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谢国忠

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麻省理工学院经济学博士

个性介绍: 1960年出生于上海,1983年毕业于上海同济大学路桥系,1987年获麻省理工学院土木工程学硕士,1990年获麻省理工学院经济学博士。同年加入世界银行,担任经济分析员。在世行的五年时间,谢国忠所参与的项目涉及拉美、南亚及东亚地区,并负责处理该银行于印尼的工商业发展项目,以及其他亚太地区国家的电讯及电力发展项目。1995年,加入新加坡的Macquarie Bank,担任企业财务部的联席董事。1997年加入摩根士丹利,任亚太区经济学家,2006年9月辞去该职务。

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谢国忠:灾难的启示  

2008-02-18 21:52:26|  分类: 财经专栏 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Truecolors show up during a crisis. It is true for a person or a country.The winter storms ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday were the firstserious test for China's economy since the SARS crisis in 2003. China'seconomy has expanded rapidly since the SARS crisis and, measured in USdollar terms, doubled since. On the positive side, China againdemonstrated its ability to respond to crisis by mobilizing nationalresources quickly. China's top-down command structure comes in handywhen the whole country needs to focus on one issue. All levels ofgovernment agencies and officials were directed to address theemergencies from the storms. Despite hundreds of millions strandedaround the country, the crisis passed without a major disturbance.

Thecrisis also reveals a weakness in China's economic management and amore serious weakness in China's development model. Despite thereputation for economic planning and concentration of economic powersin government agencies that plan, China's economic management has notbeen as forward looking as it should be. The storms, while severe bythe standards of recent years, are not out of ordinary by globalstandards. Northern Europe, North America, Japan or China's Northeastexperiences storms of such magnitude regularly. We don't see chaos likein China this time. The difference is in the ability of underlyinginfrastructure to handle shocks. China put up its vast infrastructurequickly in the past ten years. The planners didn't do a good job inbuilding a buffer for shock absorption into the system.

Thelack of foresight in economic planning has brought costs in other ways.Inflation anticipation, for example, was not very good. The economy wasgrowing very fast in recent years. It is conventional wisdom ineconomics that inflation is a lagging indicator in an economic cycle.However, the debates in China wasted precious time casting doubts onthe causality between growth and inflation. As high inflation takeshold, the credit growth rate is finally brought below nominal GDPgrowth rate, which implies tightening. During the period of tighteningbias, China must be patient in bringing down inflation. Inflation, onceestablished, cannot be brought down quickly. The policy goal should beto contain inflation expectation first and, through a tightening biasin credit policy, to guide inflation down gradually over the next threeyears.

The shortage of energy resourcespartially reflects lack of foresight in economic planning. China's coalindustry has been moving towards small scale mining, despite the riseof many big state-owned enterprises in the sector. The reason was therole of local authorities in granting mining franchises to connectedlocal businesses with little capital or mining expertise. It has led toan extremely fragmented, undercapitalized, and unsafe industry. Theindustry would have taken a different course if safety standards hadbeen enforced earlier. It would have driven out the undercapitalizedminers. The belated enforcement of mining safety standards has led toclosure of many small mines and temporary shortage of coal. The coalshortage during the storms has led to some arguing for reopening unsafemines. This would be a mistake. The current high price would graduallytrigger a supply response from big and safe mines. The government'sresponsibility is primarily to enforce industry standards. The pricemechanism can bring stability to the market overtime.

Amore strategic issue is why China didn't bet big on nuclear power. IfChina had pushed for nuclear power ten years ago, the energy situationwould be quite different today. Some may argue that hindsight is alsoperfect. However, China has so many economic planners who are supposedto have such foresights. Otherwise, why should we have economicplanners? The belated response for promoting nuclear power industry isstill insufficient. On the current trajectory, nuclear power wouldn'tbe a major factor in China's energy supply over the next twenty years.China's economic development is probably 80% complete by then. It makesa lot of sense to push nuclear power on a much bigger scale now. Chinahas a big current account surplus and has trouble handing escalatingforeign exchange reserves. Why not invest much more on importingnuclear technology? As an aside, China should buy major stakes in thecurrent big players in nuclear power industry. When iron ore price waslow, China didn't bother buying up the resources. Now it costs more andmore as China wants it. This is another responsibility-securing whatChina needs in future that China's economic planners have not done well.

