偏好被重新认识,越来越多的不当投资的清盘正通过系统渗透出来。

从长期看,国家无法规定企业家怎样借贷和投资;如果对自由市场的操控压力太大,投资资本免不了要耸耸肩。当这一幕发生时,我们就会看到宽松货币政策的真正结果:它并没有创造出更多的经济活动,反而破坏了经济协调和调整的自然机制,削弱了系统的韧劲。总而言之,货币政策“停止了世界的马达”。

在《阿特拉斯耸耸肩》的末尾,集体主义机制分崩离析,高特将目标转为重建旧系统。这一幕会在我们的反乌托邦世界(有希望成为美国总统候选人的共和党无不赞成炒掉美联储主席伯南克)重现吗?资本要等待多久才能等到激励不再扭曲、增长引擎重新注满燃料、开始轰然作响的那一天?

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  1. Commentedparthasarathy Shakkottai

    Economic ignorance has become universal in the USA and all politicians, congress and economists talk in terms of household budgets and austerity. MMT is unknown. Paul Myers is right and until USA makes an investment in infrastructure spending, the ridiculous ideology will prevail.

  2. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    “Oppressive manipulation of the free markets”, if it is meant for those segments where capital finds a profitable deployment in spite of absence of demand, then it is a pointer that low interest rates coupled with liquidity preference influences this spurt in demand of financial products that were non-existent even a few years’ back. This is sad that capital stock could be locked in unproductive assets that reduces the velocity of money, which otherwise could have goaded effective demand in productive areas of the economy.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  3. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    The difficulties in the United States have nothing to do with the resiliency of capital, or capital being on strike (what a nonsensical assertion) and everything to do with poor public policy created by common sense being on strike in the Republican party.

    The United States is way underinvested in public assets, principally infrastructure. If the United States embarked on a multi-trillion dollar, multi-year program of public infrastructure investment, such a program would lower system-wide costs and create fertile grounds for new private sector investment. Funds flowing into the real economy would provide an ongoing increase in the overall level of demand.

    When one understands that profitable private investment stands on the broad shoulders of public investment, then one can see the road forward to a full-employment economy growing at maximum feasible speed.

  4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    This article offers an interesting view but it still only scratches the surface as most other assessments because we are still afraid to admit that we are in a system failure.

    Superficial tinkering with regulations, or trying austerirty and then stimulus again like in Europe, asking for more or less government control will make no difference at all because the whole system is rotten.

    And it was rotten from the beginning since the modern constant growth, expansive, excessive production and consumption, increasing credit based system started.

    But up to this point there was still some "looseness" in the system allowing the expansion, and the public was dumb enough to take the constant brainwashing and thus keep buying and taking credit.

    And the same happened with nations as well, in Europe for example the "smaller weaker" nations took the bait and swallowed all the products and credit until now their situation, eonomy and credit debt has become unmanagable.

    All of us are in the same plight now, sitting in bubbles, full of fake capital without any proper foundation, we are running out of resources and we have become completely intermingled and interdependent in the global system.

    Whatever we do this system is going to collapse, and actually this is a good thing.

    We are all slaves right now. The tycoons are slaves to their zeros on their useless bank account and more they get the unhappier they are. The costumers are slaves to the brainwashing media and the banks lending them credits, and now they are losing their jobs, homes, health insurence, and most factory workers especially in the emerging market countries are slaves even in the classical meaning of the word.

    Thus we cannot even imagine the freedom we will get when this is over, what we need to make sure is how to make the transition swift and relaitively orderly, and then what structure we build after.

    For that we already have vast amount of information on the interconnected and interdependent nature of the world today, on the state of the natural resources, and our opposition to our environment.

    Thus the new system needs to be necessity and resource based, with equal distribution, with a mutually responsible, considerate global public driven, single word wide governing system.

    With all the talent and adaptability Humans have if we get it right our potential is unlimited.

  5. CommentedWilliam Wallace

    As a businessman and entrepreneur in the real world, I can tell you flat out what determines investment: expectations of increases in demand. If expected ROI exceeds the interest rate, debt capital makes sense for the investment, otherwise it's cash on hand, stock and equivalents. End of story.

    Gimme demand and I'll invest. The problem today is lack of aggregate demand, and the lack of resources to effectively combat the situation. Monies so poorly spent, and other monies so dearly given away, over King George II's reign in DC, with his "deficits don't matter" court jester laughing in the corner throughout, left the government with so dire a structural deficit that sound stimulus spending has not been available.

    This article perpetuates the myth that most employment and innovation comes from large corporations. It does not; it comes from SMEs. Most new products and services in IT today, for example, result from larger players buying out the innovators, not from in-house R&D. And to further argue that even moderately taxing those who have great wealth would halt innovation and investment is a willful misdirect.

    Didn't expect to find this sort of objectivist drivel on Project Syndicate. Shrug.

  6. CommentedJake Lopata

    It's easy to see how someone, such as a hedge fund manager, can easily become shrouded in a single sector of the economy; but there is much more going on.

    Simply put, employment is very low (especially the labor participation rate), as a result, wages are down. This reduces disposable income; money used to save, pay bills, and consume.

    So why would businesses borrow if there is no demand? Why should firms lend if the economic outlook is bad and inflation expectations are high?

    I understand that there is a belief that market signals are distorted, but how are you arriving at the conclusion that it is due to monetary policy?

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