Monday, September 1, 2014
10

再诘弗里德曼夫妇

伯克利—眼下,我案头摆着两部书:记者诺阿(Timothy Noah)的新书《大分化:美国日益严重的不平等性危机以及我们可以如何做》(The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It and Milton and Rose Friedman’s classic Free to Choose)以及弗里德曼夫妇的经典之作《自由选择:自白》(Free to Choose: A Personal Statement)。把两部书合起来思考,我的感觉是:放在今天,弗里德曼夫妇会发现,论证和支持小政府自由主义比1979年时要困难得多。

1979年时,弗里德曼夫妇给出了世界如何运转的三个有力的实证结论——从当时的情况看,这三个结论是对的,或者似乎是对的,或者至少很有道理;但如今,这三个结论看上去显而易见是错的。弗氏夫妇的小政府自由主义基本上便以这三个结论作为基础,故而从今天看也早已站不住脚,因为世界似乎并不赞同他们关于自己如何运转的结论。

第一个结论是,宏观经济灾难是由政府引起的,而不是由不稳定的私人市场引起的,或者,换句话说,产生经济稳定所需要的宏观经济管理是直观的并且非常容易就能实现。

弗氏夫妇对此几乎是开宗明义:他们说,政府“引起”了大萧条。但若深挖论据,你会发现他们的真实意思是第二个结论:当私人市场不稳定可能导致萧条时,政府只消以现金购买足够多的债券或用流动性支撑经济就能避免萧条或制造快速复苏。

换句话说,确保宏观经济稳定的战略性政府干预不但是直观的,而且是程度最低的:当局只需要维持稳定的货币供应增长即可。凯恩斯主义者宣称的激进全面的干预是为了管理总需求,而明斯基主义式的干预是为了管理金融风险,它们都不能保证取得成效。

真正的自由主义者从来不买弗氏夫妇结论的账,不认为他们支持的是自由市场和“中性”货币制度:米赛斯非常著名地将弗里德曼及其货币主义追随者称为社会主义者。但是,不管披上什么样的外衣,宏观经济稳定性只需要最低限度的政府干预这一思想显然是错的。在美国,美联储主席伯南克完美地在最近的经济大减速中演绎了弗里德曼主义,结果是如此并不足以保护经济或快速使之快速恢复充分就业。

第二个结论是,与政府监管相比,通过契约和侵权法造成的外部性相对较小,或者至少处理外部性更得力,这是因为政府监管的劣势比法律制度所不能适当处置的外部性所造成的伤害更甚。在这一点上,现实再一次证明《自由选择》是错的。在美国,人们对医疗事故诉讼的态度变化显而易见,自由主义者不再将法庭视为处理医疗风险和失误的最佳场所。

第三个也是最重要的一个结论便是诺阿新书的标题《大分化》。1979年,弗里德曼夫妇自信满满地定论道,没有政府指令的歧视(比如南方种族歧视法案法案Jim Crow法),市场经济会形成充分平等的收入分配。毕竟,在整个二战后时代便是如此——至少对那些未受法律歧视(及其遗留伤害)者是如此。

于是,弗氏夫妇指出,为不走运者或不知节制者设置最低限度安全网造成了贫困,而消除所有机会平等的法律壁垒将会造就最公平的可能结果。追求利润的雇主会启用和提拔人才,将我们引向人世间所能达到的最为自由的生产者联合社会。

在这方面,弗氏夫妇的愿望再一次落空了。随着美国教育优势不再、私人部门工会的堕落、赢者通吃的信息时代经济的到来以及镀金时代高端金融的回归,税前收入分配出现了极大的不平等,这给下一代造成了沉重的负担,也是对机会平等的极大讽刺。

如果一代人之前的《自由选择》中所列出的政治项目能够按弗氏夫妇的构想在当时得到实施,那敢情好。如果原理经济、只提供最低安全网、法律制度和恒定货币供应增长量的政府能实现相对平等和繁荣的充分就业且机会平等的社会,那也感情好。

唉,可惜那似乎不是我们所生活的世界。

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  1. CommentedLudwig van den Hauwe

