The Fed that failed

失敗的美聯儲

Why the Federal Reserve has made a historic mistake on inflation

為什么美聯儲在通貨膨脹方面犯下歷史性錯誤

What comes next will set the path for the world economy

下一步舉措將為世界經濟指明道路


Central banks are supposed to inspire confidence in the economy by keeping inflation low and stable. America’s Federal Reserve has suffered a hair-raising loss of control. In March consumer prices were 8.5% higher than a year earlier, the fastest annual rise since 1981. In Washington inflation-watching is usually the preserve of wonks in shabby offices. Now nearly a fifth of Americans say inflation is the country’s most important problem; President Joe Biden has released oil from strategic reserves to try to curb petrol prices; and Democrats are searching for villains to blame, from greedy bosses to Vladimir Putin.

中央銀行應該通過保持較低和穩定的通脹水平為經濟提振信心,但美聯儲遭遇了驚心動魄的通脹失控。3月份,美國消費價格同比增長8.5%,是1981年以來增速最快的一年。在華盛頓,通貨膨脹往往由破舊辦公室里的書呆子們專門關注。如今有近20%的美國人認為通脹是美國的頭等大事;總統拜登為了抑制汽油價格而釋放戰略石油儲備;民主黨正在尋找替罪羊,從貪婪的老板到普京不一而足。

It is the Fed, however, that had the tools to stop inflation and failed to use them in time. The result is the worst overheating in a big and rich economy in the 30-year era of inflation-targeting central banks. The good news is that inflation may have peaked at last. But the Fed’s 2% target will remain a long way off—forcing agonising choices on the central bank. Apologists for America’s policymakers point to annual price rises of 7.5% in the euro area and 7% in Britain as evidence of a global problem, driven by the soaring price of commodities, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nearly three-quarters of the euro zone’s inflation is attributable to rocketing energy and food prices.

然而,正是美聯儲擁有遏制通脹的工具,卻未能及時加以利用。結果在各國央行實行通貨膨脹目標制的30年里,這個富裕大國出現了最嚴重的經濟過熱。好消息是通脹可能終于見頂了,但距離美聯儲的2%目標仍然相距甚遠,迫使央行面臨痛苦的抉擇。為美國決策層辯護的人們指出,歐元區和英國的年物價漲幅分別為7.5%和7%,以此證明這是商品價格上漲導致的全球問題,尤其是俄羅斯入侵烏克蘭以來。歐元區近四分之三的通脹源于能源和食品價格的飆升。
原創翻譯:龍騰網 http://www.elektroniksigara1.com 轉載請注明出處


America, though, benefits from abundant shale gas, and its higher incomes mean that staples have a smaller effect on average prices. Strip out energy and food and the euro zone’s inflation is 3%—but America’s is 6.5%. Also, America’s labour market, unlike Europe’s, is clearly overheating, with wages growing at an average pace of nearly 6%. Recent falls in the prices of oil, used cars and shipping probably mean that inflation will fall in the coming months. But it will stay far too high, given the underlying upward pressure on prices.

然而,美國受益于儲量豐富的頁巖氣,較高的收入水平意味著糧食對平均價格的影響較小。如果剔除能源和糧食因素,那么歐元區的通脹率為3%,而美國為6.5%。另外與歐洲不同的是,美國勞動力市場明顯過熱,工資平均增速接近6%。最近石油、二手車、海運價格下降,可能意味著通脹會在未來幾個月下降。但考慮到物價面臨潛在的上行壓力,通脹仍將高居不下。

Uncle Sam has been on a unique path because of Mr Biden’s excessive $1.9trn fiscal stimulus, which passed in March 2021. It added extra oomph to an economy that was already recovering fast after multiple rounds of spending, and brought the total pandemic stimulus to 25% of gdp—the highest in the rich world. As the White House hit the accelerator, the Fed should have applied the brakes. It did not. Its hesitancy stemmed partly from the difficulty of forecasting the path of the economy during the pandemic, and also from the tendency of policymakers to fight the last war. For most of the decade after the global financial crisis of 2007-09 the economy was hung over and monetary policy was too tight. Predicting inflation’s return was for those who wore tinfoil hats.

2021年3月,美國國會通過了拜登先生提交的1.9萬億過度的財政刺激計劃,使山姆大叔走上一條獨特道路。在經過多輪支出后,這項刺激計劃給原本快速復蘇的經濟增添了更多活力,使疫情財政刺激總額高達GDP的25%,在發達國家中比重最高。當白宮踩油門時,美聯儲應該踩剎車,但它沒有這樣做。美聯儲猶豫不決的部分原因是疫情期間難以預測經濟前景,也是因為決策者習慣于打上一場戰爭。在2007-09全球金融危機結束后的大部分十年里,經濟停滯,貨幣政策過緊,只有陰謀論者才會預測通脹會卷土重來。

Yet the Fed’s failure also reflects an insidious change among central bankers globally. As our special report in this issue explains, around the world many are dissatisfied with the staid work of managing the business cycle and wish to take on more glamorous tasks, from fighting climate change to minting digital currencies. At the Fed the shift was apparent in promises that it would pursue a “broad-based and inclusive” recovery. The rhetorical shift ignored the fact, taught to every undergraduate economist, that the rate of unemployment at which inflation takes off is not something central banks can control.

