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削减政府开支无损美国经济增长

Shawn Tully 2011年08月10日

标准普尔认为:美国需要加大开支削减力度。这一观点驳斥了凯恩斯主义有关开支削减将成为就业市场和经济增长毒药的论调。

大手大脚的败家子

    虽然上周国会投票使美国勉强逃过了债务违约的厄运,但开支削减的幅度未能让标准普尔(Standard & Poor's)满意。美国通过法案,决定削减政府开支2.1万亿美元,但标准普尔公司认为,这一目标与给予3A评级所需要的4万亿美元相去甚远,因此降低了美国的主权信用评级。

    但债务上限的提案只不过是美国向财政紧缩进行必要转变的开始。不过,目前经济学家和权威人士已经纷纷提出警告,在增长毫无起色的情况下,现在减少政府开支是大错特错。他们认为,按照经济学理论,很明显,降低联邦开支将使GDP严重缩水。

    持这种论调的人包括《纽约时报》(New York Times)专栏作家保罗•克鲁格曼,以及他在普林斯顿的同行阿兰•布兰德尔,和美联储(Fed)主席本•伯南克。近期,他们警告,过快、过于剧烈的政府开支削减将成为就业市场和经济增长的杀手。而奥巴马总统的支持者,包括《赫芬顿邮报》(Huffington Post)霍华德•法恩曼在内,均担心如果财政削减政策在2012年确定下来,将不可避免地导致经济增速放缓,进而可能威胁奥巴马总统的连任大计。

    凯恩斯学派认为,降低政府开支将不可避免地阻碍GDP的增长。虽然这种说法的支持者在不停地鼓吹这种观点,但眼下这一点远不确定。目前,包括芝加哥大学(University of Chicago)的尤金•法玛和卡内基•梅隆大学的阿兰•梅尔泽在内,许多优秀的经济学家的观点就与之截然相反。美国为推动经济稳健复苏而推出的8,620亿美元“刺激计划”已经彻底失败。因此,美国人应该仔细听取一下这些人的观点。他们认为,在过去两年内,增加政府开支对于增加GDP没有任何作用。因此,削减政府开支肯定同样不会阻碍经济增长的步伐。

    达特茅斯塔克商学院(Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business)的肯尼斯•弗朗斯教授认为:“过去三年,我们进行了大量的尝试,并且付出了高昂的代价。尽管刺激政策丝毫未能产生凯恩斯主义支持者们预想的结果,但他们始终固执地坚持该学派的政策路线。而且,他们的观点日益获得媒体和公众的追捧。不经让人怀疑,究竟什么样的证据才能促使人们质疑政府增加开支将改善经济环境这一论调。”

    其实,人们之所以对“凯恩斯主义的拥护者”有如此执着的信心,主要有两个原因。首先是因为刺激计划糟糕的效果。其次,尽管凯恩斯建议临时提高政府开支和赤字来结束经济衰退,但他从未提倡过在现有庞大的结构性预算赤字基础上,大幅增加政府开支。

    理解“支出等于增长”论调背后的逻辑,这一点至关重要。GDP由四个部分组成:消费性开支、个人投资、政府开支和进出口贸易逆差。凯恩斯主义支持者对“乘数效应”深信不疑。这种理论认为,与新增借贷和开支相比,政府借贷和支出的每一美元,都能更大幅度增加GDP。例如,如果支出新增加1万亿美元,而乘数效应为1.2——这一理论的拥护者,包括政府部门都信誓旦旦地表示乘数超过1——GDP将额外增加1.2万亿美元。在这种情况下,美国人可以拥有更多的教育资源,更多的太阳能补贴和桥梁,而且,这一切根本不需要企业或者消费者多花一分钱。

钱“转”钱,何其难!

    然而,这种算法根本就是一种骗人的鬼话,完全是一种错误的理论。在物理学中,能量既不能被创造,也无法被销毁,而是仅仅改变了存在的形式。所以,政府真的可以通过借贷和开支创造出本来不存在的钱吗?

