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货币历史的正用和误用

2013-04-12 14:03

两个央行:一个活跃,积极回应事件。虽然它不应被指责忽视现有发展,其政策因为将来埋下隐患被广泛批评。

另一个镇定。它仍然是冷静的面对事件,不惜一切代价避免做任何有可能被解释为鼓励过度冒险或导致小幅通货膨胀的事情。

当然,我刚刚描述的不仅仅是假设。实际上,这是对美联储和欧洲央行的简要描述。

两个央行不同举措的普遍解释是他们的社会历史经验不同。银行机构的个性反映出塑造官员概念化他们所面临的问题时的集体记忆。

1930年的大萧条,经济崩溃时,美联储懒洋洋看着,折成为了烙进每一个美国央行银行家记忆的成型事件。因此,当美联储感到再次出现大萧条的一点点风险时,它就开始积极响应。

相比之下,定义欧洲货币政策的事件是1920年的恶性通货膨胀,以及七八十年代的经历,当央行为财政赤字融资时——再次带来通货膨胀的后果。实际上,将国家货币政策的制定委托给欧洲央行的目的是解决这个问题。

不仅是央行,当然,历史经验在塑造决策。约翰逊(Lyndon Johnson)总统,决定加强美国对越南的干涉。四分之一个世纪之后,美国总统布什(George H.W. Bush),考虑如何最好地降低伊拉克入侵科威特的可能,而由于没有退出策略,我们的部队深陷泥潭。

但是研究外交政策得出的一个关键结论是,决策者往往无法测试他们的类比是否合适。事实上,他们没有问,历史环境和当前的事实之间是否紧密相关。因此,类比推理既将确定政策,也会扭曲政策。它误导决策者,就像误导了约翰逊和布什那样。

对于货币政策而言,也有类似的风险。对美联储来说,重要的是要问清楚1930年,过早收紧政策引发二次衰退是否是采取现有宽松政策的最好历史类比。当然,大萧条并非唯一的选择。

美联储也可以考虑1924-1927年期间的政策,低利率助长了股市和房地产泡沫,或2003-2005年,由于严重的金融失衡,利率被压低。至少,美联储可能会建立一个“投资组合”的类比,测试他们是否合适,从中汲取经验,就像肯尼迪总统1962年衡量古巴导弹危机时所作的那样。

同样,欧洲央行不应仅仅考虑宽松货币政策是如何在1920年导致政府持有巨额预算赤字,也应将央行银行家们在1930年时是如何应对金融危机的——联邦政治极端主义和破坏对负责任的政府的支持——考虑在内。再次,严格的分析现有情况中历史类比的适用性。

这样做的人会发现很难为欧洲央行及其面对事件时顽固的不作为辩护。没有证据表明欧洲面临通胀。如果当前的欧洲政府不承诺紧缩和财政整顿,哪个政府会?

当我思考欧洲经济,欧洲央行未能为支持经济增长提供更多的货币政策似乎与欧洲1930年灾难性的货币政策类似。政治后果可能同样具有破坏性。欧洲人应该思考为什么1920年会出现通货膨胀,而不是1930年的政治灾难,已成为当前货币政策的历史原则。

另一方面,当我思考美国经济复苏时,我认为大萧条时期,而不是1924-1927年或2003-2005年,与当前情况类似。只有在1930年利率接近于零。只有在1930年,经济通过挖掘自身走出了危机。

此外,也许我发现这与1930年的状况令人信服的类似是可以预料的。这是美国货币政策的定义时期。而我是个美国人。

The Use and Abuse of Monetary History

2013-04-12 14:03

Imagine two central banks. One is hyperactive, responding aggressively to events. While it certainly cannot be accused of ignoring current developments, its policies are widely criticized as storing up problems for the future.

The other central bank is unflappable. It remains calm in the face of events, seeking at all cost to avoid doing anything that might be construed as encouraging excessive risk-taking or creating even a whiff of inflation.

What I have just described is no mere hypothetical, of course. It is, in fact, a capsule depiction of the United States Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.

One popular explanation for the two banks’ different approaches is that they stem from their societies’ respective historical experiences. The banks’ institutional personalities reflect the role of collective memory in shaping how officials conceptualize the problems that they face.

The Great Depression of the 1930’s, when the Fed stood idly by as the economy collapsed, is the molding event seared into the consciousness of every American central banker. As a result, the Fed responds aggressively when it perceives even a limited risk of another depression.

By contrast, the defining event shaping European monetary policy is the hyperinflation of the 1920’s, filtered through the experience of the 1970’s and 1980’s, when central banks were enlisted once again to finance budget deficits – and again with inflationary consequences. Indeed, delegating national monetary policies to a Europe-wide central bank was intended to solve precisely this problem.

It is not only in central banking, of course, that we see the role of historical experience in shaping policymaking. President Lyndon Johnson, when deciding to escalate US intervention in Vietnam.A quarter-century later, President George H.W. Bush, considering how best to roll back Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, drew an analogy with Vietnam, where the absence of an exit strategy had caused US forces to get bogged down.

But a key conclusion of research on foreign policy is that decision-makers all too often fail to test their analogies for “fitness.” They fail to ask whether there is, in fact, a close correspondence between historical circumstances and current facts. As a result, analogical reasoning both shapes and distorts policy. It misleads decision-makers, as it did both Johnson and Bush.

The same dangers arise for monetary policy. For the Fed, it is important to ask whether the 1930’s, when its premature policy tightening precipitated a double-dip recession, really is the best historical analogy to consider when contemplating how to time the exit from its current accommodating stance. Certainly, the Great Depression is not the only alternative on offer.

The Fed might also consider policy in 1924-1927, when low interest rates fueled stock-market and real-estate bubbles, or 2003-2005, when interest rates were held down in the face of serious financial imbalances. At a minimum, the Fed might develop a “portfolio” of analogies, test them for fitness, and distill their lessons, as President John F. Kennedy famously did when weighing his options during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Similarly, the ECB might consider not only how monetary accommodation allowed governments to run large budget deficits in the 1920’s, but also how central bankers’ failure to respond to the financial crisis of the 1930’s fed political extremism and undermined support for responsible government. Again, rigorous analysis requires testing these historical analogies for fitness with current circumstances.

Anyone who does so will find it hard to defend the ECB and its stubborn inaction in the face of events. There is exactly zero evidence in Europe today that inflation is just around the corner. And, if current European governments are not committed to austerity and fiscal consolidation, then which governments are?

When I consider the European economy, the ECB’s failure to provide more monetary support for economic growth appears to be directly analogous to Europe’s disastrous monetary policies in the 1930’s. The political consequences could be similarly devastating. Europeans should ponder why the inflationary 1920’s, rather than the politically catastrophic 1930’s, have become the historical lodestar for current monetary policy.

On the other hand, when I contemplate the US economy, I conclude that recovery from the Great Depression, and not 1924-1927 or 2003-2005, is the episode that most closely resembles current circumstances. Only in the 1930’s were interest rates near zero. Only in the 1930’s was the economy digging itself out from a major financial crisis.

Then again, perhaps it is to be expected that I find the analogy with the 1930’s compelling. That was the defining episode for American monetary policy. And I am, after all, an American.

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