Saturday, November 1, 2014
17

紧缩之辨

米兰—我刚刚获得了在德国经济委员会主年会演讲的荣幸。德国经济委员会是当前执政党基督教民主联盟的经济和商业部门。总理默克尔和财政部长朔伊布勒也将会上讲了话。这是一次有趣的会议,更重要的是,这是一次振奋人心的大会。

显然,德国(或至少政府、商界和劳动者领袖所组成的集体)仍坚持支持欧元和深化经济一体化的立场,并认为成功与否取决于旨在克服发酵中的欧元区危机的泛欧洲负担共担机制。意大利和西班牙的改革被正确地认为具有关键意义,重塑竞争力、就业和增长需要时间这一观点也获得了深入的理解(这一理解的基础是德国自身重新统一15年来的经验)。

希腊没有什么好选择,但如果想要防止意大利和西班牙财政和增长导向改革受到阻挠,就必须设法解决巨大的传染风险。在系统性风险高企的情况下,私人资本正在逃离银行和主权债务市场,导致政府借贷成本升高、银行资本充足率下降。这反过来又威胁到金融系统的运转和改革措施的效率。

因此,中央欧盟机构(以及IMF)在稳定和朝可持续增长转型方面起着至关重要的作用。欧洲需要它们采取行动填补私人资本逃离留下的空白,从而让改革措施得以完成并开始显现效果。IMF的角色体现着世界其他地区在欧洲复苏问题上的利益——不管是发达国家还是发展中国家——这是一笔高回报投资。

在我看来,德国政客和商界领导人对此心知肚明。此外,这类支持(应该)以意大利和西班牙(分别是欧元区第三和第四大经济体)改革表现为条件。劳动力市场自由化以提振竞争力和增长至关重要,且仍有待实施。

为改革减小争取时间要求将短期风险社会化。除此之外没有第二种办法可以控制债券收益率、保证银行运转,也没人能够保证必须实施的改革计划可以被批准。

因此,尽管从长期看欧元债券是可行的,但现阶段推出还为时过早,因为这意味着放宽条件,从而削弱改革实施的激励。但如果一切顺利,那么在当下分担风险的最终代价不会很大,甚至还能产生净回报。

那么,如何看待被激烈讨论的紧缩和增长之间的冲突?我认为,此冲突基于一个被严重误解的基础。对德国来说,紧缩——表现为持续的工资和收入抑制——是该国于2006年完成的增长导向改革的重要组成部分。德国人花费了巨大的时间和精力确保重塑灵活性、生产率和竞争力的沉重负担由全体德国人公平地共同承担。

但是,接受此信息的南欧(和大西洋沿岸)将“紧缩”解读成一个财政词汇——过快的、可能对增长造成毁灭性影响的赤字削减计划,而不是让经济实现结构性调整并填补总需求空白。换句话说,南欧在用凯恩斯主义的视角看待紧缩。

找到赤字削减过快和过慢之间的正确平衡点很重要,而且绝非易事。但这只是再平衡的要点之一。增长是降低公债/GDP比率的关键,因此也是财政稳定的关键。与此同时,如果赤字削减太快,其好处将不及增长受挫带来的弊端。

与此同时,为了重启经济增长和就业引擎,我们还需要其他政策,而每个国家的初始条件不同,所需的政策也不一样。但一般来说,都需要移除劳动力、产品和服务市场的刚性和其他壁垒;投资于技能、人力资本和其他经济技术基础;以及重建能刺激和支持(而不是妨碍)结构性调整的安全网。

这些改革需要牺牲一些保护措施以及收入和消费的整张。其好处在于实现未来可持续的增长和就业模式。因此,纪律和紧缩包含了跨期和代际选择——应该在当下付出怎样的代价(以及这一代价能够以多大的公平度被分担)换取未来更大的经济机遇和社会稳定。

说到底,重塑稳定和增长与振兴短期总需求之间只是部分相关。重塑稳定和增长还需要结构性改革和在平衡,而这不可能免费获得。实现可持续增长模式所需要的选择不仅影响总需求水平,也影响总需求的组成——比如投资和消费的比重。