    But note that Milton Friedman (with Anna Schartz) in 1986 published a paper "Has Government Any Role in Money?" in the Journal of Monetary Economics in which he came perhaps as close as he ever did to the viewpoint of the "real libertarians", as you call them, by concluding that "leaving monetary and banking arrangements to the market would have produced a more satisfactory outcome than was actually achieved through governmental involvement." The view of these "real libertarians" is that we are experiencing the present troubles because of credit expansion and interest rate manipulation engineered by the central banks (among other forms of intervention) and that the true solution is to be found not at the level of monetary policy, but at the level of institutional reform, in particular the abolishment of central banks and the establishment of free banking. It is quite understandable that academics at leading universities cannot afford to risk their reputations by discussing such revolutionary proposals, given that these are poltiically totally infeasable in the forseeable future anyway, but I haven´t heard any one good theoretical argument refuting the views of the free bankers. The free banking argument is a particular application of Mises´ more general argument tending to demonstrate the impossibility of socialism; prices are bottom-up social phenomena and when you start manipulating them (or trying to do so) in a top-down fashion, the result can only be chaos and economic discoordination.

  2. CommentedDarko Oracic

    Milton Friedman criticized central banks for creating economic instablity by overreacting. Central bankers tend to overreact because they lack both knowledge and patience. No other theory describes better what has happened in recent years. Both the Fed and the ECB overreacted to high inlation (caused by previous overly expansionary policy), raised interest rates too high and caused the Great Recession. The fact that leading economists don't see the obvious reflects the sorry state of today's macroeconomics. We miss Milton Friedman dearly.

      CommentedCraig Hardt

      Actually, Darko, the great recession happened because of artificially high prices in the U.S. housing market stemming from the financial innovation known as mortgage-backed-securities (MBS). As interest rates were low, investors looked for higher yields both in emerging markets and in bond-like securities created to satisfy demand for these supposedly less risky (relative to equities) assets. Unfortunately, as ratings agencies continued to offer high credit ratings on these MBS, most failed to realize that mortgages were being handed out like candy to home buyers completely incapable of staying on top of their overpriced mortgages. When the inevitable crash in housing prices happened, investors were suddenly left with huge amounts of valueless MBS. Due to another financial innovation (credit-default swaps) they were usually highly leveraged in these untenable investment positions. The result was the collapse of the financial markets around the world, and subsequently, the great recession.

      Central banks raising interest rates had nothing to do with causing the great recession. In fact, had the raised interest rates earlier on during the housing boom, it may have limited exposure in the financial markets to MBS as more investors would have put their money in traditional bonds.

  3. CommentedJonathan Lam

    Gamesmith94134: Re-Capturing the Friedmans

    “Alas, that did not happen. And it did not happen because the world described by the Friedmans is not the world in which we live.”

    Friedman did give credits in the monetarism that small-government libertarianism in stimulating the economy in selling bonds to produce growth and stabilize the social development. The theory on liquidity and sustainability came across the margin of affordability made the resources finite and perpetuity on growth should aligned with its modifications like inflation and deflation to adjust the pace of growth. However, our government sees monetarism as the tool to eliminate inflation and deflation; and the recent social safety net like education and medical shifted to commercialism that broke line; since then, the government attempt to shift its cost to the public. Later, the sub-prime rate lending to house laid a heavy load on the government when the economy was overly stimulated with lesser employment or out-sourced from the factories, which caused the stagnated labor cost and created a downward spiral in the margin of affordability that the most middle class supports and grows on.

    At first, the suppression of recession by cutting interest rate and reality of the support of the margin of affordability, our government lied about the reality of the sub-prime housing debtors which relied on the inflated price of their house to sustain its margin of affordability. The capitalization of the real estate market collapsed after the halt of inflation and stagnated labor cost and job positions were out-sourced.

    Secondly, the cut of the support from the middle class in the financial make most capital market search on the short term investment and commodity market, it made the capital market worse that it went to the emerging market nations for a short term investment and lesser for the local development after the local real estate market turned sour.

    Thirdly, Americans, the consumers of the world, were heavy in debts after the credit exhausted. Then the flight of cash flow toward the emerging market nations took the credits with them when the banks are insoluble and bankrupted. Our government bailed them out with trillions of bonds that FED loaned with low interest. Then, the argument on the sustainability and liquidity is greatly disrupted by the margin of affordability that our government took its liberty to marketing the capitals of social goods like education and medication to fit its budgets.

