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特朗普的美联储

坎布里奇—特朗普任命杰罗姆·鲍威尔(Jerome Powell)为下一任美联储主席,这也许是他担任总统以来所做的最重要的决定。这是一个理智清醒的选择,表明美联储的货币政策在短期将保持延续性,也表明美联储监管政策或将更加简单清晰。

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尽管鲍威尔不如现任美联储主席耶伦(Janet Yellen)和她的前任伯南克(Ben Bernanke)那样是一位拥有博士学位的经济学家,但凭借多年担任美联储“普通”理事的经验,他积累了关于他将面对的重要问题的深度知识。但不要搞错了:鲍威尔现在将要执掌的机构,主宰着全球金融体系。所有其他央行行长、财政部长甚至国家首脑,主宰力都远不如他。

如果说这看上去有些夸张,那只是因为我们大部分人其实并没有日常紧盯着美联储。当美联储所做正确,物价就保持稳定,失业保持低位,产出源源不断。但“所做正确”未必容易,而当美联储所做错误,结果也相当糟糕。

著名的例子有20世纪20年代末美联储熄灭股市泡沫的措施引发了30年代的大萧条。(幸运的是,在特朗普考虑过的美联储主席人选中,鲍威尔是最不可能重蹈这一覆辙的。)20世纪70年代,美联储海量印钞,试图以此平息这个十年中石油冲击所带来的阵痛,结果引发了通胀飙升,又花了十多年才把通胀遏制住。

在很多时候,世界其他国家比美国人更加关注美联储的政策。这并不奇怪:美元在全球金融体系中的核心地位也许比以往任何时候都更加稳固。这部分是因为世界贸易和金融大部分与美元挂钩,导致许多国家要跟在美联储的政策后亦步亦趋以稳定汇率。

在他的五年任期伊始,鲍威尔就将面临一些重大挑战。从某些角度衡量,今天的股市比20世纪20年代泡沫更甚。在当今极低的利率环境下,投资者似乎更加愿意为了回报而承受更大风险。

与此同时,尽管美国和全球经济都在强劲增长中,通胀仍然令人困惑地低迷。这使得美联储的政策利率(仍只有1%)正常化变得极其困难。而只有实现了政策利率正常化,美联储才有空间在下一次衰退来临时(这是无法避免的)削减利率。(任何给定年份发生衰退的概率为17%,而现在衰退概率很高。)

如果鲍威尔和美联储无法在下一次衰退前实现利率正常化,他们该怎么办?耶伦坚持认为没什么好担心的;美联储一切尽在掌握,因为它还有另类工具可用。但许多经济学家相信这些基本上都是骗人的东西。

比如,所谓的量化宽松就是让美联储发行短期债务去买长期政府债务。但美国财政部拥有美联储,它大可以自己完成这类债务购买。

一些人认为可以“直升机撒钱”,即美联储印钱然后发钱。这也是骗人的把戏。美联储既没有法定权力,也没有政治授权来负责财政政策;如果它要这样做的话,就有可能永远失去独立性。

货币政策是衰退的第一道也是最有效的一道防线,因此,新主席的一个紧迫任务是制定更好的方针。幸运的是,好主意是有的,我们只能寄希望于鲍威尔能够迅速成立一个委员会研究长期方案。

一个主意是提高美联储的通胀目标。但这会带来问题,因为会打破几十年来将通胀保持在2%左右的承诺。此外,更高的通胀将引来更大的指数化,最终影响货币政策的效果。为有效的负利率政策铺路是更加激进,但也是到目前为止最文雅的方案。

银行监管也属于美联储的权限范围。规则厚达30,000页的2010年多德-弗兰克(Dodd-Frank)金融改革立法让律师乐开了花。但巨大的合规成本最终要落到中小企业头上。简单地要求银行加大从股市而非债券募集资源是一个更好的办法。如此,当危机来临时,受影响的将是股东而非纳税人。

我还没有提到房间中的大象:一位貌似要挑战一切制度规范的总统给美联储的独立性带来的威胁。1972年,尼克松总统寻求连任时,他向时任美联储主席伯恩斯(Arthur Berns)大举施压,要他“水灌”经济。尼克松成功连任了,但通胀飙升,增长崩溃。没人想要重新体验这一过程——即使尼克松最终还是被弹劾了。

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