Monday, November 24, 2014
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欧洲会重蹈黄金覆辙吗?

罗马—现在,关于欧元将重蹈20世纪30年代金本位覆辙的传闻越来越流行。这一传闻背后的原因似乎极具说服力。但这就意味着欧元的丧钟注定要敲响吗?

1929年股市大崩盘后,欧洲又经历了严重的通缩冲击。产出剧减,失业率剧增。各国政府没能达成相互合作、一起采取通胀手段的协议,而是选择各自为政。结果,各国一个接着一个放弃了金本位,贬值了本国货币。通过这种方式的信贷宽松,它们一个接着一个从大萧条中实现了复苏。

如今,欧洲再一次经历着严重的通缩冲击。这一回,套在通胀手段头上的枷锁是欧元。各国政府没有本国货币可实施贬值,也不能放松信贷,货币政策由欧洲央行代为执行。随着失业率再一次上升至足以引发崩盘的高度,看起来各国别无选择,只能单方面抛弃欧元。

我曾写过关于欧洲和金本位的书。在1992年出版的《金色的羁绊:金本位和大萧条》(Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression)中,我指出,金本位这一通缩机制是20世纪30年代大萧条的主要罪魁之一,而抛弃金本位打开了复苏之门。

但我并不认为这一回历史会重演。四大不同点让我相信,也许——仅仅是也许——欧元可以存活下来。

首先,单一央行更方便实施合适的货币应对措施。即使在金本位下,如果各国央行能够集体行动,仍然可以对萧条的经济实施通胀措施。不幸的是,让各国央行集体行动说起来容易做起来难。不同国家的央行立场不同。它们评估经济前景的着眼点彼此相异。

相反,只要欧洲央行拿出果断措施,它就可以让整个欧元区实现再通胀,使各国单方面行动不再必要。但是,尽管欧洲央行能则能矣,为或不为则未可知。

第二个不同点在于,尽管最近以来社会保障项目有所削减,但失业者所获得的公共支持仍比20世纪30年代多得多。这意味着抛弃欧元的民粹主义压力将小得多,当然,关键问题在于这一压力能小多少以及政治核心能不能顶住。

第三个不同点是如今合作应对的政治条件要好于当初。1931年,法国拒绝帮助阻止中欧金融危机,因为它认为德国正在重建武装力量,违反了一战后签署的凡尔赛和约。奥朗德在法国总统大选中胜出后,法德之间的政治冲突可能会在未来数月到数年时间里逐渐激烈,但不会严重到当年的程度。

此外,今天欧洲各国都准备倾其所有挽救欧元,唯恐欧元的崩溃危害到单一市场。与此相对的是,1931年当各国开始抛弃金本位时,关税壁垒早已高筑。当时根本没有单一市场可供保护。

最后,抛弃金本位的破坏性不如欧元。今天,抛弃欧元重新引入本国货币至少需要几周时间,而1931年英国利用周末市场不开盘的时间就能让英镑脱离黄金。当是时,各国仍然用着各自的本国货币;它们所做的只是停止支持本币。银行存款和大部分其他公私债务都是用本国货币计价的。

如今,这些资产和负债均是由欧元计价的。重新引入本国货币从以实现贬值而改变其他金融工具的欧元价值,这将摧毁资产负债表,引发金融浩劫。替代方案——将其他金融工具也转换为新的本国货币——将使一意孤行的国家在未来多年中诉讼缠身。

所有这些不同点都让人质疑关于欧元将重蹈金本位覆辙的观点。但第五个不同点正好相反。20世纪30年代,各国之所以不能集体行动,是因为它们对问题的判断无法达成一致。每个国家所看到的大萧条原因各不相同,因此(单方面)开出的补救措施也彼此相异。

如今,对问题判断的一致性有利于采取共同应对措施。不幸的是,越来越多的证据表明,欧洲各国一致同意的药方——紧缩正在起到杀死病人的反作用。现在关于调整剂量的声音已经出现,但并不足以转化为行动。

这一回会有所不同吗?毫无疑问,今天合作的空间更大,这对欧元是有利的。但起决定作用的是欧洲各国政府合作实施的具体政策。

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    1. Portrait of Christopher T. Mahoney

      CommentedChristopher T. Mahoney

      At present, all of the jawboning is about the need for debt mutualization, not reflation. Debt mutualization is a debt solution to a monetary problem. Piling debt upon debt while the eurozone's NGDP stagnates is a prescription for a continental depression. If the ECB would just throw off its Bundesbank mentality and target 5% NGDP growth, catastrophe would be avoided. But the ECB won't do that, and therefore the outcome will be another depression.

    2. CommentedNichol Brummer

      Haven't germans started to make noises about allowing some kind of European bonds used for investment in assets with a safe income stream, like solar energy, in sunny countries? Though limited, it would be something.

      In fact: why don't the 'core' countries already do this kind of thing on their own account, now they can lend at extremely low interest rates? They don't because they don't think it is their responsibility to invest in other countries. Why are 'core-country banks' not doing it? Or are they? Is this a kind of negative bubble that governments or the EU should step into?

    3. CommentedCharles Dover

      If the Gold Standard is a bad idea, then let European banks sell their gold reserves to those who wish to buy them (China and other net importers of gold) to make themselves whole again. In a world where gold, oil, and corn are at record highs, would not cost-push inflation eventually accomplish the required leveling of deflation? And, would allowing a second tier of national currencies to be slowly introduced in an orderly manner be as bad as the opponents of the "Free Silver" movement in 19th Century America thought it would be?

