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TheMoneyIllusion货币幻觉

美国本特利大学经济学教授斯科特·萨姆纳(Scott Sumner)

 
 
 

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大萧条与二战是同一起因?  

2009-07-08 08:13:24|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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   [点击查看Scott Sumner的英文博客 [Scott Sumner中文博客]   

 

一位名叫Saifedean的博士生问了我一个非常好的问题,我想或许值得单独写篇文章来谈谈我的答复。他问:

 

令我惊讶的是,你们这些经济学家大多认为沃伦?哈定总统对1921年的衰退处理得很好。根据你们信奉的货币主义原理,难道哈定不应该通过扩大货币供应来应对衰退吗?然而他并没有这样做。并且,随后经济快速地复苏了。

 

这不会让你对货币主义观点的可靠性产生怀疑吗?这难道不是很好地支持了奥地利学派“通缩下应进行清算”的观点吗?

 

这是一个非常好的问题。虽然我能够并且愿意回答这个问题,但我的答案会将提出更深层的问题,这样一来也许就会大大削减我关于大萧条故事的部分。不过这将由你们来决定。我也许会根据你们的意见来考虑如何修改大萧条故事的底稿。

 

先从几个典型的事实开始。我们首先考虑金本位制下的情况,我们把价格水平围绕金价平均趋势线波动的情形称为价格水平指数100。一战期间,由于欧洲国家抛售黄金储备用以支撑战事,使得黄金需求大幅下滑。甚至连美国的黄金价格也因国际市场上购买力的下降而升了一倍。1920-21年期间,价格水平大体上从200回落到150,换句话说,中途回到“正常的”战前水平。由于欧洲国家继续重建他们的黄金储备,很有理由证明更多价格水平的下跌是不可避免的。这个问题已被认定,并且鼓励各国缩减黄金储备以防进一步的通缩损失。当时的想法是让各国的央行持有其他形式的国际储备,如美元和英镑。

 

对于Saifedean提出的问题,扼要答复是:我赞同哈定(或美联储)的做法,因为金本位制是当时的教条。除非我们为了要使货币贬值,否则一定的通缩是很有必要的。尽管1920-21年间的衰退没有大萧条那样严重,负面影响还是存在的,并且如果在完美的世界里,通胀目标将应该会更好——但那是不可能的选择。接下来能选择的是什么呢?

 

1. 一战后货币随即贬值,以便确立长久的新价格水平。一些国家采用了这个方法,但在美国和英国这在政治上是不可接受的。

 

2. 在20世纪20年代期间允许逐渐增加的通缩。(奥地利学派的观点)

 

3. 保持经济不断微调,以确保20世纪20年代价格的大体稳定(这是联邦监管部门实际上所做的)。因此,如果英国需要在20年代后期重建其黄金储备,美国将执行宽松的货币政策来确保黄金由美国流入英国。货币主义和凯恩斯学派都主张,如果这项政策持续实施到30年代,它本应该会起到更大的有利作用。

 

4. 采用流通券,并开始把通胀目标设定在2%。

 

这些选择哪个是最好的?我更情愿选第四个,但那也是不能之选。前三个又如何呢?我认为它们都存在问题,但我最想强调的是,上述任何一个选项本应该会远胜于实际所发生的。

 

这里可能会产生一些疑问。我们没有采用第三个选项吗?答案是否定的。我们在1921-29年采用了第三个选项,然后改换成第二个选项,但是却使用了很不明智的方法。其结果就是,物价水平在1933年跌落约到100(20年代的物价水平一直稳定的保持在150左右)。我们又回到了战前的金本位物价水平,而且是以可能最糟糕的方式发生的。1929-33年的通货紧缩表明我们突然对1921-29年的有效方针来了一个180度大转弯,并且急速得出乎人们的预料。持久的通缩意外并迅速地造成了比其他任何形式都更严重的破坏。不夸张的说,1929-33年的通缩几乎是糟糕的不能再糟了。如果通缩在一战后立即发生,也许情况还不至于如此严重。或者如果物价在20年代能够下跌的缓慢一些。或者如果我们在一战后贬值了货币。或者如果1929年以后我们能够继续采用强硬的政策支撑物价。甚至连流通券都本应该要好得多。

 

我们在20世纪20年代所抱有的是对控制力的幻觉。或者借用Jim Jarmusch的新电影片名——控制的极限。我们让人们相信我们正处于一个科学管理资金的新时代,这将带来无止境的繁荣。并且随后的几年内我们实现了这一承诺。然后,我们回归到金本位的原始状态,各国央行都疯狂的争夺黄金,犹如那些堵在快要倒闭的银行外面歇斯底里的存款人。

