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《财富》经典回顾:黄金大辩论 (《财富》杂志,1931年)

《财富》 2011年08月22日

编者按:每周,《财富》网站(Fortune.com)将从往期《财富》杂志文章中精选出一篇最受读者欢迎的文章。本文摘自1931年2月刊,文章讨论了今天依然存在激烈争论的话题——黄金的真正价值何在?当时,美国正在经济大萧条中苦苦挣扎,黄金是当时的货币本位,交易价格仅为每盎司20美元。

    但是,一个国家的黄金信贷基数的枯竭,并不是必要的黄金自由流通导致机制运转失常的唯一途径。只有在提前保证最高的良好信贷时,黄金才会达到其最大价值,从这个前提出发,下述理论便显而易见:理论上讲,从人类的最终福祉来考虑,某一国家拥有的黄金可能过多量了。因为从根本上来说,黄金的力学效率取决于黄金与以黄金为基础的信贷之间的比例。因此,如果一个国家拥有过多的黄金,即使按照最慷慨的安全系数,该国持有的黄金所能提供的信贷超额部分对本国没有任何用处,因此,这批多余的黄金根本没有发挥任何作用,也就是所谓的“被冻结”。当然,供求规律应该有助于中和黄金过度囤积的现象,但是人们越来越意识到,正常时期已经成为历史——或许从来就没有所谓的正常时期。此外,个别系统的法定要求可能会使供应和需求无效,这一点毋庸置疑。事实上,为了使这一理论看起来更完善,所有国家都不得不制定类似的系统,要求制定相同的黄金储备率、相同的待资助的交易量、相同的银行业法规、相同的信贷贷款;此外,还要求人们拥有相同的习惯。对于相同的信贷结构,拥有40%储备的国家可以比拥有30%储备的国家使用更多的黄金;同理,如果一个国家的人民倾向于使用现金进行支付,这个国家也就能使用更多的黄金。该国的机制效率系数也更低。现在,即使对比率等因素进行调整,从而允许一个国家采用更有效的信贷系统来处理更复杂和更高要求的工作,主要国家信贷系统的效率仍然将存在显著的差异,这一点是显而易见的。黄金机制其中的某些部分的演变速度快于其他部分。那么,造成的结果就是,低效率、落后的部件就需要更多的燃料,以使它们保持运转。

    如果对这一阶段的机制进行总结,得出的结论是,把黄金的有效使用作为一个共同基础,可能会因为受到以下两个因素的影响而崩盘,这一点毋庸置疑:(1)一国拥有的黄金数量超过它的实际使用量;(2)使用的黄金数量超过它的实际需求量。

    现在,黄金机制工作图示的主要轮廓已经清晰了。在这里做个总结,它包括各国的信贷结构、支撑一个国家、并使一个国家的信贷结构与本国或其他国家的黄金供应相互联系的共通准则。其中,外汇的作用使黄金在每个信贷结构之间不断转移(但并非总是自愿的)。现在,我们再回到最初的观念:随着汽车从福特公司的迪尔伯恩工厂下线,英格兰银行的黄金被提取出来。汽车图片中的车轮、控制杆和活塞相互连接,在运转的同时必然会彼此影响,改变各自的价值。

    以上就是我们对世人心照不宣的设想进行的分析,即这一机制的存在是源于经济因素。也就是说,这一机制的设计初衷及运转是为了普罗大众的利益,虽然嫉妒、贪婪和愚蠢在这一过程中不断出现,令人遗憾;但是共同的目标依然是创造有效的商业工具,这是唯一的目标。有大量的证据表明,其它一些不那么悲悯的动机有时候也会驱动这个机制,随心所欲的乱来一通。事实上,用一句流行的话概括就是,“黄金问题不再是一个经济问题,相反,它是一个政治问题。”

    围绕这一观点的理由是危险的。很多人给出了断言,但是很少言论得到证实。政客们偏离正道,给出很多与事实不相干的观点。这一点千真万确:战争状态的存在容易将黄金与其信贷结构相分离,使实体黄金成为唯一的终极追求目标。当一个国家宣布进入战争状态时,通常情况下,它做的第一件事就是宣布金本位制失效。这意味着它利用信贷来管理内部事务,将战争取胜的预期目标作为抵押品,并且保存黄金作为与中立国家交易的工具。此时,这个国家的“黄金储备”无疑成为囤积——用于最后的紧急状态,成为混乱战争中的唯一靠得住的东西。因此,不论时代如何变迁,在世界经济体制的背后,始终有一种人类本能的冲动,希望把黄金牢牢掌控在自己手中。

