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Forget Greece, Japan is the world's real economic time bomb

2015-03-10 16:14 语泉外语     字号 [] [] []  
Forget Greece, Japan is the world's real economic time bomb
The eyes of the financial world are on the high drama playing out in Greece right now, and for good reason. Greece’s attempts to renegotiate its debt will redefine how the member nations of the world’s largest economy—the European Union—interact for years to come. But at the end of the day, even if Greece is forced out of the euro, the wider effects will likely be manageable. If Greece were to suffer a banking crisis and severe recession, its economy isn’t that large (roughly the size of Louisiana’s), and European officials have done work to shore up the EU financial system so that it could withstand the shocks of a Grexit. But there’s another economic drama unfolding nearly 10,000 kilometers away from the Mediterranean that will be far more consequential. The slowly unfolding fiscal crisis in Japan might not have the same entertainment value as the action in Athens. After all, what’s more riveting (and deliciously ironic) than watching the colorful and self-described Marxist Greek finance minister YanisVaroufakis battle it out with the world’s most powerful woman, and former East German, Angela Merkel? Nevertheless, the situation in Japan, the world’s third largest economy, will have a greater impact on the global economy in the years to come than Greece ever will. And for aging Western Democracies like the U.S., watching what unfolds in Japan may be like looking into a crystal ball of our own economic future. Takatoshi Ito, an economist at Columbia’s School of International & Public Affairs, argued at a panel discussion on Monday that unless the Japanese government can raise its sales tax to north of 15%, from its current 8%, Japan’s economy will suffer a fiscal crisis sometime between 2021 and 2023. That’s because as Japan’s population continues to age, its famously high savings rate will have to fall, and the Japanese public will no longer be able to absorb the large amount of debt the government is assuming. Unlike Greece, the Japanese government can print as many yen as it wants to pay its debts—debts that are largely owned by the government, Japanese banks, and citizens. So there’s no reason Japan would have to default on its debt. But all that money printing, argued Ito, will lead to an inflation crisis and a serious decline in the Japanese standard of living. Ito’s co-panelist, Japan scholar Gerald Curtis, doesn’t believe that the Japanese government will raise the sales tax to 15% any time soon. Prime Minister ShinzoAbe’sdecision to delay a sales tax increase from 8% to 10% until 2017 is indicative of the government’s inability to force such painful policies on the public. “It’s very hard for me to see how we get from here to there,” said Curtis. If Both Ito and Curtis are right, that means we’re just a few short years away from a fiscal crisis in Japan. Others are not so sure. It’s been clear for two decades that Japan faces demographic difficulties. Its low birthrate and cultural aversion to immigration means that its working age population is shrinking at an alarming rate while the population of non-working retirees (who demand expensive healthcare) is on the rise. This dynamic has lead countless traders to bet against Japanese debt, with disastrous results, even though the demographic predictions that led traders to bet against the nation have come true. So why hasn’t there been a fiscal crisis in Japan, and should we believe prognosticators like Ito, who continue to say it’s imminent? For economists like Paul Krugman, worrying over a possible inflation crisis in Japan seven years from now is crazy when you have a very real problem of stagnant growth and deflation right now.At the same time, problems like chronic inflation, and deflation for that matter, can crop up unexpectedly and then be hard to thwart once they’ve reared their ugly heads. Sure, the developed world’s main problem today is deflation, but Ito’s point is that if you rely solely on the central bank to fund your debt for too long, people will look elsewhere to store their cash. One need only look to the U.S. economy in the 1960s and 1970s to see how quickly persistent inflation can turn into a serious economic problem. As economist Christina Romer points out in a 2007 paper, the inflation during that period was partly the result of policymakers’ overoptimistic assumptions about the U.S. economy.It’s entirely reasonable, given the developed world’s slowing productivity growth and Japan’s shrinking population, that the economic growth we’re seeing is close to as good as it will get. Ito’s point, then, is that we should be wary of delaying the inevitable, simply raise taxes now, and admit that growth in Japan is just not going to be that great in the coming decade.No matter what happens to Japan, the U.S. and Europe should pay close attention. Those economies must also contend with the issue of slow growth and an aging population. How much can government spending and central bank policy solve these problems? What happens in Japan over the next decade should give us a clear answer. 
