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时代周刊:债务博弈预示美国末路

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资料图片:美国《时代周刊》总编辑、美国有线新闻网CNN著名主持人法里德.扎卡利亚。(摄影:黄频/中欧社)

上帝是公平的。美国人固然可以凭借军事政治强权对世界财富予取予夺,固然可以用印钞票的方式躺着享受世界各国民众辛勤的劳动。但这正是美国走向衰落的根本原因。美国正在步罗马帝国的后尘。从人类进化和发展的历史看,轻易得到的财富对一个民族来说跟对一个个人是一样的,是一种腐蚀剂和毒药,不劳而获的财富最终会瓦解人的竞争能力。美国如果不从持续了半个多世纪的寄生状态中走出来,彻底改革社会结构和基本制度,美国的衰落将会提前到来。/观察者网评论员按

美国著名政论家,《时代周刊》主编法里德.扎卡里亚最新在《时代周刊》发表文章反思债务危
机与美国政治制度,观察者网特做全文翻译以飨读者。

债务博弈预示美国末路

The Debt Deal’s Failure

By Fareed Zakaria

作者:法里德•扎卡里亚

译者:魏迪英

In narrow economic terms, the debt deal is actually not a big deal, neither as good as its advocates claim nor as terrifying as its opponents fear. The actual cut to the 2012 budget, the only budget over which this Congress has control, is $21 billion out of total expenditures of $3.7 trillion—a pittance. Everything else can and will be changed by future Congresses. What the deal does is kick tough choices down the road, this time to a congressional supercommission that will have to come up with a larger plan to reduce debt. And it does nothing to spur growth, without which the debt will expand well above projections. That’s why the usually circumspect Mohamed El- Erian, head of Pimco, the world’s largest bond fund, grades the deal somewhere between an incomplete and a fail. “Other than eliminating default risk emanating from a self-manufactured crisis,” he writes, “there is nothing good about America’s debt ceiling debacle.”

仅就经济学意义而言,最近达成的债务协议并没有大问题,既不像其支持者宣称的那么美妙,也不像其反对者担心的那么糟糕。本届国会在其职权范围内,削减了2012财年的预算,相比于37000亿的预算总额,210亿美元的削减额度微不足道,而未来的国会可能还会改弦易辙。债务协议不过是将皮球踢给了国会的跨党委员会,后者将负责拟定规模更大的债务削减计划。这个协议也丝毫不会促进经济增长,而经济停滞会引发债务攀升。一贯谨慎的穆罕默德•埃尔-埃利安认为这个半吊子的协议可以说近乎失败,这位全球最大的债券基金,太平洋投资管理公司的领导人表示:“协议既未能消除偿付风险,也没有最终解决债务上限问题。”

The deal’s largest impact will be political, and there it has been a disaster. The manner in which it was produced added poison to an already toxic atmosphere in Washington, making compromise even more difficult. Democrats now feel they need to mirror the Tea Party’s tactics and are becoming unyielding on any cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare. Republicans, emboldened by the success of their bullying, have closed ranks more solidly around a no-tax agenda. But the only solution to America’s debt dilemma will need to involve both cuts to entitlement programs and higher tax revenues. Even if the besmirched ratings agencies don’t downgrade America, we’ve downgraded ourselves. The system did not work.

但在政治方面,债务协议会造成巨大冲击,并引发一场灾难。经历债务谈判的惨烈博弈后,华盛顿的政治氛围雪上加霜,将来妥协的希望越发渺茫。民主党人拒绝削减医保等补贴项目,由此反击茶党。而共和党人因为先前的蛮干越发胆壮,万众一心地抵制税收。不过,要解决美国的债务困境,必须要削减补贴与增加税收并举。即使美国没有被那些声名狼藉的评级机构降级,我们自己也要有所反思,因为美国的政治制度在当下失效了。

Evidence of a working system would have been the adoption of a grand bargain almost forged between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to reduce the budget deficit by almost $4 trillion over 10 years, a plan that might actually have been enforced, because both parties would have been invested in it, each having contributed to shaping it. The system would have worked if it had adopted some version of the Bowles-Simpson plan, which reduces the national debt by the same amount, with pain on both sides of the aisle, but in an even smarter way. This is how Congress used to work: grand bipartisan bargains to solve difficult problems with compromises by both sides. This is not nostalgia. It is how the system worked in the 1980s and ’90s to save Social Security, reform the tax code, rationalize immigration policy and close hundreds of military bases.

