Economics in One Lesson校译之23. The Mirage of Inflation (6-5,6)

第23章 通货膨胀的幻景

(接前面部分)

5

The more sophisticated advocates of inflation, in brief, are disingenuous. They do not state their case with complete candor; and they end by deceiving even themselves. They begin to talk of paper money, like the more naive inflationists, as if it were itself a form of wealth that could be created at will on the printing press. They even solemnly discuss a “multiplier,” by which every dollar printed and spent by the government becomes magically the equivalent of several dollars added to the wealth of the country.

总之,那些更老练的通货膨胀支持者实在不够坦率。他们并没有开诚布公地阐明问题,到头来甚至把自己也愚弄了。他们就像那些更幼稚的通胀支持者一样,也开始大谈钞票,仿佛这种可以随随便便印出来的钞票本身就是一种财富似的。他们甚至一本正经地去讨论所谓“乘数”(multiplier),来证明政府每印制和开销一块钱,整个国家的财富就会很神奇地增加好几块钱。

In brief, they divert both the public attention and their own from the real causes of any existing depression. For the real causes, most of the time, are maladjustments within the wage-cost-price structure: maladjustments between wages and prices, between prices of raw materials and prices of finished goods, or between one price and another or one wage and another. At some point these maladjustments have removed the incentive to produce, or have made it actually impossible for production to continue; and through the organic interdependence of our exchange economy, depression spreads. Not until these maladjustments are corrected can full production and employment be resumed.

简言之,他们使公众的注意力、以及他们自己的注意力都从目前经济衰退的真正原因上移开了。大多数时候,衰退的真正原因是工资-成本-价格结构失调:即工资与价格关系失调、原材料价格与产成品价格关系失调,或是一种价格与另一种价格、一种工资与另一种工资之间关系的失调。在达到一定程度后,这些失调化解了生产的动力,甚至使得生产无法继续;并通过交易经济的有机关联,使这种不景气向外扩散。一直要到这些失调被矫正,充分生产和充分就业才有可能恢复。

True, inflation may sometimes correct them; but it is a heady and dangerous method. It makes its corrections not openly and honestly, but by the use of illusion. Inflation, indeed, throws a veil of illusion over every economic process. It confuses and deceives almost everyone, including even those who suffer by it. We are all accustomed to measuring our income and wealth in terms of money. The mental habit is so strong that even professional economists and statisticians cannot consistently break it. It is not easy to see relationships always in terms of real goods and real welfare. Who among us does not feel richer and prouder when he is told that our national income has doubled (in terms of dollars, of course) compared with some preinflationary period? Even the clerk who used to get $75 a week and now gets $120 thinks that he must be in some way better off, though it costs him twice as much to live as it did when he was getting $75. He is of course not blind to the rise in the cost of living. But neither is he as fully aware of his real position as he would have been if his cost of living had not changed and if his money salary had been reduced to give him the same reduced purchasing power that he now has, in spite of his salary increase, because of higher prices. Inflation is the autosuggestion, the hypnotism, the anesthetic, that has dulled the pain of the operation for him. Inflation is the opium of the people.

通货膨胀有时的确可以起到矫正这些失调的作用,但这是一种轻率而危险的手段。这种矫正手段靠的是错觉,而不是开诚布公。它给每一经济过程罩上了一层迷惑人的面纱,欺骗了几乎所有人,包括那些深受其害的人。我们都习惯于用货币来衡量自己的收入和财富。这种思维习惯非常顽固,就连专业的经济学家和统计学家也不容易摆脱。坚持用实体产品和实质福利来看待各种关系很不容易。当我们听到,国民收入(以货币计量)比通货膨胀之前增加一倍,谁不会觉得更富有更骄傲呢?甚至那些过去周薪75美元而现在每周能拿120美元的小职员也会认为,虽然与过去周薪75美元相比,要维持同样的生活水平他必须多花上一倍的开销,不管怎么说自己总还是比原来更有钱了。当然,他并不是看不到生活费用的上升,但他却没能象认识目前的实际处境那样,充分认识到另一种可能的情况,即假如他的实际生活费用没有变化,而他的货币薪金有所下降,那么他的购买力也只是降到目前的水平,即工资随更高的物价有所调增的水平。通货膨胀有如自我暗示、催眠术、麻醉剂,可以减轻手术时的痛苦。通货膨胀就是大众的鸦片。

6

And this is precisely its political function. It is because inflation confuses everything that it is so consistently resorted to by our modern “planned economy” governments. We saw in chapter four, to take but one example, that the belief that public works necessarily create new jobs is false. If the money was raised by taxation, we saw, then for every dollar that the government spent on public works one less dollar was spent by the taxpayers to meet their own wants, and for every public job created one private job was destroyed.