euro ['juərəu] n. 欧元(欧盟的统一货币单位)
manageable ['mænidʒəbl] adj. 易管理的;易控制的;易办的
entertainment [,entə'teinmənt] n. 娱乐;消遣;款待
overoptimistic [] 
inflation [in'fleiʃən] n. 膨胀;通货膨胀;夸张;自命不凡
central ['sentrəl] adj. 中心的;主要的;中枢的n. 电话总机
译文:日本才是全球经济真正的定时炸弹 目前,金融界的注意力都集中在希腊这台大戏上,这合情合理。希腊正在设法重新展开债务谈判,这将重新定义欧盟这个全球最大经济体的成员国今后的互动方式。但到了最后,就算希腊被迫退出欧元区,其整体影响仍可能处于可控范围。即便希腊出现银行业危机和严重经济衰退,但它的经济规模并不大(基本上和美国路易斯安那州相当)。同时,欧洲政府已经采取措施来巩固欧盟金融系统,以便后者能承受住希腊退出欧元区所带来的冲击。 然而,在距地中海不到一万公里的地方,另一出经济大戏正在上演,其影响将远远超过希腊。和希腊相比,日本财政危机的缓慢发酵可能没有那么高的娱乐价值。毕竟,有什么能比观看希腊和德国进行较量更引人入胜(而且带有美妙的讽刺意味)呢——一方是希腊财政部长雅尼斯•瓦鲁法克斯,他妙趣横生而且自诩为马克思主义者,另一方是德国总理安吉拉•默克尔,她来自前东德,现在是全球最具影响力的女性。 不过,作为全球第三大经济体,日本的局势对今后世界经济的影响将超过希腊。同时,对美国等进入老龄化社会的西方国家来说,观察日本局势的发展可能就像在水晶球里窥探本国经济的未来。 哥伦比亚大学国际和公共事务学院经济学家伊藤隆敏在周一举行的座谈会上指出,除非日本政府把消费税率从目前的8%提高到15%,否则日本就会在2021-2023年之间出现财政危机。这是因为随着人口继续老龄化,日本必须降低其声名远播的高储蓄率,而且日本公众届时将无力消化政府所背负的巨额债务。和希腊不同的是,日本政府可以随心所欲地通过印制日元来偿还债务,而承担这些债务的主要是日本的政府部门、银行和民众。因此,日本没有理由一定要违约。但伊藤隆敏认为,这种印钞行为将带来通胀危机,并让日本民众的生活水平大幅下降。致力于研究日本政治的学者杰拉德•柯蒂斯也在这次座谈会上发表了讲话。他认为,日本政府不会在短时间内把消费税率提高到15%。把该税率从8%上调至10%的计划已被首相安倍晋三推迟到了2017年,这表明安倍政府没有能力在国内推行如此不受欢迎的政策。柯蒂斯说:“在我看来,找到提高税率的办法非常困难。”如果伊藤和柯蒂斯所言无误,那就意味着日本将在短短几年内遭遇财政危机。其他人的态度则不那么肯定。二十年来,人口结构一直是日本的难题,这一点是毋庸置疑的。出生率低,再加上对移民的文化排斥,这让日本适龄劳动人口的减少速度达到了危险水平,不工作的退休人口(需要花费大量医疗保健资金)则不断增多。这种态势已经促使无数交易员做空日本债券。那么,为什么日本一直没有出现财政危机呢?对于伊藤隆敏等不断宣称这场危机已经迫在眉睫的预言家,我们是否应该相信呢?保罗•克鲁格曼等经济学家认为,目前日本的增长停滞和通缩问题已经非常严峻,在这种情况下,对可能在七年后出现的通胀危机感到担心可谓荒诞之极。同时,像长期通胀这类问题,或者对于日本来说是长期通缩问题,会出人意料地浮出水面,而且一旦有了这样的苗头,就很难予以遏制。当然,发达国家当前的主要问题是通缩,但伊藤的观点在于,如果国家长期以来仅依靠央行来还债,人们就会把他们的资金存放到别处。只要看看20世纪60年代和70年代的美国经济,就能明白长期通胀会多么迅速地演变为严重的经济问题。正如经济学家克里斯蒂娜•罗默在2007年发表的论文中所述,这一时期的通胀问题部分源于决策层对美国经济做出了过于乐观的预期。 鉴于发达国家生产率增速的不断下降以及日本人口的不断减少,因此,认为目前日本的经济增长率已经接近上限的想法是完全合乎情理的。对此,伊藤隆敏的观点是,人们应在推迟必做之事时慎之又慎,日本应马上提高税率,同时还应承认今后十年日本的经济表现并不会像想象的那样美好。 无论日本情况如何,美国和欧洲都应予以密切关注。这些经济体还必须应对增长缓慢和人口老龄化问题。政府支出和央行政策能在多大程度上解决这些问题呢?日本今后十年的局势应该会给我们一个明确的回答。 










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