经济学家:各国政府应为刺激经济发挥更大作用
2016-02-25 16:58:07
经济学家:各国政府应为刺激经济发挥更大作用(2016.02.25)

  提要:2016年初,全球经济困难重重,亮点不多。很多新兴经济体都面临负债过度、增长疲软、货币贬值和通胀抬头等难题。低迷经济前景引起的担忧已反映在金融市场上。在银行股大跌的带动下,全球股指普遍下跌;年初以来美国银行股已下跌了16%。美国经济的增势非但不足以支撑全球经济,甚至其自身也未必能维持下去。投资者担心的不只是种种经济指标所预示的衰退前景;更深层的担忧在于,决策层应对衰退的政策选项已寥寥无几。在近年来的经济低迷之中,央行已经发挥了自己的作用,虽然它们进一步采取行动依然至关重要,但政府也应承担更大责任。

  (外脑精华·北京)全球经济前景暗淡

  2016年初,全球经济困难重重,亮点不多。很多新兴经济体都面临负债过度、增长疲软、货币贬值和通胀抬头等难题。尤其是世界第二大经济体中国的情况令人左右为难:如果其经济增长陷入低迷,就会进一步打击其他新兴市场的经济前景;但如果其经济保持快速增长,那么支撑经济增长的债务扩张问题就更令人担忧。欧元区已度过了最危急的阶段,但经济慢性病和不确定的前景意味着其经济形势仍不乐观。

  另一方面,美国经济则是一大亮点。一些经济指标依然强劲。住房市场没有走弱迹象。就业人口还在继续增长。尽管如此,越来越多的迹象显示新一轮衰退正在临近。2015年4季度美国经济增长似已陷入停滞。企业利润正在下滑。库存超过正常水平。银行收紧了对大公司的贷款标准。ISM采购经理指数显示美国制造业已连续4个月下滑,非制造业指数也创下近两年来的新低。

  低迷经济前景引起的担忧已反映在金融市场上。在银行股大跌的带动下,全球股指普遍下跌;年初以来美国银行股已下跌了16%。美国经济的增势非但不足以支撑全球经济,甚至其自身也未必能维持下去。

  货币政策作用有限

  投资者担心的不只是种种经济指标所预示的衰退前景;更深层的担忧在于,决策层应对衰退的政策选项已寥寥无几。应对衰退的经济刺激措施包括两类:一是央行的宽松货币政策,二是有针对性而灵活的财政政策。谨慎的结构改革措施既是对短期经济刺激政策的补充,又有助于经济复苏的持续,从而长期保持刺激措施的效果。

  从理论上说,央行购买资产的规模并没有上限。如果发生2008年那样的金融危机,美联储可以购买银行和公司发行的商业票据或抵押贷款担保证券。不过,如果金融市场崩盘,美联储以及任何其他央行也可以购买更多类别的资产,包括高收益债券或股票、甚至是建筑物。

  教科书上说,央行只要增发货币,最终就能令通胀率达到其目标水平。然而,2008年以来的量化宽松政策经验显示,此政策刺激通胀的速度太慢,其效果不足以弥补其扭曲资产价格和汇率的不良影响。

  政府应承担更大责任

  财政政策不如货币政策灵活。正常情况下,央行可以根据经济周期的起伏而上调或下调利率。相比之下,税收政策的灵活度要小得多,但仍可以根据需要作出反应。相比税收政策,财政支出政策的调整难度更大。一旦养老金等支出计划确定下来,就很难削减;公共基础设施支出也需要计划,因而也难以迅速调整。

  因此,相比需求面政策,减税是更好的财政政策工具。然而,减税措施需要精心设计,以求最好地发挥其效力。总体而言,税收政策不应对支出或生产决策产生过度影响,而应聚焦于市场信号。然而,在经济衰退之中,决策者或许会放弃这一原则。在经济衰退期间,受打击最终的是自由支配支出。因此,针对耐用品(如汽车、厨房设备和电视)的减税对总需求的影响会超过不区分商品类别的普遍减税。

