Monthly Archives: May 2010

杯具

前段时间投出去的几篇文章连续杯具,很沮丧。后来和一个大牛吃饭时提起了这事儿。大牛开导我说,不要depressed,即使是well-estabilished的人,一篇文章杯具2-3次都是很正常的。他说其实投稿有时候运气很重要。就像你把一块泥巴往墙上投,大部分时间都掉下来。但你不停地试,没准儿哪次就stick there了。我当时想问他有没有听说过“烂泥扶不上墙”的说法,苦于不知道英文怎么表达。
 
 

The ants and grasshoppers

An interesting article from Martin Wolf in today’s FT:
 
Martin Wolf: The grasshoppers and the ants – a modern fable

May 25 2010

Everybody in the west knows the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. The grasshopper is lazy and sings away the summer, while the ant piles up stores for the winter. When the cold weather comes, the grasshopper begs the ant for food. The ant refuses and the grasshopper starves. The moral of this story? Idleness brings want.

Yet life is more complex than in Aesop’s fable. Today, the ants are Germans, Chinese and Japanese, while the grasshoppers are American, British, Greek, Irish and Spanish. Ants produce enticing goods grasshoppers want to buy. The latter ask whether the former want something in return. “No,” reply the ants. “You do not have anything we want, except, maybe, a spot by the sea. We will lend you the money. That way, you enjoy our goods and we accumulate stores.”

Ants and grasshoppers are happy. Being frugal and cautious, the ants deposit their surplus earnings in supposedly safe banks, which relend to grasshoppers. The latter, in turn, no longer need to make goods, since ants supply them so cheaply. But ants do not sell them houses, shopping malls or offices. So grasshoppers make these, instead. They even ask ants to come and do the work. Grasshoppers find that with all the money flowing in, the price of land rises. So they borrow more, build more and spend more.

The ants look at the prosperity of grasshopper colonies and tell their bankers: “Lend even more to grasshoppers, since we ants do not want to borrow.” Ants are far better at making real products than at assessing financial ones. So grasshoppers discover clever ways of packaging their grasshopper loans into enticing assets for ant banks.

Now, the German ant nest is very close to some small colonies of grasshoppers. German ants say: “We want to be friends. So why do we not all use the same money? But, first, you must promise to behave like ants forever.” So grasshoppers have to pass a test: behave like ants for a few years. The grasshoppers do so and are then allowed to adopt the European money.

Everyone lives happily, for a while. The German ants look at their loans to grasshoppers and feel rich. Meanwhile, in grasshopper colonies, their governments look at their healthy accounts and say: “Look, we are better at sticking to the fiscal rules than ants.” Ants find this embarrassing. So they say nothing about the fact that wages and prices are rising fast in grasshopper colonies, making their goods more expensive, while lowering the real burden of interest, so encouraging yet more borrowing and building.

Wise German ants insist, gloomily, that “trees do not grow to the sky”. Land prices finally peak in the grasshopper colonies. Ant banks duly become nervous and ask for their money back. So grasshopper debtors are forced to sell. This creates a chain of bankruptcy. It also halts construction in the grasshopper colonies and grasshopper spending on ant goods. Jobs disappear in both grasshopper colonies and ant nests and fiscal deficits soar, especially in grasshopper colonies.

German ants realise that their stores of wealth are not worth much since grasshoppers cannot provide them with anything they want, except for cheap houses in the sun. Ant banks either have to write off bad loans or they must persuade ant governments to give even more ant money to the grasshopper colonies. Ant governments are afraid to admit that they have allowed their banks to lose the ants’ money. So they prefer the latter course, called a “bail-out”. Meanwhile, they order the governments of the grasshoppers to raise taxes and slash spending. Now, they say, you must really behave like ants. So the grasshopper colonies go into a deep recession. But grasshoppers still cannot make anything ants want to buy, because they do not know how to do so. Since grasshoppers can no longer borrow, to buy goods from ants, they starve. The German ants finally write off their loans to grasshoppers. But, having learnt little from this experience, they sell their goods, in return for yet more debt, elsewhere.

