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经济危机

WE CANNOT INFLATE OUR WAY OUT OF THIS CRISIS
摆脱危机不能靠通胀

FT专栏作家沃尔夫冈•明肖:许多人认为可以借通胀走出危机。通胀会带来短暂的繁荣,这是一种能够迅速见效的策略。但正如海明威所言,它不仅解决不了任何问题,还会造成新的问题。

“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.”

“对于一个管理不善的国家而言论,首选的灵丹妙药就是通货膨胀;其次是战争。这两种方法都会带来短暂的繁荣,也都会带来永久性的毁灭。但两者都是政治及经济机会主义者的权宜之计。”

Ernest Hemingway, “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter” , 1935

——欧内斯特•海明威(Ernest Hemingway),“Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter”,1935年


What I hear more and more, both from bankers and from economists, is that the only way to end our
financial crisis is through inflation. Their argument is that high inflation would reduce the real level of debt, allowing indebted households and banks to deleverage faster and with less pain.

从银行家和经济学家那里,我听得越来越多的是,结束目前这场金融危机的唯一方法就是通货膨胀。他们的观点是:高通胀将会降低实际负债水平,从而使负债累累的家庭和银行以更快的速度、更少的痛苦来降低负债率。

To achieve the desired increase in inflation, the US Federal Reserve should either announce an inflation target or simply keep interest rates at zero when the recovery begins. That way, real interest rates would become strongly negative. The advocates of such a strategy are not marginal and cranky academics. They include some of the most influential US economists.

为了实现所希望的通胀率上升,美联储(Fed)要么需要公布一个通胀目标,要么只需在经济开始复苏时,将利率维持在零水平。如此一来,实际利率将明显为负值。鼓吹这种策略的并非行为怪异的边缘学者,其中不乏一些最具影响力的美国经济学家。

Four immediate questions arise from these considerations. Can it be done? Can it be undone? Can it be done at a reasonable economic cost? Last, should it be done?

有四个问题接踵而至。我们能制造通胀吗?我们能消除通胀吗?我们能否以一种适度的经济代价实现这一目标?最后,我们应该这样做吗?

Of course, it can be done, but only for as long as the commitment to higher inflation is credible. Inflation is not some lightbulb that a central bank can switch on and off. It
works through expectations. If the Fed were to impose a long-term inflation target of, say, 6 per cent, then I am sure it would achieve that target eventually. People and markets might not find the new target credible at first but if the central bank were consistent, expectations would eventually adjust. In the end, workers would demand wage increases of at least 6 per cent each year and companies would strive to raise their prices by that amount.

我们当然能够提高通胀率,但前提是央行致力于提高通胀水平的承诺可信。通货膨胀不是央行可以想开就开、想关就关的电灯泡。它是通过人们的预期来实现。如果美联储计划制定一个长期通胀目标(比如说6%),那么我确信它最终将实现这一目标。起初,老百姓和市场可能不觉得这个新目标可靠,但如果央行一直坚持,那么人们最终将会调整预期。最后,工人们将要求每年至少加薪6%,而企业也会设法按照这一幅度提高产品价格。

If, however, a central bank were to pre-announce that it was targeting 6 per cent inflation in 2010 and 2011, and 2 per cent thereafter, the plan would probably not succeed. We know that monetary policy affects inflation with long and variable lags. Such a degree of fine-tuning does not work in practice. My own guess is that one would have to make a much longer-term commitment to a higher rate of inflation for such a policy shift to be credible. I suspect that the greater the distance between the new rate and the current rate, the longer the commitment would have to be.

不过,如果央行打算提前宣布,2010和2011年的通胀目标是6%,此后变为2%,那么该计划很可能无法成功。我们知道,货币政策对通胀的影响存在较长的时滞和很多变数。如此程度的微调在实践中行不通。我自己的猜测是,要想让这种政策变动可以信赖,央行必须作出一种更长期的承诺,致力于提高通胀率。我觉得,新通胀率与当前通胀率之间的差距越大,央行所承诺的时间就必须越长。

Could it be reversed, once it had been achieved? Again, the answer is yes; again, the commitment would have to be credible. But herein lies precisely the problem. If the central bank were honest from the start and pre-announced that it would eventually reverse its policy, it might never reach its goal of higher inflation in the first place. If the central bank were dishonest, it might achieve the goal. But it would lose credibility the moment it decided to reverse. So any new credibility
would have to be earned through new policy action. This might imply nominal interest rates significantly above 6 per cent for an uncomfortably long period.

