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解决全球危机的两大政策处方

2013-04-24 15:18

专家知道而非专家不知道的是他们知道的比非专家认为他们应知道要少。这点在刚刚结束的国际货币基金组织(IMF)和世界银行春季会议中表现的尤为明显——3天紧张的会谈,汇集了各国财长、央行行长和其他决策者。

我们的经济专业知识是有限的。想想货币和财政政策。尽管有几十年的数据收集以及数学和统计研究,在许多大问题上,我们知道的基本就是经验法则。例如,我们知道我们应该降低利率,注入流动性来应对停滞,以及提高政策利率和银行准备金率来抑制通货膨胀。有时我们依靠自己的判断,将公开市场操作和利率举措相结合。但事实是我们对这些政策结构的了解是基本的。

这些经验法则起作用是由于进化。随着时间的推移,错误的举措受到处罚,使用这些政策的人要么通过观察他人学习,要么消失。我们得到货币政策和财政政策的方式同鸟类筑巢一样。

正如所有的行为经进化定行,当环境变化时,还存在一种风险,即现有行为功能失调。这是一些标准宏观经济政策的命运。欧元区的形成和半个世纪无情的全球化改变了全球经济格局,曾经有效的政策变得无效。

瑞典央行成立于1668年,紧接着,1694年成立了英国央行,动机是单一的经济应该有单一的央行。在接下来的三个世纪里,垄断货币创造机构的好处得到更加广泛认可,大量央行被建立,每个政治经济体都有自己的央行。

没有预料到的是,全球化将侵蚀这些界限。因此,我们回到了我们试图逃离的过去——单一经济。

这显然是不可行的,它解释了为什么发达国家的央行注入大量流动性,却未能启动经济,创造更多的就业机会。毕竟,在一个经济全球化的时代,许多这样的流动性溢出超越了政治界限,在遥远的其他地区形成通胀压力,沉淀成为货币战争的风险,而失业率仍高得危险,威胁削弱了工人的技能。长期的损害可能是毁灭性的。

在世界银行/国际货币基金组织春季会议上明显的是,几乎所有的决策者都陷入困境,没有人有一个完整的答案。我也是。但是这里有两个简单的方法可以有助于缓解危机。

首先,在缺乏单一的全球央行的情况下,主要经济体货币政策之间的协调是必需的。我们需要一群主要经济体——称之为“G大国”——协调货币政策。

为了说明原因,以日本为例。日本的决策者有理由促进通胀,甚至纠正过去六、七年间日元升值的状况。但是,在当今世界,其他国家的央行将很快通过注入流动性做出回应,促使日本央行再次采取行动。这些行为通常是推动国内需求的合理政策,但他们最终会助长低级的货币战争。

然而,如果G主要经济体发布季度公告,宣布重大的政策变化——例如,某国采取量宽政策,另一个国家将注入更大的流动性,等等——市场能确定货币战争不会来临。汇率变动将很小,只在需要时出现,波动性将受限,因为针锋相对流动性注入将不再发生,投机会减弱。此外,流动性注入将可能对需求产生重大影响,因为同步减少越国界资本流动。

第二个建议与流动性的注入机制相关,其中大部分如今正在发生——在欧洲、日本和其他地区——通过资产购买。例如,美联储目前每月购买价值850亿美元的资产(其中许多是抵押贷款)。

流动资金的注入和低利率有微观经济效应,这得到了较少的关注:他们降低了相对于劳动力价格的资本成本,这导致了对劳动力的需求相对下降。这很有可能加剧失业问题,而不是减轻它。

一个解决方案是将部分流动性注入用于减少成本不对称。因此,对于每100美元的新流动性,我们可以使用60美元购买资产,其余的给公司作为创造就业的补贴,这可能在有灵活的劳动力市场,能短期雇佣的经济体特别有效。

即使就业补贴只提供,比方说,一年,公司将会在这段时间使用更多的劳动力。而且,因为目前这一轮高失业率是自我强化的,一旦平衡被打破,经济可能会达到更高的就业平衡,而不需要任何进一步的政府支持。

这个处方有一个问题。资产购买没有资产负债表效应,因为资产替代钱。补贴劳动,相反,是纯粹注入流动性。然而,正是因为这个,就业补贴很可能更有效地刺激需求,这暗示着较少的这种资金的注入可能比较大的资产购买更能提振需求。

制定经济政策必然要适应外部变化。我们面临的挑战像工业大革命时的飞蛾,颜色变得更深以适应新的烟尘环境(因此能更好地躲避捕食者)。在全球化的经济中,国家决策者不应反向转动灯泡。

Two Policy Prescriptions for the Global Crisis

2013-04-24 15:18

One thing that experts know, and that non-experts do not, is that they know less than non-experts think they do. This much was evident at the just-completed Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group – three intense days of talks that brought together finance ministers, central bankers, and other policymakers.