把它称为紧缩还是其他东西只是个用语问题。但由此产生的混淆代价沉重。它已成为认识共同挑战的主要障碍,也阻挡着我们就应对挑战的正确前进方向——以及明确不同国家所需承担的责任——形成广泛共识。

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  1. Commentedpeter fairley

    Reply to Gary Marshall. The flaw is: the govt needs to get revenue somewhere to make payments on the pure govt debt system you propose. You have not stated what 'for profit' enterprises the govt would use the borrowed money for."Worthy public expenditures" do not imply revenue production unless they are something like toll roads, which most people consider 'a tax'. Where is my $50,000?

      CommentedGary Marshall

      Hello Peter,

      And where does the government currently get the revenue from to make payments on the government debt that exists now?

      They would get it from the same collective, though participation in that collective will vary.

      Now, the government need not actually collect the money to repay the debts. In my example, you will note that if the government were to tax the community to erase the acquired debts, the government would take the money from the community and hand it right back to the community. So in the aggregate taxing to pay off the debts in no way alters the wealth of the community. Erasing debts just erases assets.

      So, in effect, the government need never make the theoretical transfer. The money is there, however the costs in making the transfer are far greater than just letting the national assets and their equivalent liabilities rise indefinitely.

      Its sort of like a bank. Its assets in loans rise along with its liabilities in depositor's money indefinitely. The individual depositor shall see his money returned to him if desired, but the assets and liabilities will accrue forever with the bank living on the margins between interest paid and interest earned.

      To pay off every depositor would mean collapsing the bank. Why go through such trouble. One would just estimate the value of the bank and have it reflected in the share price.

      Money will be borrowed with a cost. So each public expenditure will have to be justified financially wherein benefits exceed costs. Otherwise, the expenditure is never made.

      For example, access to clean water could be accounted a worthy project with good returns. Dirty or disease laden water can cause a community grievous harm. The local hospital may be overrun with patients suffering all sorts of water borne maladies. The medical costs, lost work days, etc could be erased with a modest investment in purifying the water.

      Simple cost and benefit analysis. If the cost to the community of water borne diseases are $5 million, and construction costs of a water filtration plant $1 million with $1 million in annual expenditures, is this not a valued return to the community?

      Is it inflationary? No because the community now has $3 million per year to go and spend on other items, perhaps better healthcare, better education, a larger home.

      An idle person will cost the community or nation in welfare costs. An annuity of $10,000 would require an initial investment of $200,000 with an interest rate of 5%. If a person collects $10,000 per year, the community or nation would be better off lending funds of say $50,000 for training or education up to amend the burden.

      I hope that answers your questions.

      GM


  2. Commentedmmm bbb

    Yes, there is a misunderstanding in Europe regarding the definition of austerity and it is almost funny that nobody treated until now. (or at least I did not notice - sorry for my ignorance)

    On the other hand, growth may appear even if the austerity measures are going on, or better to say the austerity is consolidated.

    Indeed it is a fine mechanism to adjust the speed of implementing the austerity measures and the ones related with growth.

    Who should act for finding the right compromises?
    A researcher, an artist, an economist, a mathematician, a philosopher, a sociologist, a politician?

    Why is needed such a long period of time to harmonise the differences among the partners in EU?

    Greece could had a better chance, and implicit EMU, if the actions of partners were more quickly established...

  3. CommentedAl Hick

    Like other proponents of the German model of structural reform, Mr. Spence fails to recognize that Germany's success in in building a
    "competitive" economy during the 2000s was based on having counter parties who would provide the needed demand for the excess supply caused by wage suppression in Germany. If southern Europe, the U.S. and other "irresponsible" countries had not experienced credit fueled bubbles over the past decade, Germany would still be in a deep and long 10 year recession. It is essential that changes in the Euro periphery are matched by expansionary fiscal policy in Germany or expansionary monetary policy from the ECB. To suggest that southern Europe follow the German model, without addressing were the demand is going to come from is simply to wish unnecessary misery on the populations of Southern Europe.

