Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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夏天的危机

普林斯顿— 眼下,欧洲危机进入了关键时刻,复兴和复苏还是衰退和死亡,马上就要见分晓了。几周之前,评论家和分析师们还在大谈拯救欧洲的时间只剩下了几个月,而如今,连轴转出席峰会的政治领导人已开始用“天”作为计时单位。

夏天的危机乃是欧洲历史的常见之事,金融史亦然。事实上,20世纪便是由三起夏天的危机造就的,每一次危机都因为主要决策者休假不在场而导致严重代价。

两年后,欧洲就将迎来斐迪南大公遇刺(1914年6月28日)及其后引发第一次世界大战的“七月危机”100周年纪念。1931年7月13日,德国银行系统崩溃,从而导致此前美国所发生的经济衰退演变成一场全世界大萧条。1971年8月15日,美国总统尼克松结束了美元和黄金固定比价的历史,引发全球货币十年动荡。

所有这些危机都包含着高度技术性的方面,但也均具有比技术问题广泛得多的政治问题。在每一场危机中,技术问题和政治问题的综合作用产生了灾难。

1914年7月,各国外交官试图找出一个解决方案,让哈布斯堡王朝加入跨国政策谈判——恐怖袭击的必然结果。政治领导人们所构想的是民族复兴和宣言。

1931年,专家们全神贯注,试图解决由赔款问题和一战及私人部门高度负债带来的战争债务问题所导致的复杂性。席卷多国的民粹主义政治运动所构想的仍是民族复兴和宣言。

1971年,技术性问题是美元在国际货币体系中的作用。但令其他国家的政客感到不安的还有另一个问题:美国在战后秩序中的日益极权。

在所有这三次夏天的危机中,修正技术性问题并不足以解决问题。今天的状况同样如此。

事实上,当前的欧洲危机反映了完全相同的要素组合,不同的要素需要不同的解决办法。一方面,复杂的国家层面财政危机和欧洲层面的银行问题需要全面、详细的援助方案。另一方面,基础性欧洲治理问题——既包括国家层面,也包括超越国家的欧盟制度层面——自20世纪90年代初开始便一直在恶化。

解决技术性问题所需要的是偿还现有债务、防止未来过度举债的机制。在美国,亚历山大·汉密尔顿在1790年成功地进行了将州债务联邦化的谈判,但许多州在19世纪初仍然表现糟糕,发生了多起破产案,直到它们出台了平衡预算的法律或州宪法修正案之后情况才有所改善。

欧盟也需要自己的财政当局,如果它想让欧洲经济和货币联盟运转起来的话。作为一个关税同盟,欧洲各国在关税问题上依旧各行其是,这已然是一件怪事。

在汉密尔顿的方案中,联邦关税机关是重要组成部分。将部分增值税欧洲化将是打击现有制度滋生的大规模欺诈的重大进步。在缺乏共同退休金和福利制度的情况下,劳动力流动性也是不完全的:在现有安排下,一位在法国、希腊和德国各呆了五年的工人退休后只能得到几项少量福利的简单组合。此次危机已经增加了欧洲此类劳动力迁移的程度。

但除非能被欧洲(不管是债权国还是债务国)广泛接受,否则任何解决方案都不会被采纳。没有理由表明包括债务上限在内的宪法性解决方案能够得到广泛的公众接受,尤其是债务国,它们因享乐无度的前任政府而经历了政治和经济伤害。

导致民粹主义逆袭的是那些设计出没什么信誉的、技术上十分复杂的解决方案的正值当局的拙劣表演。简言之,专家不能再把欧洲人民当成蠢蛋应付了。

这就是为什么欧洲需要通过新条约进行的长期宪法更新,其迫切性一点都不亚于短期修正。围绕现有条约开展工作看上去就像是照着旧菜谱做菜,不啻于否认所有人都看得到的大问题。无怪乎公众被噎到了。

也有些欧洲危机最后产生了好结果。1940年6月16日,在德国入侵法国之后,丘吉尔提出了英法政治联盟。十年后,西德总理阿登纳提出了法德政治联盟。这样的魄力正是目前所需要的。

在过去,是战争、严重混乱和苦难将各国拧成了一股绳。此次欧洲危机是否严重和混乱到了足以产生类似效果的程度?欧洲苦难越重,就有越多的欧洲人民能正确地感受到渐进式的改革日程纯属无用功。