奥巴马总统经过和众议院议长约翰•博纳的谈判,同意在未来十年内将预算赤字削减4万亿美元。如果美国的政治制度有效,这个接近谈妥的协议不应该半途而废,毕竟两党都参与了其构思和修改。如果美国的政治制度有效,也可以采纳鲍尔斯-辛普森方案的某些建议。该方案以更灵活的方式削减4万亿美元的赤字,同时会让两派分担责任。过去国会在遭遇难题时,一直依靠广泛的跨党谈判和互相妥协达成解决方案。这并非是在怀念遥远的过去,在上世纪八九十年代,美国就是这样不懈努

Instead, we have demonstrated to ourselves, the world and global markets that our political system is broken and that we are incapable of conceiving and implementing sensible public policy. What we have instead is the prospect of more late-night cliff-hangers, extreme tactics, budget guillotines, filibusters and presidential vetoes. It makes for good TV news specials, but it is a sorry picture of how the world’s leading country governs itself.

但现在,美国乃至世界,还有全球市场都意识到,美国的政治制度一定是遭遇了问题,以至于再也无法拟定、实施合理的公共政策。在当下美国,只剩下耸人听闻或肆无忌惮的政治表演,充斥着预算到期、议程拖延和总统声明等恼人消息。这是电视媒体大肆炒作的好题材,但既然美国以世界的领导者自居,难道不应该为这样的景象羞愧吗?

There is one silver lining. The sword of Damocles that hangs over Congress (steep reductions in defense and Medicare if the two sides can’t agree to a basket of other cuts) is supposed to make legislators act more sensibly. Actually, it might provoke something more important: a national debate on the role of government. This might well have been Obama’s calculation and his purpose in accepting the debt deal—that it would end the crisis, in which the Tea Partyers held the country’s creditworthiness hostage to their agenda, and force a broader national discussion, one he is comfortable leading. If so, such a debate is long overdue. For more than a generation, Americans have delayed it, at incalculable cost to the country.

不过黑暗中还有一线希望。如果两党无法就削减其他开支达成一致,防务和医保开支就会被大幅压低。这是悬在国会头顶的达摩克利斯之剑,大概会让议员们理智一些。事实上,这或许会引起一场意义重大的全国辩论,主题是政府的角色问题,这或许是奥巴马接受债务协议以结束危机时的考虑。茶党绑架了美国的信誉,一场广泛的全国辩论已不可避免,奥巴马对此应该得心应手。若果真如此,这对美国真是一场迟来的辩论。在一代人以上的时间里,美国人对此漠不关心,结果为此付出了不菲的代价。

The modern seesaw about the role of government began with Ronald Reagan, who rode to the White House in 1980 on a tide of frustration with high taxes and big government. He promised to cut both down to size. He succeeded with taxes, reducing rates across the board and closing loopholes. Although he raised taxes several times during his presidency, by the time he left office in 1989, taxes were at 18% of GDP, down from about 20%.

上一次关于政府角色的争论,发生在罗纳德•里根在任期间。1980年,里根借助选民对高税收和大政府的不满入主白宫。里根承诺将两者削减到合理水平,他全面降低了税率,弥补了税法漏洞。尽管在任期内也有增税,但到里根1989年离职时,税收已经从GDP的20%降低到18%。

But what he did not do was cut spending consistently. Spending under Reagan averaged 22.4% of GDP, well above the 1971–2009 average of 20.6%. Yes, much of this was for defense, but almost everything went up during his Administration. Farm subsidies, for example, rose 140%. If you lower taxes and don’t trim expenses, there is only one way to make up the difference: by borrowing. The national debt tripled, from $712 billion in 1980 to $2 trillion in 1988.