    

    战争对黄金机制的唯一控制并不仅限于此。很显然,国与国之间的财务平衡——与人与人之间的财务平衡相同——会对相互关系产生影响。还有,新千年还远未到来,在战争思维的影响下,攻击型和防御型的联盟仍有可能备受追捧。资本的借贷可能正是类似战争阴谋的一部分。

    那么,很显然,以下两个因素——战争给持有黄金带来的红利,以及大规模的财政政策附带政治而非经济目的——可能给黄金机制的运行造成深远的影响,英格兰银行的金条和迪尔伯恩工厂的汽车可能都无法幸免。

    那么,背后的机制是怎样的呢?机制的复杂程度令人难以置信,车轮转动、停止、开始,整个过程无比的复杂,影响着20亿人的生活:或让他们衣食无忧、安居乐业,或让他们食不裹腹、露宿街头。人们创造了这种机制,但是它变得过于庞大,人们再也无法理解一台蒸汽机或一个简单的化学式那样的方式去理解它。人们能说的就是,这就是它的基本运作方式,它可能产生这样或那样的影响。而从我辈福利的角度来看,所谓的“这样或那样的影响”就是指物价水平。物价高企意味着经济繁荣时期。反之,物价下降则意味着经济陷入萧条。当然,并不总是这么回事,只有这一点是肯定的。但是通常情况下,事实就是如此。

    人们很容易利用方程式对变化的物价水平进行描述,虽然在高等学术界有人质疑,这样的方程式是否具有实际价值。但是,以下观点将帮助人们更形象地了解一个观点。世界上所有商品的最终价格是指供需的比例。供应量是指任何待售商品的总量。需求量是世界需要和能买得起的商品的总量。这些都是宏观的概念,但是相对来说比较清晰。现在,将这一方程式与货币机制相关联,很明显,后者直接与需求因素相对应。而需求因素,在财政资源中分为两部分:可用现金与可用信贷的总量。而且,只有在最后的因素中,货币机制的设计师能控制这个方程式或任何其他方程式的结果。他们通过头重脚轻的奇妙装置,偏离正常轨道进行工作, 两个人向相反方向拉动同一个杠杆,使机器失去控制,其他人争论下一步该拉动哪个操纵装置。他们将力量特别集中于一个阀门:标示为“央行再贴现率”的阀门。现在,这个阀门已经启动。

    如果存在某个枢纽对这个机制进行操纵,这个枢纽就恰巧就位于此。因为在信贷和黄金差价的瓶颈中,供应很容易被窒息。设想一下,一群人围坐在一张红木桌子旁,达成一致意见。第二天的结果无外乎两种:要么增加同胞手头的钱,要么减少他们持有的钱。这是一份沉重的责任。如果手头的钱过多,人们肯定会失于骄奢;反之,如果钱太少,人们必然感到沮丧。很明显,这种控制不是绝对的。而且,今天,各国央行的头头脑脑们要关心的已经不再仅限于本国人民,而是整个世界。

    翻译:刘进龙/乔树静

    But the draining of one nation's gold credit base is not the only way in which the necessarily free movement of metal may upset the smooth functioning of the machine. If you start with the thesis that gold reaches its fullest value to the world only when the maximum sound credit is being advanced on it, it at once becomes evident that, theoretically, for the ultimate welfare of mankind, an individual nation may have too much gold. For the mechanical efficiency of gold is, per se) its ratio to the credit built on it. Hence if one nation owns so much gold that, even after allowing the most generous factor of safety, it has no use for the excess of credit its gold could supply, that excess of gold is doing no useful work and is what is happily called "sterilized." Of course the laws of supply and demand should tend to counteract this tendency of too much gold to pile up, but as intimated, normal times are matters of history – perhaps never existed. Moreover, the legal requirements of individual systems may, conceivably, nullify supply and demand. Indeed, for theoretical perfection, all the nations would have to have identical systems the same gold reserve ratios, the same volume of trade to be financed, the same banking laws, the same facilities, and their peoples the same habits. A nation on a 40 per cent reserve would use more gold for the same credit structure than one on 30 per cent reserve; so would a nation whose people always paid in cash. Their machines would have lower coefficients of efficiency. Now even adjusting the ratios, etc., to allow for the fact that one country may need a more efficient credit system to do its more complicated and demanding work, it is obvious that a vast disparity in the efficiencies of credit systems of leading nations exists. Some parts of the gold machine have evolved faster than others. The result is that the backward members with their lower efficiency require more than their share of the common fuel to keep them running.

