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安倍经济前景看好

2013-04-10 13:59

日本首相安倍晋三(Shinzo Abe)的国家经济复苏计划使国内的信心猛增。但“安倍经济”的可行度是多少呢?

有趣的是,日本在过去的十年里的表现并未指明持续悲观情绪的原因。事实上,就受雇工人人均产出增长而言,自世纪之交以来,日本已经做的很好。随着劳动力的减少,估计日本在2012年——也就是说,安倍经济开始之前,——受雇工人人均产出同比增长3.08%。与美国相比,那是相当的不错,美国的人均产出去年仅增长了0.37%。那比德国也强得多,德国的人均产出萎缩了0.25%。

尽管如此,许多日本感到,安倍经济只能帮助这个国家的复苏。安倍在做许多美国和欧洲经济学家呼吁的事:包括货币、财政和结构性政策的综合项目。安倍将这种方法比作三支箭——单独使用,每个都可以弯曲;结合在一起,谁也不能。

日本央行新行长黑田东彦(Haruhiko Kuroda)在财政部和之后的亚洲开发银行行长生涯中得到了许多经验。在90年代东亚危机后期,他亲眼目睹了美国财政部和国际货币基金组织(IMF)推行的传统智慧的失败。不拘泥于中央银行家过时的教条,他承诺将扭转日本的慢性通缩,设定了2%的通胀目标。

通货紧缩增加了实际(通胀调整后)债务负担,以及实际利率。尽管没有有关实际利率微小变化重要性的证据,年复一年,即使温和通缩对实际债务的影响也会十分巨大。

黑田的立场已削弱了日元的汇率,使日本商品更具竞争力。这仅仅反映了货币政策相互依存的现实:如果美联储的量化宽松政策削弱了美元,其他人必须应对,以防止货币过度升值。总有一天,我们会实现更紧密的全球货币政策协调;现在,然而,日本采取行动是有道理的尽管姗姗来迟。

如果信贷阻滞获得更多的注意力,美国的货币政策可能会更有效——例如,许多业主的再融资问题,即使利率较低,或中小企业缺乏融资。日本的货币政策希望能集中在这些关键的问题上。

但安倍在他的政策中有两支箭。评论家认为日本过去的财政刺激失败的——导致投资浪费在无用的基础设施投资上——他们犯了两个错误。首先是反事实的案例:日本经济在缺乏财政刺激的情况下表现如何?鉴于90年代后期信贷萎缩的规模,难怪政府的支出未能恢复增长。没有支出,问题会变的更糟;事实上,失业率从未超过5.8%,在全球金融危机的阵痛中,它达到了5.5%的峰值。第二,任何人访问日本都认识到了其基础设施投资的好处(美国可以学习这个宝贵的课程)。

真正的挑战将是在设计第三箭,安倍称之为“增长”。这包括旨在重组经济,提高生产力,和提高劳动参与率,尤其是女性参与率的政策。

一些人谈论“放松管制”——金融危机后,这个词名声扫地。事实上,日本压低环境的规定,或其健康和安全条例将是个错误。

我们需要的是正确的监管。在一些地区,政府有必要更积极的参与以确保更有效的竞争。但许多领域的改革是必须的,比如雇用政策,私营部门需要改变,而不是政府法规。安倍只能定下基调,不能规定结果。例如,他要求公司增加工人的工资,许多公司正计划在3月末提供比往年更大的奖金。

政府努力提高服务行业的生产力可能会特别重要。例如,日本在医疗仪器的发展方面有优势,它可以利用改善的医疗部门和其世界一流的制造能力之间的协同效应。

家庭政策,连同企业劳动实践的改变,可以加强观念的改变,增大女性的劳动参与率(而且更有效)。日本学生在国际比较中表现较好,但普遍不擅长英语,混淆国际贸易和科学,使日本在全球市场处于不利地位。对研究和教育的进一步投资将会带来较高的红利。

有充分的理由相信,日本全力振兴经济的战略会成功:日本受益于强劲的机构,有受过良好教育,技术精湛,有设计敏感型的劳动力,位于世界上最(唯一?)活跃的地区。比起许多先进工业国家,它遭受的不平等更少 (尽管超过加拿大和北欧国家),它对环境保护做出了长期承诺。

如果安倍制定的综合议程良好的执行,今天日益增长的信心将会被证明是正确的。事实上,日本可能成为阴郁的发达国家的景观为数不多的光线。

The Promise of Abenomics

2013-04-10 13:59

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s program for his country’s economic recovery has led to a surge in domestic confidence. But to what extent can “Abenomics” claim credit?

