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基思·亨尼西(Hennessey)的博客

美国前国家经济委员会主任、乔治·布什的首席经济顾问Keith Hennessey

 
 
 

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拜托!别再做承诺了  

2010-03-30 15:21:39|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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[点击查看Keith Hennessey的英文博客]  

这篇评论是针对那些众议院中在财政上持保守态度的人,他们正在考虑着为医疗保险的立法投赞成票。

美国正处于一条财政上无法支持下去的道路上。如果我们对此问题毫不理会的话,那么25年之内,美国政府将会拖欠它的债务,美国的经济和社会将会有灾难性的后果。

我们处于这样一条道路上,是因为过去的民选官员播撒了一些无法持续下去的政治承诺,他们还把这些承诺引入法律。在某些情况里,他们在短期内兑现了这些承诺。每一次他们都发起了新的计划,随着时间的推移,这些计划变得越来越多。

过去的民选官员们,他们享受着做出一个新的承诺所带来的政治利益,然而,他们把为了兑现这些承诺所要付出的代价转移到他们的继任者头上,转移到国民的下一代身上。

你们就是他们的继任者,你们就是那些下一代。就快要买单了。未来开支和税收之间的缺口是美国要面对的最重要的经济难题。如果我们不解决它的话,那么我们就要完蛋了。

要解决这一问题,我们就必须减缓社会保险、医疗保险和医疗补助开支的增加。你或许会认为,要么由于政策的缘由,要么出于政治妥协的考虑,我们也需要增加税收。

长期中的财政缺口是巨大的。这一缺口并不是以几十亿或者几百亿美元来衡量的。而是以GDP的百分比来计算的。今年GDP的百分之一是1460亿,而我们的财政缺口数倍于此。为了避免经济灾难,我们需要作出重大的财政政策转变。

如果我们逐步为之的话,那么政策上大的变化是较容易的,这样,人们就有时间去适应、计划。我们改变的越晚,那么需要变革的越大,而对美国社会造成的伤痛越大。

正确的政策是立即启动这些变革,以使得它们处于适当的位置,并且难以被撤除。开启这些变动,这样它们就可以随着时间的过去而渐趋稳定。一个庞大的计划,必须立即就开始而且要逐步为之,然而现在就要锁定全局过程和最终的目的方向。那样美国社会才可以逐渐适应变革后的坏境,而民选官员们也不会面临骤然而至的、分裂性的、伤脑筋的政策,否则的话,这些官员将会拖延或者废除这些变革。

减缓那些受大众欢迎的福利项目的增长,这在政治上是棘手的。提高税收也是如此。二者都会使民选官员头痛。

这个问题看起来在政治上是很难对付的,因为在开支变动和税收增长的相对结合中,会有严重的政策分歧。每个政党都看到了从抨击其他党可能提议的方案中得到的选举利益,因此政党间的合作是很困难的。

由于政府拖欠债务所带来的麻烦,市场将会惩罚美国经济,以至于民选官员将被迫协商出一个解决方案。其危害在于:你和你的同僚将要拖到需要更多变革且更棘手的时候。如果你可以在市场逼迫你之前就做好准备的话,那么美国的境况将会好很多。

你不得不解决这一问题,因为你的前任做出了昂贵的承诺却留给你来买单。如果你不解决的话,那么你的继任者将会不得不去做。那之后,时间用尽,经济也会崩溃。

现如今,总统奥巴马和你党的国会领导人们想要做出一个新的承诺。他们想要扩大政府的职责,以使得几乎每个美国人都预付医疗保险。像过去的那些承诺那样,对那些可以从新承诺中获益的人,和更多那些同情它们的人来说,它是很有吸引力的。像很多情况那样,你可能会相信:减少未保险的人数是一项很重要的政策目标。

那么,这一新承诺的资金代价如何呢?在此次的立法过程中,总统奥巴马和你党的国会领导人们做出了一些艰难的抉择。最困难的决定是那些减缓医保花费增长和将会提高某些税收的政策。这是些会带来社会阵痛和政治风险的艰难抉择。

这次立法已经安排好了,以至于,如果它不被更改而且所料不差的话,那么此次的新承诺的代价将会被医保上的“削减”和税收的增加完全抵消掉。如果这两项条件成立的话,那么新承诺的代价不会转嫁到将来。倡议人说道,如果这两个条件都满足的话,那么这个新承诺会得到偿付。