  由于国情的不同,各国的政策选择也会不同。相比较严重的系统性经济滑坡,普通经济衰退所需要的政策力度也较轻。对各国政府而言,明智的选择是在经济形势较好的时期也致力于改进公共基础设施,以及改革税制。

  然而,由于当前货币政策受到的限制日益严重,各国对财政政策和结构性改革的需求越来越迫切。大规模长期公共支出计划能增强私人部门对未来需求走势的信心,并有助于经济实现可持续的复苏。简化税法能够为有利于熨平未来经济周期的税制改革提供更稳固的基础。在近年来的经济低迷之中,央行已经发挥了自己的作用,虽然它们进一步采取行动依然至关重要,但政府也应承担更大责任。

  

  英文原文:Fighting the next recession

AT THE start of most years in the past decade, the list of worries about the world economy has seemed longer than that of reasons for hope. The first few weeks of 2016 have upheld this new tradition. Many emerging markets are wrestling with excessive debts, slow growth, plunging currencies and rising inflation. China, the world's second-largest economy, is a source of a peculiarly intractable anxiety. If its growth falters, it stokes worries about the prospects for other emerging markets; if activity holds up, though, concerns shift to the ever-rising debt that makes such feats possible, but not necessarily sustainable. The euro area's troubles are no longer acute; but a chronic condition with an uncertain prognosis is a hard thing from which to take much cheer.

The one big hope has tended to be the American economy. Some indicators there remain robust. The housing market shows few signs of weakness. New jobs are still being added. But despite this, signs of impending recession are now piling up. Economic growth seems to have stalled in the final quarter of 2015. Corporate profits are falling. Stock levels are above normal. Lending standards on bank loans to big firms have tightened, according to the Federal Reserve. A closely watched index from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) shows that activity in manufacturing fell for the fourth consecutive month in January (see article). The malaise is not confined to factories: the ISM non-manufacturing index is at its lowest for almost two years.

The growing anxiety is mirrored in financial markets. Stockmarket indexes have fallen, dragged down in particular by bank stocks, which have lost 16% of their value (in America) since the start of the year. America’s economy is not strong enough to buoy the world economy up; it may not even be strong enough to keep itself afloat.

Pessimism among investors reflects not just the indicators pointing towards recession. There is a deeper concern that, if or when that recession comes, policymakers will have very few options for dealing with it. Short-term interest rates are close to zero in most of the rich world. The scope for adding further pep through quantitative easing, (QE, the purchase of government bonds using central-bank money) is limited. Long-term interest rates are already low; driving them lower with another round of QE is unlikely to invigorate aggregate demand much more. Tax cuts or increases in public spending could still be effective in fighting recession. But investors worry that there is little scope or appetite for financing a fiscal stimulus with yet more debt. Public debt in America rose from 64% of GDP in 2008 to 104% by 2015; in the euro area, it rose from 66% to 93%; in Japan, from 176% to 237%.

If policymakers appear defenceless in the face of a fresh threat to the world economy, it is in part because they have so little to show for their past efforts. The balance-sheets of the rich world's main central banks have been pumped up to between 20% and 25% of GDP by the successive bouts of QE with which they have injected money into their economies (see chart 1). The Bank of Japan’s assets are a whopping 77% of GDP. Yet inflation has been persistently below the 2% goal that central banks aim for. In America, Britain and Japan, unemployment has fallen close to pre-crisis levels. But the productivity of those in work has grown at a dismal rate, meaning overall GDP growth has been sluggish. That limits the scope for increases in real wages and in the tax receipts needed to service government debt.

It is tempting to put this disappointing return down to the untested policy instruments wielded by central banks which played so prominent a role in the response to the previous recession. But this prominence, as Mohamed El-Erian, an economist, argues in his new book, “The Only Game in Town”, was forced upon them by inaction elsewhere. “This was not a power grab,” Mr El-Erian writes; central banks had to buy time until the political system got its act together-which by and large it didn’t. Far too little effort went into economic policies to work with the grain of monetary easing, and thus to amplify its effects. Such policies would require governments to make decisions that they would rather duck, either with an eye to reforming the structure of the economy-and thus removing some entrenched privileges-or to increasing deficit spending.

