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Can America Be Fixed?

The future is clear. “All they have to do is look at Japan”.

But where is the action?


Can America Be Fixed?

January/February 2013 Fareed Zakaria

— The New Crisis of Democracy

Can America be Fixed-1

We built that: President Barack Obama visiting the Hoover Dam, October 2, 2012. (Kevin Lamarque / Courtesy Reuters)

In November, the American electorate, deeply unhappy with Washington and its political gridlock, voted to maintain precisely the same distribution of power — returning President Barack Obama for a second term and restoring a Democratic Senate and a Republican House of Representatives. With at least the electoral uncertainty out of the way, attention quickly turned to how the country’s lawmakers would address the immediate crisis known as the fiscal cliff — the impending end-of-year tax increases and government spending cuts mandated by earlier legislation.

As the United States continues its slow but steady recovery from the depths of the financial crisis, nobody actually wants a massive austerity package to shock the economy back into recession, and so the odds have always been high that the game of budgetary chicken will stop short of disaster. Looming past the cliff, however, is a deep chasm that poses a much greater challenge — the retooling of the country’s economy, society, and government necessary for the United States to perform effectively in the twenty-first century. The focus in Washington now is on taxing and cutting; it should be on reforming and investing. The United States needs serious change in its fiscal, entitlement, infrastructure, immigration, and education policies, among others. And yet a polarized and often paralyzed Washington has pushed dealing with these problems off into the future, which will only make them more difficult and expensive to solve.

Studies show that the political divisions in Washington are at their worst since the years following the Civil War. Twice in the last three years, the world’s leading power — with the largest economy, the global reserve currency, and a dominant leadership role in all international institutions — has come close to committing economic suicide. The American economy remains extremely dynamic. But one has to wonder whether the U.S. political system is capable of making the changes that will ensure continued success in a world of greater global competition and technological change. Is the current predicament, in other words, really a crisis of democracy?

That phrase might sound familiar. By the mid-1970s, growth was stagnating and inflation skyrocketing across the West. Vietnam and Watergate had undermined faith in political institutions and leaders, and newly empowered social activists were challenging establishments across the board. In a 1975 report from the Trilateral Commission entitled The Crisis of Democracy, distinguished scholars from the United States, Europe, and Japan argued that the democratic governments of the industrial world had simply lost their ability to function, overwhelmed by the problems they confronted. The section on the United States, written by the political scientist Samuel Huntington, was particularly gloomy.

We know how that worked out: within several years, inflation was tamed, the American economy boomed, and confidence was restored. A decade later, it was communism and the Soviet Union that collapsed, not capitalism and the West. So much for the pessimists.

And yet just over two decades further on, the advanced industrial democracies are once again filled with gloom. In Europe, economic growth has stalled, the common currency is in danger, and there is talk that the union itself might split up. Japan has had seven prime ministers in ten years, as the political system splinters, the economy stagnates, and the country slips further into decline. But the United States, given its global role, presents perhaps the most worrying case.

Is there a new crisis of democracy? Certainly, the American public seems to think so. Anger with politicians and institutions of government is much greater than it was in 1975. According to American National Election Studies polls, in 1964, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time.” By the late 1970s, that number had dropped to the high 40s. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In January 2010, it had fallen to 19 percent.

Commentators are prone to seeing the challenges of the moment in unnecessarily apocalyptic terms. It is possible that these problems, too, will pass, that the West will muddle through somehow until it faces yet another set of challenges a generation down the road, which will again be described in an overly dramatic fashion. But it is also possible that the public is onto something. The crisis of democracy, from this perspective, never really went away; it was just papered over with temporary solutions and obscured by a series of lucky breaks. Today, the problems have mounted, and yet American democracy is more dysfunctional and commands less authority than ever — and it has fewer levers to pull in a globalized economy. This time, the pessimists might be right.

TRENDING NOW

The mid-1970s predictions of doom for Western democracy were undone by three broad economic trends: the decline of inflation, the information revolution, and globalization. In the 1970s, the world was racked by inflation, with rates stretching from low double digits in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to 200 percent in countries such as Brazil and Turkey. In 1979, Paul Volcker became chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and within a few years, his policies had broken the back of American inflation. Central banks across the world began following the Fed’s example, and soon, inflation was declining everywhere.

Technological advancement has been around for centuries, but beginning in the 1980s, the widespread use of computers and then the Internet began to transform every aspect of the economy. The information revolution led to increased productivity and growth in the United States and around the world, and the revolution looks to be a permanent one.

Late in that decade, partly because the information revolution put closed economies and societies at an even greater disadvantage, the Soviet empire collapsed, and soon the Soviet Union itself followed. This allowed the Western system of interconnected free markets and societies to spread across most of the world — a process that became known as globalization. Countries with command or heavily planned economies and societies opened up and began participating in a single global market, adding vigor to both themselves and the system at large. In 1979, 75 countries were growing by at least four percent a year; in 2007, just before the financial crisis hit, the number had risen to 127.

These trends not only destroyed the East but also benefited the West. Low inflation and the information revolution enabled Western economies to grow more quickly, and globalization opened up vast new markets filled with cheap labor for Western companies to draw on and sell to. The result was a rebirth of American confidence and an expansion of the global economy with an unchallenged United States at the center. A generation on, however, the Soviet collapse is a distant memory, low inflation has become the norm, and further advances in globalization and information technology are now producing as many challenges for the West as opportunities.

The jobs and wages of American workers, for example, have come under increasing pressure. A 2011 study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that from the late 1940s until 1990, every recession and recovery in the United States followed a simple pattern. First, GDP recovered to its pre-recession level, and then, six months later (on average), the employment rate followed. But then, that pattern was broken. After the recession of the early 1990s, the employment rate returned to its pre-recession level 15 months after GDP did. In the early part of the next decade, it took 39 months. And in the current recovery, it appears that the employment rate will return to its pre-recession level a full 60 months — five years — after GDP did. The same trends that helped spur growth in the past are now driving a new normal, with jobless growth and declining wages.

MAGIC MONEY

The broad-based growth of the post-World War II era slowed during the mid-1970s and has never fully returned. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland recently noted that in the United States, real GDP growth peaked in the early 1960s at more than four percent, dropped to below three percent in the late 1970s, and recovered somewhat in the 1980s only to drop further in recent years down to its current two percent. Median incomes, meanwhile, have barely risen over the last 40 years. Rather than tackle the underlying problems or accept lower standards of living, the United States responded by taking on debt. From the 1980s on, Americans have consumed more than they have produced, and they have made up the difference by borrowing.

President Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981 as a monetarist and acolyte of Milton Friedman, arguing for small government and balanced budgets. But he governed as a Keynesian, pushing through large tax cuts and a huge run-up in defense spending. (Tax cuts are just as Keynesian as government spending; both pump money into the economy and increase aggregate demand.) Reagan ended his years in office with inflation-adjusted federal spending 20 percent higher than when he started and with a skyrocketing federal deficit. For the 20 years before Reagan, the deficit was under two percent of GDP. In Reagan’s two terms, it averaged over four percent of GDP. Apart from a brief period in the late 1990s, when the Clinton administration actually ran a surplus, the federal deficit has stayed above the three percent mark ever since; it is currently seven percent.

John Maynard Keynes’ advice was for governments to spend during busts but save during booms. In recent decades, elected governments have found it hard to save at any time. They have run deficits during busts and during booms, as well. The U.S. Federal Reserve has kept rates low in bad times but also in good ones. It’s easy to blame politicians for such one-handed Keynesianism, but the public is as much at fault. In poll after poll, Americans have voiced their preferences: they want low taxes and lots of government services. Magic is required to satisfy both demands simultaneously, and it turned out magic was available, in the form of cheap credit. The federal government borrowed heavily, and so did all other governments — state, local, and municipal — and the American people themselves. Household debt rose from $665 billion in 1974 to $13 trillion today. Over that period, consumption, fueled by cheap credit, went up and stayed up.

Other rich democracies have followed the same course. In 1980, the United States’ gross government debt was 42 percent of its total GDP; it is now 107 percent. During the same period, the comparable figure for the United Kingdom moved from 46 percent to 88 percent. Most European governments (including notoriously frugal Germany) now have debt-to-GDP levels that hover around 80 percent, and some, such as Greece and Italy, have ones that are much higher. In 1980, Japan’s gross government debt was 50 percent of GDP; today, it is 236 percent.

The world has turned upside down. It used to be thought that developing countries would have high debt loads, because they would borrow heavily to finance their rapid growth from low income levels. Rich countries, growing more slowly from high income levels, would have low debt loads and much greater stability. But look at the G-20 today, a group that includes the largest countries from both the developed and the developing worlds. The average debt-to-GDP ratio for the developing countries is 35 percent; for the rich countries, it is over three times as high.

REFORM AND INVEST

When Western governments and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund offer advice to developing countries on how to spur growth, they almost always advocate structural reforms that will open up sectors of their economies to competition, allow labor to move freely between jobs, eliminate wasteful and economically distorting government subsidies, and focus government spending on pro-growth investment. When facing their own problems, however, those same Western countries have been loath to follow their own advice.

Current discussions about how to restore growth in Europe tend to focus on austerity, with economists debating the pros and cons of cutting deficits. Austerity is clearly not working, but it is just as clear that with debt burdens already at close to 90 percent of GDP, European countries cannot simply spend their way out of their current crisis. What they really need are major structural reforms designed to make themselves more competitive, coupled with some investments for future growth.

Not least because it boasts the world’s reserve currency, the United States has more room to maneuver than Europe. But it, too, needs to change. It has a gargantuan tax code that, when all its rules and regulations are included, totals 73,000 pages; a burdensome litigation system; and a crazy patchwork of federal, state, and local regulations. U.S. financial institutions, for example, are often overseen by five or six different federal agencies and 50 sets of state agencies, all with overlapping authority.

