FlyTitle: Free exchange

Covid-19 could lead to the return of inflation—eventually

最终,新冠肺炎可能会导致通货膨胀卷土重来【新冠报道】

经济学人双语版-生活成本 The cost of living

INFLATION IN THE rich world resembles a fairy-tale beast. Older members of society frighten younger ones with stories of the creature’s foul deeds, but few serious people expect to see one and some doubt it ever existed. Although high inflation seemed a fixture of the economic landscape in the 1970s, changes to policy and the structure of the global economy since have ushered in four decades of ever meeker growth in prices. As covid-19 shutters businesses and leaves supermarket shelves bare, some economists fret that the pandemic could lead to inflation making an unwelcome return. Though the future is shrouded in more uncertainty than ever, inflation seems unlikely to rear its head—until, perhaps, the world’s struggle with covid-19 nears its end.

富裕国家的通货膨胀就像童话故事里的野兽。年长的社会成员用这种生物的恶行来吓唬年轻成员,但没有几个理智的人预期自己真会撞见一只,一些人甚至怀疑它是否存在过。尽管高通胀似乎是上世纪70年代经济格局的一个固定组成部分,但自那以后的40年里,政策和全球经济结构的变化带来了日益温和的价格增长。随着新冠肺炎导致众多企业关闭,超市货架空空如也,一些经济学家担心这场大流行病可能导致不受欢迎的通货膨胀卷土重来。尽管未来笼罩着前所未有的不确定性,但看起来通胀不太可能抬头——可能直到世界与新冠肺炎的斗争接近尾声。

Worries about soaring prices start with the observation that virus-fighting measures choke off production. Crudely put, inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. At present the amount of goods and services available for purchase is tumbling. Many service industries are shut down. The virus is playing havoc with the supply of some products. On April 12th Smithfield Foods, a meat-processing firm, said it would close a plant producing nearly 5% of American pork, after more than 200 workers fell ill; it has since shut down others. Workers involved in the logistics operations for e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon and Instacart, have gone on strike to demand higher pay and safer working conditions. If supply interruptions translate into shortages in shops, then higher prices could follow.

对价格飙升的担忧始于人们发现抗疫措施遏制了生产。笼统地说,通货膨胀是过多货币追逐过少商品的结果。目前可供购买的商品和服务的数量骤降。服务业的众多部门停工。病毒正在破坏某些产品的供应。4月12日,肉类加工公司史密斯菲尔德食品公司(Smithfield Foods)表示,在200多名工人感染后,它将关闭一家生产了美国近5%的猪肉的工厂。这之后它又关闭了其他一些工厂。为亚马逊和Instacart等电子商务平台提供物流的工人罢工,要求涨工资和更安全的工作条件。如果供应中断导致商店里的商品短缺,那么价格可能就会上涨。

Massive stimulus programmes are another potential source of inflation. Governments around the world are borrowing heavily to finance schemes that support firms and workers. Central banks are flooding economies with newly created money. Over the past month the balance-sheet of the European Central Bank has grown by €550bn ($600bn), or nearly 12%, and that of the Federal Reserve by nearly $2trn, more than 40%. Printing money during the global financial crisis did not spark rapid inflation. Yet its coincidence with a collapse in supply might lead you to expect rocketing prices.

大规模经济刺激计划是另一个潜在的通胀源头。各国政府正在大举借债,为支持企业和劳动者的方案提供资金。各国央行正在向经济注入大量新发货币。过去一个月里,欧洲央行的资产负债表增加了5500亿欧元(6000亿美元),增幅接近12%,而美联储的资产负债表增加了近2万亿美元,增幅超过40%。在全球金融危机期间,印钞并没有引发快速通胀。但印钞与供应崩塌同时发生,可能就会让人预期价格将飙升。

The prices of some goods and services might indeed rise sharply while economies are locked down. Those for some medical equipment in America, for instance, have reportedly risen as state governments compete for scarce supply. But the broad, sustained increases in price levels associated with accelerating inflation are unlikely to materialise in the short run, because lockdowns both interrupt supply and undercut workers’ ability to earn and spend. Closing a restaurant limits food-service supply, but it also means that sacked waiters and kitchen staff have no income. And in some circumstances the drop in demand induced by a supply shock may be larger than the decline in supply—a source of deflationary, rather than inflationary, pressure.

