《经济学人》:奥斯本的第二次预算报告
日期:2011-04-15 10:34

(单词翻译:单击)

Green shoots
继往开来

George Osborne’s second budget was quiet but creditable
奥斯本的第二次预算报告并不高调但做法可靠

SOME people think football is a matter of life and death; on the contrary, Bill Shankly, a legendary coach, once observed, it’s more important than that. Some people billed George Osborne’s budget on March 23rd as a matter of life and death for the government. It wasn’t: the coalition’s big decisions—and big gamble—were taken last year, when the chancellor of the exchequer set out his plan to eliminate Britain’s structural deficit during this parliament. This budget merely restated that commitment. But it also groped towards an answer to an even more important question. As Mr Osborne put it, how can Britain “earn its way in the modern world”? His response, like his plan for the deficit, is broadly right.

有人认为足球比赛乃生死对决;相反,传奇教练Bill Shankly却说,足球赛的意义远不止生死对决这么简单。有人把奥斯本3月23日公布的预算报告看作是决定本届政府存亡大局的关键。这种看法并不对。联合政府的关键性决定——也是赌得最大的一把——在去年财政大臣给出本届政府针对减少英国结构性赤字计划的时候就已成定局。这次的预算报告只是重申了那次的计划,但它也摸索着另外一个更重要的问题的答案。就像奥斯本说的,英国怎么才能“在当今世界赢得机会”呢?他的回答跟他针对减少赤字的计划一样,大致上是正确的。

Britain’s recovery has proved more fragile than Mr Osborne hoped last June, when he announced the fiercest public-spending squeeze in living memory, plus some tax rises to go with the ones bequeathed by Labour. The economy contracted by 0.6% in the last quarter of 2010 and growth in 2011 is projected to be only 1.7%. Meanwhile inflation has risen (to 4.4% in February), pushing up the welfare bill and putting pressure on household incomes. The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee is split on whether to raise interest rates, but it has got more hawkish. Mr Osborne could have softened the effect of a future interest-rate hike by loosening fiscal policy a jot. Yet by not loosening, he has made it more likely that the bank will delay putting up rates—and he has also maintained his deficit-reduction strategy. On balance he did the right thing.

事实证明,英国的经济复苏比奥斯本去年六月所希望的要不堪一击得多。当时他公布了人们记忆中最为大刀阔斧的公共支出紧缩计划,并在沿袭劳工党的税收政策基础上进一步提高了一些税收。英国经济在去年末季下滑了0.6%,而2011年的增长预期仅为1.7%。同时,上涨的通胀(2月份已上升至4.4%)推高了福利费用,并给居民收入施压。英国央行的货币政策委员会就是否调高利率问题立场不一,但整体上更倾向鹰派手腕。假设财政政策放松了一点,奥斯本就可以软化未来利率提升的效应。但他没有放松财政政策,这增加了央行延后调高利率计划的可能性,同时他自身减少赤字的战略也没有受到影响。总的来说他的做法是正确的。

Politically, that strategy is far from old news. Its real-world impact will begin to be felt only in full next month, when a gamut of tax rises, benefit cuts and public-sector pay freezes take effect. This week Mr Osborne announced some measures designed to make the squeeze look fairer, such as a new crackdown on tax evasion. He pinched North Sea oil companies by introducing a “fair-fuel stabiliser”, which will fund a deferral of rises in fuel duty (currently a big gripe in Britain as elsewhere) through an increased levy on oil production, so long as the oil price stays high. Bashing business is never good, but his swipes at the usual targets were relatively harmless.

从政治角度来讲,这种战略可不是什么老生常谈。它的整体现实影响至少要在下个月税率全部上升,福利减少还有公务员停止涨薪开始生效的时候才能被感觉出来。奥斯本本周宣布了一系列措施,比如新一轮的打击逃税行动,力图让停止涨薪显得公平一点儿。他盯住了北海的石油公司,推出“公平燃料稳定措施”。该措施规定,只要油价保持高位,石油生产就征收高税率,在燃料税调高(跟其他国家一样,这是当前英国的民怨所在)之前,这起措施会为政府筹集一定的资金。打击企业的成长一直以来都是错误的做法,但他所打击的常规目标相对来说没有受到什么伤害。

And compared with last year’s policies, they were trivial. This budget’s most interesting bits were the ones designed to rebuff those who say the government is better at inflicting pain than at fostering economic gain, and to help win Mr Osborne’s underlying bet: that the private sector will provide the growth and jobs to compensate for the state’s retrenchment.