If the case for reform is important, the case for investment is more urgent. In its annual study of competitiveness, the World Economic Forum consistently gives the United States poor marks for its tax and regulatory policies, ranking it 76th in 2012, for example, on the “burden of government regulations.” But for all its complications, the American economy remains one of the world’s most competitive, ranking seventh overall — only a modest slippage from five years ago. In contrast, the United States has dropped dramatically in its investments in human and physical capital. The WEF ranked American infrastructure fifth in the world a decade ago but now ranks it 25th and falling. The country used to lead the world in percentage of college graduates; it is now ranked 14th. U.S. federal funding for research and development as a percentage of GDP has fallen to half the level it was in 1960 — while it is rising in countries such as China, Singapore, and South Korea. The public university system in the United States — once the crown jewel of American public education — is being gutted by budget cuts.

The modern history of the United States suggests a correlation between investment and growth. In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government spent over five percent of GDP annually on investment, and the economy boomed. Over the last 30 years, the government has been cutting back; federal spending on investment is now around three percent of GDP annually, and growth has been tepid. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence has noted, the United States escaped from the Great Depression not only by spending massively on World War II but also by slashing consumption and ramping up investment. Americans reduced their spending, increased their savings, and purchased war bonds. That boost in public and private investment led to a generation of postwar growth. Another generation of growth will require comparable investments.

The problems of reform and investment come together in the case of infrastructure. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D and calculated that repairing and renovating it would cost $2 trillion. The specific number might be an exaggeration (engineers have a vested interest in the subject), but every study shows what any traveler can plainly see: the United States is falling badly behind. This is partly a matter of crumbling bridges and highways, but it goes well beyond that. The U.S. air traffic control system is outdated and in need of a $25 billion upgrade. The U.S. energy grid is antique, and it malfunctions often enough that many households are acquiring that classic symbol of status in the developing world: a private electrical generator. The country’s drinking water is carried through a network of old and leaky pipes, and its cellular and broadband systems are slow compared with those of many other advanced countries. All this translates into slower growth. And if it takes longer to fix, it will cost more, as deferred maintenance usually does.

Spending on infrastructure is hardly a panacea, however, because without careful planning and oversight, it can be inefficient and ineffective. Congress allocates money to infrastructure projects based on politics, not need or bang for the buck. The elegant solution to the problem would be to have a national infrastructure bank that is funded by a combination of government money and private capital. Such a bank would minimize waste and redundancy by having projects chosen by technocrats on merit rather than by politicians for pork. Naturally, this very idea is languishing in Congress, despite some support from prominent figures on both sides of the aisle.

The same is the case with financial reforms: the problem is not a lack of good ideas or technical feasibility but politics. The politicians who sit on the committees overseeing the current alphabet soup of ineffective agencies are happy primarily because they can raise money for their campaigns from the financial industry. The current system works better as a mechanism for campaign fundraising than it does as an instrument for financial oversight.

In 1979, the social scientist Ezra Vogel published a book titled Japan as Number One, predicting a rosy future for the then-rising Asian power. When The Washington Post asked him recently why his prediction had been so far off the mark, he pointed out that the Japanese economy was highly sophisticated and advanced, but, he confessed, he had never anticipated that its political system would seize up the way it did and allow the country to spiral downward.

Vogel was right to note that the problem was politics rather than economics. All the advanced industrial economies have weaknesses, but they also all have considerable strengths, particularly the United States. They have reached a stage of development, however, at which outmoded policies, structures, and practices have to be changed or abandoned. The problem, as the economist Mancur Olson pointed out, is that the existing policies benefit interest groups that zealously protect the status quo. Reform requires governments to assert the national interest over such parochial interests, something that is increasingly difficult to do in a democracy.

POLITICAL DEMOGRAPHY

With only a few exceptions, the advanced industrial democracies have spent the last few decades managing or ignoring their problems rather than tackling them head-on. Soon, this option won’t be available, because the crisis of democracy will be combined with a crisis of demography.

The industrial world is aging at a pace never before seen in human history. Japan is at the leading edge of this trend, predicted to go from a population of 127 million today to just 47 million by the end of the century. Europe is not far behind, with Italy and Germany approaching trajectories like Japan’s. The United States is actually the outlier on this front, the only advanced industrial country not in demographic decline. In fact, because of immigration and somewhat higher fertility rates, its population is predicted to grow to 423 million by 2050, whereas, say, Germany’s is predicted to shrink to 72 million. Favorable U.S. demographics, however, are offset by more expensive U.S. entitlement programs for retirees, particularly in the area of health care.

To understand this, start with a ratio of working-age citizens to those over 65. That helps determine how much revenue the government can get from workers to distribute to retirees. In the United States today, the ratio is 4.6 working people for every retiree. In 25 years, it will drop to 2.7. That shift will make a huge difference to an already worrisome situation. Current annual expenditures for the two main entitlement programs for older Americans, Social Security and Medicare, top $1 trillion. The growth of these expenditures has far outstripped inflation in the past and will likely do so for decades to come, even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Throw in all other entitlement programs, the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has calculated, and the total is $2.2 trillion — up from $24 billion a half century ago, nearly a hundredfold increase.

However worthwhile such programs may be, they are unaffordable on their current trajectories, consuming the majority of all federal spending. The economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff argued in their detailed study of financial crises, This Time Is Different, that countries with debt-to-GDP burdens of 90 percent or more almost invariably have trouble sustaining growth and stability. Unless its current entitlement obligations are somehow reformed, with health-care costs lowered in particular, it is difficult to see how the United States can end up with a ratio much lower than that. What this means is that while the American right has to recognize that tax revenues will have to rise significantly in coming decades, the American left has to recognize that without significant reforms, entitlements may be the only thing even those increased tax revenues will cover. A recent report by Third Way, a Washington-based think tank lobbying for entitlement reform, calculates that by 2029, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt combined will amount to 18 percent of GDP. It just so happens that 18 percent of GDP is precisely what the government has averaged in tax collections over the last 40 years.

The continued growth in entitlements is set to crowd out all other government spending, including on defense and the investments needed to help spur the next wave of economic growth. In 1960, entitlement programs amounted to well under one-third of the federal budget, with all the other functions of government taking up the remaining two-thirds. By 2010, things had flipped, with entitlement programs accounting for two-thirds of the budget and everything else crammed into one-third. On its current path, the U.S. federal government is turning into, in the journalist Ezra Klein’s memorable image, an insurance company with an army. And even the army will have to shrink soon.

Rebalancing the budget to gain space for investment in the country’s future is today’s great American challenge. And despite what one may have gathered during the recent campaign, it is a challenge for both parties. Eberstadt points out that entitlement spending has actually grown faster under Republican presidents than under Democrats, and a New York Times investigation in 2012 found that two-thirds of the 100 U.S. counties most dependent on entitlement programs were heavily Republican.

Reform and investment would be difficult in the best of times, but the continuation of current global trends will make these tasks ever tougher and more urgent. Technology and globalization have made it possible to do simple manufacturing anywhere, and Americans will not be able to compete for jobs against workers in China and India who are being paid a tenth of the wages that they are. That means that the United States has no choice but to move up the value chain, relying on a highly skilled work force, superb infrastructure, massive job-training programs, and cutting-edge science and technology — all of which will not materialize without substantial investment.

The U.S. government currently spends $4 on citizens over 65 for every $1 it spends on those under 18. At some level, that is a brutal reflection of democratic power politics: seniors vote; minors do not. But it is also a statement that the country values the present more than the future.

TURNING JAPANESE

Huntington, the author of the section on the United States in the Trilateral Commission’s 1975 report, used to say that it was important for a country to worry about decline, because only then would it make the changes necessary to belie the gloomy predictions. If not for fear of Sputnik, the United States would never have galvanized its scientific establishment, funded NASA, and raced to the moon. Perhaps that sort of response to today’s challenges is just around the corner — perhaps Washington will be able to summon the will to pass major, far-reaching policy initiatives over the next few years, putting the United States back on a clear path to a vibrant, solvent future. But hope is not a plan, and it has to be said that at this point, such an outcome seems unlikely.

The absence of such moves will hardly spell the country’s doom. Liberal democratic capitalism is clearly the only system that has the flexibility and legitimacy to endure in the modern world. If any regimes collapse in the decades ahead, they will be command systems, such as the one in China (although this is unlikely). But it is hard to see how the derailing of China’s rise, were it to happen, would solve any of the problems the United States faces — and in fact, it might make them worse, if it meant that the global economy would grow at a slower pace than anticipated.

The danger for Western democracies is not death but sclerosis. The daunting challenges they face — budgetary pressures, political paralysis, demographic stress — point to slow growth rather than collapse. Muddling through the crisis will mean that these countries stay rich but slowly and steadily drift to the margins of the world. Quarrels over how to divide a smaller pie may spark some political conflict and turmoil but will produce mostly resignation to a less energetic, interesting, and productive future.

There once was an advanced industrial democracy that could not reform. It went from dominating the world economy to growing for two decades at the anemic average rate of just 0.8 percent. Many members of its aging, well-educated population continued to live pleasant lives, but they left an increasingly barren legacy for future generations. Its debt burden is now staggering, and its per capita income has dropped to 24th in the world and is falling. If the Americans and the Europeans fail to get their acts together, their future will be easy to see. All they have to do is look at Japan.

