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美国债务已高达GDP的305%

Chris Matthews 2016年02月19日

芝加哥储备银行最新分析表明,说美国的债务可控也好,对其忧心忡忡也罢,人们也许都低估了美国政府的债务负担。但这或许还不足以说明全部问题。

 

美国的债务负担也许要比我们想的重得多。

对美国政府支出持批评态度的人经常说,美国政府的债务已经超过了整个美国的GDP,为后者的103%,因此需要限制政府,予以节流。展示美国负债情况的网站usdebtclock.org采用了同样的衡量标准,共和党控制的众议院金融服务委员会,也把这个数字放在自己网站的显著位置上。

而那些倾向于淡化美国政府总负债水平的人,则通常会采用一个较小的数字,略低于美国GDP的74%,这是公众所持的债权,不包括社保信托基金等联邦政府下属机构的债务。他们的思路是,政府欠自己的钱和它欠公众或者他国政府的钱应该有很大差别。

然而,芝加哥储备银行最新分析表明,说美国的债务可控也好,对其忧心忡忡也罢,上述两个群体也许都低估了美国政府的债务负担。以下是他们在本次研究中绘制的一张表:

America may be a whole lot more indebted that we think.

Critics of government spending often say that U.S. government owes more than the total value of the gross domestic product, nearly 103%, as a reason for why we need to rein in the government and fast. This is the same measurement, for instance that is used by the folks who run the U.S. debt clock, and is featured on the website of the Republican-run House Financial Services Committee.

Those who like to downplay the U.S. government’s overall indebtedness will usually point to smaller figure, just under 74%, which is the total debt held by the public. That excludes debt owned by arms of the federal government, like social security trust fund. The thinking goes that if the government owes this money to itself, that’s not nearly the same thing as owing money to a member of the public or a foreign government.

But a recent analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago may indicate that both the group that dismiss the U.S.’s debt as manageable and those who worry about it, may be understating just how in hock the U.S. government is. Here’s the chart from their study: 

 

“债务悲观派”引用的数字在这张表的右上角。再向下两行则是那个较小的债务/GDP比例。不过,如果把计算范围扩大到今后的社保支出,甚至囊括政府承诺的未来老年人医保和公务员养老金,我们就会得到右下角的那个数字。也就是说,美国的实际债务负担竟然高达GDP的288%。

但这或许还不足以说明全部问题。

The number debt worrywarts cite is at the top on the right. A little further down is the smaller percentage. But as you broaden out the measures of debt to include what we owe future social security recipients, and even further to include what we owe in promises to future seniors in terms of Medicare or current government workers in the form of pensions, you get the bottom number, that our actual debt load is a staggering 288% of GDP.

And that may be understating things as well.

  

上表也来自芝加哥储备银行的这项研究,它从另一个角度估算了今后的政府债务。从中可以看出,美国政府对民众的承诺,与其他富裕国家存在明显差别。用这一标准衡量,美国的债务负担甚至比希腊还重。

芝加哥储备银行经济学家丽贝卡·弗里德曼和马克·赖特认为,美国的预期债务高于其他富裕国家的原因在于医疗保健。他们在电子邮件中写道:

美国负债多的原因是美国的医疗成本高于其他国家,而且增速也一直较快。再加上美国的人口增速较高(和欧洲相比),就会产生高额债务。就算考虑到欧洲(和日本)的人口老龄化速度超过美国,情况也依然如此。

不过,两位经济学家也强调,这种更为全面地衡量政府债务的方法存在缺陷,其中最重要的一点是它依赖于对今后医疗成本的预估。以上数字并未考虑到最近医疗成本增速的下降,而这正是奥巴马医改法案宣扬的功效。如果这种趋势延续下去,美国未来医疗费用的净现值就会变小。但这又是一个备受争议的话题。

那么,我们为什么不采取更多措施,以解决美国债务不断膨胀的问题呢?

