The Economy Is Worse Than You Think
2011/6/10 Wall Street Journal
Martin Feldstein

The policies of the Obama administration have led to the weak condition of the American economy. Growth during the coming year will be subpar at best, leaving high or rising levels of unemployment and underemployment.

The drop in GDP growth to just 1.8% in the first quarter of 2011, from 3.1% in the final quarter of last year, understates the extent of the decline. Two-thirds of that 1.8% went into business inventories rather than sales to consumers or other final buyers. This means that final sales growth was at an annual rate of just 0.6% and the actual quarterly increase was just 0.15% -- dangerously close to no rise at all. A sustained expansion cannot be built on inventory investment. It takes final sales to induce businesses to hire and to invest.

The picture is even gloomier if we look in more detail. Estimates of monthly GDP indicate that the only growth in the first quarter of 2011 was from February to March. After a temporary rise in March, the economy began sliding again in April, with declines in real wages, in durable-goods orders and manufacturing production, in existing home sales, and in real per-capita disposable incomes. It is not surprising that the index of leading indicators fell in April, only the second decline since it began to rise in the spring of 2009.

The data for May are beginning to arrive and are even worse than April's. They are marked by a collapse in payroll-employment gains; a higher unemployment rate; manufacturers' reports of slower orders and production; weak chain-store sales; and a sharp drop in consumer confidence.

How has the Obama administration contributed to this failure to achieve a robust and sustainable recovery?

The administration's most obvious failure was its misguided fiscal policies: the cash-for-clunkers subsidy for car buyers, the tax credit for first-time home buyers, and the $830 billion 'stimulus' package. Cash-for-clunkers gave a temporary boost to motor-vehicle production but had no lasting impact on the economy. The home-buyer credit stimulated the demand for homes only temporarily.

As for the 'stimulus' package, both its size and structure were inadequate to offset the enormous decline in aggregate demand. The fall in household wealth by the end of 2008 reduced the annual level of consumer spending by more than $500 billion. The drop in home building subtracted another $200 billion from GDP. The total GDP shortfall was therefore more than $700 billion. The Obama stimulus package that started at less than $300 billion in 2009 and reached a maximum of $400 billion in 2010 wouldn't have been big enough to fill the $700 billion annual GDP gap even if every dollar of the stimulus raised GDP by a dollar.

In fact, each dollar of extra deficit added much less than a dollar to GDP. Experience shows that the most cost-effective form of temporary fiscal stimulus is direct government spending. The most obvious way to achieve that in 2009 was to repair and replace the military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan that would otherwise have to be done in the future. But the Obama stimulus had nothing for the Defense Department. Instead, President Obama allowed the Democratic leadership in Congress to design a hodgepodge package of transfers to state and local governments, increased transfers to individuals, temporary tax cuts for lower-income taxpayers, etc. So we got a bigger deficit without economic growth.

A second cause of the continued economic weakness is the president's emphasis on increasing tax rates. Although Mr. Obama grudgingly agreed to continue the Bush tax cuts for 2011 and 2012, his budget this year repeated his call for higher tax rates on upper-income individuals and multinational corporations. With that higher-tax cloud hanging over them, it is not surprising that individuals and businesses do not make the entrepreneurial investments and business expansions that would cause a solid recovery.

A third problem stems from the administration's lack of an explicit plan to deal with future budget deficits and with the exploding national debt. This creates uncertainty about future tax increases and interest rates that impedes spending by households and investment by businesses. The national debt has jumped to 69% of GDP this year, from 40% in 2008. It is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to reach more than 85% by the end of the decade, and to keep rising after that. The reality is even worse since ObamaCare alone will cost more than $1 trillion in its first 10 years. The president's boast that his health legislation would not 'add a dime' to the national debt was possible only by combining that increased spending with proposed new taxes and with projected cuts in Medicare spending that will never occur.

Finally, there is the administration's incoherent position on the international value of the dollar. The Treasury repeats the slogan that 'a strong dollar is good for America' while watching the real value of the dollar fall by 7% over the past year, and while urging the Chinese to allow the dollar to fall more quickly relative to the yuan. The lack of a consistent dollar policy adds to the uncertainty that limits business investment and hiring.

The economy will continue to suffer until there is a coherent and favorable economic policy. That means bringing long-term deficits under control without raising marginal tax rates -- by cutting government outlays and by limiting the tax expenditures that substitute for direct government spending. It means lower tax rates on businesses and individuals to spur entrepreneurship and investment. And it means reforming Social Security and Medicare to protect the living standards of future retirees while limiting the cost to future taxpayers.