齐桓公的货币战争

唯囤积居奇。


齐桓公的货币战争

Date here 王吉舟

2700年前,齐桓公姜小白有个好宰相,叫管仲。这俩人交情那叫一个铁呀,一个大权在握,一个比犹太人还精,他俩合起伙来兢兢业业的工作,结果搞定了全天下。管仲使齐国成为春秋五霸,这说起来好像挺牛逼的一个事情,但是事实上,作为当时其他地区的中国人,那可是倒了霉,因为除非你是齐国人,否则,全被这哥俩算计了,即使你是齐国人,除非你是这哥俩认可的精英,否则,你也就是个牲口,也被这哥俩算计,整天牧来牧去的,还给人家哥俩拼命数钱呢。

姜小白和管仲这俩人是“中国经济梦幻二人组”,他俩的经济理论那叫一个多啊,整个一部《管子》俩人一问一答跟说相声似的,各种经济学包袱都在那里记录着呢,这些理论,是很牛逼的,甚至完全超越时代的,比后世的《国富论》一点不含糊。

大家可能不信,说中国有如此伟大的经济学家?

您把那个问号去掉,后面加上——管仲,就是答案。管仲在经济学领域的境界,相当于同时代的孙子在军事领域的境界,不过,不难想象,管仲和姜小白哥俩白天合伙收拾天下男人,晚上肯定也忙着收拾成群的女人,那叫一个忙啊,白天日理万机,夜里多姿多彩。所以,管仲没时间写书,这点跟亚当斯密不一样。管仲自己不写,也没想起来找枪手写,结果,死了很多年后,齐国才整理他的著作,弄了个半截子文集叫《管子》,大家搞经济的一定要读,跟《国富论》对比着读,读完,你一定说:我FUCK!中国老祖宗怎么这么牛逼呢?跟管子比,犹太人算个小JB。犹太人这些花花肠子,感情老祖宗早都知道啊。没错!治理通货膨胀、货币战争、价格与市场、税收与财政、国家宏观调控、社会分工,管仲都整的特明白,比亚当斯密早明白了2000年。

别不信,这一套,管仲称其为“轻重论”,他还挺谦虚,说不是自己发明的,是学习先贤的,OMG!还有更先的贤??!!是谁啊?管仲说他们是“燧人氏、孙叔敖、单旗、泰奢、伯高……”

中国古代真的很神奇!(或许,我们民族的一出悲剧,是把半部《管子》治天下,错弄成了半部《论语》治天下。)

管仲跟姜小白实际上军事上不太行,齐军有点今天美军的味道,遇到弱的就撵出人家的屎来,遇到强的,经常被人家撵出屎(曹刽就撵的他俩裤子都跑丢了)。他俩打仗不行,玩阴的,搞货币战争可是不一般的行!今天美国用石油收拾全世界,日本用铁矿石、稀土收拾中国,这些个阴损的货币战争的影子,姜小白和管仲那是祖师爷。这哥俩仗着自己有钱,有IQ,一箭不放,收拾了好多国家。

不信的话,听胖舟讲故事吧,大家权当乐一乐,借古思今吧。

第一次货币战争:衡山之谋

衡山国夹在齐鲁之间,国民擅长制造战争机器,齐桓公想搞定他们又怕干不过人家,就让管仲想办法。管仲说:衡山国的工厂,造一台战争机器要一年半以上时间,我们去衡山国不计价格,以高价进口战争机器,燕国和代国听说后,必然害怕我们买机器是要攻打他们,他们要防备就肯定也来订购,他们一买,秦国赵国也害怕,也会来争着订购,衡山国的产量就那么一点,天下都来订购,机器肯定涨价十倍,到时候如此如此,肯定搞定。

    于是,齐桓公去衡山国高价定购战争机器,结果十个月后果然燕代赵秦先后来争购,衡山国君高兴坏了,把自己的机器涨价了十倍预定给了天下各国,等着发大财。衡山国大街小巷的人都去兵工厂制造机器,没有人种地了。十二个月之后,齐桓公又派外交通商事务大臣隰朋去赵国收购粮食,赵国粮食卖一石十五钱,隰朋给人家一石五十钱,全天下的商人都把粮食往齐国运输,再五个月后,全天下的粮食都到了齐国,全天下的粮食价格被齐国抬高了三倍。

订购战争机器十七个月后,高价炒作粮食五个月后,齐国忽然不要衡山国的机器了,还跟衡山国断交了。齐国一不要,其他国家也都不要了,衡山国君手里没粮食,也没赚到钱,傻逼了。衡山国只好去齐国进口粮食,很快财政破产,齐国攻打衡山国北部,鲁国攻打衡山国南部,衡山国君想了想,啥也不说了,带着全体贵族搬到齐国做齐国公民去了。

原文载于《管子、轻重》:桓公问于管子曰:“吾欲制衡山之术,为之奈何?”管子对曰:“公其令人贵买衡山之械器而卖之。燕、代必从公而买之,秦、赵闻之,必与公争之。衡山之械器必倍其贾,天下争之,衡山械器必什倍以上。”公曰:“诺。”因令人之衡山求买械器,不敢辩其贵贾。齐修械器于衡山十月,燕、代闻之,果令人之衡山求买械器,燕、代修三月,秦国闻之,果令人之衡山求买械器。衡山之君告其相曰,“天下争吾械器,令其贾再什以上。”衡山之民释其本,修械器之巧。齐即令隰朋漕粟于赵。赵籴十五,隰朋取之石五十。天下闻之,载粟而之齐。齐修械器十七月,修籴五月,即闭关不与衡山通使。燕、代、秦、赵即引其使而归。衡山械器尽,鲁削衡山之南,齐削衡山之北。内自量无械器以应二敌,即奉国而归齐矣。

大家看过《管子》原著的,难免失望,这正是管仲有生之年没有亲手梳理自己的治国原理而造成的不可避免的杯具。《管子》虽然可以提供大量的佐证,但是没有系统的理论,写得东一榔头西一棒槌。因此,阅读《管子》要有明确的目的,比如我今天要搞清楚春秋时代是否存在民间贷款与贷款利息,如存在,那么春秋时代的民间贷款利率是多少,抱着这样的问题去找,就能取得鲜活的资料丰富自己的知识,如此这般方才可读《管子》。

姜小白和管仲的梦幻组合,发明了很多的搜刮天下钱财的剧本。虽则是2700年前的旧事,但是,后世只是换了演员和道具,他俩的剧本仍然在被使用。

比如:戴比尔斯和英美集团垄断世界钻石矿,通过拉抬钻石的价格,搞全世界男人的钱。美国攻打中东,垄断石油价格,搜刮世界财富。这些伎俩,管仲和姜小白有专利。

垄断天下奇货,拉抬价格,搜刮天下财富的典型代表作是《菁茅之谋》和《阴里之谋》。

大家知道姜小白在管仲的策划下,用了二十年,终于取得了会盟天下诸侯的成功,就是成了霸主,但他这个霸主有些历史问题。

因为,宋国是公爵,齐国是侯爵。公侯伯子男,所以,作为盟主的齐桓公心里边有些虚,他得让大家伙儿承认,他这个侯爵,已经不是侯爵,而是超~~~级~~~侯爵,他得证明自己行。

如何证明自己与众不同呢?一天,姜小白对管仲说:“我TMD想明白了,我要搞运动!我必须带头掀起一场尊重周天子的运动,周天子穷的都快要饭了,我这么一尊重他,他能不感激我吗,我这招儿叫尊天子以令诸侯!我真TMD是天才!”管仲说:“天才个屌,你以为宋国想不到啊,关键是搞运动需要经费,谁出钱?”姜小白一听就萎了,原来就差钱。管仲说;“我有一阴招儿,不差钱,你这么这么,就成了”。

管仲让姜小白去“阴里”这个地方铸城,那里独家出产一种美石(类似玉),这种美石是古代周天子制造王室祭祀专用璧的材料,姜小白修了三层城墙、九个城门,把阴里城防工事整的跟铁桶一样。姜小白让玉工在里边制作好石璧存着,石璧做了五种,一尺大小的标注面值一万泉。八寸的标注8000泉。七寸的标注 7000。珪中标注4000。瑗中标注500。为什么做这么多种类呢?因为天下诸侯繁衍了几百年,越来越多,阿猫阿狗都自称是诸侯后裔,都惦着粘粘封号的光,周天子家族萧条,他们可是繁荣的不行。管仲做这么多石壁,就是要把他们一网打尽。

玉工做好了,管仲就去见周天子,说我家国君想搞尊周运动,号召天下诸侯齐来拜祭太庙,但是按照传统礼仪,必须带着彤弓和石璧觐见,否则不能进庙去,您可以批准么?周天子说:这次活动经费谁出?管仲说:我们齐国出。周天子说:快~~~去~~~~办!!!还愣着干什么!!!

