Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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民主的不平等性

芝加哥—美国家庭储蓄率为什么会在大衰退前剧减?我的两位芝加哥大学同事贝特兰(Marianne Bertrand)和摩尔斯(Adair Morse)给出了一个有趣的回答:因为收入不平等性的加剧。

贝特兰和摩尔斯发现,在危机爆发的前几年中,收入最高的5%的家庭消费较高的地区(通常以州为单位),收入水平较低的家庭消费也较高。在剔除了一系列可能的原因后,他们认为,较穷家庭会模仿同一地区较富家庭的消费模式。

与收入较低家庭“尽力赶上富豪”的观点一致的是,居住在高消费富裕消费者附近的小康之家会将大量支出花在富裕家庭的常见消费项目上,比如珠宝、美容、养生和家政服务等。事实上,许多人通过贷款来维持支持,这导致了在富人收入(和支出)更高的地区,较穷家庭陷入财务困境甚至破产的比例显著较高。若不是这种模仿性消费的话,小康之家近几年平均应能增加800美元的年储蓄。

这是我所见到的关于收入不平等的弊端第一批详细研究之一。该研究超越了吸引眼球的“1%”争论,指出即使是大多数美国人每天都碰得到的不平等性——即本文的典型读者和其他人群之间的不平等性——也具有相当大的弊端。

同样有趣的还有该研究所发现的收入不平等性与危机前经济政策之间的联系。在危机爆发的前几年中,来自收入不平等性较严重地区的共和党议员更倾向于赞成扩大穷人的住房信用的立法(但民主党几乎清一色地赞成此类立法,因此较难识别他们的动机)。而就富人支出对小康家庭支出的影响而言,房价变动更大的地区该影响也越大,这表明住房信用和以上涨的房屋价值作抵押贷款的能力通过小康之家支撑了过度消费。

但最令我眼前一亮的是立法者对不平等性的反应的今昔不同之处。美联储的拉姆查兰(Rodney Ramcharan)和我对意在刺激贷款竞争的1927年麦克法登法案(McFadden Act)的国会表决进行了研究,我们发现,来自地权分配高度不平等的地区(当时,许多地区的主要收入源是务农)的立法者更倾向于反对该法案。至少是在该案例中,更大的不平等性导致立法者偏向于更少的消费和贷款扩张。我们还发现,银行竞争越少的县,农场繁荣月温和,大萧条前泡沫破裂的危害也越轻。

在这些研究中,我们可以得到一个显而易见的教训,即意外后果的重要性。在20世纪初,国会选区中的富裕地主可能同时也是地区银行的所有者,或者与地区银行所有者是亲朋好友。他们可以从限制竞争、控制融资中得到好处。

代表们是替所在选区权势利益者投票的。他们偏向于更少的信用市场竞争,这不是因为担心不知情的农民,而是为了捍卫权势贷款人的利益。他们得逞了,但也造成了一个附带效应:保护了这些选区被卷入金融狂热。

为什么21世纪的立法者会有所不同?愤世嫉俗(但越来越普遍)的观点是立法者仍然是在为支票投票——2008年危机爆发前的金融立法无不是为了满足金融部门的胃口,让更多的客户去吞下不良贷款和可以按揭。

但是,如果投票被金融部门所影响,那么一贯被视为财阀代言人的共和党应该一边倒地支持立法。但他们却分裂为两个阵营,原因在于选区内的小康之家对获得融资的渴望不同。21世纪的立法者似乎更加民主,响应着选民或许并不正确的愿望,而不再首先满足权势金融利益者。

事实上,一旦其行为的意外后果——危机的爆发让小康之家陷入了重重财务困境——变得清晰,贝特兰和摩尔斯的研究表明,来自不平等地区的立法者会反对金融部门,保护自己的选民,投票限制“发薪日”贷款人所能获得的利率(他们以极高利率向过度负债的低收入借款人发放贷款)。当然,这样的立法也会有不可预知的后果,未来的研究将会有所揭示,但其立法动机是无可置疑的。

我们不能因为这些就认定扩大融资的可获得性是件坏事。总的来说,更易获得融资是件好事(只要不是发生在危机之前!),但融资这个工具威力太大,必须小心使用,所谓过犹不及是也。

但最重要的一点是,尽管立法的初衷和结果之间存在差别,但与过去相比,现在的立法者更加在乎贫穷选民了。民主更强大了。在这个愤世嫉俗的时代,这一点令人鼓舞。

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  1. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    In sum the article portrays the pre-crisis economic policies having a linkage with legislators’ predilection to expansionary policies, which is good up to a point when such an expansion does not lead to an excess. The reference to competition in credit markets and how legislators preferred less of it in the past while the current milieu had gone many steps forward could be a matter of debate as there is research to prove in the seminal paper ‘Lobbying and the financial crisis’ http://www.nber.org/papers/w17076, that “lending by politically active lenders played a role in accumulation of risks and thus contributed to the financial crisis.” I therefore would reserve the judgment that ‘the intent behind cannot be doubted’.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  2. CommentedADS Analytics

    Another culprit behind the depletion in savings is the stagnant disposable income (see chart) that has failed to keep up with increased productivity.

    http://www.adsanalytics.com/dashboard/docs/dashboard.php?treepage=tree_definition_main.php&chart=chart_hh_rdi

    ADS Analytics

  3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    On hand hand it is good that the general politician response to the crisis was more democratic than in the last century.

    On the other hand the inequality problem and its root cause is much more widespread than the article suggests.

    Today the imitating spending is global, as we are not looking at our local neighbours, but we are soaking in the pleasures and desires of the whole world through the media, Internet and entertainment industry.

    And this makes us so addicted to the consumption that we became like alcoholics, even when we hear again and again that most of the desired products are completely useless, harmful, and we have to become slaves to the banks to get them, and that this whole over the top production/consumption machinery is self destructing we still cannot stop.

    Simple financial adjustments, or "nicer" local politicians will not be able to solve our problem since it originates from our basic human nature, where the inherently more selfish, greedy top layer of the population purposefully manipulates the masses to consume the products they do not really need for money they do not really have, thus becoming completely slaves to the system. But the greedy system stumbled over a certain peak recently, and now the system is falling apart as even the middle class is losing money, status, employment and confidence, moreover the constant growth system has also exhausted itself.

    At the moment we are looking at a frozen picture without possible upward movement, with the totally unfair and vast inequality carved into it. And the manipulators have run out of means to cover up the falseness, the make up has come off.

    The demonstrations of the last year are just the beginning, as soon as the present cosmetic attempts evaporate the public anger will be even stronger.

    Instead of waiting for very unpredictable and possibly volatile scenarios, the different public layers should start talking to each other, honestly taking each other into consideration and start building a completely new human system that can avoid all the mistakes and crimes of the past in a mutual and socially equal manner.

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