Saturday, October 25, 2014
19

全球经济走弱的叙事结构

发自纽黑文——最近出现的全球经济走弱迹象令许多人开始思考未来几年的恶劣经济表现究竟会蔓延到何种地步。我们是否正面对着一个长时间的全球低迷期,甚至可能是一场萧条?

当今在预测上的一个根本问题就是经济减缓的最终成因其实是在心理学和社会学意义上的,并与不断波动的信心和变化中的“动物精神(animal spirits)”相关联。在乔治·阿科洛夫(George Akerlof)与笔者合著的《动物精神》一书中,我们提出这些转化反映了不断改变的故事内容,新叙事方式的流行,以及互相关联的世界观,而这些都是难以被量化的。

事实上,大多数专业经济学家似乎并不对全球经济的前景感到极度忧心。比如说,9月6日世界经济合作与发展组织发表了一份针对近期全球经济展望的中期评估,这份由该组织副秘书长兼首席经济学家皮尔·卡罗·帕多安(Pier Carlo Padoan)执笔的报告只是轻描淡写地指出可能很快会出现“重大风险”——这其实就是不确定性的另一种说法。

问题是经济学家工具箱里的统计模型最适用于正常时期,因此经济学家们自然也喜欢找正常那样描述情况。如果当前的放缓跟近几十年的经济放缓一样具有典型性的话,那么我们就可以预测同一类型的复苏。

以去年春在华盛顿特区的布鲁金斯学会上发表的一篇论文为例,其作者哈佛大学教授詹姆斯·斯托克(James Stock)和普林斯顿大学教授马克·沃森(Mark Watson)公布了一个新的“动力因素模型”,采用了1959到2011年的数据进行估算。在因此排除了大萧条之后,他们宣称美国当前的放缓基本上跟其他近期放缓并无差异,只不过是幅度更大而已。

他们的模型将所有衰退的成因缩减为只有6大冲击——“石油、货币政策、生产力、不确定事件,流动性/金融风险和财政政策”——并将2007年前的大多数经济衰退仅仅归因为其中两个因素:“不确定事件”和流动性/金融风险”。但即便我们接受了这个结论,但依然要思考究竟是什么导致了近几年的“不确定事件”和“流动性/金融风险”,以及如何有效地预测这些冲击。

当人们对过去一两年的外部经济冲击的迹象进行思考时,脑海里浮现的是那些具体重要性不可知的故事。我们只知道大多数人都已经听过这些故事许多遍了。

首先大部分故事都是关于欧洲金融危机的,全球世界在都在谈论这一点。经合组织的中期评估将其认定为“全球经济最重要的风险”。这看上去似乎不太可能:“为什么欧洲的危机对其他地方就那么重要呢?”

当然其中一部分原因就是全球贸易和金融市场的兴起。但国家之间的联系并不仅仅通过市场价格的直接影响来发生。相互作用的公众心理在其中也扮演着一部分角色。

这令我们认识到故事的重要性——这跟斯托克和沃森列举的那类统计分析相差十万八千里。心理学家强调说人类思维是存在着一个叙事基础的:人们会记住这些故事并受其鼓舞——尤其是那些描述某个真实人物的故事。流行的故事都偏向于道德方面,好让人们联想到坏的结果往往反映出某些道德决心的缺失。

欧洲危机由一个希腊崩盘的故事作为开端,而且在这个只有1100万人的小国里发生的事件似乎威胁到了全球经济。但这些故事在经济上的重要性与其货币价值(这只能在既成事实之后衡量)之间并无紧密联系,相反,这取决于它们的故事价值。

希腊危机故事始于2008年,当时政府提出要延长退休年龄以弥补养老金缺口并随后引发大规模民众抗议示威活动的。全球各地的新闻媒体开始在报道中描述一个过度的特权感——即便这种年龄延长其实相当温和(比如说有孩子或从事危险工作的妇女就可以在55岁退休并领取全额养老金,只延长了5年),再在这幅图像中加上走上街头抗议的希腊人。