这使得此次议案有别于前。总统认为,它比以前的承诺更为可靠。他还认为,它在财政上是可靠的。我同意低一点,但是不认同第二点。

如果这些议案变成法律的话,那么我们会遗留下两个问题。假设中的条件也许并不成立,因此新的承诺实际上也许会和以前所做的许诺那样,出现资金不足。而就算这些条件成立的话,我们仍然遗留下了无法解决的长期财政问题。而我们只有较少的可用手段去处理它。

假设的条件将不能成立,这是因为这些条件并非人们的意图所在。这一议案的发起人巧妙地构造了这一承诺,以至于它们(指“承诺”)会在会计学意义上得到兑现,但是在政治上却是不能证实的。新增医生的医疗保险开支将会得到偿付,只要你相信国会将会为了生效而在从今而起的两年内实行更大的削减。新的保险补助也会得到偿付,只要你相信,在遥远的未来才开始的增税计划会在工会游说废除它或者永久性拖延下去中还幸存下来。新的保险补贴的目的是覆盖那些购买了医疗保险却没有工作的人,而不是那些有着相同薪水,依靠自己工作而购买医保的人。如果你相信这种不公平在政治上是合理的话,那么该议案将会得到兑现。相反,如果你认为,提供平等的待遇和对那些数百万计的通过自己工作得到医保的人扩大补贴将会带来无法忍受的政治压力的话,那么你今天所通过的补贴议案将只会是帐篷底下的骆驼鼻子(译注:the camel’s nose under the tent此句的意思是指“得寸进尺”,进了鼻子之后,骆驼有要求把身子也伸进帐篷里),而你们正把我们放在一条更大的资金不足的政府承诺的道路上。

该议案的设计人巧妙地设置了游戏规则,最低限度要满足仲裁人的要求,让他们声称,这一承诺是有充足资金的,同时却创造了实际的长期财政风险。金融工程师们有着一个明显的类似之处,他们和信用评级机构一起调整风险性信用衍生品,直至他们的信用几乎都是AAA级。金融工程师们并不会消除真实的风险,相反,他们是用信用评级机构的记分模式来解决。一眨眼工夫,他们就把这些产品当做安全的投资卖给委托人。悬而未决的医保法案的发起人和国会预算办公室(CBO)记分员做着相同的事情。你们就是那些潜在的顾客,他们会要求你购买这一产品(“这一产品”指医疗保险的金融衍生品)。医保法案的拥护者会使你确信,记分员会说:“行得通!”然后,他们就放水了。

许多客户并不了解他们所购买的金融衍生品,像他们一样,你也许并不熟知国会预算办公室的记分过程。或者你也许会相信,这一法案会按照书面的意思(这样将不会在将来扩张或者增加开支)得到严格地贯彻实施,而未来的民选官员将会抵抗所有的上述压力。如果是这样的话,那么你仍然需要和无法支持下去的财政道路(我们已经开始了)纠缠下去。赤字裁剪为这一法案博得美名,该法案的拥护者也讲得很是动听,但是比起我们长期的财政问题来,它只是小菜一碟而已。总统认为,医改是一场权利的改革,放缓医保开支的增速将会解决我们的长期财政问题。

相反,尽管用尽了方法去解决,这一法案充其量也只能使得我们长期财政问题不那么糟糕罢了。待定的立法过程需要所有的最简单的艰难的选择,并且利用它们去抵消新的承诺。当政策制定者选择或者被迫去解决长期财政问题时,这将会遗留下更为艰难、痛苦的政策抉择。

待定的立法过程将会提高针对“富人”的税收。当有人试图弥缝我们的长期财政缺口时,这些增税措施将不再好使。

待定的立法过程减缓了医疗保险开支的增长,但是,之后将会把这个钱花在新的承诺上。我们仍然有着那些资金不足的旧的承诺,而那些相对较简易的医保政策的变动将不再能够提供资金。

当你们或者你们的继任者选择或者被迫解决我们的长期财政问题时,这些工具将不再可用。你们将不得不减低福利,并向老年人索取较高的保费、起付额和免赔额。你们将不得不更多的削减供应商的报酬。你们将不得不更积极地审查低保资格。你们将不得不提高这些计划的资格年龄线。如果你支持加税的话,那么你会发现你的估算将不仅包括富人,也得包括中产阶级。这种计算将会迫使你不得不如此。

