Tuesday, September 30, 2014
10

经济萧条的阴影

发自­伯克利——上个世纪,世界上大多数发达国家都曾先后4次陷入以长期失业率为特征的经济萧条之中:这些萧条分别爆发在1930年代的美国,1930年代实现工业化后的西欧,1980年代再次在西欧爆发,最后则是1990年代的日本。而其中较近的两次经济萧条都对此后的经济产生了漫长且深远的影响。

在这两次萧条中,欧洲或日本想要重新恢复到——或者事实上恢复到——衰退前的经济增长趋势的话,就得(或者说可能)花费数十年时间才能重回到这一水平。而要不是纳粹德国入侵波兰令欧洲沦为(二战)战场的话,我们也无法设想1930年末在欧洲爆发的那场萧条会引发何种后果。

而经济增长的长期趋势未被打断的例子只有一个:在二战后,美国的生产率和就业受到经济大萧条的明显影响。当然,如果不是投入人力参加二战,美国1940年后的经济增长很可能受到大萧条的严重冲击。结构性失业高企,资本储备低于常量,这就是1930年末美国动员参战和亚欧战事大规模爆发之前的真实情况,

在美国,我们现在已经可以清晰地看到始于2008年的经济衰退正深刻地影响着世界的未来。那些著名预测家们——无论是来自公共部门和私人部门——都在不断调低对美国长期潜在GDP的预测数据。

比如说,就业人数一般会在商业周期的谷底止跌回升,但在过去两年半里,这一指标却持续下滑。至少,部分货币政策制定者据此认定把美国近期失业率的下降简单解读为失业率下降就是就是就业人口增加——其实这在很大程度上是因为劳动人口退出就业市场——并以此作为更严厉紧缩政策的依据。而与此同时,同样的过程和反应也在欧洲上演——甚至程度更为剧烈。

更重要的是,从目前情况看来,私人市场的风险承受力似乎出现了大规模崩溃,而对于全球金融资产以及那些需要现金流支撑的商业来说,其风险将永久并无限增大。考虑到发达国家人口老龄化加速,政府所承担的大量社会保障,以及政府长期清晰预算平衡计划的缺失,我们可以预见通胀和风险溢价——可能数量不多,但却清晰可见——会被包含到最大最富裕的经济体的国债中去。

在政府目光短浅地尝试通过印钱来支付社会福利支出后,美国、日本和德国的价格水平在下一代的某个时候将大幅飙升。价格水平不太可能下降,然而,为规避商业周期导致的中期风险,人们持有资产的渴望完全掩盖了上述远期基础风险因素。

不过,当前全球投资者希望通过购买美国,日本和德国主权债务来规避的并不是“基础”风险。与5年前相比,投资者的心理偏好,自然资源的约束或技术因素都没有发生根本性变化,也因此使得当前对私人企业的投资风险更高。确切地说,主要的风险来自于政府在紧急关头时为避免大规模失业而拒绝调控总需求以适应总供给。

调控总需求是政府的职责。尽管萨伊定律——供给创造需求——在理论上被证明是错误的,但毫无疑问,企业家和创业者在实际中却仍然遵循着这一准则。

76年前,约翰·凯恩斯(John Maynard Keynes)写到,如果政府无法履行这一职责,同时“需求不足……每个企业主……都在相当不利的情况下经营。因此“企业主们这场冒险游戏所面临的风险极为巨大”,这意味着“世界财富因为缺乏储蓄而无法增长”,而归根结底都是因为“那些拥有勇气和创业精神的人不断减少,同时又未能发明某些高新技术或者探明巨额财富资源来作为补充”所导致的。而如果有效需求充分的话,只要拥有平均水平的技术和财富就足够了。

在1945年到2007年这62年里,尽管受到了一些强烈(但是短期且且仅限于某些区域)的冲击,企业家和创业者依然相信只要他们能创造出供给,需求就会出现。这点在奠定全球有史以来经济增长最快的两个时代时都扮演着重要的角色。而如今,这一基础却被抽空了。

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  1. CommentedJohn Doe

    Prof. DeLong, thank you for a very thoughtful essay which gets right to the point. You are absolutely dead on with your central idea. Government's function is to provide confidence. The President is a "Confidence Man."


