將資本主義危機歸咎於全球金融和高得離譜的高管薪酬實在太 簡單了。從更深的層面上講，此次危機標志著消費者和投資者對勞動者和公民的勝利。既然我們大部分人都兼屬這四種角色，那麽真正的危機集中在：作為消費者和 投資者時，我們越來越容易達成劃算的買賣，而作為勞動者和公民時，我們讓自己的聲音獲得重視的能力則越來越弱。
還 有一些劃算的交易違背了社會風化。我們之所以能購得低價商品或者獲得高回報，或許是因為生產商通過在南亞或非洲雇傭童工、或者迫使人們在極端惡劣的工作環 境下工作而削減了成本。這些童工一周工作7天，每天工作12個小時。作為勞動者或公民時，我們大多數人並不是有意選擇這些結果的，但我們對此應負有責任。
即便我們完全認識到了這些後果，但我們仍會選擇最佳交易，因為我們知道其他消費者和投資者也會這麽做。單個個體為了“社會責任感”而放棄劃算的交易 幾乎毫無意義，也不會產生什麽效果。一些企業以自己的商品和服務都是以一種負責任的方式生產的為榮，但我們大多數人還是不願為負責任的產品額外付費。就連 消費者的抵制和具有社會責任感的投資基金也無法抗拒低價的誘惑。
平衡消費者和投資者需求與勞動者和公民需求的最佳方式，一直是通過塑造和約束市場的民主制度。法律法規為就業和薪資、社區以及環境提供了一定的保 護。盡管此類法規由於妨礙了我們獲得最佳交易，可能讓作為消費者和投資者的我們增加了成本，但這些成本與作為社會成員的我們願意為其它這些價值犧牲的利益 大體相當。
就這樣，企業資金正以向消費者和投資者提供更好交易的名義 破壞民主制度。競選捐款、成群的收入豐厚的游說者，以及企業資助的、為公共事務展開的公關運動，使得立法機構、議會、監管機構以及國際團體根本無能力反映 勞動者和公民的價值。美國最高法院甚至判定，按照《憲法第一修正案》(First Amendment to the Constitution)的規定，金錢相當於演講，企業相當於人民，這就為金錢參與政治打開了閥門。
結果是，消費者和投資者表現越來越不俗，但就業不安全感上升，社會差距日益拉大，社區變得更加不穩定，氣候變化也在惡化。所有這些結果都無法長期持 續，但迄今仍沒有任何人找到讓資本主義回歸平衡的方式。你可以隨心所欲地指責全球金融和世界各地的企業，但請把一些指責留給那些貪得無厭的消費者和投資者 吧——這些人幾乎存在於我們每個人心中，每個人都是共犯。
註：本文作者是美國加州大學伯克利分校(University of California at Berkeley)公共政策教授，曾在美國比爾•克林頓(Bill Clinton)政府擔任勞工部長。
Insatiable consumers are undermining democracy
It is far too easy to blame the crisis of capitalism on global finance and sky-high executive salaries. At a deeper level the crisis marks the triumph of consumers and investors over workers and citizens. And since most of us occupy all four roles, the real crisis centres on the increasing efficiency by which we as consumers and investors can get great deals, and our declining capacity to be heard as workers and citizens.
Modern technologies allow us to shop in real time, often worldwide, for the lowest prices, highest quality, and best returns. Through the internet we can now get relevant information instantaneously, compare deals, and move our money at the speed of electronic impulses. Consumers and investors have never been so empowered.
Yet these great deals come at the expense of our jobs and wages, and widening inequality. The goods we want or the returns we seek can often be produced more efficiently elsewhere by companies offering lower pay and fewer benefits. They come at the expense of main streets, the hubs of our communities.
Great deals can also have devastating environmental consequences. Technology allows us to efficiently buy low-priced items from poor nations with scant environmental standards, sometimes made in factories that spill toxic chemicals into water supplies or release pollutants into the air. We shop for cars that spew carbon into the air and for airline tickets in jet planes that do even worse.