一旦通胀水平上升了,我们能够加以逆转吗?答案仍然是可以;同样,这也仍然要求央行的承诺要让人信赖。但这正是问题所在。如果央行从一开始就非常诚实,提前告知人们,它最终将扭转自己的政策,那么它或许永远都无法实现提高通胀率这个第一目标。如果央行不诚实,它或许能实现这个目标。但当央行决定逆转政策时,会丧失人们的信任。因此,必须通过新的政策行动来赢得新的信任。这可能意味着,名义利率会在长得令人感到不安的一段时期内,远远维持在6%以上。

What would happen then? I can think of two scenarios. The best outcome would be a simple double-dip recession. A two-year period of moderately high inflation might reduce the real value of debt by some 10 per cent. But there is also a downside. The benefit would be reduced, or possibly eliminated, by higher interest rates payable on loans, higher default rates and a further increase in bad debts. I would be very surprised if the balance of those factors were positive.

之后将会发生什么?我能想到两种情景。最好的结果将会是一种简单的“双底”型衰退。为期两年的适度高通胀,可能使债务的实际价值减少10%左右。但这也存在不利的一面。贷款利息的增加、违约率的上升以及不良债务的进一步增多,会减少、甚至可能完全抵消通胀的有利影响。如果这些因素相互抵消后的影响是积极的,将令我感到非常惊讶。

In any case, this is not the most likely scenario. A policy to raise inflation could, if successful, trigger serious problems in the bond markets. Inflation is a transfer of wealth from creditors to debtors – essentially from China to the US. A rise in US inflation could easily lead to a pull-out of global investors from US bond markets. This would almost certainly trigger a crash in the dollar's real effective exchange rate, which in turn would add further inflationary pressure.

无论如何,这都不是最有可能出现的情景。提高通胀的政策——如果成功的话——可能会引发债券市场的严重问题。通货膨胀是将财富从债权人向债务人转移——本质上是从中国向美国转移。美国通胀率的上升,可能很容易导致全球投资者撤离美国债券市场。几乎可以肯定,这将引发美元实际有效汇率的暴跌,从而进一步增加通胀压力。

Under such a scenario, it might not be easy to keep inflation close to a hypothetical 6 per cent target. The result could be a vicious circle in which an overshooting inflation rate puts further pressure on the bond markets and the exchange rate. The outcome would be even worse than in the previous example. The central bank would eventually have to raise nominal rates aggressively to bring back stability. It would end up with the very opposite of what the advocates of a high inflation policy hope for. Real interest rates would not be significantly negative, but extremely positive.

在这种情况下,我们可能难以将通胀率维持在假定的6%的目标水平附近。结果可能产生一种恶性循环:通胀率过度上升,会给债券市场和汇率带来进一步的压力。其后果将会比前面的例子更为严重。央行最终将不得不大幅提高名义利率,以便使市场恢复稳定。最终的结果将会与高通胀政策鼓吹者所期望的结果大相径庭。实际利率将不会大大低于零,而是远远高于零。

Should this be done? A credible inflation target of 2 or 3 per cent, maintained over a credibly long period of time, is useful. But I doubt that a 6 per cent inflation target could be simultaneously credible and sustainable. Tempting as it may be, it is a beggar-thy-neighbour policy unless replicated elsewhere and would come to be regarded as such by many countries in the world. It would produce a whole new group of losers, both inside and outside the US, with all its undesirable political, social, economic and financial implications. It would also fuel the already rampant discussions about the inevitable death of fiat money.

我们应该提高通胀率吗?在相当长的一段时期内,维持2%或3%这种可靠的通胀率目标,是有用的。但我怀疑,6%的通胀率目标可能既无法让人相信,也难以持续。尽管它可能颇具诱惑力,但除非其他国家也纷纷效仿,否则这就是一种以邻为壑的政策;许多国家都将会这么认为。它对政治、社会、经济和金融都会产生不利的影响,将在美国内外新造就一大批失败者。它还使得有关不兑现纸币必将灭亡的本已热烈的讨论进一步升温。

Stimulating inflation is another dirty, quick-fix strategy, like so many of the bank rescue packages currently in operation. As Hemingway said, it would feel good for a time. But it would solve no problems and create new ones.

刺激通胀是另一种卑鄙、但能够迅速见效的策略,与许多目前正在运行的银行救助计划一样。正如海明威所言,一段时期内,这会是有效的。但它不仅解决不了任何问题,还会造成新的问题。

译者/董琴

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