六年前,共和党在中期选举中胜出,这是美国国会历史上最为一边倒的角逐之一。共和党重新获得了众议院控制权,还让民主党失去了参议院绝对多数地位。当时,联邦政府的债务和赤字都在飞速上升,刚刚崭露头角的茶党在选举中非常充分的利用了这一点。

但到了2011年,联邦政府赤字开始下降。此时,新当选的共和党议员刚刚上任,甚至还没来得及提议削减预算。这是因为经济重新开始增长,联邦政府在失业保险等方面的支出下降,税收则随着经济的扩张而上升。再加上2011年“自动减赤”法案等预算控制措施,预算赤字出现了逐年下降态势。

此外,公众开始反对削减债务。皮尤研究中心2016年1月份公布的调查结果显示,目前有56%的美国人认为削减预算赤字是政府的首要任务,低于2013年72%的高点。盖洛普最近的调查表明,只有5%的美国人认为联邦预算赤字和联邦债务是最重要的问题,认为“对政府不满”才是首要问题的美国人则占16%。

总统候选人纷纷随着公众意见的转向而动。2012年大选中,落败的共和党曾提出偏向富人的减税方案,并把医保从一项不受限制的福利变成了基本上由各州负责的补助项目。这次,共和党总统侯选人都放弃了压缩政府赤字和债务的打算。

政治风向在此时发生转变着实让人觉得讽刺。2010年公众患上“债务恐惧症”时,美国严重开工不足,削减政府开支的措施只会让低迷的经济雪上加霜。如今,预算赤字处于历史最低水平,经济学家认为美国处于充分就业状态,而且相关预测表明今后的预算赤字只会随着美国人口老龄化而上升,这实际上正是认真讨论如何把对民众的承诺变成现实的绝佳时机。

美国政府可能还有充足的时间,可以让联邦以及各州的税收更贴近于对公众的承诺。但它越早通过税收、福利和医疗改革来解决这个矛盾,转型的痛苦就越小,对纳税人和受益者来说都是如此。(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

校对:詹妮

The above chart from the same study relies on a different set of estimates for future liabilities, but the difference between what the United States has promised and what other wealthy nations have promised their citizens in the future is stark. Even compared to Greece, by this measure the U.S.’s debt looks onerous. According to Rebecca Friedman, Mark Wright, economists with the Chicago Fed, American projected liabilities are higher than its wealthy peers because of health care. In an email they write:

These numbers are high for the USA because health care costs are higher in the USA than elsewhere, and have been rising faster. When this is combined with relatively fast population growth (compared to Europe), a large liability is found. This is true even after controlling for the fact that much of Europe’s (and Japan’s) population is aging faster than the USA.

The authors also stress, however, that this more comprehensive measurement of government debt has its drawbacks, most importantly that it relies on projections of future healthcare costs. The above figures do not take into account a recent slowing of growth in healthcare costs that Obamacare advocates attribute to the effects of the law. If that trend continues—a hotly debated proposition—than the net present value of our healthcare promises will be smaller.

So the question is why haven’t we done more to address the nation’s looming debt problems. Six years ago, the Republican party won one of the most lopsided victories in Congressional history, winning back the House of Representatives and robbing Democrats of their supermajority in the Senate. Back in 2010, the federal debt and deficit were growing at a dramatic pace, and the newly emergent Tea Party Republicans used this trend to great effect at the ballot box.

But even before these newly-elected Republicans had a chance to agitate for budget cuts, the federal deficit was already shrinking by the time the new Republican class took office in 2011. That’s because as the economy started to grow again, federal spending on programs like unemployment insurance declined, and tax receipts grew as a function of an expanding economy. When you add to this budget control measures like the 2011 “sequestration” bill, we have seen the budget deficit fall year after year.

Second, public opinion has turned against debt fighting. According to a poll released in January by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who say that reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority is now at 56%, down from a high of 72% in 2013. A recent Gallup poll showed that just 5% of Americans consider the federal budget deficit and debt to be the most important issue, while the number one issue, “dissatisfaction with government,” garnered 16% support.

Presidential candidates are responding to this shift in public opinion. After the Republican presidential ticket lost in 2012 on a platform of tax cuts tilted towards the rich and turning Medicare from an open-ended entitlement to a block-grant program run mostly by the states, GOP candidates this time around have abandoned running on a plan to shrink deficits and the debt.

The timing of this shift in political winds is painfully ironic. Back in 2010, when debt-phobia was gripping the public, the U.S. economy was severely under capacity, and so efforts to cut government spending would have only served to compound the economic malaise at that time. Today, with an historically low budget deficit, economists estimating that we’re at full employment, and budget projections showing that the deficit will only grow from here as the country ages, it is actually an opportune time to have a serious discussion over how to pay for the things we’ve promised American citizens.

The United States likely still has plenty of time to bring its tax receipts more in line with its promises to citizens, both on the federal and state levels. But the sooner it begins to address the discrepancy, through tax, entitlement, and healthcare reform, the less painful the transition will be for taxpayers and the receivers of benefits alike.

 

 

 

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