    对刺激计划的怀疑者分为两类。我们将第一类称为强硬派。其中包括过去半个世纪最有影响力的金融经济学家法玛,还有他在芝加哥大学的同事、著名的宏观经济学家约翰•柯克兰。法玛与柯克兰认为,乘数根本不存在,通过简单的会计计算就可以看出,美国政府花的每一块钱,必然会使GDP其他部分减少相同的数额。最终,钱“转”钱只能成为一种骗人的把戏。

    柯克兰认为:“借给政府的钱肯定得有出处,不会凭空冒出来。刺激计划只是在把这笔钱搬来搬去。”

    强硬派认为,如果美国国民购买政府公债,那么他们自己的支出和存款必然会等额下降。政府在发放给各州的拨款或高速铁路中的大肆花费必然可以通过降低汽车或叉车开支来抵消。柯克兰强调,目前存款已经全部花光。它们被企业投资于厂房或工作场所,或招聘新员工。将本该用于私营部门投资的存款转移给政府,用于支付工资和津贴,这对产出没有任何影响。

    但如果政府从国外大举借贷呢?强硬派们认为,原理都是一样。如果日本人购买美国国债,我们可以用日元购买更多日本产的半导体或其他日本产品,从而导致进口增加,GDP降低。但其实所有借贷的初衷都是为了促进增长。

    实际上,强硬派主张,政府开支根本不会增加GDP,即便短期内也不会。另外一类经济学家被称为“生产率鹰派”。他们承认,提高借贷和开支能临时促进增长。但他们认为产出的短期增长效果远远达不到刺激政策支持者们主张的水平,而大举借贷和加大开支的长期影响则非常具有破坏性。

    诺贝尔奖获得者、芝加哥大学的罗伯特•卢卡斯和哈佛大学(Harvard)的罗伯特•巴若均对乘数效应的有效性进行了批判,并强烈谴责借贷对未来增长造成的负担。卢卡斯称:“刺激政策和乘数效应被过分夸大。德国和英国都在削减开支,他们的经济表现比我们好得多。”

    另外一位持怀疑观点的是梅尔泽。这位著名的货币主义者认为,依赖开支将使美国走向完全相反的方向,在应该储蓄并把存款投入新厂房和物流系统时却在鼓励消费。梅尔泽表示:“美国目前需要加大对资本设备的开支,但借贷却降低了这些开支的成效。我们需要提高竞争力,成为出口主导型经济,增长的推动力应该是储蓄和投资,而不是借贷和消费。”

    在这场辩论中,怀疑者们令人印象深刻,他们的观点值得重视。如果说这些人搞错了——鼓吹增加开支的人正是这么看的——为什么此前的开支并没有带来更好的增长和更多的就业岗位?答案很有可能是,美国人正被一套虚构的理论所迷惑,而它的拥护者们现在又开始鼓吹另外一套谎言。

    (翻译 刘进龙)

    Congress may have narrowly escaped a debt debacle last week, but it couldn't agree on enough cuts to satisfy Standard & Poor's, which downgraded U.S. sovereign debt after the deal's $2.1 trillion in proposed cuts came in below the $4 trillion the rating agency felt was necessary to warrant a triple-A rating.

    Still, it's the beginning of a much needed shift towards fiscal austerity. But now economists and pundits are warning that curbing government spending now, with growth in a rut, is a major mistake. It's totally obvious by pure economic math, they argue, that lower federal outlays will shrink GDP.

    Americans are hearing this argument from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, his Princeton colleague Alan Blinder, and Fed chief Ben Bernanke, who recently cautioned that quick, severe reductions in government outlays could prove a job and growth killer. Supporters of President Obama, including Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, worry that when the cuts take hold in 2012, the slowdown they'll inevitably produce could endanger the President's prospects for reelection.

    But the Keynesian argument that lower government spending automatically hampers GDP growth, right now, is far from the sure thing its champions keep trumpeting. Many eminent economists, from Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago to Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon, take a totally different view. And the utter failure of the $862 billion "stimulus" to produce a robust recovery should encourage Americans to listen carefully to the view that more spending did little or nothing to raise GDP in the past two years, and lowering it will no virtually nothing to hamper expansion going forward.