天下诸侯都没有石璧,强抢又打不下阴里城,只好去买,结果天下诸侯的黄金被齐国搜刮无数,阴里的石璧倒是流通到了天下。这一次,齐国赚的钱多得八年都不用收税。

这就是阴里之谋

齐桓公赚足了钱,很同情周天子,对管仲说:周天子也没经费,天子没钱也是孙子,咱也得给天子弄钱啊。管仲说:这简单,天下江淮之间有一小块特殊的土地,独家出产一种茅草,这种茅草品种独特,每只都从根上长出三个分叉,这叫“菁茅”。这种茅是古代诸侯参与天子封禅大会必须的进门证,请周天子派人先把这块地圈起来,然后号令天下诸侯:周天子要带着大家去封禅泰山,梁父山,老规矩:不抱着一束菁茅的,不许进门。

周天子如此去办,结果,天下的黄金就开始象流水一样流入周天子的口袋,菁茅一束就被诸侯炒到了一百斤黄金。周天子太有钱了,七年都没有再要求诸侯进贡。

是为菁茅之谋

齐国在管仲的治理下,十分富强,汉族在齐国的带领下,诸侯团结,取得了对西狄和北戎战争的全面胜利(老马识途就是这场大战的事情),使北方游牧民族对中原的威胁得到全面抑制。否则,蒙古灭中华的事情,可能在2700年前就已经成为现实了,大家如果不信,可以听听孔丘说的:

一天,孔子跟子贡说:管仲辅齐桓公,国富民强,天下太平。我们中原人民直到今天还在享受着他俩留下的福祉。如果没有管子,我们今天早被蛮夷灭了,咱们都得学习野蛮人的丑陋发型,穿蛮族的丑陋衣服啊。(2000多年后的清朝,孔子的噩梦成真)

管子这样的人出生在中国,而不是外国,实在是我中国人的福分,中国如再有此类大才,何愁不国富民强。宋代大诗人李清照的爸爸李格非,一次路过临淄遗址,写下了《过临淄》:

击鼓吹竽七百年,

临淄城阙尚依然。

如今只有耕耘者,

曾得当时九府钱。

这首诗成于管子死后1700年,齐国都城城阙依然存在,农夫经常能够挖到姜子牙发行的九府环钱,齐国之盛,可见一斑。

言归正傳:这一篇我主要写姜小白和管仲以发动经济战争为手段,征服其他国家的过程。过程虽然残酷,但是,你会发现,齐桓公追求的最终结果,无非是树立齐国的权威,他们二人是从来没有幻想过篡改朝代的,鼓吹邪教杀人筑观的事情,更是没有干过。即使最后经济手段不灵了,去打打杀杀,也是点到为止,很有喜剧精神,对方一服软,这俩人马上就收兵,绝不革命。说的直白一点,他俩打仗都是带着女人去的,当然,不是女特种部队,而是货真价实,如假包换的美女。炮房就建在马车上,仗打到哪里,炮就打到哪里。

最为过分的是有一次,他俩去征服一个大国(好象是宋国记不清了),管打前站,姜殿后,管走了一个多礼拜还在齐国边境附近磨蹭呢(看这效率)。路边一农夫荷锄而歌,歌词管大才子居然听不懂!结果他被窝儿里的美女给他解释了。妞儿还鼓励管子启用这个农民,结果农民不负妞望,仅凭一只舌头,就把宋国君给弄服了(看人这口活!),咱能看出,管子泡的妞儿,那是什么学问,那是什么素质。也不难想象,管子打仗的献身精神(事实上,他打仗经常第一个闪人,为此鲍叔牙记了他一辈子)。

老姜和老管自己泡妞爽了,还不忘记父老兄弟,特意为齐国官兵设立了随军妓院,齐军待遇如此人性化,成为了当时世界上最文明的军队。(妓院\桑拿\洗头房应该供的祖师爷是管子,怎么供关公呢?)

扯远了,再扯就成黄色野史了,赶紧收回来。

齐国收服鲁国、莱莒、楚、代、衡山,均是以轻重之策催垮对手的经济。其中心思想,就是利用“天下下我高,天下轻我重”的阴谋原则,即将外国特产之国内价格抬高到比正常水平高的多的水准,使其变成单一经济,生产力配比畸形成长,然后突然改变国际贸易规则,全面破坏外国的财政收入,最终迫使其完全成为经济殖民地。

鲁国是齐国的第一个障碍物,两国近邻,热战各有胜负,从经济上催垮鲁国,成为必杀的绝招。让我们看看这个过程。

桓公说:我TMD看鲁国不顺眼很久了,很想搞定鲁国,可怎么办呢?管仲说:好办,你用鲁国特产的绨做衣服,你是齐国的天皇巨星啊,全国都追你,你下令齐国人不许自己织绨,必须买绨就行了。于是桓公就穿着绨做的衣服到处晃。全国人民都争相买鲁绨效仿。管仲让鲁国的商人把绨出口到齐国,一千匹价格三百斤黄金,一万匹三千斤。鲁国靠出口创汇赚了大钱,国家都不用对老百姓收税了,财政十分富裕。十三个月后,管派特务去鲁国侦察,发现鲁国的人民太忙了,国家太繁荣了,城市里交通堵车,人都得慢慢挪着走。管仲说:哼,鲁国完了。桓公问:我操,他们这么繁荣,怎么就完了?管子说:请您以后不要再穿绨,也不要让老百姓穿了,咱跟鲁国断交,你看看结果吧。十个月以后,管仲再次派特务去侦察,发现鲁国人饿死的很多,鲁国政府命令老百姓赶紧去把绨厂破产了改种粮食,但是,粮食三两个月根本长不成熟,鲁国粮食价格涨到了齐国的十倍。两年后,鲁国的老百姓60%都移民到齐国了,三年以后,鲁国投降了。

收拾莱国,用的是把莱国特产的柴抬高价格大肆进口,结果莱国为了出口创汇,荒废了农业,结果是两年后,莱国粮食价格是齐国的三十七倍,70%的莱国老百姓都移民到了齐国,莱国只有投降。

收拾楚国,是进口楚国的鹿,过程一模一样,楚国粮食因此贵了四十倍,楚国老百姓移民的40%,楚国也只有降了。

收拾代国,是进口代国特产的传说中的白色变异狐狸,代国最惨,一只都没出口,国家就破产了,据说管仲给进口这屌狐狸制定的价格,高的令代国国君都不上班,亲自出马进山逮狐狸去了,结果,黄的有的是,白的两年一只都没逮着,国家没粮食没军队(都进山当猎户去了),被速灭。

出口创汇,在春秋时代,很容易被姜小白和管仲忽悠成国家财政吸毒。

在今天,我们必须深思身边是不是也发生了类似的情形,只不过,表现形式更加复杂,表现过程更加漫长,国家间“天下下我高,天下轻我重”轻重之术的本质,确是亘古不变的真理,2500年后的GDP到底是不是2500年前的那只白狐狸,又有谁知道。 

管仲实在是太牛了,读通了《管子》之后,你就发现,美联储+美国政府,今天做的事情,都是在copy咱的祖先而已。只可惜我们自己守着这么一座大金山,却没有学好,这是多么让人悲哀的一件事情啊!

Thatcher was right – there is no ‘society’

Perhaps the EU needs a “Thatcher” to solve the problem of PIGS.


Thatcher was right – there is no ‘society’

Date here Samuel Brittan

Now that both the obsequies and the ritual condemnations of Margaret Thatcher are over, the time has begun for a more analytical look at her legacy. I am not a bad person to start this off as I was neither a passionate anti-Thatcherite nor regarded by her inner circle as “really one of us”.

A point that has been missed in all the verbiage of recent days is how much her thinking owed to Keith Joseph, the Conservative who helped to put the idea of a genuine free market back on the political agenda.

In saying this I am far from trying to detract from her legacy. On the contrary, she often said: “One day people will realise what they owe to Keith Joseph.” Anyone can confirm this by looking at her Joseph Memorial Lecture of 1996 given to the Centre for Policy Studies. The first part of the lecture, on the connection between a free economy and a free society, and the last part, on the perils of the euro currency project, are still fresh and relevant.

I should like to start with a comment she made that has defined her – it was even raised at her funeral. Some see it as one of the worst things that she said; I regard it as one of the best.

“I think we have been through a period when too many people have been given to understand that when they have a problem it is government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant. I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They are casting their problems on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours. People have got their entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There is no such thing as an entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

Thatcher meant, I believe, that people should first try to solve their own problems and those of their families and friends, and only as a last resort rely on government. The government is simply a mechanism with which people can help each other and force would-be free riders to make a contribution. I interpreted her remarks as an expression of methodological individualism (although I pity any speech writer who sought to persuade her to say those words).

I have tried to explain all this in my book Capitalism With a Human Face. Very briefly it means that the workings of complex wholes must be capable of being expressed in terms of individual components – chemical elements in terms of atoms, atoms in terms of subatomic particles and nations in terms of their citizens. Methodological individualism has been espoused by a long line of empiricist thinkers, some of very different politics to Thatcher.

The classical liberal philosopher Karl Popper, for instance, looked at the abstract concept of war. “What is concrete is the many who are killed, or the men and women in uniform.” The 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume remarked that a nation was a collection of individuals. This doctrine has also been denied by many supposedly eminent philosophers, such as the overrated G.W.F. Hegel, who said: “All the worth which the human being possesses in all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the state.”

Thatcher was well aware that the support she has been accused of withholding from declining industries in the north of the UK would have come not from a mysterious entity known as the state. It would have come from fellow citizens. She may have been right or wrong. But it was not a matter of her personal generosity. Nit-picking political philosophers have said that if she wanted to be a true methodological individualist she would not have added “and there are families” in her famous statement. It was like saying: “There are no forests, only trees and copses.” She was not so stupid as to fail to see this. But she was not teaching a political philosophy class. She was pointing out that aid for the poor, or distressed regions, had to come from somewhere – namely the inhabitants of the country concerned.

It was a pity that she was incapable of applying this reductionist thinking to foreign affairs. There are no beings such as Germany, Britain or Argentina – only complex entities composed of individuals. It is reasonable for a British citizen to value a British life more than an Argentine life, but it is unreasonable to put a zero value on the latter. It must be admitted that even if people habitually thought in these terms they might still support death as a necessary evil to avoid territorial losses and the like. But if this translation were always made it might sometimes lead to less nationalist policies. Even Thatcher must have been intuitively aware of this when she wept for 40 minutes at the loss of life when a battleship went down near the Falklands.

