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迈克尔·哈德森:冰岛的债务偿还限制将会扩散

冰岛和拉脱维亚还能还得起债吗?债务是神圣不可侵犯的吗?冰岛议会最近通过了自上世纪20年代以来首个将外债放在国家偿付能力之后的协议。
迈克尔·哈德森(美国密苏里大学经济学教授)

冰岛和拉脱维亚能够偿还其极少一部分国民欠下的外债吗?欧盟(EU)与国际货币基金组织(IMF)已建议两国用公共债务来取代私人债务,并通过增税、大幅削减公共支出以及强制公民耗尽储蓄来还债。

人们的怨恨情绪与日俱增,针对的不仅是那些负债者——冰岛破产的Kaupthing和Landsbanki银行,Landsbanki旗下的Icesave账户,以及波罗的海和中欧地区大举借债的房地产所有者——还有向这些国家政府施加压力、强迫它们将银行和上市公司廉价出售给内部人士的外国顾问和债权人。冰岛国内支持加入欧盟的民众,已降至总人口的三分之一出头,而拉脱维亚的“和谐中心”联盟(Harmony Centre)——自该国独立以来首个大部分由讲俄语的人口组成的政党联盟——在该国政府中已成为多数党,并正成为最受欢迎的全国性政党。两国的公众抗议均导致政治压力不断加大,要求政府将债务负担限制在一个合理的偿付能力之内。

这种政治压力在上周末的冰岛议会上登峰造极。冰岛议会批准了一项法案,将严格限制向英国和荷兰支付、用以补偿为两国Icesave储户纾困支出的赔偿。

据我所知,该协议是自上世纪20年代以来首个将外债放在国家偿付能力之后的协议。冰岛的赔付将限制在今年国内生产总值(GDP)较2008年增长部分的6%以内。如果债权人强迫冰岛经济节衣缩食,那么该国经济将停止增长,债权人也无法获得赔偿。

80年前,围绕德国一战赔款,人们也讨论过类似的问题。但许多政策制定者至今仍搞不清挤出国内财政盈余与外债偿还能力之间的区别。不论政府可以对其经济征收多高的税,都存在将这些钱转换成外币的问题。正如约翰•梅纳德•凯恩斯(John Maynard Keynes)解释的那样,除非债务国能扩大出口,否则它们必然要么借钱还债,要么廉价出售本国资产。冰岛目前已否决了这些自杀式政策。

一个经济体偿还外债的能力是有限的。增加国内税收,并不意味着政府能够将这笔收入转换成外汇。这一现实从冰岛对待其Icesave债务的立场上可见一斑——估计这笔债务高达其全部GDP的一半。

通过采取这一立场,冰岛看来是在引导舆论摆脱以下观念:债务是神圣不可侵犯的。

后苏联经济体的问题在于,1991年的独立并未带来人们所希望的西方生活水准。与冰岛一样,这些国家仍依赖进口。其贸易逆差一直由全球房地产泡沫提供融资——用独立时免除了债务的房地产作为抵押借入外币。而如今,泡沫已经破灭,还账的时候到了。瑞典各银行不再放贷给波罗的海诸国,奥地利的银行也不再向匈牙利注资,英国和荷兰的银行同样不向冰岛投钱。失业率正不断攀升,政府在大幅削减医保和教育预算。随之而来的经济萎缩,使大量房地产都变成了负资产。

上世纪70至90年代期间,经济紧缩计划在发展中国家司空见惯,但欧洲民主国家却很难忍受这种策略。就目前情况看,家庭正失去住房,移民国外的趋势在不断加速。这并非资本主义所承诺的图景。

这些国家的国民不仅对该不该还债提出疑问,同样还质疑国家的还债能力——正如出现在冰岛的情况。如果还不起,那么试图还债只会令经济进一步萎缩,停止还债由此变得切实可行。

英国和荷兰会接受冰岛的条件吗?凯恩斯警告称,试图逼迫一个国家超出自身能力还债,需要有一种残酷的榨取式财政及金融机制,进而会激发摆脱债权国要求的民族主义政治反应。这正是上世纪20年代所发生的事情——当时,僵硬的债务神圣不可侵犯的观念,摧毁了德国经济。

务实的经济原则正在起作用:一笔没有能力偿还的债务,将无法得到偿还。剩下的一个问题不过是,通过什么方式不偿还这些债务?其中很多债务会被一笔勾销吗?或者说,如果冰岛、拉脱维亚及其它债务国试图挤出经济盈余,以避免拖欠债务,它们会突然陷入紧缩吗?