这个故事可能在希腊境外引发了一些闲言碎语,但直到2009年年末才引发了国际关注,因为当时希腊国债市场日渐动荡,而国债利率的上涨又给政府带来了更多问题。这种对希腊挥霍行为的大肆报道通过吸引不断聚焦的公众兴趣而形成了一个负反馈怪圈,最终在其他欧洲国家引发了危机。正如Youtube网站上的视频那样,这个希腊故事开始病毒式传播。

有人可能反对说欧洲以外的大多数人肯定不会密切关注这场危机,那些信息闭塞的人甚至听都没听过。但每个国家的意见领袖以及那些闭塞者的亲戚朋友却在关注,而他们的影响力可以营造一种令每个人都不太舒服的气氛。

在许多人心目中,希腊故事似乎与2007年危机之前的房地产和股票市场泡沫联系在一起。这些资产泡沫是由宽松的贷款标准以及过度的贷款意愿支撑起来的,而这似乎跟希腊政府借款来支付慷慨养老金的意愿非常相似。因此人们不仅将希腊危机视为一个象征,还将其看作是一个道德故事。后果自然就是对政府紧缩政策予以支持,而该政策只能令事情雪上加霜。

这个欧洲故事如今正伴随着世界所有人,这个故事是如此生动,即使欧元危机似乎已得到圆满解决,在新的故事分散公众注意力之前也难以被遗忘。如果不考虑人们心目的中故事的话,我们就无法完全了解世界经济的前景,事情从来都是这样的。

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  1. CommentedRobert O'Regan

    The implication seem to be that the story is in the neighborhood of a fable - say, 'the IMF is here to help you.'

  2. CommentedGabriel Atega

    I have always wondered why a pipeline problem in Nigeria or a storm in the GOM impact upon the prices of oil worldwide when evidently a pipeline problem can be fixed and a storm will certainly pass away. It may cause damage to communications and infrastructure but these are local and fixable in the very short term.

    How about problem hype spinned by those who want oil prices to go up, or certain economies to have troubles as one of the causes of global economic problems?

  3. Commentedjim bridgeman

    This connects with Richard Roll's explanation for the financial crisis: No house price collapse=No crisis. So why the house price collapse? Answer: people lost confidence in their ability to pay such prices. Why was that? Answer: people lost confidence that their future personal incomes would rise enough to sustain the debt required to pay the house prices. (Technical aside: the formula for the value of a growing perpetuity shows that a small change in the story people tell themselves about the future rise of their personal income leads to a huge change in the current value of that future income.) Why did people lose confidence in the story that their future personal incomes would keep rising? (remember, this is all occurring BEFORE the collapse) Answer: You tell me, but Roll suggests that house prices started to top at about the time (late 2006/early 2007) that it became apparent that Dems would sweep the 2008 U.S. elections. A coming Dem sweep makes the story one that government share of economy will grow. In most of history (at least, so people's intuitive story goes, increasing government share of economy will slow or reverse growth of personal incomes (you could look it up.) So the people's personal story became "maybe not so much growth coming in my personal income", so they got more careful on house price bidding, so prices collapse, so banks teeter and collapse and here we are.

  4. CommentedMarica Frangakis

    The Greek case certainly needs a narrative. Only the one it has been associated with serves more purposes than one. The 'fiscal profligacy' (variants: lazy Greeks, etc) narrative is far too simple to describe the complex specificities of a country, while it leaves out other factors, which were central in the Greek public debt crisis, such as the architecture of the eurozone. Not surprisingly, 5 years on, the crisis remains intractable!