China'seconomic planning system is good at implementing projects andresponding to crisis. It is less impressive in anticipating crisis. Theproblem lies in China's yes-man intellectual culture. Chineseintellectual tradition is the pursuit of political power. Learning isabout climbing the bureaucratic ladder. Hence, intellectuals tend tobend for prevailing wind; nothing can be gained by saying somethingdifferent from what the decision makers want to hear. Hence, despiteits size, the opinions in China often coalesce in a narrow range. Thisculture is good for supporting a powerful government, which bringscertain advantages in managing the economy. Its downside is lack offorward looking initiatives that may not popular now but are vital inthe future. Strengthening intellectual independence is the key toeffective economic planning in China.

Aseconomic planning is not as effective as we had hoped, China shoulddepend more on market force to manage the economy. The principle foreconomic planning should be that economic planners can prove that theycan do better than market. The pricing of food and energy products isat the heart of China's economy today. These two sectors arecontributing big time to China's inflation. Should we keep their pricesdown by force such as administrative fiats or let the high prices toelicit a supply response to cool prices? Some believe that the firstapproach would prolong rapid growth by keeping inflation down by force.However, as low prices suppress supply responses, inflation will onlyget worse down the road. Price control is a painkiller that doesn'tcure. Conventional economics suggests that the right approach is tohold down inflationary pressure by keeping credit growth below nominalGDP growth and to allow high prices of inflating products to elicitsupply and demand responses to restore balance. High growth can resumeonce the market has restored supply-demand balance. The conventionalapproach arises out of economic management in many countries and overfive decades. China, I suggest, should not reinvent the wheel.

Theabove issues pale in comparison to what the storms reveal about thefundamental weakness in China's economic development model. Cheap laborfuels China's economic development. The main source of cheap labor isthe migrant workers from the countryside. They work at export factoriesand build infrastructure that support these factories. However, afterthree decades of economic development, they are still called migrantworkers. They are not rooted in cities and return to their villagesduring Chinese New Year to feel at home. This is not normal.Industrialization and urbanization in other countries saw similarmigrant workers in early stages of development. But, migrant workersbecame rooted quickly. Expensive housing and household registrationsystem are the key impediments to rooting the migrant workers inChina's urbanization.

When one travelsthrough Mexico City or Mumbai, one disturbing sign is the sprawl ofurban slums. They are blights on their cities and are often dangerousto their inhabitants or intruders. Chinese cities had such slums before1949. Housing development since had cut down their sizes considerably.The new slums have not emerged. This is why Chinese cities look firstworld rather than third world cities. However, slums are an importantpart of urbanization. As migrant workers earn low wages, they can'tafford modern housing for their families. The slums offer cheap housingfor their families to become rooted in cities. If their children canget proper education, which is not the case in many developingcountries, they could get high income jobs and move into modernhousing. Of course, without a property education policy, the slumdwellers can get trapped.

To rid of slums,China is paying a high price. The migrant workers often have a bed atfactory dormitories or temporary housing at construction sites. Theyhave no place for their families. Hence, their children are left behindin villages with their grand parents. Their children, therefore, don'tgrow up in cities and, when grown up, could become migrant workersagain. These workers often put their hard earned money into building adream house in their villages. It is probably a waste. Neither they northeir children would be living in the villages. The jobs are in bigcities.

I am not advocating bringing backthe slums. There are alternatives to make China's urbanization morerooted. The current situation is not only undesirable, but may beunstable. While I admire those who brave the storms to go home, it isnot right for hundreds of millions of people not to feel at home wherethey work and spend most of their time. At some point, they becomeresentful that they don't have a proper place to stay in the cities andall the buildings that they have built are sold at high prices to aminority for collection and then left empty.