确切地说,通货膨胀的政治作用正在于此。这是因为,通货膨胀能混淆了所有事情,以致现今实行“计划经济”的政府总是把它当作摆脱困境的最后一着。例如我们在第四章谈到,有人鼓吹靠推动公共工程去创造新的就业机会。现在我们知道那种说法是错的。我们说过,如果投入公共建设的钱是靠税收,那么政府公共工程上多花一块钱,供纳税人自己支配的钱就会少掉一块钱;公共工程每创造一个工作机会,就会毁掉私人部门的一个工作机会。

But suppose the public works are not paid for from the proceeds of taxation? Suppose they are paid for by deficit financing—that is, from the proceeds of government borrowing or from resort to the printing press? Then the result just described does not seem to take place. The public works seem to be created out of “new” purchasing power. You cannot say that the purchasing power has been taken away from the taxpayers. For the moment the nation seems to have got something for nothing.

但是,假设公共工程的资金不是从税收收益中支付的,那么情况会怎样呢?假设它是用赤字财政来支付的——也就是说,通过政府借债或者印发货币来为这些项目筹资——会出现什么问题呢?在这种假设下,上一段所说的一得一失的结果似乎就可以避免。有人可能说,这种公共工程是靠“新的”购买力创造出来的,纳税人的购买力并没有被拿走。所有这些错觉给我们造成一种印象,似乎这样一来国家不需付出任何东西就可以有所收获。

But now, in accordance with our lesson, let us look at the longer consequences. The borrowing must some day be repaid. The government cannot keep piling up debt indefinitely; for if it tries, it will some day become bankrupt. As Adam Smith observed in 1776:

然而,现在,让我们运用这课知识来考察这种做法的长期后果。政府欠下债务,总有一天是要拿纳税人的钱去还的。并且政府不可能无限期累积债务。倘若试图如此,总有一天会垮台。就像亚当•斯密于1776年所指出的:

When national debts have once been accumulated to a certain degree, there is scarce, I believe, a single instance of their having been fairly and completely paid. The liberation of the public revenue, if it has even been brought about at all, has always been brought about by a bankruptcy; sometimes by an avowed one, but always by a real one, though frequently by a pretended payment.

当一国的债务一旦累积到某一程度时,我相信,这个国家就几乎不会公平地而且彻底地偿清债务,历来如此。清偿公共债务,如果真的实现了的话,那通常也是以政府破产来了结的;有的时候是通过公开的破产,但更常见的是通过一种虚假的支付来偿还的事实上的破产。

Yet when the government comes to repay the debt it has accumulated for public works, it must necessarily tax more heavily than it spends. In this later period, therefore, it must necessarily destroy more jobs than it creates. The extra-heavy taxation then required does not merely take away purchasing power; it also lowers or destroys incentives to production, and so reduces the total wealth and income of the country.

然而,当政府开始偿还其因公共工程累积的债务时,它必须课征比这笔支出更重的税收。因此,以后它毁掉的工作机会,一定比它创造的工作机会要多。这种额外的重税不仅削弱购买力,而且降低或破坏对生产的刺激,从而减少国家的总财富和总收入。

The only escape from this conclusion is to assume (as of course the apostles of spending always do) that the politicians in power will spend money only in what would otherwise have been depressed or “deflationary” periods, and will promptly pay the debt off in what would otherwise have been boom or “inflationary” periods. This is a beguiling fiction, but unfortunately the politicians in power have never acted that way. Economic forecasting, moreover, is so precarious, and the political pressures at work are of such a nature, that governments are unlikely ever to act that way. Deficit spending, once embarked upon, creates powerful vested interests which demand its continuance under all conditions.

