【英语财经】不要“死”盯通胀目标 Forget about inflation targeting – try ‘positive ambiguity’

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2014-6-18 06:25

小艾摘要: If anything has survived the global financial crisis, it is inflation targeting. This is odd. After all, pre-crisis, many economists and policy makers in developed markets enthusiastically embraced th ...
Forget about inflation targeting – try ‘positive ambiguity’
If anything has survived the global financial crisis, it is inflation targeting. This is odd. After all, pre-crisis, many economists and policy makers in developed markets enthusiastically embraced the “Great Moderation” – the idea that wise monetary policies had not only helped bring inflation to heel but also, as a result, delivered more stable economic activity. “No more boom and bust” was not the boast of politicians alone: it became a core belief?of the economics establishment.

Yet the boast was clearly wrong. A narrow focus on preventing rapid price rises ultimately proved highly damaging. Policy makers ignored other signs of incipient instability; most obviously, rapid credit growth and, in the US at least, surging housing activity. Having done so, they gave the go-ahead to excessive risk-taking: with inflation under control, there was no reason for investors to fear monetary shocks.

History shows, however, that economic and financial crises are more often associated with periods of low, not high, inflation. The former may be desirable in many respects but it seems the obsession with precision-engineered targets simply reflected the fears of a generation of policy makers scarred by monetary mistakes of the inflationary 1970s.

Post-crisis, central bankers are far more focused on financial stability. But they have mostly been unwilling to admit the role of monetary policy in encouraging excessive risk-taking. Given the widespread reduction of long-term borrowing costs induced by quantitative easing and the associated resurrection of the “hunt for yield”, this is worrying.

Policy makers hope to tame excessive financial bets through macroprudential policies. Yet their success is hardly guaranteed. Spain’s “dynamic provisioning”, by which banks were required to hold more capital against possible future losses than they necessarily wanted to, did not prevent economic meltdown. The Bank of England is contemplating macroprudential policies to tame the more bubbly aspects of UK behaviour, most obviously an overheating London property market, knowing that the experience of other countries has been decidedly mixed.

Today, embracing macroprudential policies offers unfortunate parallels with the 1970s zeal for “incomes policies”. These microeconomic controls were designed to curb inflation by containing pay rises, even as macroeconomic policy was calibrated to boost growth and employment. It did not work. Macroprudential policies are designed to limit risks in the financial system even though macroeconomic policy – monetary stimulus designed to lift economic activity – may have the reverse effect. As in the 1970s, this “push me, pull you” approach is unlikely to be sustainable.

Fortunately, there is a way forward. The blinkered focus on meeting a precision-engineered inflation target must be abandoned. Instead, monetary policy must address a number of potentially competing objectives, using what might be best described as “positive ambiguity”. Central banks should commit to a steady rise in prices in the medium to long-term; but, depending on other macroeconomic variables, they should also tolerate sustained departures from target.

To take one example, Japan’s late 1980s monetary policy looked about right judged by inflation alone. But once rapid money supply growth and surging asset prices were taken into account, it looked very wrong. Had interest rates been higher, inflation in the near term would have been exceptionally low but the asset price bubble that burst in 1990, sparking a deflationary spiral, might have ended up a lot smaller. Ironically, a bigger near-term inflationary undershoot might have reduced the risk of persistent deflation in the long run.

“Positive ambiguity” would emphasise that interest rates might rise – or fall – for a host of reasons not necessarily connected with the near-term inflationary outlook: credit growth, balance of payments, asset price inflation and so on. Central banks would be forced into making judgments, removing the faux certainty generated by a mechanistic approach to inflation targeting.

The cost would be an increase in monetary policy uncertainty. That, however, would also be the benefit: making the world a little less certain might reduce the excessive risk-taking encouraged by central banks’ narrow focus on inflation both before and after the financial crisis.