Other great deals offend common decency. We may get a low price or high return because a producer has cut costs by hiring children in South Asia or Africa who work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Or by subjecting people to death-defying working conditions. As workers or as citizens most of us would not intentionally choose these outcomes but we are responsible for them.
Even if we are fully aware of these consequences, we still opt for the best deal because we know other consumers and investors will also do so. It makes little sense for a single individual to forgo a great deal in order to be “socially responsible” with no effect. Some companies pride themselves on selling goods and services produced in responsible ways but most of us don’t want to pay extra for responsible products. Not even consumer boycotts and socially-responsible investment funds trump the lure of a bargain.
The best means of balancing the demands of consumers and investors against those of workers and citizens has been through democratic institutions that shape and constrain markets. Laws and rules offer some protection for jobs and wages, communities, and the environment. Although such rules are likely to be costly to us as consumers and investors because they stand in the way of the very best deals, they are intended to approximate what we as members of a society are willing to sacrifice for these other values.
But technologies are outpacing the capacities of democratic institutions to counterbalance them. For one thing, national rules intended to protect workers, communities, and the environment typically extend only to a nation’s borders. Yet technologies for getting great deals enable buyers and investors to transcend borders with increasing ease, at the same time making it harder for nations to monitor or regulate such transactions.
Goals other than the best deals are less easily achieved within the confines of a single nation. The most obvious example is the environment, whose fragility is worldwide. In addition, corporations routinely threaten to move jobs and businesses away from places that impose higher costs on them – and therefore, indirectly, on their consumers and investors – to more “business friendly” jurisdictions.
Finally, corporate money is undermining democratic institutions in the name of better deals for consumers and investors. Campaign contributions, fleets of well-paid lobbyists, and corporate-financed PR campaigns about public issues are overwhelming the capacities of legislatures, parliaments, regulatory agencies, and international bodies to reflect the values of workers and citizens. The US Supreme Court has even decided that, under the First Amendment to the Constitution, money is speech and corporations are people, thereby opening the floodgates to money in politics.
As a result, consumers and investors are doing increasingly well but job insecurity is on the rise, inequality is widening, communities are becoming less stable, and climate change is worsening. None of this is sustainable over the long term but no one has yet figured out a way to get capitalism back into balance. Blame global finance and worldwide corporations all you want. But save some of your blame for the insatiable consumers and investors inhabiting almost every one of us, who are entirely complicit.
The writer is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and was US secretary of labour under president Bill Clinton
ROBERT B. REICH 賴克 是近數十年的美國著名社會觀察家
By ROBERT B. REICH
Reviewed by SEBASTIAN MALLABY
The Clinton-era labor secretary Robert B. Reich fears that inevitable national belt-tightening could trigger a political convulsion.
By ROBERT B. REICH
Published: September 24, 2010
Chapter One: Eccles's Insight
The Federal Reserve Board, arguably the most powerful group of economic decision-makers in the world, is housed in the Eccles Building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. A long, white, mausoleum-like structure, the building is named after Marriner Eccles, who chaired the Board from November 1934 until April 1948. These were crucial years in the history of the American economy, and the world's.
While Eccles is largely forgotten today, he offered critical insight into the great pendulum of American capitalism. His analysis of the underlying economic stresses of the Great Depression is extraordinarily, even eerily, relevant to the Crash of 2008. It also offers if not a blueprint for the future, at least a suggestion of what to expect in the coming years.
A small, slender man with dark eyes and a pale, sharp face, Eccles was born in Logan, Utah, in 1890. His father, David Eccles, a poor Mormon immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland, had come to Utah, married two women, became a businessman, and made a fortune. Young Marriner, one of David's twenty-one children, trudged off to Scotland at the start of 1910 as a Mormon missionary but returned home two years later to become a bank president. By age twenty-four he was a millionaire; by forty he was a tycoon — director of railroad, hotel, and insurance companies; head of a bank holding company controlling twenty-six banks; and president of lumber, milk, sugar, and construction companies spanning the Rockies to the Sierra Nevadas.
