FlyTitle: The world economy

As the virus rages, governments need to be able to dial financial support up and down for people and firms

病毒肆虐,政府要能灵活便捷地调整对个人与企业的财政支持【新冠报道】

经济学人双语版-对抗衰退 Fighting the slump

IN JUST TWO months the world economy has been turned upside down. Stockmarkets have collapsed by a third and in many countries factories, airports, offices, schools and shops have been closed to try to contain the virus. Workers are worried about their jobs and investors fear companies will default on their debts. All this points toone of the sharpest economic contractions in modern times. China’s GDP probably shrank by 10-20% in January and February compared with a year earlier. For as long as the virus rages, similar drops are likely in America and Europe, which could trigger a further downward lurch in Asia. Massive government intervention is required to ensure that this shock does not spiral into a depression. But scale alone is not good enough—new financial tools need to be deployed, and fast.

仅仅两个月,世界经济就已天翻地覆。股市暴跌三分之一,在许多国家,为遏制病毒扩散,工厂、机场、办公室、学校及商店都已关闭。劳动者担心工作不保,投资者担心企业发生债务违约。这一切预示着世界将经历现代史上最急剧的经济萎缩之一。中国在1月和2月的GDP较去年同期大概缩水了10%至20%。只要病毒持续肆虐,美国和欧洲就很可能出现类似的萎缩,这又可能引发亚洲经济进一步下行。政府需要大规模干预,以确保这场冲击不会恶化为大萧条。但仅靠规模还不够,还得启用新的财政手段,而且要快。

Western authorities have already promised huge sums. A crude estimate for America, Germany, Britain, France and Italy, including spending pledges, tax cuts, central-bank cash injections and loan guarantees, amounts to $7.4trn, or 23% of their GDP. Yet central banks are responsible for over four-fifths of that and many governments are doing too little. A huge array of policies is on offer, from holidays on mortgage-payments to bail-outs of Paris cafés. Meanwhile, orthodox stimulus tools may not work well. Interest rates in the rich world are near zero, depriving central banks of their main lever. Governments typically try to stimulate demand in a downturn but people trapped at home cannot spend freely. History is not much of a guide. The global pandemic of 1918 took place when the economy was wrecked by war. China has endured a lockdown but its social model is different from the West’s.

西方国家的政府已承诺投入巨资挽救经济。据粗略估计,美、德、英、法、意在支出承诺、减税、央行注资及贷款担保等方面的投入将共达7.4万亿美元,占这些国家GDP总值的23%。然而其中超过五分之四都是由央行承担的,许多政府的作为还是太少。从暂缓按揭还款到向巴黎的咖啡馆提供纾困金,可推出的政策多种多样。与此同时,正统刺激手段这次可能不大奏效。富裕国家的利率接近零,央行因而无法再动用其主要杠杆。政府通常会在经济低迷时期设法刺激需求,但人们被困家中,难以自由消费。历史上可供借鉴的经验不多。1918年流感大流行发生在经济遭受战争破坏之时。中国经受了封城抗疫,但其社会模式不同于西方国家。

What to do? An economic plan needs to target two groups: households and companies. And it needs to be fast, efficient and flexible so that if the virus retreats only to resurge, workers and firms can be confident that governments will dial assistance down and up again as needed. Start with households, where large government spending is needed. One aim is to protect vulnerable people, by subsidising sick pay and ensuring those without insurance have health care. But spending is also needed to discourage lay-offs at firms running far below capacity, by subsidising workers’ wages—an area where Germany has led the way.

该怎么办?经济方案需要针对两个群体:家庭和企业。而且必须迅速、高效且灵活,这样即使疫情在消退后卷土重来,劳动者和企业也有信心政府会根据需要再次调拨援助。先说对家庭的救助,这需要政府大量拨款。目标之一是保护弱势群体,方法是补贴病假工资以及确保没有医保的人能获得医治。但同时还需要通过补贴员工工资来防止开工严重不足的公司裁员,在这方面德国已率先行动。

Governments also need to jerry-rig digital systems so they are able to distribute cash to households directly, as Hong Kong hopes to. The aim should be to have the capability to ramp further support up and down quickly. Many places, including America, rely on sluggish postal services and tax agencies to distribute cash. If funds can be sent instantly through mobile phones or online bank accounts, people will feel more confident and avoid hoarding cash and slowing the recovery when the virus recedes.