As it happens, in the wider world, there are other ant nests. Asia, in particular, is full of them. There is a rich nest, rather like Germany, called Japan. There is also a huge, but poorer, nest called China. These also want to become rich by selling goods to grasshoppers at low prices and building up claims on grasshopper colonies. The Chinese nest even fixes the foreign price of its currency at a level that guarantees the extreme cheapness of its goods. Fortunately, for the Asians, or so it seems, there happens to be a very big and exceptionally industrious grasshopper colony, called America. Indeed, the only way you would know it is a grasshopper colony is that its motto is: “In shopping we trust”. Asian nests develop a relationship with America similar to Germany’s with its neighbours. Asian ants build up piles of grasshopper debt and feel rich.

Yet there is a difference. When the crash comes to America and households stop borrowing and spending and the fiscal deficit explodes, the government does not say to itself: “This is dangerous; we must cut back spending.” Instead, it says: “We must spend even more, to keep the economy humming.” So the fiscal deficit becomes enormous.

This makes the Asians nervous. So the leader of China’s nest tells America: “We, your creditors, insist you stop borrowing, just as European grasshoppers are now doing.” The leader of the American colony laughs: “We did not ask you to lend us this money. In fact, we told you it was a folly. We are going to make sure American grasshoppers have jobs. If you do not want to lend us money, raise the price of your currency. Then we will make what we used to buy and you will no longer have to lend to us.” So America teaches creditors a lesson from a dead sage: “If you owe your bank $100, you have a problem; but if you owe $100m, it does.”

The Chinese leader does not want to admit that his nest’s huge pile of American debt is not going to be worth what it cost. Chinese people also want to go on making cheap goods for foreigners. So China decides to buy yet more American debt, after all. But, decades later, the Chinese finally say to the Americans: “Now we would like you to provide us with goods in return for your debt to us. Thereupon, the American grasshoppers laugh and promptly reduce the debt’s value. The ants lose the value off their savings and some of them then starve to death.

What is the moral of this fable? If you want to accumulate enduring wealth, do not lend to grasshoppers.

器官应该可以买卖么?

在大部分国家,买卖器官是非法的。曼昆的blog上最近讨论了纽约时报上的一个故事。1。好心人B向A捐赠了一个肾脏;2。一段时间后,B出现经济问题,住房要被银行没收。A考虑向B提供经济援助。在上面的这个例子其实近似于器官买卖。所谓买卖器官,就是通过市场来交换金钱和器官。在上面的例子中,肾脏和金钱在A和B之间进行了交换。
 
一直不太明白为什么器官,包括血液在美国是不能买卖的。看了一下纽约时报的文章,主要观点是买卖器官允许富人掠夺穷人的器官(” To permit such transactions is to allow those with money to harvest the organs of those without.“) 个人感觉这种argument可以应用到任何交换行为。你去上班,用劳动力交换金钱。所以资本家用金钱剥夺了你的劳动力。同样你去吃饭,按摩,你用金钱剥夺了厨师和按摩小姐的劳动。根据上面的逻辑,所有这些活动都要禁止。
 
对器官买卖的禁止造成了两个后果。1。器官的严重短缺;2。买卖器官的黑市。价格控制的两个直接表现。结果就是很多人在等待器官中死掉。同时由于黑市交易中交易的不透明,和交易成本的增加,出卖自己器官的人(往往是穷人)没办法获得自己应有的份额。这显然是一个lose-lose的结果。
 
反对器官买卖的人往往声称器官买卖对出卖器官的人不公平(unfair)。这只是一厢情愿的假设。在一个正常交易中(非强迫),只有当买卖双方都认为价格合理,公平时才能交易。有人愿意出卖自己的器官,证明金钱对他来说比器官更重要。比如说,一个人很穷,一直想作个小本儿生意改善自己的生活,但苦于没成本。如果可以出售器官,这个人可以通过出卖一个肾脏后获得的钱开始自己的小本儿生意,然后过上了小康生活。这种情况下,买卖器官的合法话显然对这个穷人是有帮助的。禁止买卖器官让这个穷人一直陷于贫穷,这种政策对穷人来说才真正是不公平的。