 

这是否让你想起一些我之前曾写过的历史文章?其实这正是我对威尔逊和二战所持有的观点。如果我们对一战置身事外,德国就不会受到羞辱并且某种程度的大致均势也能得以实现。如果我们参战并确保最强大的国家被打败,最好确保我们能够挺得过来以保证新国际势力均衡的稳定(比如通过一战战后北约型的体系)。最糟糕的情形则是,我们参战并通过大规模干涉来实现人为的平衡,但随即在一战结束以后又回到非常被动(孤立主义)的政策。

 

你可能已经注意到了,在20世纪20年代的国际关系格局中,刻板威尔逊路线其实扮演了强权的角色。有的人重塑了世界的均衡状态(物价水平或者势力均衡),但是却没有足够的能力确保新的均衡比他自己存在得更长久。那么为什么我更倾向于刻板规则而不是威尔逊呢?我不知道自己是否有什么好的理由,但我会尽量尝试。

 

1. 威尔逊的政策对美国人的生活来说极具破坏性,即使在他执政期间也是如此。而刻板规则却会使人们的日子好过得多。

 

2. 威尔逊甚至无法在自己执政期间把他的想法付之现实。而刻板的规则却能持久得多。事实上,直到1929年夏(威尔逊逝世一年后),股票投资者还认为威尔逊的政策会持续下去。维护威尔逊政策的政治障碍远比威尔逊所面对的要少得多。如果国际合作能够持续下去,我们在20世纪30年代本可以巧妙地通过非常温和的通缩来解决黄金低估问题。

 

大萧条和二战都部分地由于对这些不稳定平衡的自然反应所导致,也是厄运的“完美风暴”的产物。(过于复杂在这里说明)

 

只要弄清楚一点,我有个主张是所有关于大萧条的理论都是部分正确的:

 

1. 蒙代尔/约翰逊黄金低估问题。

 

2. 奥地利学派认为,在20世纪20年代物价被人为保持得过高。

 

3. 凯恩斯主义和货币主义主张,本应该在20世纪30年代也同样支撑物价。

 

他们的不同在于对相关事实的相反认识。有无其他的选择呢?还有什么我们可以理直气壮地去做?好日子会像我(以及货币主义者和凯恩斯主义者)认为的那样一直持续下去吗?或者,像奥地利学派(以及少部分蒙代尔主义者)认为的那样,悲剧是20世纪20年代政策的必然产物?在底稿里,我从“有效市场假说”的角度来分析因果关系。前因变量是出乎市场意料的外生事件。如果市场认为繁荣将持续下去,那么就是坏运气或者错误的政策造成了经济萧条。另一方面,奥地利学派所占的优势是,他们担心的非常事件是确实发生了的。

 

大约在1910年的12月,人类的本性改变了。——弗吉尼亚?伍尔芙

 

我猜想,当引用这句话的时候,人们通常认为伍尔芙谈论的是艺术、文化、科学等当时处在她周围的领域内所发生根本性改变。但是,“摩登时代”同样也对政治和经济领域产生了深远的影响。自由放任主义和孤立主义都过时了,而干预主义和国家主义则如日中天。这是如此的蛊惑人心而又悲惨,这个突然的转变是我们的权力打败了良好的判断力。我们开始把社会当成机器一样对待,觉得它是可以控制的,然而却没有真正认识到问题的复杂性,以及新平衡是怎样脆弱地确立的。

 

[顺带一句,文艺复兴带来的工艺流程蓬勃发展使得欧洲仅在数百年内就成为了世界霸主,随后当自由主义思想逐步传播开来,一些大致类似的事情发生了。不幸的是,尽管自由主义革命的确逐步完善了人们的道德价值观,但它同时更大程度上改变了势力状况。由于西方势力在全世界的横行——他们传播疾病、奴役人民、盗窃土地,使得许多土著人民遭受了磨难。]

 

我曾经以为,第一次世界大战改变了一切。但也许事实是,所有的事情都改变了才导致第一次世界大战。毕竟,在一战前夕,我们有一系列令人眼花缭乱的“革新”倡议修正(即中央集权论者的论调):所得税(1913年)、美联储(1913年),打击毒品(1914年),等等。我并非在指责这些革新的修正;只是认为,突然发生的文化变革或多或少导致了一种认为政府(权力)应该更加强大的观念。任何激进的变革方针都可能附带相当令人难受的副作用。今天,一些革新的想法(如北约联盟和中央银行)的确运转不错,但在此,我们不得不吸取以往的惨重教训。