政府还需要临时部署数字系统向家庭直接派发现金,就像香港希望做的那样。目标应该是打造可以迅速调整支持力度的能力。包括美国在内的许多地方都依赖缓慢的邮政服务和税务机构来分发现金。假如能通过手机或网上银行账户即时转账,人们的消费信心会增强,不会在疫情消退时还囤积现金,拖慢经济恢复的速度。

All this spending will cost governments dear, but the fiscal stimulus of about 1% of GDP so far across Europe is clearly too low. America’s plan to spend 5% is closer to the mark given the risk of a double-digit GDP drop. As fiscal deficits balloon, governments will have to issue piles of bonds. Central banks should step in to buy those bonds in order to keep yields low and markets orderly. Inflation is a second-order concern and there is little danger of it taking off. To prevent a euro-zone crisis, the European Central Bank plans to buy €750bn of assets. But it and European governments should also give a clear guarantee of sovereign support for Italy and other peripheral economies.

这一切支出将让政府耗资巨大,但整个欧洲目前用于财政刺激的资金还只占GDP的1%左右,显然太低了。鉴于GDP可能出现两位数的下跌,美国占GDP5%的支出计划更为合理。随着财政赤字激增,政府将不得不发行大量债券。央行应介入购买这些债券,从而使收益率保持在低水平,维护市场秩序。通胀不是首要考虑的问题,而且目前通胀风险不大。为防止欧元区发生危机,欧洲央行计划购买7500亿欧元的资产。但它和欧洲各国政府还应明确保证对意大利和其他外围经济体的主权债务支持。

The second priority is to get cash to millions of companies, whose failure would damage the economy’s potential. They face a cash drought even as bills fall due. Bond markets are closed to many of them. Mass defaults would fuel unemployment and bad debts at banks, and make it harder for commercial activity to rebound. Most governments have intervened, but in flawed ways. France says nationalisation is an option—which firms will resist. America is propping up the commercial-paper market, but this funds only a fraction of all corporate debt and is used by big firms—not small ones, which employ most people. Germany and Britain have offered loan-guarantee schemes but it is unclear who will process millions of loan applications. The best approach is to use the banking system—almost all firms have accounts, and banks know how to issue loans. Governments should offer banks cheap funding to lend to their clients while guaranteeing that it will bear most of the losses. Borrowers could be offered bonuses for repaying loans early.

第二项要务是向数以百万计的企业提供资助,它们如果倒闭会损害经济潜力。眼看各种账单纷纷要到期,它们却紧缺现金。它们当中有很多都无法利用债券市场。大规模违约将加剧失业和银行坏账,使商业活动更难恢复。大多数政府都已出手干预,但方法都有问题。法国政府认为国有化是个办法,但企业肯定会反抗。美国政府正在支撑商业票据市场,但它只占到全部公司债务融资的一小部分,而且使用它的都是大公司,而非提供了大部分就业的小公司。德国和英国的政府推出了贷款担保计划,但并不清楚谁会来处理数百万笔贷款申请。最好的方法是使用银行系统,因为几乎所有的公司都有帐户,而银行熟悉发放贷款的流程。政府应向银行提供廉价资金,让它们贷款给客户,同时保证承担大部分损失。还可以向提前偿还贷款的借款人发放奖金。

There are huge drawbacks to all of this. Public and corporate debt will soar. Handouts will be given to rich people and loans extended to firms that are badly run. But even with this fearful list of side-effects, the advantages are overwhelming. Cash will be distributed fast. Vulnerable people will be able to get by. Households will be confident enough to spend when conditions improve. And firms will keep their workforces and plants intact, ready to get back to action when this dark episode has passed.■

上述方案都有严重的弊端。公共及公司债务将激增。富人也会拿到补助,经营不善的公司也能获得贷款。但即便有这么多可怕的副作用,其优点还是压倒性的。现金会快速地派发出去,弱势群体将能暂时渡过难关。等情况好转时,家庭会有足够的信心消费。公司也将保持员工队伍和厂房无恙,准备好在这黑暗一幕过后恢复运作。