    4. CommentedH Gerken

      The 1929 crisis was caused by Wall Street and the 2008 US financial crisis sent the tsunami to Europe. so its first and foremost two times regulatory failure on the US side exported to the rest of the world. It is destructive US capitalism that needs to internalise the costs it causes to peace and stability in the world. So instead of singing the growth song gbet your garden in order as we get ours in order.

    5. Portrait of Christopher T. Mahoney

      CommentedChristopher T. Mahoney

      "The alternative – converting those other instruments into the new national currency – would tie up the offending country in litigation for years."
      True, but that is much cheaper than trying to pay back in hard money. The Latin Americans have shown that the costs of default are manageable.

        CommentedGary Marshall

        Hello Christopher,

        Did you ask the people of those nations that must suffer for their Government's profligacy?

        GM

    6. CommentedStéphane Genilloud

      The euro is deflationary in the same way the gold standard was, but the euro does not replicate the gold standard, it replicates gold itself.
      Under the gold standard, national economies had national currencies pegged to gold. In the eurozone, national economies use a common currency, in the same way as they did with gold before the 20th century.
      When those economies progressively issued bank notes (with a promise to repay in gold) in the 18th and 19th centuries, they created their own currencies. Gold (and other metals) remained in use until the gold standard was abandoned in the 30's.
      The difference between the euro and gold is that the ECB can increase the supply of euros at will, while no one ever had the power to create gold out of nothing. But if the ECB does not make enough use of its power, that difference is of little use for troubled European economies. Those might then choose to issue notes (called maybe IOUs, maybe pesetas) and recreate their own currencies in order to relieve their liquidity problem.
      Provided they do it parsimoniously and remain clear about their intentions, it might not trigger panic, not require capital controls. Existing contracts could remain denominated in euros, and euros would continue to circulate.
      There are certainly plenty of open questions, necessary conditions, and drawbacks. But that's true for alternative solutions as well.

    7. CommentedPaul A. Myers

      Excellent paper. Thought-provoking.

      At any point in time, paper assets (and liabilities) have some "real" value which is equal to the "real" future value these assets can be exchanged into, the realizable value. It may be hard to measure this value at the present time because open markets have not been allowed to fully function (the pooh bahs say sovereign debt bonds are worth 100).

      Why does a paper asset have to be converted from euros into drachmas to be depreciated? In fact, all across Europe we have paper assets whose real value is considerably less than the nominal stated value.

      Why don't we set up mechanisms to "discover" these values and then a path of adjustment to move towards these values? Without going back to drachmas, pesos, lira, and francs. And try to make the path of adjustment the least disruptive as possible. Exiting a currency and devaluing a new currency unit is just a method of adjustment. Why not choose a less painful way? Don't devalue the future obligation, just partially default on it.

      A managed path of adjustment towards true realizable values would most likely cost much less than the cost of a crisis-driven adjustment process.

      If the tide goes out on administered prices, most likely we are going to see a lot of ministry of finance and central bank officials not wearing any clothes. But we probably already know that, too. We are not where we are by the intellectual agility of the elite.

      At the end, voters will have to buy into the costs of managed adjustment or risk the higher costs of crisis-driven adjustment. There will be the siren calls of many, many demagogues telling people that someone else can be made to pay. But across all of Europe that is a negative sum game of potentially ruinous proportions.

      One must remember that in a world governed by hard-edged economics there is little justice but mistakes are mercilessly punished.

    8. CommentedJohn A Werneken

      Why is it to be assumed that unemployment and declining asset prices are bad? Perhaps quite a few houses should never have been built nor purchased at the prices they went for. Perhaps quite a few people are paid far more than they produce, especially in health care, education, and other abysmal sectors of the economy. Perhaps desperation would induce some beneficial changes.

    9. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Although I do not have sound economical knowledge I would like to note one thing:
      The Euro is not the problem. We are not in a financial or economical crisis, we are in a system crisis.
      Economics, financial relationships are simply the external expressions of how humans relate to each other.
      It was true before, but today when we evolved into a closed, finite, integral, interdependent system it is truer than ever.
      Today each and every tiny change resonates all through the system, and since our present socio- economic system, this constant growth, expansive, exploitative machinery is totally excessive and unnatural, we are continually injecting negative influence into this interconnected, natural, living system.
      Thus the reactions we get are increasingly more negative and aggressive since our negative input comes back as a boomerang but multiple times reinforced by the systemic reaction.
      We will never solve our problems on the financial or economical, not even on the political level.
      We have to start from the foundations, how we relate to each other, how a human being connects, relates to another human being.

    10. CommentedJoe Bongiovanni

      Many excellent points.

      Ultimately, it will be better if the European central bankers move together to solve their present deflationary problem, but that does require an acknowledgement by the ECB of the nature of the problem.
      Listening to Chief Economist Praet last month at the Levy-Minsky conference, it is clear that today their policy options consist of choosing how much more of the same.

      The major determinant of a beneficial outcome will be a candid pondering of the options available, those that are meant to overcome the potential disruptions you offer in your fourth point on why the EMU will continue.

      So to me the question becomes, in the face of the posture being presented by the EMU countries and their central bankers, is anyone in the back room actually working on an exit strategy that will shorten the 3 week currency normalization time period in order to effect the most orderly transition possible?

      Agreement on the ultimate cause of the Euro crisis requires, I am afraid, the most hugest Pogo moment for our modern monetary internationalists.

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