  4. Commentedsrinivasan gopalan

    Mr Spence plea for return to simplicity by shouldering burden now so that posterity does not blame you for recklessness reeks of asking too much from a generation that is inured to comforts and free lunch. Welfare programmes as practised in some European countries without ensuring concomitant responsibility on the present of beneficiaries is unfortunately the patent reason for the current mess in some of the Southern European countries. When ailments afflict the system bitter medicine is but inevitable but people in real life do not countenance this diagnosis and the attendant treatment. The best course open to the countries mired in crises of all sorts is to make a few adjustments in life so that this phase will be a passing one before days of comfort and delight break out. What the crisis-laden countries of Europe need is a moral leadership and not economic policies that divide the people between austerity and persistence with the same level of living they had been accustomed to. Probably faith in themselves and in the ability of things to shape out to their benefit by degrees need to be nurtured so that undue expectations of a disaster can be averted.
    G.Srinivasan. New Delhi

  5. CommentedGary Marshall

    Hello Mr. Spence,

    In conventional economics you are right -- Greece has no good options. But in progressive economics, they have a very good option: the abolition of Taxation.

    Below is the very simple proof for this measure.

    If you or anyone can find the flaw, I shall be more than happy to give the reward of $50,000. None have yet been successful.

    Its not the end of the world, but a new beginning.

    Enjoy!

    ####

    The costs of borrowing for a nation to fund public expenditures, if it borrows solely from its resident citizens and in the nation's currency, is nil.

    Why? Because if, in adding a financial debt to a community, one adds an equivalent financial asset, the aggregate finances of the community will not in any way be altered. This is simple reasoning confirmed by
    simple arithmetic.

    The community is the source of the government's funds. The government taxes the community to pay for public services provided by the government.

    Cost of public services is $10 million.

    Scenario 1: The government taxes $10 million.

    Community finances: minus $10 million from community bank accounts for government expenditures.
    No community government debt, no community
    government IOU.

    Scenario 2: The government borrows $10 million from solely community lenders at a certain interest rate.

    Community finances: minus $10 million from community bank accounts for government expenditures.
    Community government debt: $10 million;
    Community government bond: $10 million.

    At x years in the future: the asset held by the community (lenders) will be $10 million + y interest. The deferred liability claimed against the community (taxpayers) will be $10 million + y interest.

    The value of all community government debts when combined with all community government IOUs or bonds is zero for the community. It is the same $0 combined worth whether the community pays its taxes immediately or never pays them at all.

    So if a community borrows from its own citizens to fund worthy public expenditures rather than taxes those citizens, it will not alter the aggregate finances of the community or the wealth of the community any
    more than taxation would have. Adding a financial debt and an equivalent financial asset to a community will cause the elimination of both when summed.

    Whatever financial benefit taxation possesses is nullified by the fact that borrowing instead of taxation places no greater financial burden on the community.

    However, the costs of Taxation are immense. By ridding the nation of Taxation and instituting borrowing to fund public expenditures, the nation will shed all those costs of Taxation for the negligible fee of borrowing in the financial markets and the administration of public
    debt.

    Regards,
    Gary Marshall

      CommentedGary Marshall

      Hello Daniel,

      What I advocate is the abolition of all Taxation. If the state retain any of it, then it is still able to control its finances and the people whom it is appointed to serve. Without Taxation, the state is forever dependent upon its citizens for its existence.

      Singapore does have a range of taxes and fees, though quite moderate compared with NA. It is also a very small country.

      Regards, GM

      CommentedDaniel Gomes

      Gary, your proposal was implemented in Singapore a few decades ago.

      The taxation base is extremely low and almost all of the credit is forcefully obtained from the tax payers via a forced savings scheme called Central Providence Fund.

      Interestingly, on paper, Singapore has one of the highest sovereign debts in the world but seems not to worry a single bit about it.