    Summing up this phase of the business, then, the efficient use of gold as a common base may conceivably be endangered (1) by a country's having more than it can use and (2) using more than it needs.

    The main outlines of the working drawing of the gold machine are now sketched in. Observe, to review, the credit structures of the individual nations, the same general principles underlying each and linking each to its, or somebody else's, supply of gold. Between them all, the mechanics of foreign exchange, constantly shifting (and not always happily) the raw metal at the base of each structure. Now go back to the original conception of an automobile rolling from the line in Ford's Dearborn factory and gold being lifted from the Bank of England. Every wheel and lever and piston suggested in the picture of the machine which links them operates inevitably to change their values, the one in terms of the other, interchangeably.

    So far there has run through our analysis the tacit assumption that the machine's raison d' etre is economic, i.e., that it was conceived and set in motion for the benefit of all the peoples of the world and that while jealousy and greed and stupidity might, unhappily, have entered in the making, the common goal was the creation of an efficient instrument of commerce and an efficient instrument of commerce only. There is a good deal of evidence that other and less beneficent motives sometimes make its wheels go round, tinker with its governors, and handle monkey wrenches carelessly. In fact, a popular generalization of the day is that "the gold problem is no longer economic but political."

    The ground hereabouts is dangerous. Many assertions are made and few are proven. Statesmen and politicians move in devious ways with red herring in every pocket. This much is true: the existence of a state of war tends to divorce gold from its credit structure and make the physical metal the only ultimate reality. The first thing a country usually does when it declares war is to go off the gold standard. This means that it runs its internal affairs on credit, using the expectation of victory as collateral, and saves its gold for dealings with neutral countries. Its "gold reserve" is now definitely a hoard, something to be saved for the last emergency, the only reality in a barbaric chaos. Hence back of all the fine subtleties of the world's economic system there lies this atavistic instinct to hold on to the metal itself.

    

    This fundamentalism is not war's only hold on the gold machine. Obviously the financial balance between nations -- as between individuals -- affects their relationships. And, the millennium not yet at hand, offensive and defensive alliances, with war in mind, may still be sought after. The lending or borrowing of money may still be a part of such machinations.

    It is evident, then, that these two factors, the premium which war places on possession of gold metal and the idea that large financial policies may have political rather than economic aims, may have a profound effect on the functioning of the gold machine, influencing alike the bar of gold in Threadneedle Street and the automobile in Dearborn.

    What does all this machinery do? There it stands in all its unbelievable complexness, its wheels whirring, stopping, starting, insanely complicated, affecting the lives of nearly 2,000,000,000 people, giving them more to eat or less, making their beds for them or letting them sleep on the floor. Man created it, but it has grown too large for the mind of any man to understand in one conception as a mind understands a steam engine or a simple chemical formula. All one can say is that basically it works thus and so, and it tends to effect this and that. And the major this and that, in terms of your welfare and mine, is the price level. The price level rises -- good times. The price level falls -- hard times. Not necessarily and invariably. Nothing so certain as that in this business. But generally speaking.

    A version of an equation explaining a shifting price level is not hard to diagram, although there is some doubt, in higher academic circles, as to whether any such equation is of real value. But the following may help to visualize one conception. The ultimate price of the world's goods is the ratio of supply to demand. The supply is the sum total of everything for sale. The demand is the sum total the world wants and can afford to pay for. These are large conceptions, but relatively clear. Now, relating this equation to the money machine, it is obvious that the latter enters directly into the demand factor only. And the demand factor, expressed in the financial resources of the world, divides itself into two parts: the aggregate of cash available and the credit available. In this last factor, and in this last factor alone, can the engineers of the money machine take a hand in controlling the answer to this equation, or any other such. Deviously they work, through the whole top-heavy contraption, two men tugging at the same lever in opposite directions, the machine running amuck while a dozen others debate on which control to pull next. On one valve especially they all concentrate: the valve labeled "central bank rediscount rate," which we have already seen in action.

    If from anyone central point the machine can be maneuvered, it is here. For at this bottle neck in the spreading of credit from gold, the supply can be choked off, thrown wide open. A group of men sit about a mahogany table and agree; the next day their countrymen have that much more money to spend, that much less. A grave responsibility. If their people get more than is good for them, they will indulge in excesses; too little will depress them. Quite obviously, the control is not absolute. Today they have not only their own people to think of, but the whole world.

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