西方的“空谈误国”

:P

纸媒文章,无链接。


西方的“空谈误国”

Date here 张维为(《求是》 评论)

希腊这样的国家正在整体滑向“第三世界”,如果西方还是无法克服“空谈误国”症,那么西方整体走衰的趋势恐将难以避免……

“空谈误国,实干兴邦”是中国崛起的一条重要经验。其实,“空谈误国”也是世界各国治国理政的一条普遍规律,对西方国家同样适用。西方陷入今天的金融危机、债务危机和经济危机,很大程度上也有“空谈误国”的因素。如果西方体制无法克服自己所患的“空谈误国”症,那么西方整体走衰的速度还将加快。

西方“空谈误国”症的主要症状有:

一、空耗内斗

由于西方国家“选举政治”的驱动,政客做事的主要考虑总是选举的需要。以深陷债务危机的希腊为例,尽管国家几乎破产,但各个政党还是为下一轮竞选而没完没了地打口水仗。希腊领导人去年竟然公开主张采用公投来要挟欧盟,一时使整个欧洲陷入紧张,但这些政客的真正目的只是为了国内党派间达成某种交易。难怪有西方学者这样评述希腊政治:“希腊发明了民主。但现代希腊却有可能给民主带来恶名。雅典的政客们争论不休,有可能使欧洲债务危机升级,对希腊、欧盟乃至世界经济整体产生严重后果。”

美国的“空谈误国”症也很严重。美国金融海啸本质上缘于金融监管失控和资本力量对体制的控制,但尽管危机当头,民主、共和两党却迟迟无法就应对危机达成共识,许多改革提案的讨论变成了马拉松式的扯皮。在金融海啸爆发的2008年,共和党使用或威胁使用了“阻碍议事”的方法,使80%的主要立法事项陷于瘫痪。这种空耗内斗至今仍未中断。英国《金融时报》去年曾发表题为《美国选择自我毁灭》的文章,惊叹“我们很难记起美国政治中还有比眼下更哀凉的时刻”,批评美国政客见利忘义,互拆墙角,甚至“希望经济尽可能糟糕”。

二、言而无信

西方模式一个普遍问题是政客喜欢开空头支票,但大都言而无信。日本经历了“失去的20年”,这也正是日本政坛走马灯一样换首相的20年,政客们竞相给出美丽的承诺,但落到实处的非常有限。西方政治制度今天的特点之一就是产生一大批能说会道但不能干的政客,日本是一个典型。前首相野田佳彦曾公开表示自己是“凡人一个,既非世袭议员,也没有雄厚资金,既不是帅哥,也没有卖点,但有一点让我引以为豪的是,在现有政治家中,我是街头演说做得最好的”。日本《大众周刊》一篇评论说:“如果实行美国式的竞选辩论就可以改变日本政治,我们只要有一群杰出的辩论家就行了,日本最不缺的就是这种人。国家政治混乱,不是这种人太少,而是这种人太多。日本现在需要的不是辩论家,而是实干家!”

四年前,美国总统奥巴马高喊着“变革”的口号入主白宫,但四年过去了,他兑现了多少承诺?华尔街还是我行我素,医疗改革仍然悬而未决;他承诺削减国债,但国债却从原来的11万亿美元增加到现在的16万亿美元。邓小平早在上世纪80年代初就调侃过美式民主的言而无信:“美国把它的制度吹得那么好,可是总统竞选时一个说法,刚上任一个说法,中期选举一个说法,临近下一届大选时又是一个说法。美国还说我们的政策不稳定,同美国比起来,我们的政策稳定得多。”2011年标准普尔降低了美国政府的信用评级,主要理由就是“美国政治决策过程中的不确定性增加”导致了“对美国政治决策机制的信心下降”。美国盖洛普公司2012年6月的民调结果也证明了这一点:美国公众对美国国会的支持率持续低迷,只有17%。

三、民粹盛行

民主政治在西方越来越演变成民粹政治,即政客对民众的不断操纵和忽悠,只要选票来得快,政客什么话都可以说,什么虚招都可以玩,不在乎事情本身的是非曲直,不在乎自己国家的长远和整体利益,结果是许多西方国家治国理政中的理性与责任日渐缺位。去年美国大选中,奥巴马和罗姆尼唇枪舌剑,就内政外交、经济民生等问题展开论战,而屡屡“中枪”的却是远隔万里的中国:明明是华尔街的贪婪等因素造成了美国今日之困境,政客们却大谈中国人偷走了美国的就业机会,还将中美贸易失衡归结于人民币汇率问题。对于美国政客来说,这样做的最大好处就是忽悠百姓,拉到选票,所以中国就成了美国诸多问题的“替罪羊”。

这种一味讨好选民的民粹政治是美国各级政府陷入债务危机的主要原因。美国加州政府破产就是一个典型例子。民粹政治使政客一路高喊减税,先是减少财产税,后是取消汽车税,最后加州政府陷入了破产的境地。州政府后来想恢复汽车税,但州议会又从中作梗,结果使加州财政陷入恶性循环。南欧葡萄牙、意大利、希腊、西班牙相继出现财务危机,主要原因也是低能政客竞相讨好选民,各种各样的福利支出耗尽了国库,最终恶果还是要百姓来买单。

“空谈误国”导致西方民主品质的严重滑坡,其大背景是西方民主制度越来越演变成一种“游戏民主”,也就是把民主等同于竞选,把竞选等同于政治营销,把政治营销等同于拼金钱、拼表演、拼空谈,政客所做的承诺很少兑现,多数选民对此也无可奈何,结果是国家治理品质的普遍下滑甚至急剧下降。

西方民主模式很像一个被宠坏的孩子,如果他有祖上遗留下来的丰厚家产,如西方多数国家那样,他还可以继续挥霍和“游戏”一段时间;而对于那些祖上遗产不多的发展中国家,照搬西方民主模式后,情况就更糟。印度实行西式民主,也染上了“空谈误国”症,其主要政客9年前竞选时的一句大话、空话:5年后世界将“忘掉上海,转而只谈孟买”,今天成了一个经典的政治笑话。

如果说中国概念的“空谈误国”点出了西方模式的某种顽症的话,那么“与时俱进”大概就是中国可以给西方模式开出的药方。其实西方许多有识之士也意识到了这个问题。比利时在经历了540多天无中央政府的危机后,这个西方国家的一批知识分子于2011年11月发表了《千人集团宣言》,对西方民主制度未能 “与时俱进”提出了强烈的批评:“除了民主,现在全世界的革新无处不在。如公司必须不断创新,科学家必须不断跨越学科藩篱,运动员必须不断打破世界纪录,艺术家必须不断推陈出新。但说到社会政治组织形式,我们显然仍满足于19世纪30年代的程序。我们为什么必须死抱着两百年的古董不放手?民主是活着的有机体,民主的形式并非固定不变的,应该随着时代的需要而不断成长。”

这段话说得很棒!如果西方还是拒绝“与时俱进”的改革,无法克服“空谈误国”症,那么西方整体走衰的趋势恐将难以避免,甚至不能排除一些西方国家加速滑向“第三世界”。这种现象实际上已经在许多西方国家内部出现,在美国、法国、意大利等国内部已经有相当规模的“第三世界”,而像希腊这样的国家似乎正在整体滑向“第三世界”。西方国家该警醒了:与其忙于向世界推销自己的民主,还不如好自为之,痛下决心,全面修理一下自己的治国理政模式。

我预测

读罢校园里的中国经济信号 from 南方周末,已然全部沦陷。就连唯一招人的国企,其实早就满编了,只不过是应政府要求保证就业率罢了。

我预测中国此轮经济周期将断续持续约为12年。虽然始于2007年,几经人工干预,蛰伏年余,于2011年再显异动,终不改势。人类以为自己洞息自然规律,可以操纵自然;经济学家以为自己洞息经济规律,可以调控经济。不知,天地不仁,以万物为刍狗。习总也不必为此感到内疚,前人欠下的帐,后人来还而已。

当下,在学校的当庆幸没有浪费生命,有工作以保工作为第一要务,在国外的当立足国外以避风头。正是休养生息、调理筋骨时,何不待春暖花开,再去冬而作。

以上。立此存照。

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

哈、哈、哈、哈。

Obama, Explained.

一命二运三风水

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Obama, Explained

Mar 2012 The Atalantic

As Barack Obama contends for a second term in office, two conflicting narratives of his presidency have emerged. Is he a skillful political player and policy visionary—a chess master who always sees several moves ahead of his opponents (and of the punditocracy)? Or is he politically clumsy and out of his depth—a pawn overwhelmed by events, at the mercy of a second-rate staff and of the Republicans? Here, a longtime analyst of the presidency takes the measure of our 44th president, with a view to history.

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press/Corbis Images

In the late 1990s, when his fellow University of Chicago professor Barack Obama had just run for the Illinois State Senate and long before a newly inaugurated President Obama named him to his Council of Economic Advisers, the economist Austan Goolsbee was on the most terrifying airplane trip of his life. He was traveling on Southwest Airlines from St. Louis back to Chicago’s Midway Airport. The plane got into a thunderstorm, and for a while many passengers thought they were doomed.

One jolt of turbulence was so strong that a flight attendant, not yet strapped in, hit her head on the airplane’s ceiling. After another sudden drop, the lights went out on one side of the cabin. The violent ups and downs kept getting worse. Two rows ahead of Goolsbee, a professional-looking woman in her 50s began wailing, “We’re going to die! We’re all going to die!” “Everyone was looking around and on the border of panic,” Goolsbee told me recently. “I was kind of wishing someone would start yelling, ‘No, we’re all not going to die!’”

At last the plane made it safely to Midway. As passengers filed off, Goolsbee spoke with a strapping young man who had been sitting, ashen but stoic and silent, in a window seat next to the woman whose nerves had broken. He was a high-school football player coming to Chicago on a college recruiting trip. “Quite a flight,” Goolsbee said to him. “This is my first time on an airplane,” the young man replied. “Are they always like that? I can see why people don’t like to fly.”

