Economics in One Lesson校译之4. Public Works Mean Taxes

Public Works Mean Taxes 

第4章  公共工程意味着增税

There is no more persistent and influential faith in the world today than the faith in government spending. Everywhere government spending is presented as a panacea for all our economic ills. Is private industry partially stagnant? We can fix it all by government spending. Is there unemployment? That is obviously due to “insufficient private purchasing power.” The remedy is just as obvious. All that is necessary is for the government to spend enough to make up the “deficiency”.

当今世上,没有哪种信仰能比民众对政府支出抱有的信仰更持久、更具影响力。各国民众都在仰仗政府支出这剂灵丹妙药,坚信它能包治所有的经济弊病。私营产业不景气吗?我们就靠政府支出去拉动产业经济。出现失业问题了吗?这显然也是“私人购买力不足”造成的。开出的药方明摆着还是政府支出。总之,唯一的解决之道就是政府花掉足够多的钱去补齐“不足”。

An enormous literature is based on this fallacy, and, as so often happens with doctrines of this sort, it has become part of an intricate network of fallacies that mutually support each other. We cannot explore that whole network at this point; we shall return to other branches of it later. But we can examine here the mother fallacy that has given birth to this progeny, the main stem of the network.

无数的文献基于这一谬论,而且,跟这类信条通常的情形一样,它已经成为盘根错节的谬论网的一部分,与网络中其他荒唐的说法相互支撑。我们还无法在本章解析整个谬论网,其诸多分支将放到后面的章节去解析。不过,我们能在这里剖析孕育其他许多无稽之谈的谬论之母,也就是该谬论网的主干。

Everything we get, outside of the free gifts of nature, must in some way be paid for. The world is full of so-called economists who in turn are full of schemes for getting something for nothing. They tell us that the government can spend and spend without taxing at all; that is can continue to pile up debt without ever paying it off because “we owe it to ourselves.” We shall return to such extraordinary doctrines at a later point. Here I am afraid that we shall have to be dogmatic, and point out that such pleasant dreams in the past have always been shattered by national insolvency or a runaway inflation. Here we shall have to say simply that all government expenditures must eventually be paid out of the proceeds of taxation; that inflation itself is merely a form, and a particularly vicious form, of taxation.

除了大自然有限的免费恩赐之外,我们取得任何东西都是要付出代价的。这个世界上有的是所谓的经济学家,这些人个个都有不劳而获的办法。他们吹嘘,政府根本不用收税都能有花不完的钱;政府可以无限累积债务,根本不用偿还,因为“钱是我们欠自己的”。后面我们还会再来剖析这类奇谈怪论,但这里必须无情地指出,过去做的这种美梦总是以国家财政破产或者通货膨胀飙升而破灭。我们必须认识到:政府所有的支出最后都必须靠纳税人来埋单;通货膨胀本身只是税收的一种表现形式,是很特别恶毒的一种税收形式。

Having put aside for later consideration the network of fallacies which rest on chronic government borrowing and inflation, we shall take it for granted throughout the present chapter that either immediately or ultimately every dollar of government spending must be raised through a dollar of taxation. Once we look at the matter in this way, the supposed miracles of government spending will appear in another light.

让我们把基于政府推行长期借款和通货膨胀政策的谬论体系要放到以后再探讨,本章中我们要理所当然地认为政府支出的每一块钱都来自马上的或者将来的税收。一旦我们用这种方式来看问题,所谓政府支出造就的“丰功伟绩”,就不再那么风光了。

A certain amount of public spending is necessary to perform essential government functions. A certain amount of public works — of streets and roads and bridges and tunnels, of armories and navy yards, of buildings to house legislatures, police and fire departments—is necessary to supply essential public services. With such public works, necessary for their own sake, and defended on that ground alone, I am not here concerned. I am here concerned with public works considered as a means of “providing employment” or of adding wealth to the community that it would not otherwise have had.

一定数额的公共开支对执行基本的政府职能是必要的。一定数量的公共设施建设,如街道、桥梁、隧道、军营、海军基地,以及议会、警察和消防队的办公设施等,是提供基本的公共服务所必需的。社会对这些公共建设本身有需要,也依据此需要而进行时,对此我毫不担心。我所要讨论的是将公共建设当做一种手段,用以“提供就业”,或者创造出社区用它法无法创造出来的新财富的那些公共工程。

A bridge is built. Ifit is built to meet an insistent public demand, if it solves a traffic problem or a transportation problem otherwise insoluble, if, in short, it is even more necessary to the taxpayers collectively than the things for which they would have individually spent their money had it had not been taxed away from them, there can be no objection. But a bridge built primarily “to provide employment” is a different kind of bridge. When providing employment becomes the end, need becomes a subordinate consideration. “Projects” have to be invented. Instead of thinking only of where bridges must be built the government spenders begin to ask themselves where bridges can be built. Can they think of plausible reasons why an additional bridge should connect Easton and Weston? It soon becomes absolutely essential. Those who doubt the necessity are dismissed as obstructionists and reactionaries.