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  1. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    This is in response to Gary’s repeated reference to public debt and taxation and its equivalence and costs. Let me try to bring in a dynamic that goes beyond the simplistic paradigm that Gary has constructed. The first part of the dynamic is that the tax revenues are cyclical with a slight phase lag with the business cycles and there is therefore the attempt made towards ‘tax smoothening’. The second part of the dynamic is the attempt towards inflation targeting and making a one-on-one increase in the nominal interest rate versus a larger increase and how the market participants respond to it; too much of restraint by the market participants renders the passive fiscal policies infeasible therefore. The third is the threshold level of public debt and beyond which monetary policy independence is doubtful. There is beyond this the issue of general price level, private wage and general employment level dynamics.

    Procyon Mukherjee

      CommentedGary Marshall

      Hello Procyon,

      I have already addressed your points in a previous post.

      The short proof only shows that Taxation has no financial benefit for a nation.

      If a nation were to borrow instead of Tax, the assets created will equate to the sired liabilities.

      The proof may be simple, but its intended to be simple so that one may easily understand it.

      As Taxation has no financial benefit, then why does any nation Tax to fund its public expenditures?

      I know that tax revenues are cyclical. The government expends most when the economy is at its peak. It then expends less when the economy recedes. The very opposite of what prudent policy should be. This time around, governments expended greatly at the height of the business cycle, and then far more during the recession, greatly enlarging government participation in the economy and ensuring enduring high levels of participation.

      I don't know what you mean, Procyon, by some attempt at tax smoothing. What exactly is the practice and how does it apply to current public finance practices?

      By abolishing Taxation and solely borrowing, a nation's public expenditures will reach a maximum when the interest rate reaches a minimum, and a minimum when the interest rates a maximum. This should greatly temper ruinous fiscal tendencies inherent in Taxation and save the nation a hell of a lot of pain.

      With borrowing, government will be forced by its petulant and perpetual banker to justify every public expenditure. As funds will now come with a capital charge, the government will be compelled to ensure returns greater than all costs. This measure should get rid of all that public squander and destructive inflation now infesting every public expenditure undertaken with borrowed money. As there shall be no inflation, there will not be no further need for inflation targeting by any monetary authority. As there shall be little squander, the nation shall produce at rates far greater than previously, ensuring a wealthier nation for all.

      Employment will soar when the deterrent effect of Taxation is removed from the economy. Individuals and firms will no longer have to factor in the harmful effects of Taxation in calculating economic outcomes on their household or commercial activities.

      General price levels will fall with the great constraints now placed upon ruinous fiscal policies or squander in troubled times and in good times. And productive employment shall rise to a maximum with constraints upon the unproductive employment highly encouraged by government fiscal squander and perverted tax policies.

      The only monetary policy I have seen is either inherently destructive or impeding of market forces of supply and demand, or its innocuous. The nation will be far better off without it.

      What a better world it shall be.

      And the meek shall inherit the earth!

      GM

  2. CommentedGary Marshall

    Hello Mr. James,


    The individual European countries have the means to remedy their current problems with ease. There is not need of some collective fiscal measure or coordinated prescription.

    The means to that end is contained in the little proof below for the abolition of Taxation, which novelty may be absurd on its face, but not so when examined.

    If you or anyone can find the flaw in this proof, I shall be more than happy to give the reward of $50,000. None have yet been successful. Perhaps because so few have tried.

    Its not the end of Europe or 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

  3. Portrait of Michael Heller

    CommentedMichael Heller

    Harold James:

    I recall you wrote in The Roman Predicament - “Kindelberger defended his view that crisis solution depended on the ability of brilliant men to devise innovative and novel solutions, and that pedantic following of rules was unwise and counterproductive”. A little later in the same book, you concluded “Rules may be a way of ensuring that the genius of Terminus does not in practice terminate experiments in the extension of the principles of legal certainty and order”.

    I guess Europe needs -- as implied by your article today -- both a brilliant strong leader, perhaps a woman, and a well designed innovative set of constitutional rules. It is classically the make-or-break crisis window-of-opportunity when leadership and ideas can trump incremental evolution. Thanks for the provoking and positive analysis.

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