    I depart with you on two points.

    First, the solution is not "Keynesian." That makes the solution too easy and destroys confidence. The solution requires us to recall history. The United States was made by three men (Hamilton, Franklin, and Washington who were great economists). They formed the nation to pay its revolutionary war debts and were opposed by, interestingly, the predecessors intellectually to today's right wingers, who didn't want to pay the taxes necessary to do such.

    Our "crisis" is one induced by the no new taxes, starve the beast attack of the last 35 years.

    Second, I am a firm believer in the great man theory of history. Obama is a nice man, but he has no Hamilton or Franklin and he is woefully ineffective compared to Washington. You and Krugman are hitting him at the wrong point. You need to make you attacks more fundamental. Taxes are not about the 99% v 1%. They are about paying your debts. We cannot give people earning less than $200K a free lunch. We have just fought a War. We need to admit such and admit that we will all be paying taxes in the future to pay for it. Obama inspires no confidence because he talks that the future will be like the past, when we all know it isn't so.

  2. CommentedJonathan Lam

    Gamesmith94134: Coronary capitalism

    Kenneth Rogoff,

    In studying life or economic,” too much of a good thing is not a good thing” indicated one may overwhelm with the good thing. I recalled once Mr. Zsolt mentioned Homeostasis in physics of body governance; so, it does apply to health and economics too since each could have its own capacity to growth and risk factors to defects. Just like the perpetuity on growth imperatives, it must give in after it lost its balance; its desire surpassed its capacity either to the body or economy. Because we are in a very physical and finite world; it dictated the limitations based on its physique. Obesity is the outcome of its imbalance to health, so is depression to economy.

    There are no defects on the principles of capitalism or socialism till someone applies them to their systems with lesser acknowledgement of its capacities to growth, because both theories have its advantages and disadvantages and its limitation based on its physique that is relatively the contention of its populace. They paraphrased the paternalism and consumer sovereignty as the water mark which lost its significance. The water mark you intended to search on the wrecked ship which have already landed on the sand bar, like coronary capitalism your described or depression is already shown from fatigue. This is the same as the food and nutrition that are regulated in the industry or media that promoted or served on its own purpose rather than the welfare or health of an individual that many of various physique pursuit.
    “The pathological regulatory-political-economic dynamic that characterizes these industries is far broader. We need to develop new and much better institutions to protect society’s long-run interests.”

    It mainly falls on a mutual understanding of the exposure on the specifics that are being evaluated. Each, like the paternalism and consumer sovereignty, is attempted to influence the government to legislate and manufacturers to produce food or goods that suit for consumers under the commercialism. Perhaps, capitalism is not dead after all; it is just have to change itself to gain its consumers in order to survive. If most understand process food cause obesity, the producer should change its menu before it is thinking to open its doors next month. If government realizes what the 99% to 1% means for its citizens, it must find its way to cool them down or they may be occupied and replaced. May be capitalism or socialism is just another excuse to revolt. Open doors to acknowledgement in all sides is the best solution just prior the disaster occurs; if we all understand our physique, capacity, appetite, digestion and consumption are bounded to a finite and physical world.

    May the Buddha best you?

  3. CommentedErnest Lowe

    Zsolt Hermann comment cuts through to the core issue: we're in the midst of a systemic crisis in which the model of continuous growth runs into the hard wall of finite natural resources. For 3 decades ecological economists like Herman Daly have been building an alternative model of a steady state economy.

    Please view this page of resources and links on their work. http://indigodev.com/to_what.html

  4. CommentedJames Stedronsky

    1. Keynes. It’s always refreshing to read an article by someone who has actually read Keynes. (As it’s equally amusing to read commentary by a supposed anti-Keynesian who clearly never has.) Keynes makes the important and, hopefully, obvious observation that one of the reasons that growth cycles stall is because the richest, who tend to accrue a larger share of the newly made wealth, consume proportionately less than the middle class. Consumer demand thereby slackens. This is almost a picture perfect description of the 90’s with wealth being accumulated by the richest and earning power of the middle class eroded.

    The answer: government taxes the riches proportionately higher and spends the money on socially productive investments such as roads, health and schools.