但里根未能削减开支,其任内的政府开支平均增长率为22.4%,明显高于1971年到2009年间增长率20.6%的平均水平。当然其中很大一部分是防务开支,但其他开支也在增长,比如农业补贴上升了140%。如果在减税的同时并不削减开支,那么就只有用借债来弥补亏空。1980年到1988年间美国的债务增长三倍,从7120亿美元上升到2万亿美元。

Reagan reflected the American public’s basic preferences. We want big government but low taxes. The only way to make this work, short of magic, is debt. And government at every level—state, city and local—followed this pattern and took on ever increasing amounts of debt. In fact, because of weak accounting requirements, politicians at the state level have even resorted to a kind of budgetary magic to satisfy key constituencies. When public-sector employees want pay raises, politicians provide just modest step-ups in salary but huge increases in pension and retirement health care benefits. That way, the (fraudulent) budget numbers don’t look that bad until years later, when the politicians who did the damage have safely retired.

里根反映了美国公众的基本倾向,美国人喜欢大政府,但更喜欢低税收。要实现这一点,借债就是一个魔术般的捷径。从州、市到地方的各级政府都亦步亦趋,滚起了史无前例的债务雪球。由于会计制度松懈,各州的政客们不惜用预算骗术来取悦关键的选民。当公共部门的雇员要求加薪时,政客会设法安排少量加薪,同时大幅提高退休金和医保。通过这种伎俩,政客们设法捏造了一个过得去预算数字,但问题日积月累,近年来终于一发不可收拾。但那些肇事者早已功成名就,安然退休了。

Over the past three decades, this pattern has persisted, with a few exceptions at the federal level. Tax hikes and spending restraint under George H.W. Bush and even more so under Bill Clinton brought the problem under control and in the late Clinton years even produced a budget surplus. Then came the George W. Bush tax cuts, expanded health care benefits and two wars—all unpaid for—without any tax increases. The result: the surplus disappeared, and by 2008, the debt had ballooned to $10 billion. The final blow was the financial crisis and recession, which meant that federal tax revenues collapsed, followed by more tax cuts and stimulus spending. The debt rose to its current $14.3 trillion.

过去三十年来,雪球一直在滚,即使联邦政府也不能独善其身。在老布什尤其是克林顿政府时期,增加税收和限制开支稳住了局势,在克林顿政府后期甚至还实现了预算盈余。但在小布什时期税收没有改观,而减税政策,医保开支,以及两场无底洞一样的战争,迅速消耗了盈余。到2008年为止,联邦政府债务膨胀到 10万亿美元。金融危机和经济衰退是最后一根稻草,联邦政府的税收一落千丈,随后出台的减税和刺激政策,迅速将债务拉升到当前的14.3万亿美元。

We couldn’t be grappling with this at a worse time. Many economists believe that the economy is fragile and that it would be better not to cut spending or raise taxes at this point. It’s true. The sensible economic policy would be more stimulus now and major deficit reduction in a few years. But that kind of smart, sequenced public policy is simply beyond the reach of the American system today.

未来经济局势还会更糟糕,而我们应停止纠缠。许多经济学家相信经济依旧脆弱,大动干戈地削减开支或增加税收并无好处。的确如此,合理的经济政策应是在当前继续刺激,而在未来几年削减赤字。但这种灵活有序的公共政策,恰恰是美国当下的政治制度力不能及的。

So far, the national debate has been built around the fantasy that we do not have to choose between big government and low taxes—that we can get both by cutting waste, fraud and abuse. But the money is in the big middle-class items, from Medicare to the mortgage- interest deduction. With federal taxes at 15% of GDP, a historic low, and spending at 24% of GDP, there is really no conceivable way to close the gap without increasing taxes—either raising rates or eliminating deductions and loopholes. And Republicans might find to their dismay that when forced to choose, Americans will decide that they like their government programs after all. Polls show that the public would rather raise taxes than, for example, cut Medicare. (In fact, we would have to do both.) The public may hate government in theory, but it has warm feelings about most individual government programs, from the space shuttle to Head Start to Pell Grants. This may be why Obama might be happy to have this debate in 2012 and urge a mix of cuts and increased revenues.