Thesolution is to vastly expand rental properties. It is possible to keepthe total development cost of such rental properties at Rmb 2,000/sq m,as long as local governments don't charge for land. At 5% rental yield,it is viable to set rents at Rmb 8/sq m month. If a migrant familyrequires 60 sq m, the total rent would be less than Rmb 200/month,which a migrant family can afford in most big cities. Of course, suchrental properties should have proper transportation infrastructure forthem to commute to work.

China is not shortof money for such a housing program. If five hundred million need tosettle in such housing, the total supply should be 10 billion sq m at atotal cost of Rmb 20 trillion (83% of 2007 GDP). The program can bestretched over 15 years or at 666 mn sq m/year, costing less than 5% of2008 GDP. China's current account surplus was close to 10% of GDP lastyear. This surplus capital could be spent on building low cost housing.China essentially needs to spend half of its capital surplus on such ahousing program that would ensure China's urbanization successful.China's GDP doubles every seven years. The cost of such a program hencehalves to 2.5% of GDP in 2015 and 1.3% of GDP in 2022. China can affordto house its people. Determination, not money, is the issue.

Sucha vast program requires a strong central authority to administer. TheUntied States established the Department of Housing and UrbanDevelopment to administer such a housing program during itsurbanization. China could consider adopting a similar administrativesystem to lead the country's urbanization. To support urbanization andindustrialization, China should also establish the Ministry ofTransportation and the Ministry of Energy. At present, all thesefunctions reside within the National Development and Reform Commission.Concentrating so much power within one organization may not be soefficient. Neither Japan nor Korea had so much power concentration inone organization.

While housing is themost pressing issue in rooting China's urbanization, education is farmore important in ensuring its long-term success. Only the education ofthe next generation could remove the difference between locals andoutsiders. Migrant should cease to be in the vocabulary in the nextgeneration. When the children of the migrant workers grow up collegeeducated and compete for white-collar jobs, urbanization or economicdevelopment has succeeded. This is by far the most important hurdle ina country's development success. Japan and Korea made that transitionvery successfully. Brazil or Mexico didn't. China should follow theexamples of the former and avoid the fate of the later.

Householdregistration system is a massive hurdle in China's urbanization. After1949, China established the system to stop rural urban migration, asthe economy was not able to create jobs. Over several decades, thesystem created a vast gulf between urban and rural populations. The twoworlds only met when the economic reforms brought migrant workers intofactories to fuel China's export-led development. Because the livingstandards had become so different between rural and urban residents,the cities couldn't integrate the rural migrants into the urban system,fearing the high costs. Social security, education and healthcarebenefits that cover urban residents incur high costs. If migrantworkers can enjoy the same, all villagers would pour into cities thatwould face certain bankruptcies.

The UnitedStates faces a similar problem. Twelve millions of illegal immigrantsfrom Mexico are part of the US economy. Their status disqualifies themfrom social benefits like social security or Medicare. In some states,their children are not allowed to enter public schools. If the USgrants the benefits for citizens to such illegal immigrants, all theMexicans would come and overwhelm the welfare system in the US.However, the US offers amnesties to illegal immigrants from time totime, which offers citizenships to those who have been in the countryfor many years. After working for so many years without welfare, theyhave already contributed enough to the system. Hence, their eligibilityfor welfare would not overwhelm the system.

MaybeChina should consider a similar system. For those who have alreadyworked in a city for ten years, local authorities could recognize themas normal urban citizens and entitled to the same benefits as such. Idon't know how many may quality. Maybe 100 million. As urban schoolsare facing dwindling demand due to the one child policy, this changeprobably wouldn't overwhelm the education system. In terms ofhealthcare, Chinese hospitals are already charging for most servicesanyway. In terms of minimum living standard benefit, there could be aperiod of waiting before the new residents can quality.