就算未定的医保法案胎死腹中,你也会不得不这么干。如果医保法案载入法律的话,那么你将不得不在这些方面做得更多。

你正在被推使着做的事情只是你的前任的一个变体罢了。解决一个社会性问题。做出一个受大众欢迎的新承诺,而丝毫不理会那些警告你这一承诺将会资金不足的人。然后,就要忧虑着现存的长期财政问题,或者稍微好过一点,把这一难题拱手交给你的继任者。如果这一立法--通过截断将来的选择机会—而使得长期的问题更加艰难的话,那么其他人要头痛了。

这里有个简单的答案,而你可以选择它。打破这个循环吧(指“一再承诺,制造长期的财政困境”)!不要再做一个新的承诺,它会使我们最大的问题变得更难解决,并且把麻烦推给未来。依我们现时的处境来看,已经没有多少“将来”了。

在你为过去的承诺找到足够的资金之前,拜托,别再做新的承诺了!

(翻译纠错。读者发现任何翻译错误请发邮件给我们,谢谢:caijingblog#126.com 将#改为@)

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英文原文(地址:http://keithhennessey.com/2010/03/19/no-new-promises/):

No new promises, please

19 March 拜托!别再做承诺了 - hennessey - 基思·亨尼西(Hennessey)的博客 Print this

This comment is addressed to those fiscally conservative Members of the House of Representatives thinking of voting for pending health care legislation.

America is on an unsustainable fiscal path.  If we do nothing to address this, within 25 years the U.S. government will default on its debt, with devastating consequences for the U.S. economy and society.

We are on this path because past elected officials made unsustainable benefit promises and enshrined them in law.  In some cases they paid for those promises in the short run.  In all cases they created programs that would grow more generous over time.

Those past elected officials enjoyed the political benefits of creating a new promise, and they shifted the burden of paying for these promises onto their successors and onto future generations of citizens.

You are their successor, and we are those future generations.  The bill is coming due.  The gap between future spending and taxes is the most important economic problem America faces.  If we don’t fix it, we’re screwed.

To fix this problem we need to slow the growth of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending.  You may think we also need to raise taxes, either for reasons of policy or of political compromise.

The long-term fiscal gap is enormous.  It’s not measured in billions or even tens of billions of dollars.  It’s measured in percentage points of GDP.  One percent of GDP this year is $146 billion, and our fiscal gap is many times that.  We need to make huge fiscal policy changes to avoid economic disaster.

Big changes are easier to make if we phase them in gradually, so people have time to plan and adjust.  The longer we wait to start, the bigger the necessary changes, and the more wrenching they are to American society.

Good policy is to start these changes immediately, so that they’re in place and it’s hard to repeal them.  Set the changes up so they grow steadily over time.  Turn the aircraft carrier by an enormous amount, begin immediately and do it gradually, but lock the full course and ultimate direction in now.  American society can then incrementally adjust to the changing conditions, and elected officials will not be confronted with sudden, disruptive, painful policy spikes they will be tempted to postpone or repeal.

Slowing the growth of popular entitlement programs is politically painful.  So is raising taxes.  Elected officials get punished for both.

This problem may seem politically intractable because of serious policy disagreements about the relative mix of spending changes and tax increases.  Each party sees electoral advantage in attacking the other’s possible proposed solutions, so it’s hard to cooperate across the aisle.

As the pain of a government default approaches, markets will punish the U.S. economy to the point where elected officials will be forced to negotiate a solution.  The danger is that you and your colleagues wait until this time, when the changes needed will be bigger and even more painful.  If you can fix this before the markets force you to, America will be better off.

You have to fix this because your predecessors made an expensive promise and left you the bill.  If you don’t fix it, your successors will have to.  After that, the clock runs out and the economy collapses.

Now President Obama and your party’s Congressional leaders want to make a new promise.  They want to expand the role of government so that almost every American has prepaid health insurance.  Like past promises, this is attractive to the millions who would receive the benefits of this new promise, and to many more who feel compassion for them.  Like many, you probably believe that reducing the number of uninsured is an important policy goal.

What about the costs of funding this new promise?  In this legislation President Obama and your party’s Congressional leaders have made some hard choices.  The biggest are policies that would slow the growth of Medicare spending and policies that would raise certain taxes.  These are hard policy choices that involve societal pain and political risk.