迄今为止,这场全国辩论依旧停留在幻想之上,即大政府和低税收可两者兼得,秘诀就在于削减各种浪费。但这些“浪费”如医保和按揭利息抵扣,与中产阶级的生活息息相关。当前联邦税收占GDP的15%,处于历史上的低点,而开支占GDP的24%。或者提高税率、取消抵扣,或者弥补税则漏洞,此外要找出不增税而弥补亏空的方案,实非人力所能及。共和党人最后被迫面对现实选择时,一定会震惊不已,因为美国公众最终会选择保留政府开支。民意调查显示,相比于削减医保,公众更支持增税。不过在事实上,必须两者并举。在抽象的理论上,公众对政府并无好感,但愿意支持大部分与个人相关的政府服务,包括航天飞机、学前计划、佩尔助学金项目等等。在2012年大选时,奥巴马大概会乐意开启这一辩论,并推动减支和增税的混合方案。

Whatever the outcome of the ideological debate, that outcome has to then be translated into public policy. For that to happen, we need a government that works. What the debt crisis has highlighted is that Congress—the heart of day-to-day government—is utterly and completely broken.

不管思想争论的结果如何,最终都要落实到公共政策中。政府能有效运转,是政策落实的前提。但这次债务危机反映出,作为政府日常运转的核心国会,已经彻底瘫痪。

Can one measure this breakdown? Yes. Congress is more polarized than ever before. A National Journal study shows that, for the first time since the publication began tracking the divide 30 years ago, the most left-wing Republican is more conservative than the most right-wing Democrat. There is no overlapping set of moderates, who used to engineer congressional compromises. This polarization has resulted in paralysis. More than two years into the Obama Administration, hundreds of key positions in government remain vacant for lack of Senate confirmation. The Treasury Department had to handle the global financial crisis, recession, bank stress tests and automaker bailouts, as well as its usual duties, with about a dozen of its senior positions—almost its entire top management—vacant. Senate rules have been used, abused and twisted to allow constant delay and blockage. The filibuster, historically employed about once a decade, is now a routine procedure that allows the minority to thwart the will of the majority. In 2009, Senate Republicans filibustered a stunning 80% of major legislation. Given how the chamber is composed—two Senators per state, no matter how thinly populated—people representing just 10% of the country can block all legislation. Is that how a democracy should function?

国会的瘫痪有多严重?《国家》杂志三十年来一直关注着国会内部的分歧,其最近公布的一份研究表明,当前国会各派与此前相比更加偏激,最激进的左翼共和党人要比最激进的右翼民主党更保守,此前一直在国会中推动妥协的两党温和派也已分道扬镳。政治极端化,必然导致政治瘫痪。由于参议院拒绝批准,奥巴马政府中有几百个重要职位无人履任,这一情形已持续了两年以上。除了日常职责之外,财政部还要应对全球金融危机、经济衰退、银行压力测试以及对汽车厂商的救助,不免焦头烂额。但当前财政部就有十二个高级职位空缺,几乎涵盖了所有管理层。参议院负责核准人事任命,但这项规定被任意滥用,导致许多任命被延后和驳回。议员故意拖延议程致使立法流产的事件,历史上发生的频率约为十年一次,但现在已是司空见惯,并被少数人用于压制多数人的意志。2009年,参议院共和党人肆无忌惮地拖延,令人震惊地导致80%的重大立法流产。国会的组成原则是不论人口多少,每州产生两名参议员,结果代表10%选民的议员就能驳回所有的立法动议。这难道就是民主的表现形式吗?

American parties now function like European parliamentary ones, ideologically pure and with tight discipline. But we don’t have a European system. In parliamentary systems, power is united so that when, for example, the British Prime Minister’s coalition takes office, it controls the legislative branch as well as the executive. The Prime Minister is, in effect, chief legislator as well as chief executive. The ruling party gets a chance to implement its agenda, and then the public can either re-elect it or throw the bums out. The U.S. system is one of shared and overlapping powers. No one person or party is fully in control; everyone is checked and balanced. People have to cooperate for anything to get done. That is why the Tea Party’s insistence on holding the debt ceiling hostage in order to force its policies on the country—the first time the debt ceiling has been used this way—was so deeply un-American.