跟去年相比,今年的这些政策简直微不足道。这次预算报告最有趣的部分就是那些严厉回绝政府造孽不造福说法的政策;为了让奥斯本的赌注赢得支持,报告称私营部门将会成为经济增长和制造就业机会的来源,抵消公共部门减裁带来的消极影响。

Growth is a trickier subject than cuts for governments in general and this one in particular. If a chancellor has the gumption—and Mr Osborne seems to—he can bend the public finances to his will. By contrast, he is likelier to hinder growth than cultivate it. Mr Osborne is anxious not to seem the dry neoliberal of caricature: his camp stresses his intellectual debt to Michael Heseltine, an interventionist Tory minister of the 1980s, as well as to Nigel Lawson, a tax-cutting Thatcherite chancellor. But a fully fledged industrial policy does not chime with the government’s world view as fixing the deficit does.

一般来说,经济增长这件事比缩减政府开支要困难一些,而当前的经济增长尤其困难。如果一个财政大臣够英明,奥斯本看起来挺英明,那么他应该想把公共财政怎么样就怎么样。与此相反,比起让经济增长,他倒更加可能妨碍增长。奥斯本对自己不像漫画中的新民主派人士表现得那般机敏感到十分焦虑:在支持团队中,他欠下的一些出谋划策人情债尤其突出,包括80年代的干涉派保守党财政大臣Micheal Heseltine,以及撒切尔执政期间支持减税的财政大臣Nigel Lawson. 但全方位的工业扶持政策并不能像修正财政赤字一样,与政府的世界观保持一致。

Some of what Mr Osborne had to say was depressingly familiar. A plan to create new “enterprise zones” might—or might not—prove more effective than similar, underwhelming efforts in the past. Promises to cut business regulations are good but in the past they have seldom been met. And his sensible bid to loosen up the sclerotic planning regime might be thwarted by nervous local councils.

奥斯本提到的一些做法已经让人耳朵听出了老茧。创建新型“企业区“的计划或许会,也或许不会比过去类似的平庸做法更加有效。减少商业法规的承诺是可取的,但按照过去的经验来看,也只是说说而已。他尝试放松计划过度的体制的想法虽然明智,却有可能受到对此感到紧张的地方行政的阻挠。

Mr Osborne’s basic message on growth, however, was that he wants to make Britain a better place to do business. He sees the global economy as a contest to attract increasingly mobile companies; as part of it, he announced that corporation tax would be cut faster than expected, plus some useful incentives for entrepreneurs and investors. (He also floated the idea of merging income tax and national insurance, a complicated ancillary tax: he should have just got on with it.) Like his populist fiddles, these measures were relatively modest, but their thrust was welcome: that Britain can only prosper as an open, trading nation with a thriving private sector.

然而,奥斯本关于经济增长传递出的基本信息是:他想让英国成为一个更加适合发展商业的地方。他将全球经济视为吸引移动性渐强的公司的一场比赛。包含其中的,不乏他宣布将比预期更快地消减企业税,并为企业家和投资人增加动力而推出鼓励政策的声明。(他还提出把收入税和国民保险合并成一种复杂的附属税的想法,他本应该继续坚持做下去。)跟他讨好平民的手段一样,这些措施相对温和,但其中的重点是受人欢迎的:英国只有依靠欣欣向荣的私营部门才能蓬勃发展,成为一个开放的贸易国度。

And a skilled workforce. One of the country’s biggest economic problems is the educational failure of a stubbornly large chunk of its population. Labour’s basic solution was to fix the symptoms of that failure, making exams and access to university easier. This week Mr Osborne found some money for new technical colleges—the hope being that vocational education will one day rival Germany’s, complementing the government’s broader school reforms. That is an even longer-term project than deficit reduction—but even more vital.

还需要技术劳动力。这个国家最大的经济问题之一就是一直没有教育好很大一部分人口。劳工党的基本方案是修正这种失败的表象,简易化试题和大学的入学途径。本周奥斯本为新的技校提供了部分资金,希望有一天职业教育会赶超德国,实现政府广义上的教育改革。这比起减少赤字是一项更加长远的项目,但也更加重要。

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重点单词
  • merelyadv. 仅仅,只不过
  • sensibleadj. 可察觉的,意识到的,实用的 n. 可感知物
  • budgetn. 预算 vt. 编预算,为 ... 做预算 vi.
  • insurancen. 保险,保险费,安全措施
  • contrastn. 差别,对比,对照物 v. 对比,成对照 [计算机]
  • bendv. 弯曲,使弯曲,屈服,屈从 n. 弯曲,弯曲物
  • impactn. 冲击(力), 冲突,影响(力) vt. 挤入,压紧
  • effectiveadj. 有效的,有影响的
  • populationn. 人口 ,(全体)居民,人数
  • eliminatev. 除去,剔除; 忽略