  5. CommentedTimothy Williamson

    Let's see if it's possible to DTREG non-linear analysis to bring together all these elements in a quantifiable manner. Interested? tim@williamsoncontracting.biz

  6. CommentedTim Colgan

    Robert Shiller - I always enjoy reading your articles and listening to you speak. But as a controls engineer, it always irks me when someone uses the term from my domain - “negative feedback” - inappropriately. The “negative” here refers to the subtraction of feedback from the input reference signal. It is not “negative” as in “bad”, rather “negative” as in “minus” and generally is used to provide stability in the loop. See:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_feedback

    This is a common error made by those who have adopted the term for use in other fields (similar to inappropriate use of the term “relativity” from physics). Ask an engineer if you doubt my viewpoint. And please use the term correctly in the future (actually, if you had said “positive feedback loop” it would have made sense).

  7. Portrait of Hosein Maleki

    CommentedHosein Maleki

    That's true, I guess the narrative structure may exist in other types of crises as well, like- is there going to be a war or not. Or who is going to be elected. Or alike. I really
    like this idea.

  8. CommentedJonathan Lam

    Gamesmith94134: the Instability of Inequality

    “Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy.” Each economic model failed respectively on the macro economical system since the scale of supply and demand has been altered by the regulations or manipulation after the globalization. Macroeconomic and microeconomic had took a cakewalk whenever the competition appears, because each applications have a contradiction as shifts in the scale from the market and state; as just as you descript in, “The increase in private- and public-sector leverage and the related asset and credit bubbles are partly the result of inequality.

    Perhaps, you may have mixed with the atmospherically force on an explosion and implosion of a balloon that micro economical strategies became irrelevance that supply and demand is not react to each other like America. When it met its macroeconomics in the price structures, the emerging market nations created another price structure that made the balloon collapsed under the pressure of competition and its market shrinks by its aggregated demand even after the quantities easing I & II. First, Mediocre income growth for everyone but the rich in the last few decades opened a gap between incomes and spending aspirations. It concurs with a lack of economic dynamism that led to sclerotic growth then and the euro zone’s sovereign-debt crisis now. Secondly, price structure collapsed, and deflationary to adjust became the catalyst to its implosion since America or the Anglo-Saxon countries, the response was to democratize credit that were not fully financed by taxes, fueling public deficits and debt. In both cases, debt levels eventually became unsustainable.

    In the part of China or India, low currency exchange rate and low labor cost may not made the best of the product available in its contest of quality; but the aggregated demand from China, India and US combined make the combustion on price that inflation is changing the status of the currency exchange rate and labor cost to rise. In addition, the high rise of price create hardship for those are below the rising living standard since they live on salary; and which polarized the rich and the poor more. With the pressure of the macroeconomic on surplus and workforce, it must face the inequality of the middle class is driving the inflation to eyelevel of its governments that price control and more regulation is put in the situation to halt its price system to synchronize with the developed nations. Its price structure exploded of its price limits after the democratized credits is put into contest with its economical developments. Besides, the aggregated demand rose significantly above the level of supply that is living standard elevates that created the short fall for the poor.

    In turn of atmospheric pressures in the free market system, we complete with state and private development. When the sovereignty confronts each other, it is how the O2 turn O3 and became the sunscreen even the sun ray is not coming through----it is just a mere reflection and it is how stable we are now that rule and regulations are kites floating in the sky and it became instability even for economists who cannot take their breath in O3. Or, how much rubber is in the balloon is required to the skin of the balloon when it blast or collapse? As the power of the middle class if you attempt to restore, you must know which side of the rubber you are taking; ”Burger-nomics” is the closest crisis I know of its legitimacy. More O3?

    May the Buddha bless you?

  9. CommentedJephtah Lorch

    If narrowing economy to data extrapolation would have been realistic, the world would be rich (or bankrupt). The current crisis is a result not only of over spending and unwarranted reliance on stock markets, it is a result of under-production and inability to recreate jobs due to mass "job export" to China, India and south-east Asia.

    In addition, non producing populations are growing much faster than producing economies. This is especially true in terms of food and water. Yes, 'growth' is in terms of electronics, weapons, oil consumption and other non food products. Foodstuff is becoming scarce, raising food prices and distanceing them from poor countries.