      CommentedGary Marshall

      Hello Mr. Ravazzolo,

      A pension is indeed a financial asset, a financial asset for a member of a nation, and in the aggregate for the nation itself.

      A water holding and treatment facility is indeed an asset for a community and its members. Water borne ailments can have a devastating impact on a community's productivity and health care costs. For a small investment, all that will disappear.

      Similarly with education, police and fire, and garbage collection. These are all useful services that create wealth in a community. Without police and fire, whole communities can disappear in a conflagration or riot. Insurance costs would be prohibitive without such a wise investment.

      Welfare recipients could be given loans to enhance education and training in order to make those unproductive souls productive. When employed they can pay back the loan. The annuity now comes with a great cost to the community and no solution.

      With the unemployed, a loan could be given if there are no other means available to maintain them, repayable when conditions improve.

      Government expenditure with a capital charge will change drastically. The erstwhile taxpayers now become the nation's bankers will ensure that the government now justifies every expenditure. There will be no corporate welfare. There will be no subsidies to favoured producers. Mineral rights will be handed back to those that own the land. There will be no customs and excise, or tax collection. There will be no deterrent effect from an abolished taxation. Pensions will no longer be needed as the population will now have government bonds. Publicly funded healthcare could be limited to difficult cases or for those without means because everyone should possess bonds with which to pay for them.

      What a better world it will be!

      Regards,
      Gary Marshall

      CommentedMiriano Ravazzolo

      Mr. Marshall

      Your idea is quite interesting, but I am afraid it would only work if all public expenditures could be configured as assets. In the modern world unfortunately (or fortunately) there are way too many expenses that can be categorized as "services", which get consumed at the moment of fruition and therefore do not add to the financial assets. Think healthcare, or pensions, which while contributing to the general economy do not create any bookable asset...

  6. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    A lot of metrics are thrown around in the European debate, but it seems to me the core metric is economic productivity over time. Germany successfully accomplished a decade-long productivity improvement program that put it into its enviable position today.

    Other countries have to implement productivity-converging policies or otherwise fail in some fashion.

    So I would think that changes in future productivity should be the criterion by which policy proposals are evaluated.

  7. CommentedThomas Lesinski

    ...as evidenced by the increase in poverty rate in Germany from 11% in 2001 to 15% today, despite the increase in employment.

  8. CommentedThomas Lesinski

    Is there a single point of hard evidence towards the idea that labor-market flexibility is favorable to growth ? Or is it just a talking point taken for granted by the high priests ?

  9. CommentedRussell Pittman

    A related point is that made by an earlier Nobel laureate, James Meade, in the "burden of the debt" debate: A policy with a given level of fiscal stimulus has a much different long-term impact depending on what the stimulus money is used for. In that light, spending borrowed money on improving infrastructure or strengthening tax enforcement has a lot to recommend it as compared with, say, funding military adventures or propping up unsupportable pension schemes.

  10. CommentedMatthew Cowan

    I'm glad to see that someone has broken the austerity vs. growth argument down into its component parts. This is where we can make a real difference in improving economic outcomes.

    The larger debate of stimulus vs. fiscal austerity too often overshadows the component parts and execution of a particular stimulus or austerity plan. Done correctly, either can be an flying success or a dismal failure.

    The debate needs to move beyond stimulus vs austerity to how to stimulate and/or cut back spending effectively and how to effectively time austerity and/or stimulus measures to optimize the outcome.

  11. CommentedRobert Winter

    The writer states "But, on the receiving end of the message in southern Europe (and across the Atlantic), “austerity” is interpreted largely in fiscal terms – as an excessively rapid and potentially growth-destroying drive to cut deficits faster than the economy can structurally adjust and fill the gap in aggregate demand." It would have been of interest had he address whether in his view the terms that have been imposed to date on Greece and other countries reflected the balanced burden sharing he suggests or excessively rapid and growth destroying policies. As best I can tell, the better argument is that at least to date it has been the latter.

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