All of these things are doable. But the Obama administration has not done them and shows no inclination to do them in the future.
美國經濟比你想的還要糟糕
Martin Feldstein

巴馬政府推出的各項政策導致了美國經濟的疲軟:來年的經濟增長率充其量將低於歷史平均水平,令失業率和就業不足率留在高位或繼續走高。

Chad Crowe
今年一季度的GDP增長率從去年四季度的3.1%下降到僅為1.8%的水平,但這樣的降幅還是低估了衰退的程度。在這1.8%的增量中,三分之二是企業庫存,而不是消費者或其他最終買家的消費額。這意味著,折合年率計算,最終銷售增長率僅為0.6%,實際季度增長率僅為0.15%──這幾乎等於沒有增長。經濟持續擴張無法建立在存貨投資的基礎上,只有最終銷售才能促使企業雇傭工人並進行投資。

如果我們考察更多細節,那麼這幅圖景就更加悲觀。月度GDP估計數據表明,2011年一季度只有2月到3月實現了增長。在3月短暫上漲之後,經濟在4月又再次下滑。實際工資,耐用品訂單,制造業產出,成屋銷售,人均實際可支配收入均出現下滑。而領先指標指數4月下挫也就不足為奇了,這是該指數自2009年春季上升以來第二次下滑。

5月份的經濟數據即將出爐,情況甚至比4月份還要糟糕:就業人數增長率大大降低;失業率走高;制造商報告訂單和產出增速放緩;連鎖店銷售疲軟;消費者信心急劇下降。

奧巴馬政府到底做了什麼才導致經濟無法實現強勁且可持續的復蘇?

奧巴馬政府最明顯的錯誤在於其財政政策失當:給購車者提供的舊車置換補貼;給首次購房者減免稅收;推出了8,300億美元的刺激計劃。舊車置換補貼只是暫時刺激了汽車產量,但對經濟沒有持續影響;給首次購房者提供的稅收減免也僅僅是暫時刺激了房屋需求。

而刺激計劃的規模和結構都不足以抵消總需求的巨大降幅。2008年底家庭財富的巨大縮水使得年消費支出量減少了5000多億美元。住宅開工量的下降又令GDP減少了2,000億美元。所以GDP總損失超過7,000億美元。奧巴馬政府在2009年首次推出的刺激計劃不足3,000億美元,2010年這一數字達到最高4,000億美元。就算刺激計劃中的每一美元都能等額提振GDP,上述規模仍然不足以填補7000億美元的年度GDP缺口。

事實上,刺激計劃中的每一美元給GDP帶來的增量遠遠小於一美元。經驗表明,最具成本效益的臨時財政刺激措施是政府直接支出。2009年想要這麼做最直接的辦法就是維修和替換美軍在伊拉克和阿富汗使用的軍事裝備。這項工作最終都要進行,但奧巴馬政府的刺激計劃中並沒有撥給國防部的預算。相反,總統奧巴馬讓國會中的民主黨領導人制定了一份像大雜燴一樣的刺激計劃,其中包括向州和地方政府進行財政轉移支付;增加對個人的轉移支付;給低收入納稅人臨時減稅等。其結果就是赤字增加但經濟卻沒有增長。

經濟持續疲軟的另一個原因是奧巴馬重視提高稅率。雖然奧巴馬勉強同意在2011年和2012年延續小布什政府的減稅政策,但奧巴馬今年的預算方案也呼應了他要求對高收入個人和跨國公司課以重稅的論調。有了這片漂浮在頭頂的加稅疑雲,個人和企業均不願進行創業投資也不願擴大經營規模就不足為奇了。經營規模的擴大能夠成就經濟的堅實復蘇。

第三個問題源自奧巴馬政府缺乏應對未來預算赤字和不斷膨脹的國家債務的明確方案。這就令未來的增稅和利率政策充滿了不確定性。利率水平是影響家庭支出和企業投資的重要因素。今年國家債務佔GDP的比例上升至69%,而2008年這一比例還只有40%。據國會預算辦公室(Congressional Budget Office)估計,本世紀第二個十年結束時這一比例將高達85%,此後還將繼續上升。現實情況更加糟糕,單單ObamaCare一個項目在實施的頭十年就將耗費超過1萬億美元的資金。奧巴馬信誓旦旦地保証他的醫保立法不會給國家債務增加一毛錢的負擔──除非提議設立的新稅種能獲通過,用於老年人的醫保支出(Medicare)能夠減少,否則奧巴馬的保証無異於天方夜譚。

最後,奧巴馬政府在美元匯率政策上的立場前後不一。美國財政部反復重申這句口號:強勢美元對美國有利!但他們卻眼睜睜地看著美元實際價值在去年跌去了7%,同時還敦促中國允許美元加快兌人民幣的貶值速度。在匯率政策上缺乏前後一致的立場增加了不確定性,也限制了企業投資和雇工的積極性。

除非出台一項連貫有利的經濟政策,否則經濟還將繼續疲軟。這意味著在不提高邊際稅率的同時控制長期預算赤字。具體做法是縮減政府支出,限制取代政府直接支出的稅收支出。這意味著降低企業和個人的稅率以刺激創業和投資。這也意味著改革社會保障和醫療保險制度,以保証未來退休人員的生活標準,同時限制未來納稅人的成本。

所有這些措施都是可行的,但奧巴馬政府卻一項也未實施,也沒有跡象表明他們未來會採取這樣的措施。

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