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克魯曼專欄:美債務爆炸…雷根種下禍根
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Reagan Did It

By Paul Krugman

“This bill is the most important legislation for financial institutions in the last 50 years. It provides a long-term solution for troubled thrift institutions. ... All in all, I think we hit the jackpot.” So declared Ronald Reagan in 1982, as he signed the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act.

He was, as it happened, wrong about solving the problems of the thrifts. On the contrary, the bill turned the modest-sized troubles of savings-and-loan institutions into an utter catastrophe. But he was right about the legislation’s significance. And as for that jackpot — well, it finally came more than 25 years later, in the form of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

For the more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years.

Attacks on Reaganomics usually focus on rising inequality and fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Reagan ushered in an era in which a small minority grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains. He also broke with longstanding rules of fiscal prudence.

On the latter point: traditionally, the U.S. government ran significant budget deficits only in times of war or economic emergency. Federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell steadily from the end of World War II until 1980. But indebtedness began rising under Reagan; it fell again in the Clinton years, but resumed its rise under the Bush administration, leaving us ill prepared for the emergency now upon us.

The increase in public debt was, however, dwarfed by the rise in private debt, made possible by financial deregulation. The change in America’s financial rules was Reagan’s biggest legacy. And it’s the gift that keeps on taking.

The immediate effect of Garn-St. Germain, as I said, was to turn the thrifts from a problem into a catastrophe. The S.& L. crisis has been written out of the Reagan hagiography, but the fact is that deregulation in effect gave the industry — whose deposits were federally insured — a license to gamble with taxpayers’ money, at best, or simply to loot it, at worst. By the time the government closed the books on the affair, taxpayers had lost $130 billion, back when that was a lot of money.

But there was also a longer-term effect. Reagan-era legislative changes essentially ended New Deal restrictions on mortgage lending — restrictions that, in particular, limited the ability of families to buy homes without putting a significant amount of money down.

These restrictions were put in place in the 1930s by political leaders who had just experienced a terrible financial crisis, and were trying to prevent another. But by 1980 the memory of the Depression had faded. Government, declared Reagan, is the problem, not the solution; the magic of the marketplace must be set free. And so the precautionary rules were scrapped.

Together with looser lending standards for other kinds of consumer credit, this led to a radical change in American behavior.

We weren’t always a nation of big debts and low savings: in the 1970s Americans saved almost 10 percent of their income, slightly more than in the 1960s. It was only after the Reagan deregulation that thrift gradually disappeared from the American way of life, culminating in the near-zero savings rate that prevailed on the eve of the great crisis. Household debt was only 60 percent of income when Reagan took office, about the same as it was during the Kennedy administration. By 2007 it was up to 119 percent.

All this, we were assured, was a good thing: sure, Americans were piling up debt, and they weren’t putting aside any of their income, but their finances looked fine once you took into account the rising values of their houses and their stock portfolios. Oops.

Now, the proximate causes of today’s economic crisis lie in events that took place long after Reagan left office — in the global savings glut created by surpluses in China and elsewhere, and in the giant housing bubble that savings glut helped inflate.

But it was the explosion of debt over the previous quarter-century that made the U.S. economy so vulnerable. Overstretched borrowers were bound to start defaulting in large numbers once the housing bubble burst and unemployment began to rise.

These defaults in turn wreaked havoc with a financial system that — also mainly thanks to Reagan-era deregulation — took on too much risk with too little capital.

There’s plenty of blame to go around these days. But the prime villains behind the mess we’re in were Reagan and his circle of advisers — men who forgot the lessons of America’s last great financial crisis, and condemned the rest of us to repeat it.

美債務爆炸雷根種下禍根

「本法案是50年來最重要的金融機構法,為出問題的儲貸機構提供長期解決方案總而言之,我覺得我們就像中了大獎。」前總統雷根1982年簽署格恩聖喬曼存款機構法時這麼說。

結果呢,就解決儲貸機構的問題而言,他錯了,這項法案反而把儲貸機構還不算大的問題變成了徹底的災難。但就立法意義,他說的沒錯。至於大獎,在25年之後倒是終於來了,只是它是以經濟大蕭條以來最嚴重的經濟危機的方式到來。

越探究當前經濟大難的禍首,越可明顯發現導致危機無可避免的關鍵性錯誤轉變就發生在1980年代初期雷根主政時。

對雷根經濟學的指摘,重點往往是貧富日益不均和未善盡財政責任。確實,雷根引入了一個極少數人成為鉅富,而上班族家庭財富僅成長少許的時代。他也打破長久以來財政小心為上的規則

針對後者,美國政府向來只有在戰時或經濟危急時才會有巨額預算赤字。二次大戰結束後到1980年為止,聯邦債務占國內生產毛額的比率持續下降。但在雷根主政下,債務開始增加。柯林頓任內再度減少,但布希當家時又增加,讓我們對當前臨頭的經濟急難猝不及防。

然而,公債增加和可能是金管當局未管制導致的私有債務增加相較,是小巫見大巫。美國財政法規改弦易轍,是雷根的最大遺緒。這項禮物仍繼續發酵。

如我所說,格恩聖喬曼法的立即效應,是把儲貸機構從問題變成災難。儲貸危機沒列入對雷根歌功頌德的事蹟,但事實是,政府不管,其實就是發執照給由聯邦政府擔保存款的儲貸業,說好聽是讓他們拿納稅人的錢賭博,說難聽則是搶納稅人的錢。到政府對此事的處理告一段落時,納稅人已失血1300億。

另外還有一種長期效應。雷根時代法令改變,從根本終結了(羅斯福總統)新政對房貸放貸的種種限制,尤其是限制家庭在沒有大筆自備款下購屋的能力。

這些限制是甫經歷一次嚴重金融危機,設法預防另一次危機發生的政壇領袖在1930年代設的,但到了1980年,經濟大蕭條的記憶已然消褪。雷根宣稱政府是問題所在,而非解決方法,市場力量必須任其自由發揮,因此廢除這些防範規定。

加上消費信用等其他類型放貸的標準寬鬆,導致美國大眾行為徹底改變。

美國並非一向是債台高築而儲蓄率低的國家。1970年代時,美國人會把近一成所得存起來,比率較1960年代略增。到雷根放寬管制後,儲蓄才逐漸從美國人的生活方式中消失,最後是近乎零的儲蓄率在金融大危機發生前盛行一時。雷根上任時,美國人家庭債務占所得比僅6成,約相當於甘迺迪主政時期,到2007年,比率增為119%

有人向我們保證,這些都是好事:當然,美國人債務越來越高,又一點錢都不存,但要是看在他們房價和投資的股票節節上揚,就會覺得他們財務看來還好。哎唷。

現在,很多人把經濟危機的原因推給雷根卸任許久後發生的事,例如中國和其他地方過度儲蓄導致全球過度儲蓄,以及過度儲蓄幫忙吹出的房市大泡泡。

然而讓美國經濟如此脆弱不堪的,是25年來的債務爆炸。一旦房市泡泡破滅、失業率開始增加,過度擴張的大批借款人就被迫開始違約。

這些違約事件讓風險太大、資金太少的金融體系帶來浩劫,主要還是雷根放寬管制所致。

現在要怪人,誰都可以怪罪。但目前亂象背後的主要元兇,是雷根和他那群顧問,這些人忘了美國上一次最大金融危機的教訓,卻譴責其他人重蹈覆轍。 

原文參照:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/opinion/01krugman.html

2009-06-02/聯合報/A10/國際 夏嘉玲摘譯


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