然而,美聯儲的失敗也反映出全球各國央行的一種隱秘變化。正如我們本期特別報道所闡述的,世界許多央行厭倦了乏味的商業周期管理,它們喜歡承擔更令人向往的任務,諸如應對氣候變化、鑄造數字貨幣等。美聯儲的承諾是追求“廣泛而包容的”復蘇,其中的變化顯而易見。這種措辭上的變化忽視了所有本科學歷經濟學家都學過的事實:導致通貨膨脹的失業率不是央行所能控制的。

In September 2020 the Fed codified its new views by promising not to raise interest rates at all until employment had already reached its maximum sustainable level. Its pledge guaranteed that it would fall far behind the curve. It was cheered on by left-wing activists who wanted to imbue one of Washington’s few functional institutions with an egalitarian ethos.

2020年9月,美聯儲將新的觀點加以整理形成了法規條文,承諾在就業率達到可持續的最高水平之前不會加息。該承諾注定了美聯儲無法做到與時俱進。左翼人士歡呼雀躍,他們希望向華盛頓為數不多的職能機構之一灌輸平等主義理念。

The result was a mess which the Fed is only now trying to clear up. In December it projected a measly 0.75 percentage points of interest-rate rises this year. Today an increase of 2.5 points is expected. Both policymakers and financial markets think this will be enough to bring inflation to heel. They are probably being too optimistic again. The usual way to rein in inflation is to raise rates above their neutral level—thought to be about 2-3%—by more than the rise in underlying inflation. That points to a federal-funds rate of 5-6%, unseen since 2007.

結果造成一片混亂,美聯儲現在才試圖清理。12月份,美聯儲預測今年加息微不足道的0.75個百分點,如今可能加息2.5個百分點。決策層和金融市場都以為這足以遏制通脹,他們可能又過于樂觀了。抑制通脹的常用方法是將利率提高到中性水平以上——據認為大約2-3%——超過潛在通脹率的增幅。這意味著聯邦基金利率達到2007年以來從未出現的5-6%。

Rates that high would tame rising prices—but by engineering a recession. In the past 60 years the Fed has on only three occasions managed significantly to slow America’s economy without causing a downturn. It has never done so having let inflation rise as high as it is today.

這么高的利率能夠抑制物價上漲,但會導致經濟衰退。在過去60年里,美聯儲只有三次在不造成衰退的情況下使經濟大幅放緩,在通脹率如今這么高的情況下從未這樣做過。

An American contraction therefore hangs over the global economy as part of a trio of risks, along with Europe’s energy security and China’s struggle to suppress covid-19. Poor and middle-income countries in particular have a lot to lose from sharply higher rates at the Fed, which will tempt away capital and weaken their exchange rates, especially if a global downturn saps demand for their exports at the same time.

因此,美國經濟萎縮已成為威脅全球經濟的三大風險之一,此外還有歐洲能源安全和中國抗擊新冠疫情。尤其對于貧窮和中等收入國家,美聯儲大幅加息會使它們遭受重大損失,導致它們的資本外流和匯率走弱,尤其是全球經濟使它們的出口需求下降的時候。

Does the Fed have the stomach to inflict such economic pain? Many economists advocate higher inflation, because in the long run interest rates would go up in tandem, lifting them further away from zero, below which they are hard to cut in a crisis. Inflation is already helping the federal government by shrinking the real value of its debts. Around 2025, when the Fed reviews its policymaking frxwork, it will have the chance to raise the target. There is nothing special about 2%, except the fact that the Fed has promised it in the past.

美聯儲是否有膽量造成這樣的經濟困境?許多經濟學家支持更高的通脹率,因為從長遠來看,利率也會同時上升,從而遠離零利率,負利率在危機時期很難下調。通貨膨脹正在幫助聯邦政府減少債務的實際價值。預計美聯儲將在2025年左右重新考慮決策框架,屆時有機會提高通脹目標。2%沒什么特別之處,但美聯儲以前承諾過這個目標。

My word is my bond

言出必行

Inflation that is stable and modestly above 2% might be tolerable for the real economy, but there is no guarantee the Fed’s stance today can deliver even that. And breaking promises has consequences. It hurts long-term bondholders, including foreign central banks and governments which own $4trn-worth of Treasury bonds. (A decade of 4% inflation instead of 2% would cut the purchasing power of money repaid at the end of that period by 18%.) It might add an inflation risk premium to America’s cost of borrowing. And if even America broke its inflation promises in tough times, investors might worry that other central banks—many of which are looking over their shoulders at indebted governments—would do the same. In the 1980s the recessions brought about by Paul Volcker’s Fed laid the foundations for inflation-targeting regimes worldwide. Every month inflation runs too hot, part of that hard-won credibility ebbs away.

對于實體經濟而言,通脹率穩定在略高于2%尚可承受,但美聯儲當今的立場也無法保證實現這一目標。違背承諾會造成后果,長期債券持有人將遭受損失,包括持有4萬億美元長期國庫債券的外國央行和政府(如果十年通脹率達到4%而不是2%,那么到期償還資金的購買力會下降18%),可能會給美國的借貸成本增加通脹風險溢價。如果就連美國在困難時期也違背通脹承諾,投資者可能擔心其他央行也會這樣做——許多央行正在密切關注負債的政府。20世紀80年代,保羅·沃爾克執掌的美聯儲引發了經濟衰退,由此為通貨膨脹目標制奠定了基礎。隨著通貨膨脹月月過高,來之不易的部分信譽正在逐漸下降。