Acrisis can turn into an opportunity. The storms have revealed China'sstrengths and weaknesses. If the lessons can be learnt, it wouldstrengthen the robustness of China's development. China's goal shouldbe to eliminate the difference between migrants and locals. When thefamilies of migrant workers live in cities and spend their New Year'sholiday where they work, China's development would have succeeded.



灾难的启示(译文)

谢国忠/文《财经》杂志   [2008-02-18]
谢国忠搜狐博客 http://xieguozhong.blog.sohu.com/

雪灾中,中国展示了在全国范围内迅速调配资源以应对危机的能力,但危机也暴露中国经济发展模式中更根本的缺陷

      危难之中,方显本色。一个人是如此,一个国家也是如此。春节前后的一场冰雪灾害,是SARS以来中国面临的首次严峻考验。SARS后中国经济迅速增长,若以美元计,已比当时翻了一番。从积极的方面看,中国再次展示了在全国范围内迅速调配资源以应对危机的能力。中国自上而下的决策机制,在这种需要全国一心的时刻显示了优势。
 
计划的短视
  但这场危机也暴露了中国经济管理的弱点,以及发展模式中更根本的缺陷。中国的经济计划及经济权力的集中都名声在外,但中国的经济管理却不够有远见。
       这场雪灾虽是多年不遇,但以全球标准衡量,并非特别罕见。北欧、北美、日本等都时常经历这种程度的风雪,但并未出现此次中国的混乱。区别就在于处理危机的基础机制。过去十年,中国大兴基础设施建设,决策者却未能在其体系中设置一个好的缓冲机制以应对危机。
  经济计划的缺乏远见也造成了其他方面的代价。例如,对于通胀的预计就不理想。学习经济学的人都应该知道,通胀是经济周期中一个滞后指标。但在中国,很多人却把宝贵的时间浪费在争论增长与通胀的因果关系上。高通胀率出现时,信贷增长率被降到名义GDP增长率之下,这就意味着紧缩。在紧缩期间,中国必须有耐心,才能降低通胀。因为通胀一旦发生,是不可能很快降低的。政府的政策目标应该是,首先通过信贷紧缩限制住通胀预期,然后在未来三年内引导通胀率逐渐下降。
  能源短缺也部分地反映了经济计划的短视。虽然有不少大型国有企业成长起来,但总体来说,中国的煤炭行业还一直是朝小规模采矿的方向发展。原因就在于,地方政府授予煤矿开采权的那些地方企业,资产规模小,缺乏开采的专业经验。这个行业变得极端分散、资本不足,也很不安全。如果更早就开始实行安全标准,煤炭行业会走上一条完全不同的道路,也许就不会有今天这么多资金不足的矿主。采矿安全标准姗姗来迟后,许多小煤矿被关闭,导致了暂时性的缺煤。雪灾来临之时,有些人又提出要重新开放那些不安全的煤窑。但这是错的。在现今的高价刺激下,那些大型的、安全的煤矿会逐渐增加供给。政府的责任首先在于加强安全标准,至于市场的稳定,价格机制能够办到。
  还有一个更为战略性的问题是,中国为何不发展核能?如果中国十年前就开始行动,今天的能源形势将大为不同。也许有人说,后见之明也不错。但是,中国有这么多的经济计划者,他们应该有此先知先觉。核能工业的推动已经晚了一步,也还不够充分。沿现有轨道发展,再过20年,核能也难以成为中国主要的能源供应部门,而那时中国的经济发展道路可能已经走过了80%。现在花大力气来促进核能的更大规模发展,是很有意义的。
      中国有庞大的经常账户盈余和日益上升、难以处理的外汇储备,为什么不多投资于核能技术的进口呢?中国还应多买入那些核能工业巨头的股票。铁矿石价格低廉时,中国没有买进。现在价格上涨,中国又想买了。保障中国未来所需,这是经济计划者们的另一个责任,却没有履行好。
  中国的经济计划体系在项目实施和应对危机方面做得不错,但在预计危机方面就不那么突出了。中国人口虽多,民意却往往局限于一个狭窄的范围内。这种文化有助于支撑起强势政府,在管理经济方面有一定优势。但另一方面,它也导致了前瞻性动机的缺乏。这种前瞻也许现在不受欢迎,但对未来却至关重要。在某种程度上,加强知识分子的独立性,是保证中国经济计划有效性的关键。
  既然经济计划不尽如人意,中国就应该更多地依靠市场力量来管理经济。经济计划的原则应该是,经济计划者证明他们能比市场做得更好。食品和能源的定价是今天中国经济的核心,这两个部门是通胀的主要因素。是应该通过行政指令之类的做法来压低价格,还是让高价引起供给上升,从而使价格下降呢?有人认为,第一种方法通过压制通胀,能够延长经济的快速增长。但其实,由于低价抑制了供给面的反应,通胀状况只会越来越糟。价格控制只能治标,不能治本。
  经济学常识告诉我们,正确的方法是通过将信贷增长控制在名义GDP增长速度之下,来应对通胀压力,并允许通胀商品的高价来引发供给和需求的反应,从而重建平衡。只要市场能够回到供求平衡,高增长就能够继续。过去50年,许多国家的经济管理都获得了这样的经验,中国还是不要另起炉灶为好。
 
