我憤怒了!─回應克魯明「騎劫危機」

余偉麒

信報 2011年8月16日

諾貝爾獎得主克魯明(Paul Krugman)日前於紐約時報撰文「騎劫危機」(信報8月13日),認為讀者在擔憂金融市場動盪帶來的經濟風險外,還應該感到憤怒,而憤怒的對象就是那些有權有勢的人,為求個人利益騎劫危機而非解決問題。

沒錯,我的確感到憤怒。我憤怒,是因為美國自己弄得一團糟,卻要全球來承受苦果;我憤怒,是因為美國政客為了自身的政治議程,不顧國家及全球經濟利益,騎劫整個債務危機;可是克氏文中的局勢分析及建議,卻更令我火冒三丈!

克氏自製失業財赤二分法

克氏認為美國最大的問題是失業,而不是財赤,他認為在過去逾一年半的時間裡,奧巴馬政府卻企圖轉移視線,將焦點放在財赤上,對失業問題視若無睹。克氏引用在美國信貸評級被下調後,債息實際上跌至歷史低位這事實,說明市場對財赤根本毫不擔心。

不過克氏是錯的,他的錯誤源於他對財赤危機的概念分析,以及對局勢的誤判。從概念層面來說,克氏誤以為減赤與減少失業是互相排斥(mutually-exclusive)的經濟目標。從事實層面而言,克氏則錯認了債息下跌代表市場對財赤毫不擔心。

須知道,減赤與減少失業之間並不存在必然的取捨(trade-off)關係。美國政府無須削減對教育、基礎設施和其他公共開支以減少赤字,反之,只要它願意削減軍費開支,要增加上述開支亦完全不成問題。

2010年,美國國防部在預算的6640億美元之上,多花了160億美元,來支付在伊拉克和阿富汗的額外開銷。國防部的2012年預算開支表面上雖為7075億美元,但將額外開銷計算在內,實際的國防預算總額已達驚人的14150億美元!故此只須削減5%的國防預算,或乾脆保持在2010年的水平,就足以在國內大推一次凱恩斯式的擴張性財政政策,令總體需求回升。

凱恩斯式政策無用武之地

但凱恩斯式的財政政策又是答案嗎?克氏認為增加公共開支長遠能夠降低失業率乃一完全錯誤的假設。美國目前在製造業和基建方面已產能過剩,假若繼續在這些方面投放資源,只會造成無謂的浪費,對長遠的就業前景有害無利。

在目前的氣候裡,凱恩斯式的宏觀經濟管理模式根本毫無用武之地,甚至只會弄巧反拙。理論上,總體需求的上升理應能夠刺激經濟並降低失業率,但這並不是絕對正確的─當經濟正處於流動性陷阱 (liquidity trap) 時,市場信心低迷,商家無意增加投資,政府嘗試透過增加開支以刺激經濟,卻可能會奪走企業在市場謀利的機會,這根本是名副其實的「國進民退」。美國現時就正處於這種流動性陷阱,商家不願增加本土投資,就業情況自然無法改善,這亦同時解釋了量化寬鬆政策對創造就業的失敗。

市場信心低迷,正正是美國現時處於流動性陷阱的原因,亦點出了克氏對債務危機分析的謬誤。克氏誤讀市場資訊,天真地以為美債息率無視主權評級下降續創新低,便是市場對美國國債信心的表現,殊不知聯儲局大手買入以支撐市況的持續量化寬鬆措施,才是導致債息下降的主因。聯儲局第二期的量化寬鬆政策固然已宣告結束,但事實上聯儲局繼續向銀行購入國債,以滾存市場的流動資金這行為根本就是量化寬鬆政策的延續,市場人士謔稱這不死的量化寬鬆措施為「QE2.5」。

之不過克氏誤解現實、錯判形勢其實也無傷大雅,最大的問題是克氏嘗試用來說服讀者的觀點:「聯儲局也應盡一切努力推動經濟,透過推高通脹來緩和債務問題」。克氏不單止要讀者相信聯儲局的做法是在政治上,經濟上正確的,並且認為在道德上沒有問題。克氏正倡議以另一種赤字來抵消國債,這就是所謂的「道德赤字」 (moral deficit)。

或許克氏說得對,政客不應騎劫經濟,可是聯儲局如斯手段,豈不是等於騎劫美國以外各地的經濟嗎?透過高通漲將自己的債務一筆勾消,在道德上又說得過去嗎?克氏在文章開始時認為大家應該感到憤怒,他說得對,我真的憤怒了!