Goolsbee’s punch line to the story is that during his two years in Washington, “I was that kid.” He and his colleagues were trying to devise policies to cope with the worst worldwide economic crisis in living memory, in the most contentious political environment in nearly as long a time. He would ask himself, Is it always like this? He could see why people didn’t like politics and government.

But when I heard the story, my thoughts turned immediately in another direction. Goolsbee may have felt like that kid, but to most of the world, the more obvious comparison would be to the man who hired Goolsbee, Barack Obama. Four years after being sworn in as a freshman senator, occupying a position of executive authority for the first time in his life, Obama was, at age 47, instantly responsible for guiding the world’s superpower and its allies through an emergency that had left far more experienced leaders wailing the political and financial equivalent of “We’re all going to die!”

In office as during his campaign—indeed, through the entirety of his seven-plus years as a national figure since his keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in the summer of 2004—Obama has maintained his stoic, unflapped, “no drama” air. During the fall and winter of 2007, his campaign seemed to be getting nowhere against Hillary Clinton, who was then, to knowledgeable observers, the “inevitable” nominee. In 2008, John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate seemed to energize his campaign so much that, despite gathering signs of financial disaster under the incumbent Republicans, just after Labor Day the McCain-Palin team had opened up a lead over Obama and Joe Biden in several national polls. CBS News and an ABC–Washington Post poll had McCain up by 2 percentage points in early September, a week before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy; a USA Today–Gallup poll that same week had him ahead by a shocking 10 points. But Obama and Biden stayed unrattled and on message, and two months later they won with a two-to-one landslide in the Electoral College and a 7-point margin in the popular vote. The earnestly devotional HOPE poster by Shepard Fairey was the official icon of the Obama campaign. But its edgier, unofficial counterpart, a Photoshopped Internet image that appeared as an antidote to the panic over polls and Palin, perfectly captured the candidate’s air of icy assurance. It showed a no-nonsense Obama looking straight at the camera, with the caption EVERYONE CHILL THE FUCK OUT, I GOT THIS!

The history is relevant because it shows how quickly impressions of strength or weakness can evaporate and become almost impossible to reimagine. Try to think back to when sophisticated people thought that Sarah Palin was the key to Republican victory, or when Obama’s every political instinct seemed inspired. I can attest personally to a now-startling fact behind Jimmy Carter’s rise to the presidency. When he met privately with editorial-board members and veteran political figures across the country in the early days of his campaign—people who had seen contenders come and go and were merciless in spotting frailties—the majority of them went away feeling that in Carter they had encountered a person of truly exceptional political insight and depth. (You might not believe me; I have the notes.) Is this how the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s choice of Obama as its laureate within nine months of his taking office will look as the years pass—the symbol of a “market top” in the world’s romanticism about Obama?

Whether things seem to be going very well or very badly around him—whether he is announcing the death of Osama bin Laden or his latest compromise in the face of Republican opposition in Congress—Obama always presents the same dispassionate face. Has he been so calm because he has understood so much about the path ahead of him, and has been so clever in the traps he has set for his rivals? Or has he been so calm because, like the high-school kid on the plane, he has been so innocently unaware of how dire the situation has truly been?

This is the central mystery of his performance as a candidate and a president. Has Obama in office been anything like the chess master he seemed in the campaign, whose placid veneer masked an ability to think 10 moves ahead, at which point his adversaries would belatedly recognize that they had lost long ago? Or has he been revealed as just a pawn—a guy who got lucky as a campaigner but is now pushed around by political opponents who outwit him and economic trends that overwhelm him?

EMBEDED UNSUPPORTED VIDEO

Video: Fallows talks to Atlantic Senior Editor Corby Kummer (who edited this story) about Obama’s chances for reelection and why he might actually have something to learn from George W. Bush.

The end of a president’s first term is an important time to ask these questions, and not just because of the obvious bearing on his fitness for reelection. Hard as it is to have any dispassionate discussion of a president’s performance during an election year, it will be even harder once the election is over. If a year from now Obama is settling in for a second term, a halo effect will extend back to everything he did during his first four years. His programs will be more effective in reality, since he will get that many more years to cement them in with follow-up measures, supportive appointments to federal agencies and the courts, and possible vetoes of any attempts at repeal. And, through the lens of history, they will seem more effective, since whatever he did in his first term will appear to have been part of an overall plan that was ratified through reelection. Yet if a year from now a just-beaten former President Obama is thinking about his memoirs and watching his former appointees blame one another, and him, for the loss, the very same combination of missteps and achievements will be viewed as a narrative leading inexorably to defeat. By saying, after a year in office, that he would rather be “a really good one-term” president than a “mediocre” president who served two terms, Obama was playing to the popular conceit that presidents should rise above such petty concerns as reelection. The reality, though, is that our judgment about “really good” and “mediocre” presidents is colored by how long they serve. A failure to win reelection places a “one-term loser” asterisk on even genuine accomplishments. Ask George H. W. Bush, victor in the Gulf War; ask Jimmy Carter, architect of the Camp David agreement.

Not knowing how the election will turn out, what can we say now? I’m not talking about how Obama looks to the roughly one-third of Americans who have been skeptical of him from the start—his highest approval rating was around 70 percent, just after he took office—nor about how he looks to the nearly comparable number who by the end of last year said they still had “strongly favorable” opinions of his performance. But for the seemingly huge number of people who sense that he has shrunk in office and that his administration has achieved less than it should or could have, and for scholars, historians, and political veterans who have matched it against presidencies of the past, is there an objective way to judge Obama’s competence and control?

Early this year, just after Obama dared the Republican-controlled House not to pass a payroll-tax-cut extension and then announced “recess appointments” for nominees who had been blocked by Senate filibuster, Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at UC San Diego, told me that this might be the beginning of a shrewd Truman-esque election-year plan. In his forthcoming book, The Candidate: What It Takes to Win—and Hold—the White House, he describes how in 1946 Truman, after suffering a midterm-election setback even worse than Clinton’s in 1994 or Obama’s in 2010, based the come-from-behind success of his reelection campaign on the refusal of a “do-nothing Congress” to work with him or address the country’s problems. Starting late last year, when he defied the House Republicans, Obama has seemed to follow Truman’s script. “What I’d love to know is whether this was all a careful long-term plan,” Popkin said of Obama’s evolution, “or whether they just lucked into it.”

Chess master, or pawn? That is the question I asked a variety of political figures last year, starting when the Obama administration was wrangling with Republicans in Congress to avoid a damaging default on the national debt. I spoke with current and past members of this administration, officials from previous administrations, current and past members of the Senate and the House, and some academics. Compared with the last two times a Democrat was in the White House—during Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s and Bill Clinton’s in the 1990s—I found Democrats much more careful about criticizing their own party’s president during an election year. It’s not that Democrats have become so much more disciplined, nor, obviously, that they have no complaints, but rather that they seem more worried about the risks of helping the other side. I asked someone who has been close to Obama if I could interview him about his experiences. He said, “I’m not going to say anything that might hurt during the campaign.” At the Capitol, I asked one prominent Democratic legislator what he had learned about Obama as a leader and a person that the general public did not know. He sat for nearly a full minute and then replied, “I would rather not say.” But other people I spoke with—from Congress and inside and outside the administration—volunteered sincere-seeming flattering accounts of the Obama they had observed in informal discussions and strategy sessions. Because of sensitivities on all sides, this article includes something our magazine tries hard to avoid: critical opinions in “blind quotes,” from people not willing to be named. In every case where I’ve used such a quote, it’s from a person I trust and who was in a position to observe the events being described.

Having seen a number of presidencies unfold, and some unravel, I am fully aware of how difficult it is to assess them in real time. What I feel I’ve learned about Obama is that he was unready for the presidency and temperamentally unsuited to it in many ways. Yet the conjunction of right-wing hostility to his programs and to his very presence in office, with left-wing disappointment in his economic record and despair about his apparent inability to fight Republicans on their own terms, led to an underappreciation of his skills and accomplishments—an underappreciation that is as pronounced as the overestimation in those heady early days. Unprepared, yes. Cool to the point of chilly, yes. For all his ability to inspire and motivate people en masse, for all his advertised emphasis on surrounding himself with a first-rate “team of rivals,” Obama appears to have been unsavvy in the FDR-like arts of getting the best from his immediate team and continuing to attract the best people to him.

Yet the test for presidents is not where they begin but how fast they learn and where they end up. Not even FDR was FDR at the start. The evidence is that Obama is learning, fast, to use the tools of office. Whether he is learning fast enough to have a chance to apply these skills in a second term—well, we’ll reconvene next year.

Why Presidents Fail

We judge presidents by the specific expectations they ask to be measured against: inspiration (Kennedy, Reagan, Obama), competence and experience (Eisenhower, the first George Bush), strategic cunning (Johnson, Nixon), integrity and personal probity (Carter), inclusiveness and empathy (Clinton), unshakable resolve (the second Bush). But eventually each is judged against his predecessors, a process that properly starts with a reminder that all begin their terms ill-equipped, in ways that hindsight tends to obscure.

The sobering realities of the modern White House are: All presidents are unsuited to office, and therefore all presidents fail in certain crucial aspects of the job. All betray their supporters and provoke bitter criticism from their own side at some point in their term. And all are mis-assessed while in office, for reasons that typically depend more on luck and historical accident than on factors within their control. These realities do not excuse Obama’s failings, but they do put his evolution in perspective.

