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投资理财

欧洲面临崩盘危机(下)

Shawn Tully 2011年08月25日

旺盛的消费和大量的政府借贷支出创造了一时的经济繁荣,但这种虚幻的发展速度无助于提高欧洲国家的真实竞争力,反而造成了如今的巨大危机。眼下,惟有削减政府支出,大力推动市场自由化进程,才能化解危机,维系欧盟的存续。

从成本低廉到物价腾贵

    雅典地铁系统建成于2000年初,当时希腊正沉浸在加入欧元区的狂喜之中,该工程代表着希腊挺进新时代的雄心壮志,迄今仍让人敬畏。尽管雅典市中心挤满了骚乱者,而出租车司机正在罢工,地铁乘客仍然能以每小时48英里的速度从比雷埃夫斯港前往远郊。列车和站台都完美无瑕,踏入市中心宪法广场(Syntagma Square)站,人们不免生出宁静与秩序之感,仿佛置身于教堂之中。不幸的是,地铁可能是这个国家唯一还能运转自如的东西了。

    作为欧元区成员国,希腊所遭遇的问题与意大利、西班牙和其他经济较薄弱的国家相似:消费繁荣掩盖了经济上的巨大缺陷,竞争力严重流失,同时政府轻率地大举借债,这一切造就了如今的危机。希腊2001年初启用欧元时,表面上似乎大发了一笔意外之财,因为从汽车贷款到住房抵押贷款,一切利率都从90年代后期的超过15%一夜之间降到了5%左右,与德国的水平相符。成本低廉的信贷引发了消费支出的急剧膨胀,此后七年中,希腊经济扩张速度颇为强劲,年增长率高达4.2%。

    可是,这种消费无助于提升希腊向世界其他国家出口商品和服务,从而造就持久繁荣的能力。相反,希腊的新财富多半用于进口各种商品,从德国汽车到法国电视,无所不包。政府和私营部门都迅速提高工资,使通胀率远远超过法德平均水平。“我们希腊的工资水平在七八年内翻了一番,”雅典工程巨头联合承包商公司(Consolidated Contractors)的执行副总裁陶菲克•科豪里称,“希腊的生产成本很快就从低廉变成了昂贵。”在北欧和巴尔干地区的竞争下,希腊鱼类、蔬菜和药品的出口份额大打折扣。举足轻重的旅游行业所受冲击尤其显著,因为物价上涨使其阳光明媚的岛屿魅力大减——比土耳其和突尼斯那些旅游胜地实在高出太多。

    希腊存在诸多严重妨碍竞争的规章制度,从制药到货车运输无不深受影响,各界本应力推改革,奈何经济高增长使一切措施都失去了锋芒。同时,低利率仍在鼓励公共支出迅速膨胀,起初还算是与经济增长速度相符,但很快就远远超出了合理的范围。从2001到2008年之间,公共部门雇员猛增了15%。此外,希腊的逃税问题一向严重,这个现象在2000年代中期变得极为猖獗,因为当时执政的保守党裁撤了素以积极主动闻名、人称“兰博分遣队”的核心税务人员。到了2008年,政府债务已经飙升至国内生产总值(GDP)的110%,而且仍在持续攀升。

    2008年信贷危机袭来,希腊一夜之间从迅速增长堕落到了急剧萎缩局面,甚至连为主办奥运会而欠下的巨额债务都无力偿付。2010年5月,包括国际货币基金组织(IMF)、欧盟和欧洲央行在内的“三驾马车”达成协议,基本上就是贷款给希腊政府,使其得以继续运转。这一系列援助的规模共计1,600亿美元,但仍然不够:2011年7月21日,三驾马车又同意给希腊政府一系列规模相当的援助,支持其运转到2013年中期。根据援助计划的要求,希腊需在此之前推行严苛的改革,使其重新获得自行清偿债务的能力。

    改革计划主要包括两个方面:显著降低财政赤字;消除妨碍真正的自由贸易的障碍。就前者而言,乔治•帕潘德里欧总理领导下的希腊已经取得了一些进展。财政赤字2009年占国内生产总值15.5%,去年已降至10.4%,今年计划降到8%以下。可是,最困难的改革是消灭遏制竞争规章制度,它们迷宫般复杂。意大利和西班牙今后面临的难点恐怕也在于此。迄今为止,希腊既未表现出实现该目标的意志,技巧上也多有不足。