13 thoughts on “我憤怒了!─回應克魯明「騎劫危機」

  1. Reread you whole post and ask yourself the following:
    what do businesses do in a liquidity trap?
    What happens to investment?
    What happens to labor demand when investment level drops?
    What would be the equilibrium interest rate to restore full employment in a liquidity trap?

  2. As I said in the penultimate paragragh of the original post, it does not matter whether how you analyze the situation; and I do accept different opinions; however, my main concern is Krugman’s proposal to deliberately push up inflation in order to reduce the country’s nominal debt. Do you think this is morally correct?

    • People can have different conclusions based on the same facts, just like Krugman and me, but this is not the issue here. However, when Krugman suggested to deliberately push up inflation in order solve the debt crisis, this becomes my concern. He advocates taking irresponsible actions to solve the crisis at the expense of the rest of the world. If you think this is fine, then you are entitled to your opinion, but to me, this is moral deficit. On the one hand Krugman is criticising politicians for kidnapping the country over the debt crisis, however on the other hand, he is suggesting the US should kidnap the rest of the world because the country is too big to fail. I cannot follow his logic that it is not okay for politicans to kidnap the country for personal poltical agendas, yet it becomes alright when if US kidnaps the rest of the world instead.

  3. First, economics is not morality play.
    Second, is your conclusion right? are you looking at the same facts? do you have the ability to follow Krugman’s argument? You need to answer my questions in my comment above, otherwise there is no way to claim that your understanding of economics is solid.
    Third, what is you plan of bringing US out of depression?
    Fourth, and most importantly, what inflation? Where the hell is it? Show me the data.

    • Referring to your points:
      1) “economics is not morality play" – So according to you, in the name of economics, politicians do not need to be aware of the social implications of economic policies. If this is acceptable to you, that’s fine, but I call this moral deficit.
      2) The US spent billions in QE2, but did it create employment? If investors are beaming with confidence, why do you think gold price broke US$1,700 on the day US got downgraded and closed yesterday at yet another historical high? US’s interest rate is close to zero, dollars at historical low, why investment is so depressed? Krugman wants the Fed to print more money, forget about the debt ceiling, spend more money to create jobs that do not improve productivity. Effectively, he wants the state to replace the private sector to create employment – big government, small private sector. Sorry, I am not a fan of Krugman.
      3) Create an environment to encourage FDI. Stop printing money will be a start, restore confidence in the dollars is a must. If you a foreign investor, will you invest in a country that sees its currency devalue by 10% a year?
      4) PIf you read the article carefully, Krugman wants to push up domestic inflation, not saying there is existing inflation. But tell you what, the Fed tried very hard on this, but instead of pushing up domestic inflation, she exported inflation to the rest of the world instead, we are living in it!

  4. 1) the social implication right now is employment, not inflation. Have you been living under a rock for the past few years? So ineffective economic policies that keep huge amount of people unemployed and causing suffering that even what they are totally avoidable is morally ok for you? You have a twisted sense of morality.
    2) That’s why you need the right economics ideas to know what the bejesus you are talking about. Monetary policy has its limit! Go read up on liquidity trap before you comment.
    3) FDI? From whom? For what? Who is gonna invest in a place that has really really low demand? And remember everywhere else sans China, Indian, Brazil has the exact low demand? And emerging markets have their own issues to deal with? Read up on the Great Depression and Japan and economics in general to get some clues
    4) Where the hell did he say that? Where did he say “I want more inflation!", some me the exact passage. All I can see is he calling for government spending, which you need to understand aggregate demand, liquidity trap and the limit of monetary to know what he means.

