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高盛的快樂 是納稅人的痛苦

(2009-07-18 05:45:02)
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杂谈

分类: PaulKrugman

Op-Ed Columnist

The Joy of Sachs

The American economy remains in dire straits, with one worker in six unemployed or underemployed. Yet Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis. What does this contrast tell us?

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.

Let’s start by talking about how Goldman makes money.

Over the past generation — ever since the banking deregulation of the Reagan years — the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” The business of moving money around, of slicing, dicing and repackaging financial claims, has soared in importance compared with the actual production of useful stuff. The sector officially labeled “securities, commodity contracts and investments” has grown especially fast, from only 0.3 percent of G.D.P. in the late 1970s to 1.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2007.

Such growth would be fine if financialization really delivered on its promises — if financial firms made money by directing capital to its most productive uses, by developing innovative ways to spread and reduce risk. But can anyone, at this point, make those claims with a straight face? Financial firms, we now know, directed vast quantities of capital into the construction of unsellable houses and empty shopping malls. They increased risk rather than reducing it, and concentrated risk rather than spreading it. In effect, the industry was selling dangerous patent medicine to gullible consumers.

Goldman’s role in the financialization of America was similar to that of other players, except for one thing: Goldman didn’t believe its own hype. Other banks invested heavily in the same toxic waste they were selling to the public at large. Goldman, famously, made a lot of money selling securities backed by subprime mortgages — then made a lot more money by selling mortgage-backed securities short, just before their value crashed. All of this was perfectly legal, but the net effect was that Goldman made profits by playing the rest of us for suckers.

And Wall Streeters have every incentive to keep playing that kind of game.

The huge bonuses Goldman will soon hand out show that financial-industry highfliers are still operating under a system of heads they win, tails other people lose. If you’re a banker, and you generate big short-term profits, you get lavishly rewarded — and you don’t have to give the money back if and when those profits turn out to have been a mirage. You have every reason, then, to steer investors into taking risks they don’t understand.

And the events of the past year have skewed those incentives even more, by putting taxpayers as well as investors on the hook if things go wrong.

I won’t try to parse the competing claims about how much direct benefit Goldman received from recent financial bailouts, especially the government’s assumption of A.I.G.’s liabilities. What’s clear is that Wall Street in general, Goldman very much included, benefited hugely from the government’s provision of a financial backstop — an assurance that it will rescue major financial players whenever things go wrong.

You can argue that such rescues are necessary if we’re to avoid a replay of the Great Depression. In fact, I agree. But the result is that the financial system’s liabilities are now backed by an implicit government guarantee.

Now the last time there was a comparable expansion of the financial safety net, the creation of federal deposit insurance in the 1930s, it was accompanied by much tighter regulation, to ensure that banks didn’t abuse their privileges. This time, new regulations are still in the drawing-board stage — and the finance lobby is already fighting against even the most basic protections for consumers.

If these lobbying efforts succeed, we’ll have set the stage for an even bigger financial disaster a few years down the road. The next crisis could look something like the savings-and-loan mess of the 1980s, in which deregulated banks gambled with, or in some cases stole, taxpayers’ money — except that it would involve the financial industry as a whole.

The bottom line is that Goldman’s blowout quarter is good news for Goldman and the people who work there. It’s good news for financial superstars in general, whose paychecks are rapidly climbing back to precrisis levels. But it’s bad news for almost everyone else.

 

美國經濟仍深陷困境,每六個勞工就有一個失業或未充分就業。但高盛公司才公布創新高的單季獲利,並準備大發紅利,與危機前的紅利不相上下。這麼大的對比透露了什麼?

首先,這透露了高盛幹得好。但很不幸,高盛的作為對美國不好。

第二,這透露了華爾街的壞習慣,尤其是助長這次金融危機的津貼制度,並未革除。

第三,這透露了華府只是拯救金融體系,而不做改革,未善盡預防另一次危機發生的責任,事實上,反而使危機發生的可能性更高。

先談談高盛如何賺錢。

過去一個世代,也就是自雷根時期放寬金融管制以來,美國經濟已被「金融化」了。相較於實質生產有用的東西,把錢搬來搬去、分割商品、孤注一擲和重新包裝金融債權事業的重要性大幅提高。正式名稱為「證券、商品期貨和投資」的行業,成長特別快速,從1970年代末僅占國內生產毛額(GDP)的0.3%,成長到2007年占GDP的1.7%。

如果金融化確實能達到其所承諾的目標,金融公司把資金投入最具生產力的用途,發展創新的擴展方式和降低風險,這樣的成長也不錯。但此時此刻,有誰能理直氣壯地這麼說?我們現在知道,金融公司把大量資金投入興建賣不出去的房子和蚊子購物中心。他們提高風險而非降低風險,集中風險而非分散風險。事實上,這個產業把危險的專利藥品賣給容易上當的消費者

高盛在美國金融化過程中的角色類似其他金融機構,除了一樣:高盛不相信其本身炒作的商品。其他銀行大量投資他們賣給大眾的有毒廢棄物。

高盛著名的操作手法是,一手銷售以次貸為擔保的證券,賺進大把鈔票,然後在這些證券價值崩跌前,再反手放空,賺進更多鈔票。所有手法都是完全合法,但結果是高盛靠著把我們其他人當傻子來賺錢。

華爾街人有各種誘因讓他們繼續玩這種遊戲。

高盛很快就要發放巨額紅利,顯示金融業的野心家仍在穩賺不賠的制度下運作。你若是銀行家,創造了可觀的短期獲利,並得到豐厚報酬,當這些獲利變成泡影,你也不必還錢。那麼你有各種理由鼓勵投資人去冒他們不了解的風險。

過去一年的事件更助長這些誘因,如果出了差錯,就把納稅人和投資人拖下水。

我不是要分析有關高盛從金融紓困得到多少直接好處的不同說法,尤其是政府承擔了AIG的負債(譯注:AIG把紓困金轉給高盛)。很明顯的,包括高盛在內的華爾街金融機構普遍得到政府防護網的巨大好處,也就是保證在情況不對時,政府將出手救各大金融機構。

你可以主張,我們若要避免大蕭條重演,這類紓困方案是必要的。我同意。但結果是金融體系的負債現在由政府暗中擔保。

上次出現這麼大規模的擴大金融安全網,是1930年代聯邦存保制度的建立,配套措施是更嚴格的法規,以確保銀行不會濫用特權。

這次,新法規還在紙上作業階段,金融遊說團體已開始對抗對消費者最基本的保護措施。

如果遊說成功,我們將為幾年後的更大金融災難鋪路。下次危機可能像1980年代的儲貸危機,在那次危機中,被放寬管制的銀行拿納稅人的錢做賭注,有些案例是竊取納稅人的錢,唯一不同的是,下次危機將涉及整個金融業。

高盛上季的噴出獲利對高盛和高盛員工來說是好消息。對金融界的超級明星也是好消息,他們的所得快速回到危機前的水準。但對其他幾乎所有人而言卻是壞消息。

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