国债是否不再重要？经济学家对债务的看法有何变化A BRINK interview with
Last month, the IMF warned that global public debtwill exceed 100%全球GDP。然而，它还敦促一些政府更多 - 甚至进一步增加债务水平 - 刺激增长。
ATKINSON: There has been a turnabout in the IMF’s thinking about government debt over the last half-dozen years. They’ve shifted from the traditional position that debts and deficits have big costs, to support fiscal stimulus in many — but not in all — cases.
It depends on other economic conditions, but their broad advice to Europe, in particular, for some while has been that some European countries, notably Germany, have room to spend more (and tax less), which would boost demand and economic activity in the whole EU area.
The Danger of Too Much Austerity
阿特金森：这是一个很大的问题。我会说有两件事。显然，现在有大量的变化。但即使在Covid-19之前，距离金融危机的全球经济的冲击比被理解多年来更严重。当许多国家在危机之后，在包括美国的许多国家，在危机之后很快就会在他们的赤字中加剧，这导致了增长和恢复速度较慢 - 以及欧洲的另一个经济衰退。
That began to change economists’ thinking because the faster an economy grows, the easier it is to support a given level of debt. The measure that we look at is debt in relation to GDP — so if you have more GDP, you can manage more debt. When the economy is crimped instead by austerity policies, deficits and debt loom larger.
A Very Different Global Economy
ATKINSON: The second important change in the global economy, which is more fundamental, is that we have moved into a world with lower inflation and lower interest rates — perhaps that’s because of globalization, perhaps because of demography; there are different theories. Ben Bernanke was one of the first who talked about an imbalance between savings and investment, and a savings glut that was tending to push down interest rates without stimulating economies to full employment.
Debt Is a Different Issue in the Developing World
BRINK:Isn’t there a distinction to be made between the impact of government debt in a developed economy and its impact in a developing world economy?
ATKINSON: Yes, that’s correct. If you’re the United States, it’s actually pretty easy to borrow, and you’re going to be taxing and spending in the same currency. If you’re a developing country, it’s usually much more difficult to borrow in your own currency. If capital stops flowing in, your exchange rate is likely to go down and that will make repaying your debt — that is now more expensive in local currency terms — much more difficult.
The history of sovereign debt crisis from Latin America in the 70s, 80s, to Asia in the 90s and Russia and Eastern European countries after that, was because of that dependence on foreign currency borrowing, what has been called the original sin of countries borrowing in a currency other than their own.
BRINK:One use of debt has been to provide emergency relief and unemployment extensions in this crisis. Given this more benign view of debt, do you think that these programs might become permanent support programs, like universal basic income in some form, which would presumably result in debt levels being permanently higher?
ATKINSON: I’m not sure that the temporary increase in unemployment insurance will be extended in the U.S., and obviously a lot depends on what happens in the U.S. elections in November, but I certainly think it’s a good idea to have more of what are called automatic stabilizers in the economic system.
In Europe, when there’s a recession, governments’ deficits automatically go up because the governments are automatically spending more to take care of people through what’s called social insurance schemes. That happens a little bit in the U.S., but not much. It would be much better, in fact, if there were more automatic stabilizers like this built into the budget.
I am not a fan of universal basic income. It would cost too much and not everyone needs it, so much of the spending would be unnecessary or wasteful. I would focus instead on providing generous income support for those who need it. But as an economist, I would prefer to have a simple system of income support than a complicated array of different programs — whether on food, on rent or on higher education — but that’s not so politically attractive.
Looking long term, you also need to have more tax revenue in the U.S. to support spending that we urgently need on social programs, education and so on to help to address the enormous inequities and systemic racism that more and more Americans are aware of. The U.S. raises 10 percentage points of GDP less than the average in the OECD. That means the U.S. has to curb its spending more than other advanced economies in order to hold its deficit at the same level.