In the Crash of 1929, his businesses were sufficiently diverse and his banks adequately capitalized that he stayed afloat financially. But he was deeply shaken when his assumption that the economy would quickly return to normal was, as we know, proved incorrect. "Men I respected assured me that the economic crisis was only temporary," he wrote, "and that soon all the things that had pulled the country out of previous depressions would operate to that same end once again. But weeks turned to months. The months turned to a year or more. Instead of easing, the economic crisis worsened." He himself had come to realize by late 1930 that something was profoundly wrong, not just with the economy but with his own understanding of it. "I awoke to find myself at the bottom of a pit without any known means of scaling its sheer sides.... I saw for the first time that though I'd been active in the world of finance and production for seventeen years and knew its techniques, I knew less than nothing about its economic and social effects." Everyone who relied on him — family, friends, business associates, the communities that depended on the businesses he ran — expected him to find a way out of the pit. "Yet all I could find within myself was despair."
When Eccles's anxious bank depositors began demanding their money, he called in loans and reduced credit in order to shore up the banks' reserves. But the reduced lending caused further economic harm. Small businesses couldn't get the loans they needed to stay alive. In spite of his actions, Eccles had nagging concerns that by tightening credit instead of easing it, he and other bankers were saving their banks at the expense of community — in "seeking individual salvation, we were contributing to collective ruin."
Economists and the leaders of business and Wall Street — including financier Bernard Baruch; W. W. Atterbury, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad; and Myron Taylor, chairman of the United States Steel Corporation — sought to reassure the country that the market would correct itself automatically, and that the government's only responsibility was to balance the federal budget. Lower prices and interest rates, they said, would inevitably "lure 'natural new investments' by men who still had money and credit and whose revived activity would produce an upswing in the economy." Entrepreneurs would put their money into new technologies that would lead the way to prosperity. But Eccles wondered why anyone would invest when the economy was so severely disabled. Such investments, he reasoned, "take place in a climate of high prosperity, when the purchasing power of the masses increases their demands for a higher standard of living and enables them to purchase more than their bare wants. In the America of the thirties what hope was there for developments on the technological frontier when millions of our people hadn't enough purchasing power for even their barest needs?"
There was a more elaborate and purportedly "ethical" argument offered by those who said nothing could be done. Many of those business leaders and economists of the day believed "a depression was the scientific operation of economic laws that were God-given and not man-made. They could not be interfered with." They said depressions were phenomena like the one described in the biblical story of Joseph and the seven kine, in which Pharaoh dreamed of seven bountiful years followed by seven years of famine, and that America was now experiencing the lean years that inevitably followed the full ones. Eccles wrote, "They further explained that we were in the lean years because we had been spendthrifts and wastrels in the roaring twenties. We had wasted what we earned instead of saving it. We had enormously inflated values. But in time we would sober up and the economy would right itself through the action of men who had been prudent and thrifty all along, who had saved their money and at the right time would reinvest it in new production. Then the famine would end."
Eccles thought this was nonsense. A devout Mormon, he saw that what passed for the God-given operation of economics "was nothing more than a determination of this or that interest, specially favored by the status quo, to resist any new rules that might be to their disadvantage." He wrote, "It became apparent to me, as a capitalist, that if I lent myself to this sort of action and resisted any change designed to benefit all the people, I could be consumed by the poisons of social lag I had helped create." Eccles also saw that "men with great economic power had an undue influence in making the rules of the economic game, in shaping the actions of government that enforced those rules, and in conditioning the attitude taken by people as a whole toward those rules. After I had lost faith in my business heroes, I concluded that I and everyone else had an equal right to share in the process by which economic rules are made and changed." One of the country's most powerful economic leaders concluded that the economic game was not being played on a level field. It was tilted in favor of those with the most wealth and power.