The writer is HSBC global chief economist and author of ‘When the Money Runs Out’

如果说什么东西挺过了全球金融危机,那就是通胀目标制。这很奇怪。毕竟,危机之前,发达市场的许多经济学家和政策制定者曾热情地拥抱“大缓和”(Great Moderation)——这个理念是指,明智的货币政策不但有助于把通胀率保持在低水平,而且由此带来更加稳定的经济活动。“不再出现大繁荣和崩盘的交替”当时不仅是政客们的吹嘘,它也成了经济学体制内人士的一个核心信念。

但这种夸耀明显是错误的。狭隘地致力于防止物价快速上涨,最终被证明非常有害。政策制定者忽略了其他冒头的不稳定迹象,其中最明显的是信贷快速增长和住房市场活动加剧(起码在美国是这样)。这么做的结果是,他们对过度冒险开了绿灯:由于通胀率处于掌控之下,投资者没有理由担心货币政策冲击。

但历史证明,经济与金融危机在更多情况下与低通胀(而不是高通胀)时期关联。低通胀也许在很多方面是可取的,但对精确设定的目标念念不忘,只不过反映了一代政策制定者的担忧——他们被通胀失控的上世纪70年代的货币政策失误吓怕了。

危机过后,央行官员远比之前更关注金融稳定。但他们基本不愿意承认货币政策曾起到鼓励过度冒险的作用。鉴于量化宽松(QE)导致的长期借款成本普遍下降,以及随之而来的“追逐收益率”再度兴起,这很让人担忧。

政策制定者希望通过宏观审慎政策,驯服过度金融冒险的行为。但他们很难保证成功。西班牙的“动态拨备”没能阻止经济下滑——这种政策要求银行针对未来可能的损失,预留出高于银行所希望水平的资本金。英国央行(BoE)在明知其他国家的经验有好有坏的情况下,正考虑以宏观审慎政策来驯服英国某些比较易于催生泡沫的行为,最明显的是过热的伦敦房地产市场。

如今,拥抱宏观审慎政策与上世纪70年代热捧“收入政策”一样,具有不幸的相似之处。“收入政策”是指通过遏制工资上涨来抑制通胀的微观经济调控措施,即便宏观经济政策意在刺激增长和就业。这种做法没有见效。当前的宏观审慎政策旨在限制金融体系中的风险,尽管宏观经济政策——用以提升经济活力的货币刺激——可能起到反面效果。正如上世纪70年代一样,这种“左右互搏”的手法不太可能持久。

幸运的是,现在有了一条出路。必须摒弃狭隘聚焦于实现精确设定的通胀指标的做法。相反,货币政策必须把握一系列可能彼此冲突的目标,运用也许可被最准确地称为“积极模糊”的战略。各国央行应当致力于维持物价在中长期稳定上涨;但是,取决于其他宏观经济变量,央行也应当容忍实际数据在相当长时期偏离目标。

举个例子,若仅以通胀率来衡量,日本上世纪80年代末的货币政策大体是合理的。但是,一旦把货币供应量快速增加和资产价格猛涨考虑进去,当时的货币政策看起来就大错特错了。倘若利率更高,近期通胀率固然会达到极低水平,但在1990年破裂、引发通缩螺旋的资产价格泡沫也许不会膨胀得那么大。讽刺的是,近期通胀率严重低于指标,从长远看反而可能降低持续通缩的风险。

“积极模糊”将强调,利率可能上升或下降,而其原因未必都与近期通胀前景相关:信贷增长、收支平衡、资产价格通胀等等。各国央行将被迫做出判断,消除通胀目标制的机械方法所产生的虚幻确定性。

代价将是货币政策的不确定性加剧。然而,这也正是效益所在:稍稍降低一些确定性,也许能够减少央行在危机前后一味关注通胀所鼓励的那种过度冒险。

注:作者为汇丰银行(HSBC)全球首席经济学家,著有《When the Money Runs Out》一书。

译者/邢嵬

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