Economics in One Lesson校译之23. The Mirage of Inflation (6-3,4)

第23章 通货膨胀的幻景



So inflation turns out to be merely one more example of our central lesson. It may indeed bring benefits for a short time to favored groups, but only at the expense of others. And in the long run it brings ruinous consequences to the whole community. Even a relatively mild inflation distorts the structure of production. It leads to the overexpansion of some industries at the expense of others. This involves a misapplication and waste of capital. When the inflation collapses, or is brought to a halt, the misdirected capital investment—whether in the form of machines, factories or office buildings—cannot yield an adequate return and loses the greater part of its value.


Nor is it possible to bring inflation to a smooth and gentle stop, and so avert a subsequent depression. It is not even possible to halt an inflation once embarked upon, at some preconceived point, or when prices have achieved a previously agreed upon level; for both political and economic forces will have got out of hand. You cannot make an argument for a 25 percent advance in prices by inflation without someone’s contending that the argument is twice as good for an advance of 50 percent, and someone else’s adding that it is four times as good for an advance of 100 percent. The political pressure groups that have benefited from the inflation will insist upon its continuance.


It is impossible, moreover, to control the value of money under inflation. For, as we have seen, the causation is never a merely mechanical one. You cannot, for example, say in advance that a 100 percent increase in the quantity of money will mean a 50 percent fall in the value of the monetary unit. The value of money, as we have seen, depends upon the subjective valuations of the people who hold it. And those valuations do not depend solely on the quantity of it that each person holds. They depend also on the quality of the money. In wartime the value of a nation’s monetary unit, not on the gold standard, will rise on the foreign exchanges with victory and fall with defeat, regardless of changes in its quantity. The present valuation will often depend upon what people expect the future quantity of money to be. And, as with commodities on the speculative exchanges, each person’s valuation of money is affected not only by what he thinks its value is but by what he thinks is going to be eveiybody else’s valuation of money.


All this explains why, when hyperinflation has once set in, the value of the monetary unit drops at a far faster rate than the quantity of money either is or can be increased. When this stage is reached, the disaster is nearly complete; and the scheme is bankrupt.



Yet the ardor for inflation never dies. It would almost seem as if no country is capable of profiting from the experience of another and no generation of learning from the sufferings of its forebears. Each generation and country follows the same mirage. Each grasps for the same Dead Sea fruit that turns to dust and ashes in its mouth. For it is the nature of inflation to give birth to a thousand illusions.


In our own day the most persistent argument put forward for inflation is that it will “get the wheels of industry turning,” that it will save us from the irretrievable losses of stagnation and idleness and bring “full employment.” This argument in its cruder form rests on the immemorial confusion between money and real wealth. It assumes that new “purchasing power” is being brought into existence, and that the effects of this new purchasing power multiply themselves in ever-widening circles, like the ripples caused by a stone thrown into a pond. The real purchasing power for goods, however, as we have seen, consists of other goods. It cannot be wondrously increased merely by printing more pieces of paper called dollars. Fundamentally what happens in an exchange economy is that the things that A produces are exchanged for the things that B produces. 

当今社会主张实施通货膨胀最顽固的论调,是认为它能“使产业之轮运转起来”,能把我们从产业停滞和资产闲置的白白损失中拯救出来,进而带来“充分就业”。这套说法的原型仍就是混淆货币与财富。它假设通货膨胀能带来新的“购买力 ”,而且这一新购买力将在良性循环中使其自身成倍的增加,好比一颗石头丢到池塘里,掀起层层扩散的涟漪那样。然而,我们已经知道,对特 定产品的实质购买力是由其他许多产品组成的,它不可能只靠印刷更多我们称之为美元的纸张来使其神奇地增加。交易经济的基本运作方式,是甲拿自己生产的东西交换乙生产的东西。{脚注:参照:穆勒的《政治经济原理》(Principles of Political Economy; Book 3, Chap. 14, par.2);马歇尔的《经济学原理》(Principles of Economics; Book VI, Chap. XIII, sec. 10);安德森的〈反驳凯恩斯对总体供给创造总体需求学说的抨击〉(A Refutation of Keynes’ Attack on the Doctrine that Aggregate Supply Creates Aggregate Demand),该文刊于经济学家论文集《资助美国繁荣》(Financing American Prosperity)。也请参照:本书作者主编的论文集《凯恩斯经济学批判》(The Critics of Keynesian Economics; New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1960)。}

What inflation really does is to change the relationships of prices and costs. The most important change it is designed to bring about is to raise commodity prices in relation to wage rates, and so to restore business profits, and encourage a resumption of output at the points where idle resources exist, by restoring a workable relationship between prices and costs of production.


It should be immediately clear that this could be brought about more directly and honestly by a reduction in unworkable wage rates. But the more sophisticated proponents of inflation believe that this is now politically impossible. Sometimes they go further, and charge that all proposals under any circumstances to reduce particular wage rates directly in order to reduce unemployment are “antilabor.” But what they are themselves proposing, stated in bald terms, is to deceive labor by reducing real wage rates (that is, wage rates in terms of purchasing power) through an increase in prices.

整个事情已经摆明:把难以为继的工资率降低,是更直接和更诚实的做法。但是久经世故的通货膨胀支持者声称这种做法在政治上行不通。那些通过直接调降工资率来降低失业率的提案,甚至被他们指控为 “反劳工”。然而,坦率地讲,他们自己所主张的就是通过提高价格来减少实际工资率(即以购买力水平表示的工资率),以此欺瞒劳工。

What they forget is that labor has itself become sophisticated; that the big unions employ labor economists who know about index numbers, and that labor is not deceived. The policy, therefore, under present conditions, seems unlikely to accomplish either its economic or its political aims. For it is precisely the most powerful unions, whose wage rates are most likely to be in need of correction, that will insist that their wage rates be raised at least in proportion to any increase in the cost-of-living index. The unworkable relationships between prices and key wage rates, if the insistence of the powerful unions prevails, will remain. The wage rate structure, in fact, may become even more distorted; for the great mass of unorganized workers, whose wage rates even before the inflation were not out of line (and may even have been unduly depressed through union exclusionism), will be penalized further during the transition by the rise in prices.



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