 

这对我们当前的问题有何启示?其实我并不像大多数人一样为全球变暖而担心(尽管我没理由怀疑科学)。反倒是那些大家看来无足轻重的事情令我最头痛。自然界或遗传产生的致命且传播迅猛的疾病,甚至连太阳耀斑那样老掉牙的东西──Robin Hanson宣称可以轻而易举地让我们沦为Cormac McCarthy在小说中描述的那种人间地狱(至少是他链接到文摘里的那几篇)。人类所建立的电力系统复杂得难以置信,一旦瞬间崩溃,后果不堪设想。我已经离题太远,或许在我吓到小孩之前,我该停止这深更半夜在家自弹自唱的“夜半歌声”。总之,Saifedean先生,这里是否有你想要的答案?

(翻译纠错。读者发现任何翻译错误请发邮件给我们,谢谢:caijingblog#126.com 将#改为@)


英文原文(地址:http://blogsandwikis.bentley.edu/themoneyillusion/?p=1680#more-1680):

Did the Great Depression and WWII have the same cause?

I got a very good question from saifedean, and thought my answer might be worth a separate post.  He asked:

I am, however, surprised that you, of all people, think that Harding’s handling of the 1921 depression was good. According to your Monetarist rule-book, shouldn’t Harding have expanded the money supply to fight the depression? Yet he didn’t. And there was a fast recovery.

Doesn’t that make you doubt the veracity of the monetarist view? Doesn’t that support more the Austrian deflationist liquidationist view?

This is a very good question.  And although I can and will answer the question, my answer will raise deeper questions that may undercut part of my Great Depression story.  But that will be for you guys to decide.  Your views may influence how I revise my Depression manuscript.

Start with a few stylized facts.  The price level fluctuated around a fairly stable trend line under the gold standard.  Call that trend line 100.  During WWI gold demand fell sharply as European countries sold off their gold stocks to pay for the war.  Even in the US prices doubled as the purchasing power of gold fell in world markets.  In 1920-21 the price level fell back from roughly 200 to 150, in other words halfway back to the “natural” pre-war level.  A good argument could be made that more declines were inevitable as the European countries continued to rebuild their gold stocks.  This problem was recognized and countries were encouraged to economize on gold holdings to prevent further costly deflation.  The idea was to have central banks hold other forms of international reserves such as dollars and British pounds.

The quick answer to saifedean is that I am OK with Harding’s actions (or the Fed’s) because the gold standard was accepted dogma at that point, and some deflation was necessary unless we were to devalue.  Even though the 1920-21 depression was much milder than the Great Depression, it was still bad, and in a perfect world inflation targeting would have been even better.  But that was not an option.  What were the options going forward?

1.  Currency devaluation right after WWI, to make the new price level permanent.  This was done in some countries, but wasn’t politically acceptable in the US or UK.

2.  Allow gradual deflation during the 1920s.  (The Austrian view.)

3.  Keep fine-tuning the economy to insure roughly stable prices during the 1920s (which was what Fed Governor Strong actually did.)  Thus if Britain needed to rebuild its gold stock in the late 1920s, the US would run an easy money policy to insure that gold flowed from the US to Britain.  The monetarists and Keynesians both argued that it would have been better if this policy had continued into the 1930s.

4.  Adopt fiat money and start targeting inflation at 2%.

Which would have been best?  I’d say number 4, but that wasn’t an option.  What about among the first three?  I think they all have problems, but what I would most like to emphasize is that any one of these options would have been far better than what actually happened.

You might be puzzled here.  Didn’t we adopt number 3?  No.  We adopted number 3 from 1921-29, and then shifted to number 2, but in a very clumsy way.  As a result, the price level (which had been stable at around 150 during the 1920s), fell to about 100 by 1933.  We were back to the pre-war gold standard price level, but it happened in about the worst way possible.  The 1929-33 deflation represented a sudden change from the Strong regime, and thus was largely unexpected.  Unexpected, rapid, and long lasting deflation causes more damage than any other kind.  The deflation of 1929-33 literally could not have been worse.   It would have been much better if it had happened immediately after WWI.  Or if prices had fallen at a slow rate during the 1920s.  Or if we had devalued after WWI.  Or if we had continued to prop up prices with Strong’s policies after 1929.  Even fiat money would have been much better.

What we had in the 1920s was the illusion of control.  Or to borrow the name of Jim Jarmusch’s new film, the limits of control.   We led people to believe that we were in a new era where scientific management of money would lead to unending prosperity.  And for a few years we delivered on that promise.  Then we reverted to the crudest form of gold standard, where each central bank madly scrambled for gold like hysterical depositors lined up outside a failing bank.

