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被审问的央行

发自伦敦——1997年11月11日,在下议院二读通过了对1946年《银行法案》的修正案后,英国央行向独立迈出了一大步。修正案在法律意义上确认了时任财政大臣的戈登·布朗(Gordon Brown)将中央银行业务从政府控制下解放出来的决定。对于这个半个世纪以来一直处于政府枷锁之下的机构来说这堪称一项标志性事件,象征着对中央银行独立性的要求已经成为了常识。

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但如今这一常识正遭到质疑,而且不仅是在英国。过去一旦出现真实且迫切的通胀风险,那么只需将货币政策委托给保守的中央银行家,让他们去承受为政府预算赤字融资的压力就好了。如今的问题则恰恰相反,即央行无法将通胀提升到目标水平。

为此货币和财政政策制定者必须共同努力,包括允许央行在极端情况下将预算赤字货币化。但在与财政部门合作时,央行的独立性却毫无裨益,反而成为了一项障碍。

当央行行长的任务仅限于保持通胀低速稳定时,其独立性也更容易得到维护。鉴于其职权范围较为狭窄,央行决策所产生的分配性结果相对有限。此外也很容易解释中央银行动用的各类政策工具是如何与其政治授权目标联系起来的。

但在全球金融危机爆发后货币和财政政策的风险凸显了出来,央行也承担了更多的责任。不管央行是为了确保系统稳定还是其他原因去决定是否营救特定金融机构,对个人投资者都会产生明显的影响。

央行对公司债券和抵押贷款证券市场的非常规干预也是如此。不出意料,在整个社会都承受着空前经济压力时央行竟敢公开出手援助特定金融机构,很快就令央行独立性这个概念成为了政治雷区。

在这个国家货币政策的跨国溢出效应更为强大的时代,保持独立性也变得更有问题。这些溢出效应让央行必须考虑到其政策对外国和全球体系的影响。但当中央银行在维持独立性所需的那种狭隘且只关注国内事务的政治授权下运作时,追求全球目标就极为困难甚至近乎不可能。

当前中央银行因为诸多原因而受到了冲击:无法达致通胀目标,未能维持金融稳定,没有透明的手段来恢复稳定,没有充分考虑其政策的全球影响。而那些不满央行表现的政治家们正在试图重夺控制权。

因此我们看到意大利银行因处理该国银行危机而遭到抨击,听到英国央行由于对英国脱欧的宏观经济影响表示担忧而被批评,还碰到有推测说美国总统特朗普有意在美联储里安插一批政治上效忠于他的人。

但为了加强政治问责而在央行独立性方面做出妥协无异于买椟还珠。货币政策相当复杂且对技术要求较高,将其控制权交还给政治人物必须跟把一国全部核电站的钥匙交给他们一样慎重。

有人会说,中央银行维护自身独立性的方式是放弃宏观审慎政策和微观审慎政策,并在证券市场采取非常规干预措施。但本次危机的一个重要教训在于宏观经济和金融政策紧密相连,当这两个任务在同一个机构中并交由不同的委员会管理时,它们的协调也是最有效的。此外考虑当前的低利率水平,万一又来一场危机,那么非常规的政策一定会被重新捡起来。

中央银行可以用来抵抗其独立性威胁的做法就是变得更为透明。它们可以在所有政策相关事宜上公布各个董事会成员的投票情况,并及时发布会议记录;可以召开更多的新闻发布会并避免在解释自身政策时引用太多陈词滥调;可以避免对那些跟自身政治委任不相关的问题发表评论;也可以承认政治家们有权去定义中央银行的任务目标。

而为了左右这些政治家的观点,央行可以更好地解释为什么与财政当局和外国央行的合作符合公共利益。他们可以发布更详细的金融账户数据,包括自身和交易对手的证券交易情况。

最重要的是,它们可以避免像欧洲央行在2011年加速意大利西尔维奥·贝卢斯科尼政府倒台时所做的那样干预议会政治,这样就不会再惹上麻烦,并占据最有利的地位。

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