  10. CommentedMarc Sargen

    Great model based on garbage in. They base a model on data from 1959 to 2011 and then say they model properly addresses a statical outlier.
    When else in this time period were there any point when the a substantial portion of home owners who were under water? Even anywhere in the world?
    What were their fundamental assumptions on how these people would affect the economy & how may Super 8-balls did they use to verify its accuracy.

  11. CommentedJorge Simao

    People's mind reflect there perception of current situation -- which presents an very objective reality with factors such as unemployment, low salaries, unpredictable outcomes, high "end-user/consumer" interest rates, high prices in basic commodities, etc. To claim that it is people mind that is creating the crisis, is basically to say that economy theory was limited ability to explain (less yet predict) what happens in the real world. The argument coming from a prof. in Economics is particularly alarming, and just shows how clue-less the field/discipline is about the 21cent. modern world. And yes, even after discounting the economical, political, technological and historical variable, people mind matter. But even there just saying "animal spirits" is to blame, is to throw to the trash bin 300+ years of scientific thinking in the western world. Having failed on the economics dimension, at least bother to study the modern psychology literature.

      CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I fully agree with your opinion.
      Prof. Schiller's article coincides with the present official opinion which basically tries to ignore what is happening on the streets in the real reality, and try to hold on to a dream humanity has been chasing for centuries.
      People are afraid to look into the mirror and confront the real situation because that would force them to change and we hate changing.
      Humans are capable of getting used to the most severe austerity and pressure until it becomes intolerable and we have no choice but to move on.
      This is the pattern of our whole evolution, history through revolutions, wars, great painful "jumps".
      Unfortunately this is the real "animal spirit" that we only move, change when the blows, or pinches from behind became so painful that we have to move as other animals, without examining the situation, understanding it and making the necessary adjustments willingly, in full awareness. Instead we want to dream on, and pretend we are in a Hollywood movie with a happy ending.
      There is no need to contemplate whether we are going to be in a crisis or depression, we are already in a system failure.
      The "romantic story" of Greece has spread to the whole of Europe, to the US and China, to South America and Australia, there is nobody who would not be involved and not only in their "stories" but in their real life. Greece was just a symptom, like a pimple on the skin before the whole disease breaks out.
      The dynamic factor model's 6 shocks missed out on the 2 most important ones:
      We cannot maintain a constant quantitative growth economic model based on excessive, unnecessary and harmful overproduction in a naturally and humanely closed and finite system. We have started to exhaust both the natural and the human resources, we are beyond peak points on both fronts.
      We also evolved into a totally interconnected, global, interdependent human network not only in economics and finances but on all levels.
      In such an intermingled, closed and finite system the present polarized, fragmented, self calculating attitude and policy making leads to self destruction, like a cancer in the body.
      Only a completely new mutually responsible and considerate approach can raise humanity above this system failure.
      The true story is about how much we understand this, and how much we manage to motivate people in a positive way to change, this time wisely, pro-actively instead of by suffering and destruction.

  12. CommentedPatrick Lietz

    While the influence of the narrative is clearly underestimated in many economic models, I feel that one of the most important variables determining future economic growth has not received the attention it might deserve in your paper:

    Discretionary surplus of accessible energy.

    I argue that the plateauing of crude oil production in 2005, and the ensuing rises in price, should be seen as the bottleneck based on which longer-term economic forecasts should established.

    The emerging narrative might then cast blame on the culprit of choice (derivatives, banking system, deregulation, climate change, EU, China,...) or help us to address this by suggesting adaptive behaviors, but it would be most helpful if it helps governments and organizations to recognize the energetic constraints that we are facing now and for some time to come.

  13. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    The real challenge with the narrative is uncertainty.