    一个典型的例子是邮轮业。几十年来,公主邮轮(Princess)等大公司几乎不可能在希腊起航或结束行程,因为希腊法律会要求它们在船上至少雇佣20%的希腊海员,工资还高得离谱。因此,大型邮轮公司往往在热那亚、海法和伊斯坦布尔等城市起航及结束旅程,对希腊则是避之不及。去年,希腊政府通过了一部新法律,放弃了雇佣希腊海员的要求,转而要求邮轮公司签订三年合约,保证到访邮轮及访问目的地的数量,同时还需缴纳巨额税款,用于希腊海员的医疗和失业保障基金。

From a cheap country to a very expensive one

    The Athens Metro system was built in the early 2000s, amid the euphoria of joining the eurozone, heralding that Greece was joining the big time. And it's still an object of awe. Even as rioters crowd central Athens and taxi workers strike, Metro passengers race at 48 mph from the Port of Piraeus to the far suburbs. The cars and platforms are immaculate. Entering the station at Syntagma Square downtown, one gets the calm, ordered feel of a cathedral. Unfortunately, the Metro is just about the only thing left in the country that works.

    The problems that befell Greece as a eurozone member resemble those of Italy, Spain, and other weaker economies: a consumption boom that masked big flaws in the economy, a substantial loss of competitiveness, and the madcap government borrowing that created today's crisis. When Greece adopted the euro at the start of 2001, it appeared to reap a gigantic windfall as rates on everything from car loans to mortgages dropped from over 15% in the late 1990s to the mid single digits, in line with those in Germany. The cheap credit ignited an explosion in consumer spending. For the next seven years the economy expanded at a strong annual rate of 4.2%.

    But the spending did little to increase Greece's capacity for building durable wealth by selling goods and services to the rest of the world. Instead the euros flowed mostly toward imports of everything from German cars to French TVs. Both the government and private sector rapidly increased wages, helping push inflation well above the average in France and Germany. "Our salaries in Greece doubled in seven or eight years," says Tawfic Khoury, EVP of Consolidated Contractors of Athens, the civil-engineering giant. "Greece went from a cheap to an expensive country very quickly." Greek exports of fish, vegetables, and medical equipment lost ground to products from northern Europe and the Balkans. The big tourism sector was hit especially hard because rising prices made its sun-drenched islands far more expensive than resorts in Turkey or Tunisia.

    The high growth rates also blunted any effort to reform the thicket of regulations hurting competition in everything from pharmacies to trucking. And low interest rates encouraged big public spending that first matched, then far exceeded, the growth of the economy. From 2001 to 2008 public employment surged 15%. Tax evasion, always a major problem, became absolutely rampant in the mid-2000s when the Conservative government eliminated the aggressive core of tax collectors known as the "Rambo" contingent. By 2008 public debt surged to over 110% of GDP and kept climbing.

    When the credit crisis struck in 2008, Greece's sudden descent from a fast-growing to fast-shrinking economy made it impossible to service that Olympian debt. In May 2010, the "troika" of the International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and European Central Bank essentially agreed to loan Greece the money to keep operating by providing a $160 billion bailout package. It wasn't enough: On July 21, 2011, the troika pledged a similarly sized package to support Greece through mid-2013. By then, the plan prescribes, Greece will implement a draconian list of reforms that will enable it to start paying down debt.

    The reform plan has two main parts: radically lowering deficits and elimination of barriers to true free trade. On the former, Greece has shown progress under Prime Minister George Papandreou, lowering its budget deficit from 15.5% in 2009 to 10.4% last year, and aiming for less than 8% in 2011. The toughest part, just as it will be for Italy and Spain, is shedding a maze of rules that strangle competition. So far Greece has been erratic in showing either the will or the skill to get it done.

    A case in point is cruise lines. For decades it's been virtually impossible for big carriers such as Princess to begin or end journeys in Greece, since the law requires that they employ at least 20% Greek sailors on their vessels, at extremely high wages. As a result the big lines start and finish in places such as Genoa, Haifa, and Istanbul rather than in Greece. Last year the Greek government passed a law that waived the requirement to hire the Greek sailors but instead demanded the cruise lines sign three-year contracts guaranteeing numbers of cruises and destinations, as well as a big tax going to the Greek sailors' health care and unemployment fund.

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