    2. Systemic risk: As our world economy becomes increasingly complex it becomes increasingly susceptible to systemic shocks. In 2008 the shock was the massive leveraged investments on US mortgages and the various derivative bets placed on those securities. Now? Not sure, but through various grapevines I understand that the massive hedge funds are investing massively into each other. I can’t do the math, but I’m sure this is not healthy. Our system has not yet been politically able to control and oversee these funds. So I’m not sure anyone can quantify the risk or what would trigger a systematic failure of the hedge fund “industry”, but the risk is there and probably growing.

    3. Japan’s depression. It’s not clear that there ever was one from the perspective of the Japanese population. That country and the people I know there have always seemed to do just fine. Example: We deplore the historically low interest rates that have been paid. But, when their savings accounts in Yen are measured against their world purchasing power, those savings have probably done quite well as the yen increased in relative value year after year. Likewise on deplorable corporate earnings…In Japan stockholders and their stock prices are not King. They are one constituency of the corporation. As are the employees and even the retirees. The overriding driving force of the Japanese corporation is not shareholder return, but the long term well being of the corporation. Hence stock prices seem depressed from our perspective but the system as a whole was fine.

    4. Conservative Economic thought: There really isn’t much. Rather conservatives attempt to legitimate any short term policy that will put money into the hands of the top .1%.

  5. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    The bursts of pessimism that abounds for the motion or against is a confounded accessory to the moral judgment that every stakeholder is drawn into a bottomless pit of controversy around the way forward to bring out the bigger economies from the harangues of perpetual rigidity on policies and prescriptions. One is reminded of Montesquieu who reminded us of the fruits of democracy in the benefits of frugality and not in the pursuit of net worth that arguably never triumphed over the more seminal economic analyses of our times, supply, demand, et al. If practice triumphs over theory, so be it, as long as we find a lasting solace that job creation cannot be honed with an irrational assumption that ‘trickling down’ provides; drawing from the future cannot be the polity’s only buttress either.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  6. CommentedDave Thomas

    When will the advocates of Keynesian macroeconomic nonsense be run out of the academy like the charlatans that they are?
    I especially love the quote from Dr. DeLong "While Say’s law – the view that supply creates its own demand – is false in theory, it is true enough in practice that entrepreneurs and enterprises can and do depend on it."

    What does that tell you about economic theory? It is utterly worthless. What works in real life in business is what people should study and emulate. After reading this article I can only ask how and why are my tax dollars, I live in California, paying for Dr. DeLong's salary, benefits and pension?

    Keynesian macroeconomic policy has never ever worked in real life. I guess it works in theory if you've smoked enough joints and drank enough wine. It didn't work in the Great Depression. Robert Higgs, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian have all shown what a disaster the New Deal was during the Great Depression.

    Dr. DeLong completely ignores the historical alternative to Keynesian macroeconomic policy that did work in practice. The supply-side policy prescription of Dr. Robert Mundell that dramatically ended the 1981-83 recession. This is exquisitely document by Dr. Domitrovic in Econoclasts. Reagan's policies turned around a recession that was worse than the one Obama encountered, and the recession Reagan dealt with came at the end of 12 years of stagflation, 1969-1981.

    Cutting marginal tax rates and raising interest rates to attract capital was and is the ticket!!!!!!
    Government is not the solution it is the problem. The private sector needs the government to quick picking winners and losers. That's the ticket.

    Enough, enough, enough of this Keynesian theoretical fantasy that has never, ever worked in the real world.
    Reduce the size of government, eliminate crowding out caused by government, eliminate the dead weight of massive public union compensation and pension that threatens to destroy out economy, cut marginal tax rates, pursue sound dollar policies. That's the ticket.
    Good grief!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. CommentedMark Pitts

    As the author asserts, since WWII governments in the US, Europe, and Japan have indeed created above trend growth via massive deficit spending – in fat years as well as lean. There is nothing in Keynesian theory that implies this can go on forever. In all three countries we may be beginning to see what happens when Keynesian theory has been grossly over-applied and run its course.