这个结论的惟一例外是这样一种假设之下的情况(那些鼓吹这种支出的人事实上也确实往往这么假设),即假设大权在握的政治人物,将只把钱用在那些不拯 救就会衰退的产业上,或者只把钱花在“通货紧缩”时期,课税还账呢,要对那些不课重税就会出现过度扩张的产业,或者在可能出现“通货膨胀”的时期及时地偿 还其债务。这是一个引人入胜的传说,可惜大权在握的政治人物,从来不如此行事。考虑到政治运作的压力变化莫测、经济预测难以捉摸, 政府不可能有机会那样做。赤字支出一旦启动,就会产生强大的既得利益者,他们会不顾一切维持此种政策。

If no honest attempt is made to pay off the accumulated debt, and resort is had to outright inflation instead, then the results follow that we have already described. For the country as a whole cannot get anything without paying for it. Inflation itself is a form of taxation. It is perhaps the worst possible form, which usually bears hardest on those least able to pay. On the assumption that inflation affected everyone and everything evenly (which, we have seen, is never true), it would be tantamount to a flat sales tax of the same percentage on all commodities, with the rate as high on bread and milk as on diamonds and furs. Or it might be thought of as equivalent to a flat tax of the same percentage, without exemptions, on everyone’s income. It is a tax not only on every individual’s expenditures, but on his savings account and life insurance. It is, in fact, a flat capital levy, without exemptions, in which the poor man pays as high a percentage as the rich man.

如果政府不打算偿还累积的债务,而借助通货膨胀来应对,其结果就是我们前面所叙述的情形。国家作为一个整体不可能无中生有。通货膨胀本身就是一种 税收,而且可能是最邪恶的一种,支付能力最低的人,负担通常最重。假设通货膨胀对每个人和每样东西的影响均等(我们已经证明这绝不可能),那就相当于对 所有的商品征收单一税率的销售税,对面包牛奶与钻石皮裘征收相同税率。或者,它也可以被看作对每个人的收入征收单一税率的人头税,没有人能够例外。它不仅对每个人的支出征税,而且对他的存款和人寿保险也征税。事实上,它是一种单一税率的没有任何免税可能的财产税。在这种情况下,穷人要支付同富人一样高的税率。

But the situation is even worse than this, because, as we have seen, inflation does not and cannot affect everyone evenly. Some suffer more than others. The poor are usually more heavily taxed by inflation, in percentage terms, than the rich, for they do not have the same means of protecting themselves by speculative purchases of real equities. Inflation is a kind of tax that is out of control of the tax authorities. It strikes wantonly in all directions. The rate of tax imposed by inflation is not a fixed one: it cannot be determined in advance. We know what it is today; we do not know what it will be tomorrow; and tomorrow we shall not know what it will be on the day after.

然而,情况甚至比这更坏。因为,象我们所看到的,通货膨胀对每个人的影响不是也不可能是均等的。有些人的苦难比其他人更深重。从百分比来讲,由于通货膨胀,穷人所承担的税负通常比富人重,因为穷人的财力不比富人,无法通过投机购买实质资产来保护自己。通货膨胀这种税,不是税务稽征机关所能控制的。它无孔不入。它可以任意施加税率,谁也无法事先确定。我们知道今天的税率是多少,却无法知道明天会是多少;等到明天,又不知道后天将是多少。

Like every other tax, inflation acts to determine the individual and business policies we are all forced to follow. It discourages all prudence and thrift. It encourages squandering, gambling, reckless waste of all kinds. It often makes it more profitable to speculate than to produce. It tears apart the whole fabric of stable economic relationships. Its inexcusable injustices drive men toward desperate remedies. It plants the seeds of fascism and communism. It leads men to demand totalitarian controls. It ends invariably in bitter disillusion and collapse.

和所有税收的影响一样,通货膨胀这种税收也决定了个人和企业不得不服从的经济政策。它不鼓励谨慎节俭的行为,而助长了各种挥霍、赌运气及其他不计后果的浪费行为。它往往使投机比生产更有利可图。它扯裂了稳定的经济关系。它那无处说理的不公,驱使大家乱来,孤注一掷。它促使人们要求施行集权控制,以此埋下法西斯主义和共产主义的种子。最后的下场,必定是幻境破灭的痛苦和经济崩溃。

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