Presidents fail because not to fail would require, in the age of modern communications and global responsibilities, a range of native talents and learned skills no real person has ever possessed. These include “smarts” in the normal sense—the analytical ability to cope with the stream of short- and long-term decisions that come at a president nonstop. (How serious is the latest provocation out of North Korea? What are the “out year” budget implications of a change in Medicaid repayment formulas?) A president needs rhetorical clarity and eloquence, so that he can explain to publics at home and around the world the intent behind his actions and—at least as important—so that everyone inside the administration understands his priorities clearly enough that he does not have to wade into every little policy fight to enforce his preferences.

A president needs empathy and emotional intelligence, so that he can prevail in political dealings with his own party and the opposition in Washington, and in face-to-face negotiations with foreign leaders, who otherwise will go away saying that this president is “weak” and that the country’s leadership role is suspect. He needs to be confident but not arrogant; open-minded but not a weather vane; resolute but still adaptable; historically minded but highly alert to the present; visionary but practical; personally disciplined but not a prig or martinet. He should be physically fit, disease-resistant, and capable of being fully alert at a moment’s notice when the phone rings at 3 a.m.—yet also able to sleep each night, despite unremitting tension and without chemical aids.

Ideally he would be self-aware enough that, in the center of a system that treats him as emperor-god, he could still recognize his own defects and try to offset them. The psychoanalyst Justin Frank has written Obama on the Couch as a follow-up to Bush on the Couch, examining the psychological roots of each president’s strengths and weaknesses in office. George W. Bush: eternally craving approval from his distant mother and more accomplished father (and finally surpassing him, solely in being reelected). Barack Obama: aloof and unconnected because of his absent father and his eternal status as outsider.

You can take this psychoanalytic approach seriously, or not. The significant fact is that an abnormal-psych study could be written on every president of the modern era except the one who never ran for national office, Gerald R. Ford, and possibly also the first George Bush. When I heard critical comments about Obama’s personal style, they usually started with this trait: his emotional distance from all but a handful of longtime friends and advisers.

A new president’s first term is usually an experiment in seeing which weak point will limit everything else he does. George W. Bush was disciplined and decisive but not sufficiently informed or inquisitive. Bill Clinton was informed and inquisitive but was nearly driven from office because he was not personally disciplined. George H. W. Bush was disciplined and informed but could not seem empathetic or visionary. Ronald Reagan was eloquent and decisive but less and less attentive to the analytic part of his job. You can take the list back a very long way. Many presidents who survive to a second term and thereby attain the ultimate in political success see their preexisting failings bear worse fruit. Impeachment for Bill Clinton, Iran-Contra for Ronald Reagan, impeachment and resignation for Richard Nixon, and so on. (The main contemporary exception has been George W. Bush, whose most controversial decisions and events all occurred during his first four years—from the invasion of Iraq to passage of the expensive Medicare Part D benefits to the outsized role of his vice president—and who in his second term tacked back from many of those policies.)

Another harsh reality of the modern presidency is one we conveniently forget when thinking about new presidents. Without exception, they betray their followers—and must do so, to stay in office and govern. In Obama’s case, this started with the forgiving approach to Wall Street and continued with his recommitment of troops to Afghanistan and extension of other Bush-era security policies.

However jarring, this is part of a historical norm. George W. Bush’s name was barely mentioned in the recent Republican primaries, because a party that professes concern about debt, deficit, and big bailouts cannot easily talk about what happened on his watch. Bill Clinton now reigns as the Democratic Party’s sun king and savior. But in office Clinton infuriated much of the constituency that had elected him, with his support for welfare reform, his perceived bungling of the effort to pass a national health-care plan, and the rise in his personal popularity that followed the Democrats’ historic loss of control in Congress. Just after Clinton was sworn in for his second term, this magazine published a cover story called “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done.” It was by Peter Edelman, who had resigned as a senior administration official to protest the compromises Clinton made with Newt Gingrich’s Republicans in passing the welfare-reform bill. After Clinton left office, The Atlantic’s Jack Beatty wrote, “Listening to Bill Clinton—by turns, charming, shrewd, and wise—speak at the opening of his presidential library in Little Rock last week, brought home anew the gap between his gifts of brain, heart, and speech, and what he made of them as president. In this he compares unfavorably to George W. Bush.” Anything that bitter liberals have said about Barack Obama’s weakness and willingness to compromise was said more bitterly about the previous Democratic president.

The first George Bush agreed to raise taxes to balance the budget—and in so doing violated his “Read my lips!” promise to oppose all tax increases. This left conservatives feeling so betrayed that in his reelection campaign he faced first a strong primary challenge by Pat Buchanan and then the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot. Ronald Reagan spent the first year of his administration cutting taxes and the next seven agreeing to continued increases. Before him, Jimmy Carter so antagonized the left that its champion, Teddy Kennedy, waged a bitter primary fight against him and badly weakened him for the general election. You can take this list, too, as far back as you like.

To recognize this long history is not to defend any of the specific Obama-era policies that have most disappointed his original supporters. It is instead a reminder that every president takes infuriating steps away from “the base”—sometimes for reasons that look in retrospect like statesmanship (Nixon with China), strategic error (Johnson with Vietnam), or mere creation of political maneuvering room (Clinton’s “triangulation” after the Republican victories of 1994). It is easy to forget this in the exasperation that surrounds the incumbent of the moment. And this history is systematically forgotten every four years. After all, the question in each campaign is a different and simpler one. It is not “How many of his aspirations will this president fulfill, and what trade-offs must he make along the way?” but rather “Is he better or worse than that other person?”

There is one last certainty about assessing presidents, which is that their prospects for political survival and reelection are far more fluid and uncertain than we will think they were when we look back on them. With nearly 20 years’ hindsight, it is “obvious” to everyone that the Clinton administration’s “Hillarycare” plan was a political disaster. But when it was first presented to Congress, it was popular in opinion polls and was expected to pass. (Skeptical? In September 1993, just after the plan was unveiled, the veteran political analyst William Schneider wrote, “The reviews are in and the box office is terrific. President Clinton’s health care reform plan is a hit … The more people read and hear about the plan, the more they seem to like it.”) Two weeks after the plan’s release, the “Black Hawk Down” disaster occurred in Somalia, which led to the resignation of Clinton’s defense secretary and a cascade of problems for the administration. A year later, Newt Gingrich and his Republicans had taken control of the House, and the health-care-reform era was over for the Clintons. It is in comparison with the Clintons’ near-miss that Obama’s passage of a health-care bill—the first item of complaint by his critics—is considered such an achievement by veterans of other Democratic administrations.

Similarly, it is retrospectively obvious that Ronald Reagan was going to trounce Jimmy Carter. We know that he carried 44 states against Carter in 1980 and went on to a 49-state landslide against Walter Mondale four years later. But Carter—despite the American hostages in Iran, despite high gas prices and a bad economy, despite the primary challenge by Teddy Kennedy and the third-party challenge by John Anderson, despite everything—was neck-and-neck with Reagan, and ahead of him in some polls, until the last few days of the campaign.

Even at the time, it was obvious to everyone that Richard Nixon was going to trounce George McGovern in 1972. But less than six months before Election Day, Nixon felt uncertain enough to deploy the Watergate burglars to break into Democratic headquarters and try to gain an extra edge. George H. W. Bush, with an 89 percent approval rating just after the Gulf War, was so obviously headed toward reelection that he could barely take the callow Bill Clinton seriously. Four years later, with an Obama-esque 42 percent approval rating at the beginning of his reelection year, Clinton was obviously in trouble—but went on to an overwhelming win.

Whatever now seems obvious about Obama’s strengths and weaknesses, the future perception of his achievements and electoral fate will be subject to luck and to the adjustments he will make, or fail to make, in his own performance. This point too is obvious, except that the entire political-pundit industry rests on amnesia about its own long-failed record of looking ahead. Lawrence Summers, for two years the head of Obama’s economic council, made a similar argument about Obama’s health-care legislation. “If he is reelected, 40 years from now this will be like Medicare—an achievement that is part of the landscape and that people can’t imagine being without.” And if Obama should lose, Summers told me, and especially if conservative judges after his departure overturn some of its provisions, “then the health-care plan will be presented as a sign of ‘overreach’ and ‘hubris’ and the administration’s ‘inevitable’ failure.”

Obama was blessed by luck—and skill—in his campaign, but his administration had bad luck even before it began. “He ended up governing a country he never expected to govern,” Gary Hart, the former senator and presidential candidate, told me. “The crux of the Obama administration’s problems can be traced to October 2008,” with the accelerating financial collapse. “You have a president who in the last days of his campaign began to understand that he was going to have to make fundamental adjustments in everything he had intended. We’ll never know what an Obama presidency absent the economic catastrophe would have looked like.”

Every President Is Ill-Suited to Office, Each in a Different Way

What have we learned about Barack Obama’s particular versions of the weaknesses every president brings to office? The diagnoses I heard, and have myself observed, fall into four main categories:

Inexperience: that Obama’s own lack of executive experience left him reliant on the instincts and institutional memory of others—and since so many of his appointees came from the Clinton administration, he was also vulnerable to ’90s-vintage groupthink among them. This was particularly true, as we’ll see, during his response to the economic crisis in his first year in office, and then during his showdowns with Congress after Tea Party–inspired Republicans regained control of the House.

Coldness: that what looks serene in public can seem distant and aloof in his private dealings and negotiations.

Complacency about talent: that the disciplined excellence he demands of himself—in physical fitness and appearance, in literary polish of his speeches, in unvarying control of his mood and public presentation—has not extended to demands for a comparably excellent supporting staff.

Symbolic mismatch: that Obama’s personal achievement in rising to the presidency betokened, for much of the electorate, far more sweeping ambitions for political change than Obama the incrementalist operator ever had in mind.

You could write a treatise on each of these, as scholars undoubtedly will. Here is the sort of material you would use in the discussion.

