Sunday, October 26, 2014
11

饿不死的巨兽

发自剑桥——整个世界都在看着美国为其财政前景努力挣扎,而这场斗争的形态也反映了很可能在未来几十年内以各种形式在世界各地上演的,更为宏大的社会与哲学分歧。当前已经有许多关于如何减少政府开支的议论,但其中只有很少能将焦点放在如何使政府支出变得更有效上。虽然没有更具创造性的方法来提供政府服务,但其成本依然将随时间不断攀升。

所有服务密集型产业都面对着同样的挑战。早在20世纪60年代,经济学家威廉·鲍莫尔(William Baumol)和威廉·鲍恩(William Bowen)就撰文讨论过困扰这些行业的“成本弊病”。他们使用的最著名例子是莫扎特的弦乐四重奏,这种四重奏今时今日和19世纪一样要求同样数量的音乐家和乐器。同样地,对老师来说现在给一篇论文打分所花的时间跟100年前所花的时间是一样的。好的水管工雇佣成本很高,因为在这方面技术也发展得很慢。

为什么缓慢的生产率增长转化成了高成本呢?关键在于服务业最终得和高速生产率增长的金融业、制造业和信息技术行业在同一个国家的劳动力市场里争夺劳动力。尽管这些市场的劳动力可能会被分割成不的领域,但是中间依然有足够的重叠迫使服务密集型行业不得不支付更高的工资来雇佣员工——至少从长远来看是如此。

当然政府就是一个纯粹的服务密集型行业。政府雇员包括教师、警察、垃圾清洁工和军人。

现代学校跟50年前的差别似乎没有现代工厂与50年前的变化大。而且,虽然在军事方面的创新成果惊人,它仍然是极度劳动密集型的。如果人们想要得到与自身消费的其他事物同等水平的政府服务,那么政府支出将逐渐占据国民产出越来越大的份额。

确实,不仅仅是政府支出在收入中所占份额一直在上升;在其他许多服务部门上的支出也在上升。今时今日,服务业(包括政府)在大部分发达国家中都占据了国民收入的70%以上。

农业在19世纪占国民收入的一半以上,现在已经缩减到只剩几个百分点了。制造业就业在二战前占全部就业的三分之一或以上,如今也已显著下降。比如在美国,制造业就业在全部劳动力中不到10%。所以,即使经济保守人士要求削减开支,还是有许多强大的力量在推动事情向相反方向发展。

诚然,这个问题在政府部门更为严重,政府部门的生产率增长比其他服务行业要慢得多。虽然这可能也反映了政府所须提供的服务特别繁杂,但这远非事实的全部。

当然问题的部分原因是政府制造就业并不仅仅是为了提供服务,同时也为了实施隐性的转移支付。此外,许多领域的政府机构并未面临多大的竞争——从而也就没有创新的压力。

为什么不在政府部门引进更多私营企业的参与呢,或者至少引进竞争?教育这个不怎么能感觉得到现代颠覆性技术力量的领域,有可能是一个尝试的好领域。复杂的计算机程序,即使还比不上优秀教师的标准,也已经很擅长给中学论文打分了。

基础设施是另一个明显可以扩大私营企业参与的领域。比如曾经人们普遍认为司机在私营道路上会需要不断排队支付通行费。然而现代自动放行设备和自动支付系统已经解决了这个问题。

但我们不能认为让民营企业的参与到政府服务就是解决所有问题的灵丹妙药。一切都需要一定的监管,尤其是在那些垄断或接近垄断的行业。而且也仍然需要政府机构来决定在提供服务的过程中如何兼顾效率与公平。教育显然是一个所有国家都会基于强烈国家利益考虑而愿意提供公平竞争环境的领域。

作为保守派标志性人物,罗纳德·里根(Ronald Reagan)在其20世纪80年代担任美国总统期间将其财政政策描述为“饿死官僚巨兽”:减税将最终迫使人们接受更少的政府开支。从很多方面来说,他的措施确实取得了巨大的成功。但政府支出仍在上升,因为选民们依然需要政府提供的服务。现在很明显遏制政府(开支膨胀)也意味着要寻找新的激励,好让政府内部创新跟得上其他服务领域的创新脚步。

如果没有更多关于在政府提供服务方面如何创新的想法,那么当前人们看到在美国的斗争只会变得更糟糕,因为选民们逐渐被要求为更少的服务支付更多的钱。政客们可以并将承诺把工作做得更好,但他们无法做到,除非我们找到能提高政府服务效率和生产率的方法。

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  1. CommentedOliver Kovacs

    Reading Prof. Rogoff's articles is always instructive.
    As the empiria showed, neither the fiscal stimuli nor the fiscal austerity could trigger growth impact, instead, fiscal conditions have just worsened further due to the decline in GDP. A some type of aurea mediocritas consolidation should be of paramount importance that addresses the issue of supporting R&D&I in a pro-cyclical way while counter-cyclically reduces expenditures in inproductive spheres (public sector wages, salaries, social transfers as Alesina and other works on non-keynesian effects justified).
    I would raise the issue of how to incentivise public sector to be more innovative in favouring the term "more for less". Innovation, as it was rightly pointed out by many, is hampered by a lot well-documented factor, however, the literature does not devote enough attention to the importance of inherent incentives of innovation that differ across institutional architectures. /see a policy brief on "Policies Supporting Innovation in Public Sector Provision" which tries to address this crucial gap /

  2. Commentedjack lasersohn

    While it is certainly true that 'voters want the services that government provides' it is equally true that most of them do not bear the cost of those services, which is shifted to a tiny fraction of the population through progressive taxation. As a result, and exactly as in the market for healthcare, the demand for essentially 'free' service increases without limit.
    Moreover, most government expenditures are transfer payments, which arguably have experienced nearly exponential productivity growth over the past 50 years as it takes virtually the same number of labor hours to process checks for $1 trillion as for $1 million.
    Also, as you point out, the growth in 'productivity' in Defense has also increased dramatically.
    The areas of government where productivity has remained stagnant, like education, are still relatively small and not really relevant to the problem of government growth.
    The real problem is in the growth of entitlements, where certain voters have learned that they can force others to pay for services they desire.
    That is the core problem of all democratic systems and has nothing to do with lack of productivity growth in government (although of course it would be less of a problem if we had faster productivity growth overall).
    There is no obvious solution to this problem, except that it will stop when it reaches some natural limit , as in parts of Europe.