The legislation has been structured so that, if it is never changed, and if the projections hold true, the costs of this new promise will be fully offset by the Medicare “cuts” and tax increases.  The costs of the new promises will not be shifted to the future if those two conditions hold.  The referee says that, if those two conditions hold, this new promise has been paid for.

That makes this bill different than some of its predecessors.  The President argues that it is more responsible than past promises.  He argues further that it is fiscally responsible.  I agree with the first and disagree with the second.

If these bills become law, we are left with two problems.  The assumed conditions may not hold, so this new promise may in fact be underfunded just like all prior promises.  And even if the conditions hold, we still have left unsolved the long-term fiscal problem with which we began, and we have fewer tools available to fix it.

The assumed conditions will not hold because they are not designed to hold.  The bills’ authors have cleverly constructed the promises so that they are paid for in an accounting sense, but are politically unsustainable.  New Medicare spending on doctors is paid for, as long as you believe Congress will allow even bigger cuts to take effect two years from now.  The new insurance subsidies are paid for, as long as you believe that a tax increase scheduled to begin far in the future will survive eight years of labor union lobbying for repeal or perpetual delay.  The new insurance subsidies are designed to cover those who buy health insurance outside of employment, but not those with the same salary who get health insurance through their job.  If you believe this inequity is politically sustainable, then the bill is paid for.  If instead you think there will be unbearable political pressure to provide equal treatment and expand subsidies to some of the 100+ million Americans who today get their health insurance through their job, then the subsidies you enact now are only the camel’s nose under the tent, and you are setting us on a path to an even larger and unfunded government promise.

The bill’s architects have cleverly gamed the rules to minimally satisfy the requirements of getting the referee to say the new promise is funded, while creating real long-term fiscal risk.  There is an obvious parallel to the financial engineers who worked with credit rating agencies to tweak new risky credit derivatives until they barely qualified for a AAA rating.  The financial engineers did not eliminate real risk, they instead solved for the rating agency’s scoring model. They then sold these products to clients as safe investments, with a wink.  The authors of the pending health care bills have done the same with the CBO scorekeepers. You are the potential client being asked to buy this product.  The proponents assure you that the scorekeeper says it’s OK.  Then they wink.

Like many clients who did not understand the derivatives they were buying, you may not be an expert in the arcane world of CBO scoring.   Or you may believe the bill will be implemented exactly as written, that there will be no future expansions or spending increases, and that future elected officials will resist all of the above pressures.  If so, you still must wrestle with the unsustainable fiscal path with which we began.  The deficit reduction credited to this bill by the referee and claimed by the bills’ proponents sounds large, but compared to our long-term fiscal problems it is trivially small.  The President argued that health reform is entitlement reform, and that slowing the growth of health spending would address our long-term fiscal problem.

Instead, at best this bill makes our long-term fiscal problem no worse, while using up options to solve it.  The pending legislation takes all of the easiest hard choices and uses them to offset the new promise.  This leaves even harder and more painful policy choices when policymakers choose or are forced to address the long-term fiscal problem.

The pending legislation raises taxes “on the rich.”  When someone tries to close our long-term fiscal gap, these tax increases will no longer be available.

The pending legislation slows the growth of Medicare spending, but then spends that money on the new promise.  We still have the old unfunded promises, and those relatively easy Medicare policy changes will no longer be available to fund them.

When you or your successors choose or are forced to solve our long-term fiscal problem, these tools will be unavailable.  You will have to reduce benefits and charge seniors higher premiums, copayments, and deductibles.  You will have to cut provider payments even more.  You will have to means-test benefits more aggressively.  You will have to raise the eligibility age for these programs.  If you favor tax increases, you will find yourself evaluating options to raise them not just on the rich, but also on the middle class. The arithmetic will force you to do these things.

You will have to do some of these things even if the pending health care bills die.  You will have to do many more of them if these health care bills become law.

You are being pushed to do a variant of what your predecessors have done.  Solve a societal problem.  Make a popular new promise.  Ignore those who warn the promise is underfunded.  Worry about the existing long-term problem later, or better yet, hand it off to the next crowd.  If this legislation makes that long-term problem harder to solve by taking future options off the table, someone else can worry about that.

There is a simple answer, and you can choose it.  Break the cycle.  Don’t make a new promise that makes our biggest problem harder to solve and pushes it into the future.  On our current path there’s not much future left.

Make us no new promises, please, until you have funded the old ones.

(photo credit:  epSos.de)

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