当经济体陷入封城状态时,某些商品和服务的价格可能确实会大幅上涨。例如,据报道,由于供应稀缺和各州政府的争夺,美国一些医疗设备的价格已经上涨。但短期内,与通胀加速相关的广泛而持续的物价上涨不太可能成为现实,因为封城不仅会中断供应,也会削弱工人赚钱和消费的能力。关闭一家餐馆限制了食品服务供应,但也意味着被裁掉的服务员和厨房员工没有了收入。在某些情况下,供给冲击导致的需求下降可能大于供应下降——这是通缩压力而非通胀压力的源头。

This idea is explored in a new working paper by Veronica Guerrieri of the University of Chicago, Guido Lorenzoni of Northwestern University, Ludwig Straub of Harvard University and Iván Werning of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If some sectors of the economy shut down entirely, affected workers will curtail their spending dramatically. Spending by other workers could make up for the shortfall—only if the goods and services that can still be produced are substitutes for those that cannot. The abrupt drop in consumers’ spending on plane tickets or hotel bookings is unlikely to be offset by more purchases of teleworking software instead, for instance. In the absence of good substitutes, say the authors, the economy experiences a “Keynesian supply shock”, where demand falls by more than supply. They provide another useful way to think about this state of the world: that consumption will be much more valuable in the future, as goods and services that cannot be had today become available once more. So it makes sense to spend less now, and more later.

一份新的研究报告探讨了这一点。研究者包括芝加哥大学的维罗妮卡·圭列里(Veronica Guerrieri)、西北大学的吉多·劳伦佐尼(Guido Lorenzoni)、哈佛大学的路德维希·斯特劳勃(Ludwig Straub)和麻省理工学院的伊凡·沃宁(Iván Werning)。如果某些经济部门完全关闭,受影响的劳动者将大幅削减支出。只有在仍然可以生产的商品和服务足以替代那些停产的商品和服务的情况下,其他劳动者的支出才可能弥补缺口。举例来说,消费者在机票或酒店预订上的支出陡然下降不太可能被更多购买远程办公软件所抵消。作者说,在没有好的替代品的情况下,经济体会经历“凯恩斯式的供给冲击”,即需求的降幅大于供给。他们提供了另一种有效方式来思考世界的这种现状:当今天无法获得的商品和服务在未来再次可获得时,消费将更有价值得多。因此,现在少花钱,以后多花钱是合理的。

Available figures suggest that fewer goods are indeed being chased by even less spending. In March annual consumer-price inflation slowed in both America and the euro area, compared with rates in February. Much of that reflected tumbling energy costs; but core inflation—which strips out food and energy prices—also decelerated. Financial-market measures of inflation expectations suggest the drop is not a one-off. Expectations for average annual inflation in America over the next decade, as calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, sank from 1.7% in January to 1.2% in April.

现有的数据表明,确实是商品少而追逐商品的消费更少。3月美国和欧元区的年度消费价格通胀相比2月都有所放缓。这在很大程度上反映了能源成本的骤降;但剔除食品和能源价格后的核心通胀也已下降。金融市场对通胀预期的测量表明这种下降并非一次性的。根据克利夫兰联储的计算,对美国未来十年平均年通胀的预期已从1月的1.7%降至4月的1.2%。

Those expectations could shift as economies reopen. Rehired workers could spend a high share of their incomes; demand from earners whose incomes were unaffected by shutdowns could overwhelm slowly recovering supply. Disinflationary pressures will remain, though. Across rich economies, services account for half or more of the consumption baskets used to calculate consumer-price inflation. For as long as fears of viral contagion linger, many businesses could struggle to attract new custom—and so be forced to offer steep discounts. Technologies adopted during lockdowns could allow companies to serve more customers without hiring many more workers, thus adding more to supply than to demand.

随着经济重新启动,这些预期可能会改变。重新找到工作的劳动者可能会花掉自己很大一部分收入;有些人的收入未受企业关停的影响,他们的需求可能会压倒正在缓慢恢复的供应。不过,反通胀压力仍将存在。在富裕经济体中,服务业占了用于计算消费价格通胀的消费篮子的一半甚至更多。只要对病毒蔓延的恐惧未消,许多企业可能很难吸引到新客户,因此被迫推出大幅折扣。在封城期间采用的技术可以让企业在不雇用更多工人的情况下为更多客户提供服务,导致供应的增长高于需求。

Hold on for dear life

坚持下去,为了更昂贵的生活

Inflationary effects are most likely to appear once the virus is truly beaten. The crisis could weaken structural forces weighing on demand. Take inequality, for instance, which concentrates income in the hands of the thrifty rich. More generous post-pandemic safety-nets, or progressive taxes enacted to pay down large government debts, could redirect income towards freer spenders, creating inflationary pressure. So could a change in policymaking attitudes. The economic traumas of the early 21st century may push governments and central banks to prefer high economic growth and low unemployment to low and stable inflation, as happened after the second world war. Inflation is not certain to return after covid-19. But its re-emergence seems less fantastic a possibility. ■

通胀效应最有可能出现在病毒真正被击败之时。这场危机可能会削弱压制需求的结构性力量,比如不平等,它令收入集中在俭省的富人手中。疫情过后更普惠的社会安全网,或为偿还政府的巨额债务而实施的累进税,可能会将收入重新导向花钱大手大脚的人,从而形成通胀压力。政策制定方面的态度转变可能也有同样的影响。21世纪初的经济创伤可能会促使各国政府和央行宁愿选择高经济增长和低失业率,也不愿选择像二战后那样的稳定的低通胀。新冠肺炎之后通胀未必会卷土重来,但它的再度出现似乎也不至于是奇思异想了。