住房最紧要
  比起这场雪灾暴露出的中国经济发展模式的根本缺陷,以上这些问题可能都不算什么。低廉的劳动力推动了中国经济发展,而低廉劳动力的主要来源是农民工。他们是外贸工厂的工人,也是各种基础设施的建设者。然而,在30年的经济发展之后,他们仍然被称为“农民工”。他们不能在城里扎根,每到春节,他们就要返乡,因为家乡才有“家”的感觉。这很不正常。其他国家的工业化和城市化过程中,经济发展早期也有大量这样的外来务工人员,但他们能够迅速扎根。中国的城市化中,高房价和户口体制,已成为外来务工人员在城市扎根的最关键障碍。
  如果到墨西哥城或是孟买看一看,你会看到城市贫民窟中种种令人不安的景象。然而,贫民窟却是城市化的重要部分。由于外来工人工资较低,他们没有能力负担那些现代化的住宅。贫民窟为他们及其家人提供了价格低廉的住宅,帮助他们在城市扎根。如果他们的孩子能够得到适当的教育,那么他们就能找到高收入的工作,然后搬到现代化的住宅中去。当然,如果没有合理的教育政策,贫民窟的居民可能掉进贫困“陷阱”。
  中国为消灭贫民窟付出了很高的代价。农民工往往在工厂宿舍有一个床位,或是住在建筑工地的工棚里,他们没有地方来给他们的家人居住。所以,他们的孩子只能留在乡下跟祖父母生活。这些孩子并不成长于城市,而当他们成长起来后,很可能还是农民工。农民工们挣了钱,最大的梦想就是在老家盖一所大房子。这可能是一种浪费,因为工作机会都在大城市,他们跟他们的孩子可能都不会住在乡村。
  我并不是支持重建贫民窟,进一步深化中国的城市化还有其他选择。但现在的情况不仅是令人不满,还会引发不稳定。虽然我很钦佩那些冒着大风雪赶回家的人,但数以亿计的人都对他们工作和度过大部分时间的地方没有归属感,这不是一个好现象。甚至,他们可能心生怨恨——在偌大的城市中没有栖身之地,他们建起来的所有楼房都被高价售给少部分炒房人,然后空置在那儿。
  对此,解决方案是大规模发展廉租房。只要地方政府不对土地收费,就可能把此类房的开发成本控制在每平方米2000元。假设收益率5%,那么租金就可以设在每月每平方米8元。假设一个外来务工家庭需要60平方米,那么每月租金就不到500元,这是大部分大城市的外来务工家庭能够承受的。当然,这样的房子必须配以适当的交通设施,以便居住者上下班。
  要发展这样的房产项目,中国并不缺钱。假设有5亿人需要这样的住房,也就是需要大约100亿平方米的总供给,价钱大约是20万亿元(2007年GDP的83%)。这样的计划可以历时15年,也就是每年6亿多平方米,花费还不到2008年GDP的5%。中国2007年的经常账户盈余将近GDP的10%,应该把这些盈余用来建低价房。花费一半的盈余来发展这样的房产项目,从而保证中国城市化的成功,着实必要。中国GDP每七年就翻一番,到2015年,此项目的花费就只占GDP的2.5%;到2022年,不过1.3%。中国付得起这笔钱。问题不在钱,而在决心。
  这样庞大的工程需要一个强大的中央政府来管理。美国在城市化过程中,为管理类似的住房项目,设立了住房和城市发展部。中国可以考虑采用一个相似的管理机制,来引导中国的城市化。而为了支持城市化和工业化,交通和能源方面也应该有相应举措。现在,这些都属于发改委的管辖范围。在一个机构中集中这么多权力是不够有效率的。即便日本和韩国,都没有在一个机构中集中过这么多的权力。
 