  5. 1) Unemployment is of course a social issue, I am not denying that ,nor I am saying we should ignore it. However, unemployment only affects a relatively small portion of the population, whereas inflation affects everyone, in particular the poor and unemployed! The low inflation climate we enjoyed in the last decade might have blurred your memories of high inflation at over 15%, interest rates over 18%. Inflation is a beast that we should keep out when we still have the chance.
    2) Of course monetary policies have their limitations, same as Keynesian style aggregate demand management. But don’t forget, it was the shortcomings of aggregate demand management that led to the rise of monetary policies. There are roles that the government should play, in creating suitable environments for inevstments, but Krugman’s suggestions go the opposite.
    3) I am not sure if I fully understand your point there. You seem to have answered your own question, why nobody wants to invest in the US, and hence the problems we are facing today. The continuous weakness in the dollars is prohibating much needed FDI in the country.
    4) The Hijacked Crisis by Paul Krugman; New York Times, August 11, 2011 – second last paragraph last sentence: “…. it would involve an all-out effort by the Federal Reserve to get the economy moving, with the deliberate goal of generating higher inflation to help alleviate debt problems."

    Finally, I want to reiterate that I am NOT saying unemplyment is not a problem. However, it is too dangerous , and without foundations, to assume a Phillips Curve trade-off between inflation and unemployment is the solution. Allowing inflation to creep in is like going to bed with the devil, and Krugman is the devil’s advocate!

  6. Pointless to reply all if you are not certain about the deeper points of economics.
    on 3) read you own post again, you admitted that there is excess capacity in the US, how is FDI going to help?????? The issue is demand, that’s why government needs to spending to push up demand by creating job. Directly. That’s why they need more stimulus.

    on 4) that’s called inflation targeting; it is not the same as saying “more inflation". To understand that you need to compare baseline scenario and the plan proposed. The thing is that US is in DEFLATION deal to low demand and unemployment. Low demand causes lower revenue to US govt and more deficit. A vicious cycle. The only way to get out is to increase demand. If gov’t cannot spend for whatever reason, the FED is only thing stand between recovery and Great Depression 2.0. And if

  7. And if generating “inflation" by printing money is the only way out, so be it. But since US is in deflation, “inflation" as measured in marginal rate is not a bad thing, because it helps to get back to the original price level. Remember, that inflation (QE I&II) is what stopping the US from falling into Great Depression 2.0.

    Besides, if people worry about the debt, inflation can reduce that, that’s how many countries out out of debt before. Consider it a restructuring method–writing down, which all countries and companies use today.

    Furthermore, don’t place the sole blame on US, the creditors are to blame too by lending huge amount of money to them without consideration. To US, the most important thing is the welfare of its people, not its debt to other countries. Same argument is true for every other country. That’s why I supported undervaluation of RMB until it started to hurt its own people.

    Economics is about nuances, making “better" choices among alternatives from the baseline, not about absolute “moral position".

  8. 3) I think you jump to quickly into conclusion that FDI menas investing in over-capacity industry. While one of the attributes of FDI is job creation in the areas where the investment goes, more importantly, FDI serves to accelerate the decline of non-competitive industries. The experience in China is a case in point; FDI helped to accelerate the decline of state-owned enterprises. Therefore, when I propose more FDI, I don’t mean investment into non-competitive industries, but into areas where the US has a comparative advantage!

    4) If you think “deliberate goal of generating higher inflation to help alleviate debt problems" amounts to inflation targeting, you are entitled to your opinion, I don’t see it that way, and I don’t think the market see it that way either (gold price jumped 10% in the last two weeks just on the back of the rumour of QE3).

    Call it inflation targeting if you will, but the danger is the underlying assumption that inflation and unemplyment will move along the Phillips Curve; the risk obviously being the excess liquidity may push the curve outward, resulting in higher inflation AND higher unemployment.

    You said if printing money and generating inflation is the only way out, then so be it. I totally agree with that accessment. However, I don’t think this is the only alternative. As I argue in the original post, whether I agree with it or not is besides the point, domestic demand can be boosted without resorting to printing more money. The US simply needs to cut back its military spendings!

    You are right, economics is about choice. While there are other alternatives, Krugman is suggesting that the US should choose inflating the rest of the world to get inself out of the debt problem, while maintaining spendings in fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s why I am angry.

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