人民币汇率又有变数

前段时间中国在人民币升值的问题上有所松动。由于国内经济增长的出口的恢复,中国开始考虑升值人民币。但最近由于欧洲的希腊和其他“猪”国的债务危机,欧元针对美元一路贬值。从12月份的1欧元等于1。5美元到昨天的一欧元等于1。23美元,欧元贬值了将近20%。由于人民汇率捆绑在美元上,欧元对人民币在这段时间也贬值了近20%。如果我没记错的话,欧元区已经超过美国成为中国的第一大贸易伙伴。如果欧元正对美元进一步贬值,中国基本不会让人民币对美元再升值。不然人民对欧元将大幅度升值,短期内影响中国对欧洲的出口。而美国对人民币升值的政治压力仍然很大。由于经济情况没有明显改善,大众普遍感到失望和气愤,急需一只替罪羊来消气。政客们纷纷作出一付为民请命的样子,把华尔街和高收入人群往死里整。中国当然也是众矢之的。这种心态我看来是很不健康的。

价格控制

价格包括工资是经济调节的一个重要渠道。价格往往是深层经济问题的反映而以,试图通过控制价格来调整经济的政策往往带来负面效果。下面是最近JPE上一篇文章的摘要。英国公立医院里护士的工资由政府统一制定。文章发现护士工资的限制影响到了公立医院里护士的质量,从而提高的病人的死亡率。结果并不惊奇。问题是价格控制为什么广泛存在在政府政策中?
 

Can Pay Regulation Kill? Panel Data Evidence on the Effect of Labor Markets on Hospital Performance

Carol Propper

University of Bristol, Centre for Market and Public Organisation, Imperial College, and Centre for Economic Policy Research

John Van Reenen

London School of Economics, Centre for Economic Performance, National Bureau of Economic Research, and Centre for Economic Policy Research

In many sectors, pay is regulated to be equal across heterogeneous geographical labor markets. When the competitive outside wage is higher than the regulated wage, there are likely to be falls in quality. We exploit panel data from the population of English hospitals in which regulated pay for nurses is essentially flat across the country. Higher outside wages significantly worsen hospital quality as measured by hospital deaths for emergency heart attacks. A 10 percent increase in the outside wage is associated with a 7 percent increase in death rates. Furthermore, the regulation increases aggregate death rates in the public health care system.

学友哥的经典歌曲

张学友才是真正的一代歌王,经典太多,下面只是随便选的几首。 
 
 望月
 
分手总要在雨天
 
吻别
 
想和你去吹吹風
 
我等到花兒也謝了
 
只想一生跟你走
 
回頭太難

Should we blame China for US housing bubbles?

I was asked by a friend to give some comments on this paper: "Why are we in a recession? The Financial Crisis is the Symptom not the Disease!" by JKS
 
I know this paper for a while and I am pretty much annoyed by its "blaming China approach". Their story does not hold up on several aspects.
 
First, the US housing prices started to run up substantially in 2000. That is, the last round of housing bubbles started around that time. China’s CA was almost balanced at that moment, though it runs a surplus with the US. China started to run a large overall CA surplus only after 2005. In other words, China is not a net supplier of global credit until that moment. It is not likely that China has a large impact in "creating" the US housing bubbles, though it is likely that China helped to inflate the bubble to a new level after 2005. 
 
Second, the US CA deficits, at least before 2005, were mainly with advanced economies and oil exporting countries. Such CA deficits can be well justified by some standard international macro models. For instance, see Engel and Rogers (2006 JME)
link: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~cengel/PublishedPapers/CarnegieRochesterCAcct.pdf
If their explanation is correct, there is no clear linkage between CA deficit and housing bubbles before 2005.
 
Third, China mainly used its reserves to buy treasury bonds, not mortgage backed investment. So the main mechanism in JKS’ paper (in figure 1) is obviously misleading if not totally wrong.
 
The US housing bubble is more likely to be caused by the deregulation of the banking sector in 1990s, which lowers the borrowing costs, and the changes in Fannie Mae and Fredie Mac, which provided implicit government guarantees for mortgage lending to otherwise unqualified borrowers.
 
From Wikipedia:
 
"In 1999, Fannie Mae came under pressure from the Clinton administration to expand mortgage loans to low and moderate income borrowers by increasing the ratios of their loan portfolios in distressed inner city areas designated in the CRA of 1977. Because of the increased ratio requirements, institutions in the primary mortgage market pressed Fannie Mae to ease credit requirements on the mortgages it was willing to purchase, enabling them to make loans to subprime borrowers at interest rates higher than conventional loans. Shareholders also pressured Fannie Mae to maintain its record profits.[ "
 
 
Both of these factors lowered the cost of buying a house and pushed up the US housing prices. At least the timing of these two explanations is much better than the "blaming China approach".