Our economic expertise is limited in fundamental ways. Consider monetary and fiscal policies. Despite decades of careful data collection and mathematical and statistical research, on many large questions we have little more than rules of thumb. For example, we know that we should lower interest rates and inject liquidity to fight stagnation, and that we should raise policy rates and banks’ cash-reserve ratios to stifle inflation. Sometimes we rely on our judgment in combining interest-rate action with open-market operations. But the fact remains that our understanding of these policies’ mechanics is rudimentary.

These rules of thumb work (at least tolerably so) as a result of evolution. Over time, the wrong moves are penalized, and their users either learn by watching others or disappear. We get our monetary and fiscal policies right the same way that birds build their nests right.

As with all behaviors shaped by evolution, when the environment changes, there is a risk that existing adaptations become dysfunctional. This has been the fate of some of our standard macroeconomic policies. The formation of the eurozone and a half-century of relentless globalization have altered the global economic landscape, rendering once-proven policies ineffective.

When Sweden’s Riksbank was founded in 1668, followed by the Bank of England in 1694, the motivation was that a single economy should have a single central bank. Over the next three centuries, as the benefits of instituting a monopoly over money creation became more widely recognized, a slew of central banks were established, one for each politically bounded economy.

What was not anticipated was that globalization would erode these boundaries. As a result, we have returned to a past from which we tried to escape – a single economy.

This is clearly maladaptive, and it explains why the massive injections of liquidity by advanced-country central banks are failing to jump-start economies and create more jobs. After all, in a globalized economy, much of this liquidity spills across political boundaries, giving rise to inflationary pressures in distant lands and precipitating the risk of currency wars, while unemployment at home remains dangerously high, threatening to erode workers’ skills. The long-run damage could be devastating.

What was evident at the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings was that virtually all policymakers are distressed and no one has a complete answer. Neither do I. But here are two simple ideas that could help to mitigate the crisis.

First, in the absence of a single global central-banking authority, a modicum of monetary-policy coordination among major economies is required. We need a group of the major economies – call it “G Major” – that announces monetary policies in a coordinated fashion.

To see why, consider the case of Japan. Japanese policymakers have good reason to try to promote some inflation and even correct some of the yen’s secular appreciation over the last six or seven years. But, in today’s unilateral world, other central banks would soon respond by injecting liquidity, prompting the Bank of Japan to act again. These actions are usually justified as policies for boosting domestic demand, but they end up fueling a surrogate, low-grade currency war.

If, however, the G Major economies issued quarterly announcements of significant upcoming policy changes – for example, a small round of quantitative easing by country X, a larger liquidity injection by countries Y and Z, and so on – markets would be reassured that a currency war was not being fought. Exchange-rate movements would be minimal and only as intended, and volatility would be contained, because tit-for-tat injections would no longer occur and speculation would wane. Moreover, liquidity injections would be likely to have a greater impact on demand, because synchronization would reduce leakage across national boundaries.

The second recommendation pertains to the mechanics of liquidity injection, much of which takes place nowadays – in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere – through asset purchases. The US Federal Reserve, for example, is currently purchasing assets (many of them mortgage-backed) worth $85 billion each month.

Liquidity injections and low interest rates have a microeconomic effect that has received little attention: they lower the cost of capital vis-a-vis the cost of labor, which causes a relative decline in demand for labor. This is very likely exacerbating the unemployment problem; it certainly is not mitigating it.

One solution is to channel part of the liquidity injections toward countering this factor-cost asymmetry. Thus, for every $100 of new liquidity, we could use $60 to purchase assets and the remainder to give firms a marginal job-creation subsidy, which could be especially effective in economies with flexible labor markets that enable short-term hiring.

Even if the employment subsidy were offered only for, say, one year, firms would be tempted to use more labor during this time. And, because the current bout of high unemployment is self-reinforcing, once the equilibrium is broken for a while, the economy could move to a higher-employment equilibrium permanently, without the need for any further government support.

This prescription has one problem. Asset purchases have no balance-sheet effect, because assets replace money. Subsidizing labor, by contrast, is a pure injection of liquidity. However, for precisely that reason, an employment subsidy is likely to be more effective in boosting demand, which implies that a smaller injection of this kind is likely to boost demand as much as a larger asset purchase would.

Among the few certainties in crafting economic policy is the need to adapt to external change. Our challenge is like that of Industrial Revolution-era moths, which adapted to their new soot-laden environment by becoming darker (and thus better able to hide from predators). In a globalized economy, national policymakers should not be left circling light bulbs.

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