假设要建一座桥,如果它能满足民众的迫切需要,缓解难以克服的交通或运输问题,换句话说,如果纳税人觉得把钱一起投在这里,比不收税而让他们自己消费更有价值,那么兴建这样的桥梁就没有什么问题。但如果是为了“提高就业机会”而建桥,那就成另外一回事了。当提供就业机会成了目的之后,有无兴建桥梁的实际需要就会成为次要问题。政府必须无中生有,创造出“公共建设项目”。他们不再只考虑哪里必须建桥,而是开始自问自答:桥可以建在哪里。他们会琢磨,再建一座桥以连接浦东和浦西,能找到适当借口来说明为什么有此需要吗?很快该工程就变得绝对必要。那些对建桥的必要性提出质疑的人,则会被认为碍手碍脚和不识时务而被忽略。

Two arguments are put forward for the bridge, one of which is mainly heard before it is built, the other of which is mainly heard after it has been completed. The first argument is that it will provide employment. It will provide, say, 500 jobs for a year. The implication is that these are jobs that would not otherwise have come into existence.

关于建桥,一般有两个论调。其一主要发生在造桥之前,另一个主要流传于完工之后。第一个论调指出,造桥能够提供就业机会,比如说,一年可以提供500个工作机会。言外之意是,不建这座桥,就不会有这些工作机会。

This is what is immediately seen. But if we have trained ourselves to look beyond immediate to secondary consequences, and beyond those who are directly benefited by a government project to others who are indirectly affected, a different picture presents itself. It is true that a particular group of bridgeworkers may receive more employment than otherwise. But the bridge has to be paid for out of taxes. For every dollar that is spent on the bridge a dollar will be taken away from taxpayers. If the bridge costs $10 million the taxpayers will lose $10 million. They will have that much taken away from them which they would otherwise have spent on the things they needed most.

这仅是眼前的结果而已。如果我们学会不只看眼前还看其续发后果,也就是说,不只是关注那些政府工程的直接受益者,还要同时考虑那些间接受到影响的人,我们的认识就会迥然不同。没错,造桥工人可能会获得更多的工作机会,然而造桥的钱却必须从税收中支出,造桥每花一块钱,就得向纳税人征一块钱的税。要是建造这座桥耗资1 000万美元,纳税人就得损失1 000万美元。他们本来可以用这笔钱去购买他们各自最需要的东西。

Therefore, for every public job created by the bridge project a private job has been destroyed somewhere else. We can see the men employed on the bridge. We can watch them at work. The employment argument of the government spenders becomes vivid, and probably for most people convincing. But there are other things that we do not see, because, alas, they have never been permitted to come into existence. They are the jobs destroyed by the $10 million taken from the taxpayers. All that has happened, at best, is that there has been a diversion of jobs because of the project. More bridge builders; fewer automobile workers, television technicians, clothing workers, farmers.

因此,建桥工程所创造的每一个工作机会都是以它处一个民间工作机会的丧失为代价的。我们能够看得见桥梁工地上的工人,我们看得见他们在做工,于是,政府支出能够创造就业机会的论调变得活灵活现,令大多数人深信不疑。但有些东西我们是看不到的,因为,唉!它们根本没被允许发生,它们是从纳税人的口袋里掏走1 000万美元之后而破坏掉的工作机会。所发生的一切无非是,最好的可能就是,该工程引起了就业机会的转移。造桥工人增加了,汽车工人、电视机技工、制衣工人、农民就减少了。

But then we come to the second argument. The bridge exists. It is, let us suppose, a beautiful and not an ugly bridge. It has come into being through the magic of government spending. Where would it have been if the obstructionists and the reactionaries had had their way? There would have been no bridge. The country would have been just that much poorer. Here again the government spenders have the better of the argument with all those who cannot see beyond the immediate range of their physical eyes. They can see the bridge. But if they have taught themselves to look for indirect as well as direct consequences they can once more see in the eye of imagination the possibilities that have never been allowed to come into existence. They can see the unbuilt homes, the unmade cars and washing machines, the unmade dresses and coats, perhaps the ungrown and unsold foodstuffs. To see these uncreated things requires a kind of imagination that not many people have. We can think of these nonexistent objects once, perhaps, but we cannot keep them before our minds as we can the bridge that we pass every working day. What has happened is merely that one thing has been created instead of others.