Does this remind you of anything in my previous history post?  It’s exactly the same argument I applied to Wilson and WWII.  If we stay out of WWI, Germany doesn’t get humiliated and some sort of rough equilibrium is achieved.  If we go in and make sure the strongest country loses, we’d better make sure we hang around to assure the new balance of power is stable.  (Say through a post WWI NATO-type system.)  The worst possible scenario would be to go in and create an artificial equilibrium through heavy intervention, but then revert to a very passive (isolationist) policy after WWI.

You may have noticed that in this account Wilson essentially plays the role of Gov. Strong in the 1920s.  Someone who reshaped the world equilibrium (price level or balance of power) but wasn’t powerful enough to ensure that that new equilibrium outlasted him.  Why then do I have a much more favorable view of Strong than Wilson?  I don’t know if I have any good reasons, but I’ll try.

1.  Wilson’s policies were very destructive to US lives even when he was in office.  Strong’s produced good times.

2.  Wilson could not even implement his vision while in office.  Strong’s policy was much more plausibly long-lasting.  Indeed as late as the summer of 1929 (one year after his death) stock investors thought his policies would continue.  And the political obstacles to maintaining them were much less than what Wilson faced.  With continued international cooperation we could have finessed the undervaluation of gold problem with a very mild deflation in the 1930s.

Both the Great Depression and World War II were partly a natural reflection of these unstable equilibria, but also a product of a virtual “perfect storm” of bad luck (too complicated to get into here.)

Just to be clear, one of my points is that all of the theories of the Great Depression are partly right:

1.  The Mundell/Johnson gold undervaluation problem.

2.  The Austrian claim that prices were artificially held too high in the 1920s.

3.  The Keynesian/monetarist claim that prices should have been held up in the 1930s as well.

Where they differ is on relevant counterfactuals.  What were the other options?  What else could we have plausibly done?  Could the good times have gone on forever as I (and monetarists and Keynesians) argue, or was tragedy an inevitable product of the 1920s policies, as the Austrians (and to a lesser degree the Mundellians) argue?  In my manuscript I take an “efficient markets” perspective on causality.  Causal factors are events that surprise markets.  If markets thought prosperity could continue, then it was bad luck or bad policy that caused the Depression.  On the other hand the Austrians have the advantage of arguing that the very thing they worried about actually happened.

On or about December 1910, the human character changed. — Virginia Woolf.

I guess when this quotation is discussed people usually think about radical changes in art, culture, science, etc, that occurred around this time.  But the “modern era” also had a profound effect on politics and economics.  Laissez-faire and isolationism were out, and interventionism and statism were in.  The thing that is so fascinating, and tragic, about this sudden change is that our power raced ahead of our good judgment.  We started treating society like a machine that could be controlled, without really knowing how complex the problems were, and how fragile were the new equilibria being created.

[BTW, something vaguely analogous had occurred when the gradual spread of liberal ideas after the Renaissance led to an explosion of technological progress that within a few hundred years made Europe the master of the world.  Unfortunately, although the liberal revolution did gradually improve moral values, it improved power much more rapidly.  Many indigenous people suffered as the West rampaged all over the world spreading disease and slavery and stealing land.]

I used to think that WWI changed everything.  But maybe what really happened is everything changed and that caused WWI.  After all, we have a dizzying series of “progressive” (i.e. statist) initiatives right on the eve of WWI, the income tax (1913), the Fed (1913), the War on Drugs (1914), and so on.  I’m not trying to blame the progressives for WWI; just suggesting that a sudden cultural change occurred, which somehow led to the perception that the state should be made much more powerful.  Any radical change along those lines is likely to have some rather unpleasant side effects.  Today some of these progressive ideas (like an alliance of democracies (NATO) and central banks) actually work pretty well, but we had to learn some very painful lessons to get here.

What does this tell us about our current problems?  I’m actually not as worried about global warming as most people (although I have no reason to doubt the science.)  It’s the things that catch us unaware that worry me the most.  A natural or genetically engineered disease that is fatal and easily spread, or even something as mundane as a solar flare, which Robin Hanson claims could easily plunge us into a dystopian world out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.  (At least the articles he links to suggest that.)  We’ve built this incredibly complex electrical distribution system, without thinking about what would happen if it all failed at once.  I’ve wandered so far from the original topic that perhaps I should stop this late night dorm room monologue before I start scaring small children.  Anyway, is there an answer to your question in there anywhere, saifedean?

   [点击查看Scott Sumner的英文博客 [Scott Sumner中文博客]   

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