    The interim assessment by the OECD which gives a rather appalling picture of Q2 and Q3 growth for G7 (0.9% and 0.3%), makes the narrative steeped in uncertainty about leading indicators after so much has been done on monetary loosening and employment of a policy framework that allowed adjustments to happen over time and through a transmission mechanism that dealt with inflation expectations and unemployment rate for broader macro-factors to be seeded with sustainability. But the preponderance of an uncertain narrative is not waning but growing as so much monetary stimulus (and some fiscal), although predicated as a normal follow-through action like in any other recession; it is not very normal though that higher debt to GDP ratio and higher debt to revenue ratios of governments was already sitting on a stock of global debt that was nowhere close to the earlier recessions.

    Coupled to that are extraneous factors and interaction of factors as highlighted in the treatise, Disentangling the Channels of the 2007-2009 Recession by Stock and Watson, that has rightly pointed out that “Sorting out credible instrumental variables methods for separately identifying liquidity shocks, market risk shocks, exogenous wealth shocks, and uncertainty shocks constitutes a large research agenda.”

    Procyon Mukherjee

  14. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    I think changing perceptions of "the narrative" are quite important because it tells us how people are organizing highly discordant and far-flung facts, the ultimate drivers of the narrative.

    In a shifting, globalizing economy, "facts" and "phenomena" are highly interconnected and interrelated. But there are also marked degrees of statistical "independence" between a lot of these narrative drivers. The independence tends to dampen out and localize the impacts of many events. One of my complaints about Professor Roubini's analyses is that he seems to overemphasize the interconnectedness and its cause-and-effect consequences. Yes, if there is a lot of serial correlation between bad events, then big bad things can happen. But the chain is not always a "done deal." However, Roubini is always laying down a view that should be considered seriously. If you think some chain of events might be starting, read Roubini while you're heading for the cellar.

    Another commentator said somewhere that the half-life of a "big idea" summarized into three words in today's world is about six months. So shifting narratives may not tell us much about the probably trajectory of the world economy. What then?

    I think well-thought economic models are the best view forward while each of us should try to maintain a sense of the many things that can go wrong while carefully listening to the Cassandras on world events.

  15. CommentedMarcel K

    Isn't even "normal" economic activity affected by narratives? In the 1990s, everyone was talking about the limitless potential of the internet the Nasdaq. People told each other that housing prices could never fall and we got the subprime mortgage boom. I wonder whether stories shouldn't have a larger role in economic analysis than just explaining why macroeconomic fluctuations happen?

    A related, self-interested question is whether sociologists aren't the "experts" on this topic. After all, sociologists have been looking at narratives and discourses far longer than economists and have a much better tool set for examining them.

  16. CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

    Prof. Shiller,

    I think you have missed something very important in your forecasting.

    Without being aware of it, we have made a serious mistake in developing numerous real (or physical) transaction systems through the use of information technology and developed too many job-killing machines (mostly by big companies) in real markets over the last 30 years of the Modern Information Age. I believe this is the root cause of the current economic crisis, more specifically, the current job crisis. Strangely, it seems nobody has recognized this yet, and no expert has considered this at all in his or her public ruminations about the economy.

    Could I suggest you see the following two articles I recently wrote?

    (1) “Job-Killing Machines in the Modern Information Age...” http://goo.gl/sj2ba
    (2) “The Real Cause of the Current Economic Crisis and a Suggested Solution” http://goo.gl/GkBCP

    If we do not replace the existing job-killing machines, that is, the existing private information-based supply chain networks, with a new job-creating machine, that is, a public information-based supply chain infrastructure, I believe it will be almost impossible to stop the further collapse of American middle-class families or to avoid the upcoming economic catastrophe.

    If you wish to know more details, please feel free to contact me.

    Sincerely,

    Luke

      CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

      @lt lee,

      I would suggest you also see: “Job Creation in the Modern Information Age” http://goo.gl/ig0z1

      Commentedlt lee

      I scanned your first article in which you used Zara as an example as your job killing machine. It seems to me that you are talking about the"Winner-takes-all" phenomenon enabled by modern communication and transportation technologies. If so, I cannot see how it could be reverted since a winner could only take all to the extent that it is offering better service and/or merchandise.

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