桥终于建好了,不妨假定那是一座漂亮而非丑陋的大桥。第二个论调会说,这都得归功于政府支出的神奇魔法。要是当初那些反对者得遂所愿,还会有这座跨江大桥吗?若少了这座桥,这个国家正好损失相应的那么一笔财富。

这里也一样,对那些不能看到双眼能关注的范围以外的东西的人来说,主张政府支出的人更有说服力。这两类人的眼睛里都只有那座桥。如果他们能学会既看直接的结果又看间接的影响的话,那些原本可能产生而没有产生的东西便会呈现在他们的想象之中。他们将看到没能盖起来的房子、没能生产出来的汽车和洗衣机、没能做出来的礼服和外套、没能种出来和卖出去的粮食。要看到这些没有被创造出来的东西,得靠某种想象力,可惜这正是许多人所缺乏的。我们也许意识到过这些不存在的东西,但当我们每天上下班路过的桥梁时,我们的意识里便只有了桥梁。政府支出的幻象,无非是通过牺牲其他的机会,把特定的财富创造出来而已。

2

The same reasoning applies, of course, to every other form of public work. It applies just as well, for example, to the erection, with public funds, of housing for people of low incomes. All that happens is that money is taken away through taxes from families of higher income (and perhaps a little from families of even lower income) to force them to subsidize these selected families with low incomes and enable them to live in better housing for the same rent or for lower rent than previously.

这种推理方法同样适用于其他各种形式的公共建设。例如,动用公共资金兴建供低收入家庭居住的廉租房。这么做,只不过是用征税的方式让收入较高的家庭把钱拿出来(也可能有一小部分是其他低收入较低家庭的钱),强迫他们补贴那些政府选定的低收入家庭,让后者以相同或更低的租金,享有更好的住房条件。

I do not intend to enter here into all the pros and cons of public housing. I am concerned only to point out the error in two of the arguments most frequently put forward in favor of public housing. One is the argument that it “creates employment”; the other that it creates wealth which would not otherwise have been produced. Both of these arguments are false, because they overlook what is lost through taxation. Taxation for public housing destroys as many jobs in other lines as it creates in housing. It also results in unbuilt private homes, in unmade washing machines and refrigerators, and in lack of innumerable other commodities and services.

我不打算在这里探讨兴建廉租房的种种利弊,只想指出,赞成兴建廉租房的最常见的两个论调都存在谬误。其一是它能“创造就业”,其二是建造廉租房即创造了财富,否则便没有这笔财富。这两个论调都站不住脚,因为它们忽视了赋税造成的损失。用于兴建廉租房的税赋所毁掉的其他行业的工作机会,跟它在住房建设行业创造的工作机会一样多。这也导致有些私人住房无法盖起来,有些洗衣机和电冰箱无法生产出来,使其他不计其数的商品和服务供给缺乏。

And none of this is answered by the sort of reply which points out, for example, that public housing does not have to be financed by a lump sum capital appropriation, but merely by annual rent subsidies. This simply means that the cost to the taxpayers is spread over many years instead of being concentrated into one. Such technicalities are irrelevant to the main point.

有人说,兴建廉租房不需要一次拨一大笔钱,用年租金补足就行。类似的回答并不能解决任何问题。那只意味着把纳税人的负担分摊到许多年,而不是集中在一年。这样的技术细节与我们的主要问题是不相关的。

The great psychological advantage of the public housing advocates is that men are seen at work on the houses when they are going up, and the houses are seen when they are finished. People live in them, and proudly show their friends through the rooms. The jobs destroyed by the taxes for the housing are not seen, nor are the goods and services that were never made. It takes a concentrated effort of thought, and a new effort each time the houses and the happy people in them are seen, to think of the wealth that was not created instead. Is it surprising that the champions of public housing should dismiss this, if it is brought to their attention, as a world of imagination, as the objections of pure theory, while they point to the public housing that exists? As a character in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan replies when told of the theory of Pythagoras that the earth is round and revolves around the sun: “What an utter fool! Couldn’t he use his eyes?”

支持兴建廉租房的人有着很大的心理上的优势。建设时能看到繁忙的工地,完工后能看到崭新的建筑,入住时能看到乔迁新居的人喜气洋洋地带领亲朋好友参观房间。相反,因赋税而损失的工作是看不见的,那些无法生产出来的产品和无法提供的服务也是看不见的。每次看到那些房子,看到那些住在里面的幸福快乐的人,我们都需要重新集中精力,才能想象出那些没有被创造出来的财富。主张兴建廉租房的人指着矗立在眼前的楼房反驳说,你说的那些只是想象出来的、不存在的事物,是纯理论的东西。他们的言行令人惊讶吗?就像萧伯纳的剧作《圣女贞德》中的那个家伙,当被告知毕达哥拉斯的理论说地球是圆的、而且绕着太阳转时,他驳斥道: “十足的白痴!他不会用自己的眼睛去看吗?”