后一种选择可能会将债台高筑的国家推向一个新方向。受命解决冰岛银行业危机的法国检察官埃娃•若利(Eva Joly)本月警告称,除了自然资源和战略位置,冰岛几乎没剩下什么了:“俄罗斯等国很可能认为它颇具吸引力。”后苏联国家已开始看到选民们改变立场,不再支持欧洲,以此回应欧盟所支持的毁灭性政策。

总有一方要做出让步。是僵化的观念让步于经济现实,还是反之呢?

本文作者是美国密苏里大学(University of Missouri)经济学教授

译者/陈云飞 (本文来源:FT中文网 )


Michael Hudson:Iceland's debt repayment limits will spread

Published:Financial Times August 16 2009 18:56 | Last updated: August 16 2009 18:56

Can Iceland and Latvia pay the foreign debts run up by a fairly narrow layer of their population? The European Union and International Monetary Fund have told them to replace private debts with public obligations, and to pay by raising taxes, slashing public spending and obliging citizens to deplete their savings.
Resentment is growing not only towards those who ran up the debts – Iceland’s bankrupt Kaupthing and Landsbanki, with its Icesave accounts, and heavily geared property owners in the Baltics and central Europe – but also towards the foreign advisers and creditors who put pressure on these governments to sell off the banks and public companies to insiders. Support in Iceland for joining the EU has fallen to just over a third of the population, while Latvia’s Harmony Centre party, the first since independence to include a large segment of the Russian-speaking population, has gained a majority in Riga and is becoming the most popular national party. Popular protests in both countries have triggered rising political pressure to limit the debt burden to a reasonable ability to pay.
This political pressure came to a head over the weekend in Reykjavik’s parliament. The Althing agreed a deal, expected to be formalised on Monday, which would severely restrict payments to the UK and Netherlands in compensation for the cost of bailing out their Icesave depositors.
This agreement is, so far as I am aware, the first since the 1920s to subordinate foreign debt to the country’s ability to pay. Iceland’s payments will be limited to 6 per cent of growth above 2008’s gross domestic product. If creditors thrust austerity on the Icelandic economy there will be no growth and they will not get paid.
A similar problem was debated 80 years ago over Germany’s first world war reparations. But many policymakers remain confused over the distinction between squeezing out a domestic fiscal surplus and the ability to pay foreign debts. No matter how much a government may tax its economy, there is a problem turning the money into foreign currency. As John Maynard Keynes explained, unless debtor countries can export more, they must pay either by borrowing or by selling off domestic assets. Iceland today has rejected these self-destructive policies.
There is a limit to how much foreign payment an economy can make. Higher domestic taxes do not mean a government can translate this revenue into foreign exchange. This reality is reflected in Iceland’s position on its Icesave debt – estimated to amount to half its entire GDP.
In taking this stand, Iceland promises to lead the pendulum swing away from the ideology that debt repayments are sacred.
In the post-Soviet economies the problem is that independence in 1991 did not bring the hoped-for western living standards. Like Iceland, they remain dependent on imports. Their trade deficits have been financed by the global property bubble – borrowing in foreign currency against property that was free of debt at independence. Now the bubble has burst and it is payback time. No more credit is flowing to the Baltics from Swedish banks, to Hungary from Austrian banks or to Iceland from Britain and the Netherlands. Unemployment is rising and governments are slashing healthcare and education budgets. The resulting economic shrinkage is leaving large swathes of property in negative equity.
Austerity programmes were common in developing countries from the 1970s to the 1990s, but European democracies have little tolerance for such an approach. As matters stand, families are losing their homes and emigration is accelerating. This is not what capitalism promised.
Populations are asking not only whether debts should be paid, but – as in Iceland – whether they can be paid. If they cannot be, then trying to pay will only shrink economies further, stopping them becoming viable.
Will Britain and the Netherlands accept Iceland’s condition? Trying to squeeze out more debt service than a country could pay requires an oppressive and extractive fiscal and financial regime, Keynes warned, which in turn would inspire a nationalistic political reaction to break free of creditor-nation demands. This is what happened in the 1920s when Germany’s economy was wrecked by the rigid ideology of the sanctity of debt.
A pragmatic economic principle is at work: a debt that cannot be paid, will not be. What remains an open question is just how these debts will not be paid. Will many be written off? Or will Iceland, Latvia and other debtors be plunged into austerity in an attempt to squeeze out an economic surplus to avoid default?
The latter option may drive debt-laden countries in a new direction. Eva Joly, the French prosecutor brought in to sort out Iceland’s banking crisis, warned this month that Iceland would have little left but its natural resources and strategic position: “Russia, for example, might well find it attractive.” The post-Soviet countries are already seeing voters shift away from Europe in reaction to the destructive policies the EU supported.
Something has to give. Will rigid ideology give way to economic reality, or the other way round?

The writer is professor of economics at the University of Missouri
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