If that remains the case, central bankers will have to reach yet further up their sleeves for radical new tricks with which to respond to the recession to come. But even if they do so, they will still require additional help-some of which, in a world of low interest rates, governments could more easily afford to offer. And if the problem runs deeper than a single recession-if, as Larry Summers, a Harvard economist, and others fear, rich nations are condemned to a long period of weak growth because of a persistent shortfall in demand-the need for bold new policies will become even greater.

Accentuate the negative

The menu of policy options comes in two parts. The first covers efforts to ensure that central-bank actions give their economies a bigger jolt. Second come well-targeted and flexible fiscal measures. Carefully chosen structural reforms can both complement such stimuli in the short term and sustain their good effects in the longer term by helping the recovery sustain itself. All these measures can be given more oomph if they are co-ordinated with similar efforts in other countries.

Start with monetary policy. The scope for asset purchases by central banks is, in theory, unlimited. In a crisis such as that of 2008 the Federal Reserve can buy commercial paper issued by banks and companies or mortgage-backed securities. But it, or any central bank, could also buy an even broader range of assets, including high-yield bonds or stocks or even buildings, should financial markets go into free fall.

Textbooks will tell you that, because they create new money, such purchases will eventually give central banks the inflation rates they want. But the experience of QE since 2008 suggests that this is too slow a road to reflation to justify the way that it distorts asset prices and upsets currency markets. Critics of QE argue that its main effect has been to boost shares and to flood emerging markets with cheap money, driving a debt cycle the downward leg of which is now hurting rich-world economies.

Perhaps other unconventional monetary policies might work better. Last month Japan’s central bank joined its peers in Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the euro area by setting a negative interest rate-in Japan’s case, levying a 0.1% charge on a portion of the reserves that commercial banks deposit with it. In Europe, where the lowest deposit rate set by central banks acts as a floor for interest rates in money markets, and thus for rates on loans more generally, the benchmark for borrowing rates has never been so low. In Germany government-bond yields have turned negative for terms of up to eight years (see chart 2).

Yet even if the boundary for interest rates is not zero, as people once tended to assume, it is not all that much less than zero. If interest rates were to go deep into negative terrain, depositors would switch to cash, which pays no interest but doesn't charge any either. And negative rates are not good for banks; deposit rates cannot be pushed down as hard as lending rates for fear that small savers might switch to cash, an effect which is squeezing bank profits in Europe. Such a squeeze hurts the banks' ability to rebuild the capital buffers that make them safe.

Since the existence of cash is a limit on how low interest rates can go, Andy Haldane, the chief economist of the Bank of England, and Ken Rogoff of Harvard University have proposed abolishing it altogether. But even if such radicalism were to prove feasible in a few countries, its effects might be limited. Savers would find alternative stores of value, such as precious metals or foreign banknotes, or pass on the cost of having money in the bank to others by making payments early.

One reason central-bank policy has been less effective than the bankers would like is that low interest rates have not led to more borrowing and spending. Credit growth outside America has been feeble (see chart 3). The central banks have tried to deal with this. The Bank of England’s funding for lending scheme of 2012 made the provision of cheap central-bank financing conditional on banks writing more loans to companies and householders. The European Central Bank (ECB) has come up with similar wheezes to try to induce banks to lend more freely. But their attempts have seen little success.

The precise choice of policies, and the degree of radicalism, will vary from country to country and according to the nature of the threat. A garden-variety recession in which output falls as existing stocks are run down would require a less drastic response than a bigger systemic shock, such as a Chinese hard landing. It would be wise for governments to work harder on improving public infrastructure or reforming taxes even in less uncertain times.

But the growing constraints on monetary policy mean that fiscal fixes and structural reforms that work with the grain of stimulus policies are more urgent than ever. Big and long-running programmes of public capital spending would give private firms greater confidence about future demand and make a sustained recovery more likely. Simpler tax codes would provide a sounder basis for the sort of shifts in tax rates that will be needed in future to counter the business cycle. Central banks have done their bit. Although more work from them will be vital, it is now time for governments to be bolder.

来源:经济学家

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