Interestingly, a closer look at Japan’s performance over the past decade suggests little reason for persistent bearish sentiment. Indeed, in terms of growth of output per employed worker, Japan has done quite well since the turn of the century. With a shrinking labor force, the standard estimate for Japan in 2012 – that is, before Abenomics – had output per employed worker growing by 3.08% year on year. That is considerably more robust than in the United States, where output per worker grew by just 0.37% last year, and much stronger than in Germany, where it shrank by 0.25%.

Nonetheless, as many Japanese rightly sense, Abenomics can only help the country’s recovery. Abe is doing what many economists (including me) have been calling for in the US and Europe: a comprehensive program entailing monetary, fiscal, and structural policies. Abe likens this approach to holding three arrows – taken alone, each can be bent; taken together, none can.

The new governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, comes with a wealth of experience gained in the finance ministry, and then as President of the Asian Development Bank. During the East Asia crisis of the late 1990’s, he saw firsthand the failure of the conventional wisdom pushed by the US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund. Not wedded to central bankers’ obsolete doctrines, he has made a commitment to reverse Japan’s chronic deflation, setting an inflation target of 2%.

Deflation increases the real (inflation-adjusted) debt burden, as well as the real interest rate. Though there is little evidence of the importance of small changes in real interest rates, the effect of even mild deflation on real debt, year after year, can be significant.

Kuroda’s stance has already weakened the yen’s exchange rate, making Japanese goods more competitive. This simply reflects the reality of monetary-policy interdependence: if the US Federal Reserve’s policy of so-called quantitative easing weakens the dollar, others have to respond to prevent undue appreciation of their currencies. Someday, we might achieve closer global monetary-policy coordination; for now, however, it made sense for Japan to respond, albeit belatedly, to developments elsewhere.

Monetary policy would have been more effective in the US had more attention been devoted to credit blockages – for example, many homeowners’ refinancing problems, even at lower interest rates, or small and medium-size enterprises’ lack of access to financing. Japan’s monetary policy, one hopes, will focus on such critical issues.

But Abe has two more arrows in his policy quiver. Critics who argue that fiscal stimulus in Japan failed in the past – leading only to squandered investment in useless infrastructure – make two mistakes. First, there is the counterfactual case: How would Japan’s economy have performed in the absence of fiscal stimulus? Given the magnitude of the contraction in credit supply following the financial crisis of the late 1990’s, it is no surprise that government spending failed to restore growth. Matters would have been much worse without the spending; as it was, unemployment never surpassed 5.8%, and, in throes of the global financial crisis, it peaked at 5.5%. Second, anyone visiting Japan recognizes the benefits of its infrastructure investments (America could learn a valuable lesson here).

The real challenge will be in designing the third arrow, what Abe refers to as “growth.” This includes policies aimed at restructuring the economy, improving productivity, and increasing labor-force participation, especially by women.

Some talk about “deregulation” – a word that has rightly fallen into disrepute following the global financial crisis. In fact, it would be a mistake for Japan to roll back its environmental regulations, or its health and safety regulations.

What is needed is the right regulation. In some areas, more active government involvement will be needed to ensure more effective competition. But many areas in which reform is needed, such as hiring practices, require change in private-sector conventions, not government regulations. Abe can only set the tone, not dictate outcomes. For example, he has asked firms to increase their workers’ wages, and many firms are planning to provide a larger bonus than usual at the end of the fiscal year in March.

Government efforts to increase productivity in the service sector probably will be particularly important. For example, Japan is in a good position to exploit synergies between an improved health-care sector and its world-class manufacturing capabilities, in the development of medical instrumentation.

Family policies, together with changes in corporate labor practices, can reinforce changing mores, leading to greater (and more effective) female labor-force participation. While Japanese students rank high in international comparisons, a widespread lack of command of English, the lingua franca of international commerce and science, puts Japan at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. Further investments in research and education are likely to pay high dividends.

There is every reason to believe that Japan’s strategy for rejuvenating its economy will succeed: the country benefits from strong institutions, has a well-educated labor force with superb technical skills and design sensibilities, and is located in the world’s most (only?) dynamic region. It suffers from less inequality than many advanced industrial countries (though more than Canada and the northern European countries), and it has had a longer-standing commitment to environment preservation.

If the comprehensive agenda that Abe has laid out is executed well, today’s growing confidence will be vindicated. Indeed, Japan could become one of the few rays of light in an otherwise gloomy advanced-country landscape.

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