美国的政党现在正向欧洲议会政党演变,要求党员思想忠诚,严守纪律。但美国不同于欧洲,后者在议会制度下政治权力是统一的。比如在英国,政党一旦组阁成功就可以同时节制立法机关和行政机关,内阁首相兼为立法领袖和行政领袖。执政党执政之后,公众既可以支持也可以反对。而在美国的政治制度下,权力互相分割并牵制,每个人都被制约和平衡,没有任何个人或政党能掌控全局。要做出任何决定,都必须寻求合作。现在茶党坚决拒绝提高债务上限,以此迫使国家接受其政策。这样滥用债务上限的规定,这在历史上是第一次,而这种做法也远远背离了美国制度的精神。

The strength of the Tea Party is part of a broader phenomenon: the rise of small, intensely motivated groups that have been able to capture American politics. The causes are by now familiar. The redistricting of Congress creates safe seats, so the incentive is to pander to the extremes to fend off primary challenges, rather than to work toward the center. Narrow cast media amplify strong voices at the ends of the spectrum and make politicians pay a price for any deviation from dogma. A more open and transparent Congress has meant a Congress more easily pressured by small interest groups and lobbyists. Ironically, during this period, more and more Americans identify as independents. Registered independents are at an all-time high. But that doesn’t matter. The system in Congress reflects not rule by the majority but rule by the minority— fanatical, organized minorities.

茶党的兴起意味深远,暗示着新兴的、高度活跃的小团体已开始绑架美国政治。其原因也并不神秘,国会选区重新划定后,许多地区都已决定归属,因此议员们倾向于向极端派让步而非正面迎击,以免引火烧身。视野狭隘的媒体倾向于关注极端派的声音,从而放大了后者的影响,政治家稍有出格就会遭受压力。国会越是开放透明,就越是容易受到利益小团体和游说者的压力。讽刺的是,在这过程中,越来越多的美国人以无党派人士自居,其登记数量创下了记录,但这丝毫无补于事。当前的国会制度反映的不是多数人的意愿,而是狂热的、组织严密的少数人的意图。

These dysfunctions have reached crisis levels at the very time the U.S. faces intense pressures from an aging population, technological change and globalization. We need smart policies in every field. We need to pare spending in areas like health care and pensions but invest in others like research and development, infrastructure and education in order to grow. In an age of budgetary limits, money needs to be spent wisely and only on projects that are effective. But in area after area—energy, immigration, infrastructure—government policy is sub optimal, a sad mixture of political payoffs and ideological positioning. Countries from Canada to Australia to Singapore implement smart policies and copy best practices from around the world. We bicker and remain paralyzed.

美国正面临老龄化、技术更新和全球化的诸多挑战,而这个国家的制度瘫痪日渐加剧。美国必须在各个领域灵活行动,应该削减医保和退休金,并增加研究、发展、基础设施和教育领域的投资,以促进经济增长。在预算有限的情况下,经费必须用在刀刃上。但在能源、移民和基础设施建设上,政府还停留在政治呼吁和表态上,实际举措远未到位。加拿大、澳大利亚和新加坡等国,正从世界各地大力搜求经验,以促进本国发展。而我们还在喋喋不休,一事无成。

Some of those best practices used to be American. The world once looked at America with awe as we built the interstate highway system, created the best public education in the world, put a man on the moon and invested in the frontiers of knowledge. That is not how the world sees America today. People watched what happened over the past month and could not comprehend it. We have taken something that the world never doubted—the credibility of the U.S.—and put it into question. From now on, every time the debt ceiling has to be debated, the world will wonder, Will America honor its commitments? Will it keep its word? Will the system break down? We have taken our most precious resource, the trust of the world, and gambled with it. If, as a result of these congressional antics, interest rates on America’s debt rise by 1% —in other words, if the world asks for just a little bit more interest to lend us money—the budget deficit will rise by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. That would more than wipe out the entire 10 years of cuts proposed in the debt deal. That’s the American system at work these days.

美国此前一直是世界先进经验的开创者。美国建造了州际高速公路,创建了世界上最好的公共教育体系,将人类送上月球,引领科技发展,全世界因此对美国怀着敬畏之心。但今天世界对美国的观感已经改变。过去一个月里,全世界对美国的债务危机倍感惊讶。美国的信用此前从未被怀疑,而在这一个月里也开始动摇。今后美国每次就债务上限谈判时,人们就不免惴惴不安,怀疑美国是否会信守诺言,美国的制度是否会崩溃?美国最宝贵的资产是来自全世界的信任,现在却丝毫不被珍惜。如果这次国会的政治闹剧导致美国国债利率上升1%,换而言之,世界各国在借款时稍稍提高要价,未来十年间财政赤字将因此增加1.3万亿美元。这足以让债务协议在未来十年安排的削减前功尽弃,而这正是当前美国政治制度的现实。

(观察者网)