    We have been running an enormous and very expensive experiment for the last three years," says Kenneth French, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "Although the stimulus seems to have produced none of the effects predicted by its Keynesian advocates, they remain as adamant as ever about their policy prescriptions. And more and more of the press and the public seem to be buying their arguments. One wonders what evidence would make people question the conclusion that more government spending will improve economic conditions."

    Indeed, the persistent overconfidence of the "Keynesians" is remarkable for two reasons. The first is the poor results of the stimulus plan. The second is that although Keynes recommended temporarily higher spending and deficits to exit a recession, he never even remotely advocated big increases in government outlays on top of existing, gigantic structural budget deficits.

    It's crucial to understand the logic behind the "spending-equals-growth" argument. GDP has four components: consumer spending, private investment, government outlays, and the excess, or deficit, of exports over imports. The Keynesians believe in something called the "multiplier effect." It states that every dollar the government borrows and spends raises GDP by more than it would increase in the absence of the new borrowing and spending. For example, if new outlays rise by $1 trillion, and the multiplier effect is 1.2 -- and advocates, including the administration, swear the multiple is over 1 -- GDP will jump by an extra $1.2 trillion. In that scenario, Americans can have more teachers, solar energy subsidies and bridges without sacrificing a dime in corporate investments or consumer spending.

Moving money around

    But that math could be bunk. It certainly doesn't sound right. In physics, energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it simply changes form. So is it really possible for the government to create money that wouldn't otherwise exist by borrowing and spending?

    The stimulus skeptics come in two categories. The first we'll call the hard-liners. They include Fama, one of the most influential financial economists of the past half-century, and his University of Chicago colleague John Cochrane, a prominent macroeconomist. Fama and Cochrane essentially argue that the multiplier doesn't exist, and that by simple accounting, every dollar in government spending must reduce another part of GDP by an equal amount, resulting in a wash.

    "The money you lend the government has to come from somewhere," says Cochrane. "The stimulus is just moving the same money around."

    The hard-liners argue that if Americans buy government bonds, their own spending and savings must fall by an equal amount. What the government lavishes on grants to the states or high-speed trains is precisely offset by lower spending on cars or forklifts. Cochrane emphasizes that savings are all spent. They flow into corporate investments in plants or workstations, or to hire new workers. Simply transferring savings that would be spent on private investment to the government to spend on salaries and subsidies has zero impact on output.

    What if the government borrows the money from abroad? It's the same story, say the hard-liners. If the Japanese buy our bonds, we will use their yen to purchase more Japanese semiconductors or other Japanese products, increasing imports and hence lowering GDP at the same time all the borrowing is supposed to be raising growth.

    In effect, the hardliners maintain that government spending doesn't raise GDP at all, even in the short-term. The second group of economists, call them the "productivity hawks," acknowledge that higher borrowing and outlays may temporarily raise growth. But they claim that the immediate bump in output is far weaker than its advocates maintain, and that the longer-term effects of the big borrowing and spending are extremely damaging.

    Both Robert Lucas, a Nobel Prize winner from the University of Chicago, and Robert Barro of Harvard debunk the power of the multiplier effect, and decry the burden borrowing imposes on future growth. Says Lucas: "The stimulus and multiplier effect were way oversold," says Lucas. "Germany and Britain are cutting spending, and they're doing better than we are."

    Another prominent skeptic is Meltzer. For this distinguished monetarist, the reliance on spending is moving America in precisely the wrong direction, boosting consumption when we should be saving far more and plowing those savings into new plants and logistics system. "The borrowing lowers the productive types of spending on capital equipment America needs now," says Meltzer. "We need to raise our competitiveness and become an export-led economy driven by savings and investment rather than borrowing and consumption."

    The skeptics are an impressive group, and they deserve a prominent place in the debate. If these folks just don't get it, as the spending advocates loudly proclaim, why hasn't all the spending resulted in better growth and more jobs? It's highly probable that Americans were sold a myth, and its champions are now selling still another myth.

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