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欧债危机解药:选通胀,弃紧缩

欧债危机解药:选通胀,弃紧缩

John Cassidy 2012年06月01日
如果欧盟的老大哥们不愿免除它们难兄难弟的债务,可能就需要多印一些欧元了。如果这个政策得以贯彻,最终将导致欧元贬值、通胀上升,但这些都是有益的。历史证明,通胀、而不是紧缩,才是应对如山债务的最好办法。

    在美国看来,欧债危机就像是由地域特色鲜明的老套人物扮演的一场荒诞喜剧:吝啬的盎格鲁撒克逊人、不负责任的地中海人以及盛气凌人的布鲁塞尔官僚。如果置身其中,这可一点也不好笑。用英格兰银行(Bank of England)行长默文•金恩的话讲,欧洲正在“分崩离析,看不到显而易见的解决方案”。

    由于6月17日的第二次希腊大选尚未进行,现在很难做出预测。很多评论人士认为,希腊退出欧元区将成为欧盟大范围瓦解的前奏。在布鲁塞尔,一些欧盟资深人士的看法则正好相反。他们认为,一旦欧元大家庭将总是惹事生非的坏小子希腊驱逐出去,欧元区将能更紧密地融合在一起,稳步前行。到现在为止,我倾向于认为不管希腊是否留下,欧洲人应该都能应付得过去。如果希腊退出,欧元区将必须想办法如何启动经济增长。

    紧缩政策已经一败涂地。除了德国,整个欧洲大陆已陷入衰退。为谋求预算平衡而大幅缩减开支,有太多国家卷入了凯恩斯主义经济学家警告的恶性循环:当政府缩减开支,需求出现下降,公司进行更多裁员,失业率上升,税收减少,而预算赤字却依然顽固地居高不下。

    很多学术派经济学家赞成放弃欧元(或将其改为仅由德国和欧洲其他核心经济体采用的货币),允许爱尔兰、葡萄牙、甚至意大利和西班牙将本国货币贬值,从而拉动出口。纸上谈兵的话,这个方案听起来还不错。但欧元区的无序瓦解将引发金融混乱,导致银行挤兑、股市崩盘、更多的政局动荡,并很可能引发新一轮的全球衰退。

    一个更温和的选择是全欧洲范围内的财政刺激措施,支出侧重外围成员国家。新任法国总统弗朗西斯•奥朗德支持这一想法。德国总理安格拉•默克尔在接受消费者新闻与商业频道(CNBC)电视采访时表示,她对此持开放态度。不过,即便实施刺激方案,效果可能也只是暂时的、有限的。要让欧洲重回增长通道,必须进行永久性的债务免除,将外围经济体的债务负担降至更可控的水平。

    债务仍是问题之源。如果3月份签署的第二轮希腊救助方案能按照计划,一步步实现,希腊原本应该已经走出困境——但当前希腊的债务/GDP比率仍超过160%,光是为这些债务支付利息就会消耗掉五分之一的税收收入,这种日子会持续多久仍未可知。完全按债权人要求来做的爱尔兰,情况也没好多少。难怪选民们已经对紧缩政策丧失了兴趣。

    From the U.S., the European debt crisis can seem like a black comedy populated by regional stereotypes: iron-fisted Anglo-Saxons, feckless Mediterraneans, and haughty Brussels bureaucrats. Closer to the action, it isn't funny at all. In the words of Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, Europe is "tearing itself apart with no obvious solution."

    Pending the second Greek election on June 17, it is hard to make predictions. Many commentators see a Greek exit from the euro as the precursor to a broader breakup. In Brussels some EU veterans argue the opposite. They say that once the euro family has ejected Greece, which has always been a problem child, it will come closer together and forge ahead. Until now, my inclination has been that the Europeans would muddle through, with or without the Greeks. But for that to happen, the continent must find a way to kick-start growth.

    Austerity has failed miserably. Outside of Germany, the continent is mired in recession. In seeking to slash their way to a balanced budget, all too many countries have fallen victim to the vicious circle that Keynesian economists warned about: When government spending is cut, demand slumps, firms lay off more workers, unemployment increases, tax revenue falls, and the deficit remains stubbornly high.

    Many academic economists favor abandoning the euro (or restricting it to Germany and a few other core countries) because that would allow nations like Ireland and Portugal, and even Italy and Spain, to devalue their currencies and give their exporters a boost. That looks good on paper. But a disorderly breakup of the euro would create financial chaos. There would be bank runs, stock market collapses, more political instability, and quite possibly another global recession.

    A less drastic option would be a Europe-wide fiscal stimulus, with spending focused on the periphery countries. François Hollande, the new French President, supports the idea, and Angela Merkel, in an interview with CNBC, suggested she was open to it. But even if a stimulus program materialized, it would be modest and temporary. To really get Europe back on track, it would need to be combined with permanent debt write-offs designed to bring the financial burdens of the periphery countries down to more manageable levels.

    Debt remains at the root of the problem. If Greece's second bailout, which was agreed upon in March, had worked as planned, the country would have emerged with a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 160%, and the interest on that debt would have consumed one in five tax dollars into the indefinite future. Ireland, which has done everything its debtors demanded, is in a similar bind. No wonder voters have tired of austerity.

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