We must apply the same reasoning, once more, to great projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority. Here, because of sheer size, the danger of optical illusion is greater than ever. Here is a mighty dam, a stupendous arc of steel and concrete, “greater than anything that private capital could have built,” the fetish of photographers, the heaven of socialists, the most often used symbol of the miracles of public construction, ownership and operation. Here are mighty generators and power houses. Here is a whole region, it is said, lifted to a higher economic level, attracting factories and industries that could not otherwise have existed. And it is all presented, in the panegyrics of its partisans, as a net economic gain without offsets.

对于像田纳西河流域治理工程这样的宏伟工程,我们仍需进行同样的推理。这项工程十分浩大,其视觉冲击力更容易让人产生错觉。你看,这是一座巨大的拦水坝,这是一座令人震撼的弧形钢筋混凝土建筑。它“比私人资本能够建造的任何东西都伟大”,它是摄影师的圣殿,是社会主义者的天堂,也是最常被引述的公共建设、公共所有权、公共设施运营奇迹的象征。这里有巨大的水轮发电机组和电站厂房。单靠这项工程就带动了更多的新工厂和新产业,整个地区的经济水平也得以提高。拥护者对此推崇备至,说这里创造了没有负面效应的经济净收益。

We need not go here into the merits of the TVA or public projects like it. But this time we need a special effort of the imagination, which few people seem able to make, to look at the debit side of the ledger. If taxes are taken from individuals and corporations, and spent in one particular section of the country, why should it cause surprise, why should it be regarded as a miracle, if that section becomes comparatively richer? Other sections of the country, we should remember, are then comparatively poorer. The thing so great that “private capital could not have built it” has in fact been built by private capital—the capital that was expropriated in taxes (or, if the money was borrowed, that eventually must be expropriated in taxes). Again we must make an effort of the imagination to see the private power plants, the private homes, the typewriters and television sets that were never allowed to come into existence because of the money that was taken from people all over the country to build the photogenic Norris Dam.

我们不必详细讨论田纳西河流域治理工程或者类似的公共工程的优劣。不过在这里,我们必须看一看这本账目的支出部分,这需要加倍努力去运用想象力,因此似乎很少人能够做得到。如果政府把从个人和企业那里征收来的钱集中花在某个地方,使当地变得相对富裕,那有什么好令人惊叹的?凭什么应该视之为奇迹?请不要忘了,其他地方会因此变得相对贫穷。所谓“私人资本建造不出来”的伟大建设,实际上正是用私人资本建造的,即利用从民间征来的税来筹集建造工程的资本(如果是发行国债借钱的话,最后也要靠征税去偿还)。我们必须再次借助想象力,才看得到那些不存在的民间发电厂、民宅、打字机和电视机。这些事物得不到建设或生产,是因为全国各地人民身上的钱都被拿去建设了特别上镜的诺里斯大坝。

3

I have deliberately chosen the most favorable examples of public spending schemes—that is, those that are most frequently and fervently urged by the government spenders and most highly regarded by the public. I have not spoken of the hundreds of boondoggling projects that are invariably embarked upon the moment the main object is to “give jobs” and “to put people to work.” For then the usefulness of the project itself, as we have seen, inevitably becomes a subordinate consideration. Moreover, the more wasteful the work, the more costly in manpower, the better it becomes for the purpose of providing more employment. Under such circumstances it is highly improbable that the projects thought up by the bureaucrats will provide the same net addition to wealth and welfare, per dollar expended, as would have been provided by the taxpayers themselves, if they had been individually permitted to buy or have made what they themselves wanted, instead of being forced to surrender part of their earnings to the state.

我审慎地选了几个对于支持公共支出项目的主张最为有利的案例,也就是说,这些公共支出计划都是主张政府支出的人推崇备至的,也是最受公众认可的。我还没有谈及那些主要为了“提供工作机会”和“让人们有工作可做”而着手搞的、耗资巨大而没有价值的面子工程。就象我们所看到的,项目本身的可用性在这类方案中必然是一种次要的考虑。而且,工程越是铺张浪费,耗用的人力成本越高,就越能达到提供更多就业机会这个目标。在这种情况下,由官僚们所构想出的项目所能够创造出的财富和福利水平,很难达到如若允许纳税者个人自由购买或生产他们自己所需要的东西,而不是强迫他们将一部分收入上缴国家所能带来的财富和福利水平。因为,每花一块钱都是纳税者自己提供的。

2 thoughts on “Economics in One Lesson校译之4. Public Works Mean Taxes

  1. Thank you for your efforts, including making this public. It’s a great translation.

    Would be much appreciated if you would later collate the chapters in order when you’re fully done 🙂

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