Eccles made his national public debut before the Senate Finance Committee in February 1933, just weeks before Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as president. The committee was holding hearings on what, if anything, should be done to deal with the ongoing economic crisis. Others had advised reducing the national debt and balancing the federal budget, but Eccles had different advice. Anticipating what British economist John Maynard Keynes would counsel three years later in his famous General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Eccles told the senators that the government had to go deeper into debt in order to offset the lack of spending by consumers and businesses. Eccles went further. He advised the senators on ways to get more money into the hands of the beleaguered middle class. He offered a precise program designed "to bring about, by Government action, an increase of purchasing power on the part of all the people."
Eccles arrived at these ideas not by any temperamental or cultural affinity — he was, after all, a banker and of Scottish descent — but by logic and experience. He understood the economy from the ground up. He saw how average people responded to economic downturns, and how his customers reacted to the deep crisis at hand. He merely connected the dots. His proposed program included relief for the unemployed, government spending on public works, government refinancing of mortgages, a federal minimum wage, federally supported old-age pensions, and higher income taxes and inheritance taxes on the wealthy in order to control capital accumulations and avoid excessive speculation. Not until these recommendations were implemented, Eccles warned, could the economy be fully restored.
Eccles then returned to Utah, from where he watched Roosevelt hatch the first hundred days of his presidency. To Eccles, the new president's initiatives seemed barely distinguishable from what his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, had offered — a hodgepodge of ideas cooked up by Wall Street to keep it afloat but do little for anyone else. "New York, as usual, seems to be in the saddle, dominating fiscal and monetary policy," he wrote to his friend George Dern, the former governor of Utah who had become Roosevelt's secretary of war.
In mid-December 1933, Eccles received a telegram from Roosevelt's Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., asking him to return to Washington at the earliest possible date to "talk about monetary matters." Eccles was perplexed. The new administration had shown no interest in his ideas. He had never met Morgenthau, who was a strong advocate for balancing the federal budget. After their meeting, the mystery only deepened. Morgenthau asked Eccles to write a report on monetary policy, which Eccles could as easily have written in Utah. A few days later Morgenthau invited Eccles to his home, where he asked about Eccles's business connections, his personal finances, and the condition of his businesses, namely whether any had gone bankrupt. Finally, Morgenthau took Eccles into his confidence. "You've been recommended as someone I should get to help me in the Treasury Department," Morgenthau said. Eccles was taken aback, and asked for a few days to think about it.
"'Here you are, Marriner, full of talk about what the government should and shouldn't do,'" Eccles told himself, as he later recounted in his memoirs. "'You ought to put up or shut up.... You're afraid your theory won't work. You're afraid you'll be a damned fool. You want to stick it out in Utah and wear the hair shirt of a prophet crying in the wilderness. You can feel noble that way, and you run no risks. [But] if you don't come here you'll probably regret it for the rest of your life.'" Eccles talked himself into the job.
For many months thereafter, Eccles steeped himself in the work of the Treasury and the Roosevelt administration, pushing his case for why the government needed to go deeper into debt to prop up the economy, and what it needed to do for average people. Apparently he made progress. Roosevelt's budget of 1934 contained many of Eccles's ideas, violating the president's previous promise to balance the federal budget. The president "swallowed the violation with considerable difficulty," Eccles wrote.
The following summer, after the governor of the Federal Reserve Board unexpectedly resigned, Morgenthau recommended Eccles for the job. Eccles had not thought about the Fed as a vehicle for advancing his ideas. But a few weeks later, when the president summoned him to the White House to ask if he'd be interested, Eccles told Roosevelt he'd take the job if the Federal Reserve in Washington had more power over the supply of money, and the New York Fed (dominated by Wall Street bankers), less. Eccles knew Wall Street wanted a tight money supply and correspondingly high interest rates, but the Main Streets of America — the real economy — needed a loose money supply and low rates. Roosevelt agreed to support new legislation that would tip the scales toward Main Street. Eccles took over the Fed.
For the next fourteen years, with great vigor and continuing vigilance for the welfare of average people, Eccles helped steer the economy through the remainder of the Depression and through World War II. He would also become one of the architects of the Great Prosperity that the nation and much of the rest of the world enjoyed after the war.