  8. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    One important factor which more and more politicians or financial experts recognize is that the present global crisis is not really a crisis, not even depression but it is a system failure.
    We are many times forgetting that we are in an evolutionary process, and just because recently humanity felt that we achieved very good living standards, and at least in the developed world most people felt good in their skins before 2008, it does not mean evolution has stopped. Moreover although we like to think this way, humans are not above the vast natural system we exist in, but we are simply a single species in it, the continuing change of the system around us continuously affects us.
    The recent large natural catastrophes reminded us how helpless we are in the face of those forces we cannot even comprehend.
    So if we want to solve our present problems we have to understand some important points:
    1. We do not have historical perspective on the present crisis, because we are in a situation we have never been before.
    2. We are not in a crisis that could be corrected by known economical, financial or political means, but we are in a system failure, as our present constant growth, overproduction/over-consumption model has become unsustainable, moreover it has started self destructing. The same drive that gave us all our achievements through our history became a cancer destroying the whole system. None of the basic principles of a constant growth expansive system exist any more, no free markets, no strong and confident costumer base, the mass hypnotic media and marketing system brainwashing people to keep buying products they do not need for money they do not have is falling apart, and the public is becoming more mature and has become fully aware of the false system they have been living in, and we are fast depleting all our resources.
    3. With all our present attitude and behavior we are in complete opposition with the vast natural system around us, and as with our global organization and population growth we achieved a certain saturation, today we are directly in crisis with Nature which turns back on us with its force. While the whole system thrives for an overall balance and homeostasis we with our fragmented, competitive, exploitative attitude are going against it.
    Our next moves need to be based on the above, we need to update ourselves the whole population about the true factors influencing our lives, what it means we live in a closed, integral and interdependent world, thus we can prepare the people to the transition to the necessity and resource based life that is required for our survival.
    Only a factual, transparent and scientific global education program can create a situation where people join a new system willingly without coercion, also such an education program could prevent global scale rioting and revolutions due to the continually worsening living conditions. Based on such information we can clearly show people without further political trickery that we have unlimited potential a,d a bright sustainable future as long as we keep ourselves to the natural laws governing our system.
    And we can only achieve this with mutual responsibility and taking into consideration each and every element of our global system.

  9. CommentedPeter Me


    The simpilist way to understand Economics is that change in growth = chang in population + change in productivity.

    Throughout human history society has advanced because the population has grown and most importantly because PRODUCTIVITY has increased.

    BIG GOVERNMENT has contributed zero to growth and in fact has hurt growth because it hinders productivity growth.

    Therefore, the US needs to focus on producing the same amount of goods & services but in a cheaper means.

    If we reduce the cost of the total energy needs by $500B these savings can be used to consumer other goods or serve as savings.

    If we force society to use wind & solar which increases total energy by $500B then consumers and businessers will be forced to cut back on other items which will cause a downward spiral in the economy !


    This is very simple.....I dont have a Masters or a PHD.

    I think Professor dislikes objective thinking so that he can promote the liberal agenda of BIG GOVERNMENT telling us what is bets for us !



  10. Portrait of Michael Heller

    CommentedMichael Heller

    If “managing aggregate demand is governments’ job” they make a bad job of it. The political cycles of welfare states and populist states produced premature demand in western countries and left them deficit-ridden and debt-laden and vulnerable to black swans. I could more easily accept the argument that in an emergency government should balance demand if in the same breath its proponent offered ideas for doable retrenchment and institutional reform to reduce moral hazard and the overloading of the political sphere and ensure financial crises will not be systemic in the future. Good reasons would also need to be given for not *first* pursuing reforms to incentivize enterprises to put their *enormous* cash piles to work. Demand management can in effect be privatized by maintaining and creating employment in flexible labour markets with reduced tax burdens. I would like to hear also in the same breath an exhortation for government to cover emergency spending by committing itself irreversibly to future spending reduction by measures like indexing entitlements and raising retirement ages. Government has natural monopoly discretion in monetary and fiscal policy that it used irresponsibly in the past; it can use other powers now to embolden entrepreneurs and enterprises to take risks through job-creation and cost-cutting. Until I hear more liberal market friendly talk from those who rely on holistic central planning of demand conditions and no longer speak of ‘creative destruction’ as eagerly they did before the crisis, I’m more likely to listen to Robert Barro than to Brad DeLong.

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