    Perhaps, what we talk about undercutting the recession or depression, government participates in shifting the cost of social goods to its publics and deforming the nature of the business cycles like inflation, recession that made monetarism works on its own merits. I certainly said we deserve a depression locally and globally if we subjectively let monetarism works to adjust to all claims including government’s too.

    May the Buddha bless you?

  4. CommentedElizabeth Pula

    Here's a link to a super little interview that adds a bit of aspects and in depth perspective to DeLong's super little article:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/how-economists-have-misunderstood-inequality/2012/05/03/gIQAOZf5yT_blog.html

  5. CommentedElizabeth Pula

    Absolutely excellent analytical report, and methodology report on EPI.org.Written by Lawrence Mishel and Natalie Sabadish-05/02/2012
    http://www.epi.org/publication/ib331-ceo-pay-top-1-percent/
    The report is comparison of top 350 CEO salaries and options etc. to production workforce since the 1970's and through 2011- As factual as can be available from as reliable sources as possible.

  6. CommentedElizabeth Pula

    The only problem today is that we are no longer dealing with market economies. There is no egalitarian distribution of income because we are dealing with various systems of organizational rotating exploitation. Economies are only one activity of the systems.

  7. CommentedLanny Arvan

    "But, whatever its packaging, the belief that macroeconomic stability requires only minimal government intervention is simply wrong. In the United States, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has executed the Friedmanite playbook flawlessly in the current downturn, and it has not been enough to preserve or rapidly restore full employment."

    The above seems to be a closed economy analysis. Don't we need as well an open economy perspective and consider what European (and Asian) central bankers have done? Perhaps in the 1930s, a closed economy analysis was sufficient. How can one believe that now? I'm no fan of Milton Friedman, but were he alive today wouldn't he be talking about global monetary policy?

    He would then lose on the point that the right stabilization was straightforward and minimal, but he could still win on the idea that if the central bankers coordinated in the right way they could restore things.

  8. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    What now seems desirable is that government through fiscal and other policy techniques maintain a constant level of growth of demand that would result in a steadily growing employment base. Monetary policy should be a subordinate tool used to attain the overall goal.

    A very overlooked aspect of government regulation and programs is that government is the big instrument of risk reduction. Risk reduction is crucial to stable growth and provides the social framework in which private capital can earn its best rate of return. The striking example of government's role in risk reduction was the great success of postwar government-sponsored mortgage finance, which was possibly the single biggest contributing factor to sustainable, stable economic growth.

    That the Bush administration so recklessly supported the undermining of this pillar of stability still does not get the level of opprobrium that it so richly deserves, probably because so many other failures have crowded this failure to the sidelines.

    The policy architects of the modern Republican party have used Friedmanism as a pretext to undermine the effectiveness of government in what too often is just a cheap arbitrage against public policy and public welfare.

    Everything around us in the economic sphere says that Keynesian demand management works and that over-reliance on monetary policy as a silver bullet doesn't. And way too many Democrats in Washington DC simply don't grasp the Keynesian framework; they think the chairman of the Federal Reserve is the sole official responsible for the prosperity of the American economy. Then of course we could start talking about Europe....

  9. CommentedKonrad Kerridge

    The Author understates his points. Perhaps because he is a product of and immersed in US-based economic thinking and perhaps is targeting US readers. I believe there are few non US educated serious economists (perhaps a few, say in the UK) who would still argue that the points that Friedman made provide the most useful economic framework. To most, this is an old discredited paradigm of economics. To many economists outside of the US, I suspect that the importance and omnipresence of market failures means that they are central to any new paradigm of economics. Additionally, I suspect that the dominant non-US view is that 'laissez faire' economics CREATES inequality and can also create poverty when and where growth is inadequate, which is frequently. Finally I suggest that Freidman's view that economics and politics can be separated and that only minimal government involvement is required in markets is anachronistic. Government failures are acknowledged as are market failures but it perhaps is not useful to think of them as such separate entities in such an interwoven system.

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