2012年2月16日 星期四

How do you strip down the state?

How do you strip down the state?

Love this government or hate it, the consensus is that it is rolling back the state with a vengeance. Supporters agree with David Cameron’s pre-election diagnosis: “it is more government that got us into this mess.” Sceptics accuse the coalition of unnecessary cuts, fuelled by an ideologically driven love of small government.

不管你是喜欢还是憎恶本届政府,人们一致认同,它正拼命为政府机构瘦身。支持者赞同英国首相戴 维•卡梅伦(David Cameron)在大选前的判断:“正是政府过于庞大让我们陷入了当前这种困境。”怀疑者则批评联合政府施行不必要的削减措施,仅仅是源于意识形态上对小 政府的热爱。

All of which made me wonder: how big is the British state? It’s not a straightforward question. One could consider measures of regulation, or public sector employment. Then there are tax revenues, which since the mid 1990s have never been less than 36 per cent of national income, and never more than 39 per cent.


An alternative is to look at government spending. I prefer this as a measure of the size of the state, because – barring a default – all spending must eventually be paid for by taxes (or inflation). By this measure, the state is much bigger: total managed expenditure is more than 46 per cent of national income this tax year.


What’s more, according to “Green Budget 2012”, recently published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, expenditure would have stayed near that level indefinitely without action. That action was pencilled in by then-Chancellor Alistair Darling as the impact of the recession became clear, and has since been amplified by George Osborne. The coalition’s austerity measures – four-fifths of which are spending cuts rather than tax increases – will eventually push spending back below 40 per cent of national income, which is where it was for most of the time that Gordon Brown was chancellor of the exchequer.

另外,根据英国财政研究所(Institute for Fiscal Studies)最近公布的《2012年绿色预算》(Green Budget 2012),若没有采取行动,政府支出本将无限期地在这一水平附近徘徊。随着衰退的影响变得明显起来,时任财政大臣阿利斯泰尔•达林(Alistair Darling)拟定了这一紧缩行动,此后乔治•奥斯本(George Osborne)又予以扩充。联合政府的紧缩措施——其中五分之四为削减支出,而非增税——将最终让政府支出占国民收入的比例回到40%以下,这也是戈登 •布朗(Gordon Brown)担任财政大臣时期多数时候的水平。

So assuming Osborne gets spending back down to 40 per cent of national income, would he have succeeded in producing a small state?


That spending includes pensions and benefits – in other words, redistributing money to the unemployed, the retired and the fecund from childless people with well-paid jobs. Then there’s free healthcare, free education, the army, the police, the courts, and infrastructure such as roads.


This is a lot. Is it worth £40 of every £100 that you earn? You can be the judge of that. Many people would regard it as good value for money. But it certainly does not look like a vision of a stripped-back, “night-watchman” state to me. If the austerity is motivated by libertarian ideology, true libertarians will be unimpressed with the results.

这已经很多了。你每赚100英镑,就让你拿出40英镑是否值得?你可以有自己的判断。很多人会 认为物有所值。但对我来说,这看上去肯定不算是一个已回归最基本职能、“守夜人”式的政府。如果紧缩政策是受自由主义意识形态所驱使的,那么真正的自由主 义者不会为这一结果而感动。

This is not to say the austerity is timid. Many economists would prefer more of the spending cuts to be deferred for a year or two until the economy is stronger (that said, according to the IFS, the cuts are not well advanced: 12 per cent down and 88 per cent to go). And spending 40 per cent of GDP will feel like a smaller state in 2015 than it did in 2003 or 1995. This is because, thanks to an ageing population and a rapidly growing national debt, the cost of providing pensions, paying interest and funding the National Health Service will all rise substantially.

这并不是说这些紧缩措施有些胆小。很多经济学家更倾向于让支出削减再推迟一到两年,等到经济更 为强劲(尽管如此,根据英国财政研究所的数据,预算的削减并没有太提前:仅完成了12%,还有88%等待削减)。与2003年或1995年相比,2015 年政府支出占GDP的40%会让人感觉政府已经有所缩小。这是因为,随着人口老龄化以及国家债务迅速增加,提供养老金、支付利息以及为国民健康服务 (NHS)融资的成本都将大幅上升。

Is there an alternative? A Labour government would have cut more slowly and perhaps would have cut less, but it is hard to imagine closing the deficit through tax increases alone – that would require tax revenues as a percentage of national income to rise by about a quarter. Imagine VAT up to 25 per cent, income tax up to 25, 50 and 65.5 per cent, and 14p on the price of petrol, and you get a rough-and-ready idea of what sort of taxes might be needed. Such taxes could be paid, but would be a huge departure from how we have grown accustomed to organising our society.

还有其它选择吗?若是工党政府,削减支出的速度会更慢,或许削减的规模也会更小,但很难想象单 单通过增税来缩减赤字——这需要税收占国民收入的比重上升约25个百分点。设想增值税增至25%,收入所得税增至25%、50%和65.5%,油价上涨 14便士,你会得到一个关于可能需要哪些税的粗略想法。这些税不是不能缴,但将极大地背离我们已经习惯的社会组织方式。

There are good reasons to object both to the timing and the details of the spending cuts. But the idea that they will produce anything like a stripped-down state looks far-fetched.


Tim Harford’s latest book is ‘Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure’ (Little Brown).

本文作者的新书名为《适者生存:为何失败是成功之母》(Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure),由利特尔-布朗出版社(Little, Brown)出版