  3. CommentedCharles Broming

    I agree with Prof. Rogoff's analysis at the highest level, viz., the service sector's problems with productivity, cost and, therefore, price. I agree as well that we need to change our conversations from exhortations to reduce government spending to conversations about how to deploy government funds more effectively. But, the issue needs to be framed appropriately and the news media needs to observe and report on it. There has been plenty discussion about government spending effectiveness over the decades, but the news media have ignored it. It's complicated, contentious, doesn't offer good sound bites and is, therefore, hard to cover and offers lower returns.

    The fundamental questions that need to be addressed (and probably never answered completely or finally) are, "What is the "right" size of government (at which level)?" and, "Which services do governments provide more effectively and efficiently than the private sector over the long run?"

    The second question can be answered; the tools are available. A credible and reasonable answer to the second question would be a product of an answer to the first question. To argue for reduced spending based on some prior faith in the priority of "limited government" puts the cart before the horse. In point of fact, those who argue for "limited government" have no opponents in America or Western Europe, and I doubt that even the most totalitarian dictators (kings, princes, etc.) believe that "unlimited government" is a possibility, much less an alternative.

  4. CommentedMichael Scheps

    Surprised that Professor Rogoff would be so wrong in his evaluation of Reagan's "starve the beast" philosophy. David Stockman, after leaving the OMB, wrote in his book "The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed", that they failed to understand Congress would not curtail spending in the face of reduced revenue. That, and the Reagan policy of outspending the Soviet's on defense, were the 2 primary reasons that Reagan left office with a large national debt that was not addressed until President Clinton's administration.

      CommentedMichael Scheps

      Mr. Bromberg,

      Thank you for verifying my point. Professor Rogoff wrote- "In many ways, his approach was a great success". I believe that a historical evaluation proves exactly what you stated- "pragmatic aspects of politics, especially re-election and post-congressional employment opportunities, were more important to members of Congress than was Reagan's ideological crusade". Reagan's approach might have been admirable, if that is ones political philosophy, but in reality it didn't, and up to now, hasn't worked.


      CommentedCharles Broming

      Mr. Scheps,

      Prof. Rogoff's account of Reagan's philosophy is accurate. Stockman (in his book and his Fortune magazine article) simply pointed out that the pragmatic aspects of politics, especially re-election and post-congressional employment opportunities, were more important to members of Congress than was Reagan's ideological crusade. Thus, the real, "don't-tax-and-spend" Republicans emerged.

  5. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Central Bank actions had become virtually fiscal in nature and now we have seen that monetary release did not find its way in goods and services, if at all it had it had increased stocks of unused houses, or inventory and piles of commodities from Aluminum to many other forms.

    Uncertainty channelized investments into unproductive ‘investment assets’, which are a parking lot for ‘certainty’ to return, the attractiveness of such assets like commodities, stocks or bonds runs against the unattractiveness of real economy ‘options’ that produce goods and services that get consumed to create jobs. This is now becoming a permanent feature. So we have already a stock waiting to be consumed and then we are venturing into further fiscal stances that would make a push for further debt escalation as there is no shortage of funds but shortage of viable channelizing options into goods and services that create jobs.

    Is the government a better bet for this arrangement to continue in form of government spending that is financed by cheap debt again? Let us take stock of what has already been spent in the last three years and how many net jobs it actually created on a permanent basis.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  6. Portrait of Pingfan Hong

    CommentedPingfan Hong

    "If people want the same level of government services relative to other things that they consume, government spending will take up a larger and larger share of national output over time.": this is not true. Because people want an increasing level of public services relative to other things that they consume, government spending increases its share in the economy over time. Public healthcare is a good example.

  7. CommentedTim Chambers

    Privatization of government services is not the solution. What you advocate is rent extraction from services that are done well enough by government employees. There are far too many examples of companies handling this kind of work that waste enormous sums to raise profits on cost plus ten percent contracts.

    As for improving teacher productivity, it isn't going to happen. Computer programs might be good at finding spelling and grammar errors, but they can't tell a student how to do a better job of researching or elucidating his topic. That is something only a human can do.

    The real problem that we have is that by de-emphasizing manufacturing, we have off-shored the growth of wealth creation that supports the service sector, which simply moves existing wealth around. That wealth, in all too many cases, is not being returned to this country because the companies that create it refuse to pay taxes on it.

    Too many of the "wealth creators" demand a free lunch, and far too many of their current and former employees are being subsidized by the government because their economic circumstances have been so drastically reduced via free-trade agreements with third world countries.

    Neo-liberalism is the problem, not the solution.

  8. CommentedVictor Stern

    I disagree with the diagnosis. Education is not breaking the fisc. Its medical services, where increases in productivity increase demand to no natural boundary. We would all chose to live forever together, if we could.

    Also disagree with application of the "cost desease" concept. A significant portion of growth in the share of services in the economy may be due simply to monetization of services previously rendered within households and communities without exchange of money.

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