户口问题求解
  住房是深化中国城市化进程最为紧迫的问题,但对于长远的成功,更为重要的是教育。只有对下一代的教育,才能消除当地人和外地人的差别。农民工在下一代人的词汇中应该消失。只有当农民工子女能够接受大学教育,并且竞争白领职位时,城市化或者说经济发展,才算是成功了。这是目前对于中国发展成功最重要的障碍。日本和韩国都非常成功地实现了过渡,巴西和墨西哥则没有。中国应该学习前者,避免重蹈后者的覆辙。
  户口体制是对中国城市化的巨大障碍。1949年后,中国建立了这样的体制来阻止农村人口涌入城市,因为当时的经济无法提供足够的工作岗位。几十年以后,这样的体制产生了一个横贯于农村和城市之间的巨大鸿沟。只有改革开放后,城市里的工厂需要招募农民工来发展生产、促进外向型经济的时候,这两个世界才相连接。但因为城乡生活水平的差距已如此之大,城市更不愿让农民工融入进来。因为城镇人口所享受的社会保障、教育和医疗都将引致高成本,如果农民工能享受到同等待遇,所有农村人口都将涌入城市,城市有可能面临破产。
  美国面临相似的问题。来自墨西哥的1200万非法移民构成了美国经济的一部分。他们的社会地位使他们没有资格享受社会保障或医疗等福利。在美国的一些州,他们的孩子不允许进入公立学校学习。如果美国对这些非法移民授以公民权,所有墨西哥人可能都会涌入美国,美国的福利体系将不堪重负。
但是,美国不时会对非法移民进行大赦,使那些在美国生活多年的人得到公民身份。在没有社会福利的条件下工作了这么多年,他们已经对社会体系做了足够的贡献。因此,他们享有社会福利,不会给该体系造成重压。
  或许中国也应考虑建立一个类似的体系。对那些在城市工作满十年的农民工,当地政府可以承认他们是一般城市居民,并据此为他们提供福利。我不知道有多少人够格,也许会有1亿人。教育方面,这一改变也不会压垮教育系统,因为城市学校由于独生子女政策正面临生源缩减。医疗保障方面也如此,因为医院已经在大多数服务中收费了。而在最低生活保障方面,这些新居民要享有该福利可能还要等一段时间。
  转危为机是可能的。这场冰雪灾难揭示了中国的长处和弱点。如果吸取经验教训,中国的发展将会更加稳健。中国的目标,应该是消除农民工和当地居民之间的差异。农民工家庭也能住在城里,也能在工作地过年的那一天,中国的发展才算成功。■ 


  作者为《财经》杂志特约经济学家、玫瑰石顾问公司董事

谢国忠搜狐博客 http://xieguozhong.blog.sohu.com/

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