About inexperience: “The key to everything is that he was a first-term senator, and one who began running for the presidency in the second year of his first term,” Gary Hart told me. “Governors have better odds of becoming president, but the Senate can be an ideal place to meet … the new thinkers, hear about things and ideas that are over the horizon, and develop your own network of people you trust and will draw from. Because he began running so quickly, that is something he had little chance to do.”

Several people pointed out that Bill Clinton, though younger than Obama when he became president, had developed a network of advisers, friends, and thinkers through his nearly 12 years as a governor and a lifetime as a contact-maker across the United States and around the world. By the time Bill Clinton ran for the White House, thousands of people considered themselves FOBs, Friends of Bill. If you asked who his closest or “best” friend was, apart from Hillary, you would never get to the end of the answers. Obama had a much thinner array of Friends of Barack. When I asked associates and friends who his confidants were, apart from Michelle, the one name that kept recurring was Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of both Obamas in Chicago and a senior adviser in the White House, sometimes followed by his strategist David Axelrod. Because his own network of advisers was limited, and as part of the settlement of the bitter primary battle with Hillary, Obama inherited many of the Clintons’ contacts and team members.

“In any new administration … the 20-somethings who’d been working in the campaign … get the second- and third-layer staff jobs,” Hart said. “And for Obama, you had his immediate Chicago group. But the staff and policy positions—the Podestas [John Podesta, Clinton’s White House chief of staff who co-chaired Obama’s transition team] and Rahms [Rahm Emanuel, a Clinton White House adviser who became Obama’s first chief of staff], and in State, Defense, and the NSC—it was essentially a third Clinton term.”

Some such carryover is inevitable and healthy, since junior members of one administration are natural candidates for senior posts the next time their party comes to power. The difference many people stressed was Obama’s comparative lack of an offsetting team of his own, and the edge that gave to those whose instincts were developed in the Clinton era. “When I look at the first year,” one person told me, “I see people saying, ‘Here is what we tried to do in the ’90s, let’s try it again—and here is my Rolodex [sic!] of people to work the problem.’” A person who has worked closely with the White House staff said, “Early on, you had all these Clinton-era economist-technocrat types”—Lawrence Summers, Peter Orszag, Timothy Geithner, and the like. “The danger is that if one of them is making a mistake, everybody agrees, and they’re all making the same mistake.”

Another person, who has extensive national-level experience, said that the biggest surprise for any new president is the strain placed upon the “decision-making muscle,” since the choices that come upon him every day are precisely those the rest of the government has not been able to resolve. The question for someone whose only real executive training has been the management of his campaign is “how quickly that muscle will develop and improve”; as it is developing, the instincts and institutional memory of those around him inevitably have great effect. Obama frequently emphasizes how many troubles he faced as soon as he took office. The real problem, for an inexperienced president, is that he had to make so many big decisions so fast. How tough to get on Wall Street; how hard to push for extra stimulus; how much time to give Congress to mull health-care plans; how much to trust the Republicans to cooperate; how long to delay on energy and environmental plans—these are just some of the choices Obama had to make about domestic affairs.

With the clarity of hindsight, many of the choices look ill-considered, to say the least. He should have been harder on Wall Street, less patient about drafting of the health-care bill, more suspicious of Republican efforts to block his legislation and nominees. Plus, he should have made sure that Martha Coakley knew who Curt Schilling was! “I think they made a fundamental strategic error in presenting the health-care plan the way that they did,” Jim Webb, the Democratic senator from Virginia, told me. “They were so conscious of not presenting Congress with a 1,000-page fait accompli, which was the big complaint about the Clinton plan, that they farmed it out to five committees and let 7,000 pages of health-care plans percolate up.” Walter Mondale, the former vice president, made a similar point. “He had his honeymoon, but he took the position that he would let Congress work this all out. I think a president has got to be on legislators’ backs all the way through, or it won’t get done—or will be done in a way that involves all kinds of private packages on the Hill.”

These misjudgments were the result of his own inexperience—and his reliance on a staff whose own formative experiences were mainly from the Clinton years and who were refighting some of those battles under different circumstances. But through the past year, his “decision muscle” appears to have developed. He has continued to make big strategic calls—from authorizing the assault on Osama bin Laden to defying the Republicans over the payroll-tax holiday—and most have gone his way.

Cool—or Cold?

About coldness, the next item on the standard list of complaints: Politicians appeal to the left brain—ideas, interests—but at least as much to the emotions, hopes, and insecurities associated with the brain’s right side. Politics inside Washington also runs on countless small acts of flattery and social-favor exchange: Who gets tickets for the White House box at the Kennedy Center? Who will get a signed picture with the president to display on the office’s “brag wall”?

“President Obama’s extra-high intellectual capacity is simply not matched by his emotional capacity,” I was told by someone with long experience in the executive branch. “Surprisingly for someone who led such an inspirational campaign, he does not seem to have the ability to connect with people.” At the non-glorious but important retail level of politics, this leads to complaints by Democratic representatives and senators about having to ask for the small strokes to their vanity that matter so much, and that politicians as different as Bill Clinton or either of the George Bushes would administer instinctively. One senior fund-raiser, who considered himself beyond having any specific favors to ask of the administration, kept waiting for an invitation to visit the White House. Eventually he was invited for a briefing there, along with a number of others who had played supportive roles in the campaign. “The president walked in, he sat down in the front row of the briefing room, he listened along with everyone else, and then he walked out without speaking to anyone,” a person familiar with the event said. “People would just as soon have not been invited.” I heard variations of this story from legislators and others in the role of miffed supporter.

You hear this kind of griping about whoever is in the White House; and if you have the slightest introverted tendency yourself, you can sympathize with the desire not to be “on” and engaged with people who want your attention every instant of the day. Bill Clinton, of course, is not fully alive unless “on.” Like Clinton and unlike George W. Bush, Barack Obama is said to be a night owl. But in the wee hours, Clinton would be on the phone, playing cards with friends, gabbing about history and politics, or doing anything else that involved live human company. Obama is more likely to be spending time with papers or a book, or even to be online—prowling through the same blogs and news sites as the rest of us, which is somehow unnerving given a president’s otherwise total cocooning from the daily details of shopping, driving, waiting, in ordinary Americans’ lives.

It turns out that Obama is sufficiently aware of and sensitive about his Mr. Spock–like image to have called it the “biggest misconception” about him in a year-end interview with Barbara Walters on ABC in December. It was entirely wrong, he said, for the public to think of him as “being detached, or Spock-like, or very analytical. People who know me know that I am a softie. I mean, stuff can choke me up very easily. The challenge for me is that in this job … people want you to be very demonstrative in your emotions. And if you’re not sort of showing it in a very theatrical way, then somehow it doesn’t translate over the screen.”

Whatever he thinks his real emotional makeup might be, the challenge of “showing it,” and translating it over the screen, affects his ability to lead. As an explainer of ideas through rhetoric, Obama has few recent peers. And at least twice in the past four years, he has changed national opinion, and politically saved himself, through the emotional content of his words and presence. Once was in March 2008, when the media storm about his radical-sounding pastor, Jeremiah “God Damn America!” Wright, threatened to end his candidacy. Then Obama responded with his speech in Philadelphia about the meaning of race in America—which at least for a while, and for at least enough of the electorate to let him survive, made his mixed-race heritage a symbol not of threatening otherness but of the country’s true nature. Then, in January of last year, his party’s historic rout during the midterm elections had made Obama seem as shrunken and defeated a figure as Bill Clinton had seemed after his midterm losses 16 years before. But even his usual opponents hailed Obama’s speech in Tucson after the horrific shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords and others, for its sober but healing emotional power. One conservative blog, Power Line, said it was a “brilliant, spellbinding, and fitting speech”; John Podhoretz, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, wrote in the New York Post that it was “beautiful and moving and powerful.” Politically, this is when Obama seemed to return to life after the midterm disaster.

Jimmy Carter, like Obama primarily a creature of the left brain, had no comparable moments of emotionally triumphant rhetoric. But elevated as they are, such moments are still exceptions to Obama’s mainly rational appeal. His natural register involves great issues of law and race—but not economics, and especially not economic struggle, which has turned out to be the commanding domestic issue of his time. Obama ran for office when the most urgent issues seemed to be war and peace, plus the moral basis of America’s standing in the world. He has ended up governing when the most urgent issue has been jobs-jobs-jobs, which, as a matter both of policy and of rhetorical connection, comes less naturally to him.

“Politics changes when people can’t pay for their home mortgages and can’t afford medical care and can’t send their kids to school,” Walter Mondale told me. “It is such a humiliating blow to be the head of a family and be unable to work and provide, that people don’t respond entirely rationally all the time. It can explode in politics in a hard-to-understand way.” Mondale said that until the midterm elections, Obama was seen—incorrectly, in Mondale’s view—as an “aloof and diffident president in the eyes of those who were suffering.” But he has now, Mondale thinks, changed his tone.

“The president,” another very experienced Democratic politician told me, “is the only person in the American system who represents all the people, and learning what you need to know to effectively represent all the people is really impossible to do with intellect alone. You have to understand, emotionally, what people are feeling and going through. You have to cut through whatever intellectual jargon is given you by your advisers and pollsters, and cut right to the core. We don’t see that in Obama. I have seen him try to synthesize it, but it comes across as synthetic.”

Complacency about talent? This is a wounding charge for any administration, and perhaps the most surprising thing to hear about one that has a former senator and presidential contender in one Cabinet post and a Nobel Prize–winning physicist in another, that attracted a prospective Republican presidential candidate to the most important overseas diplomatic assignment, and that at different stages has deployed the likes of David Petraeus, Robert Gates, and the late Richard Holbrooke. But here is a representative story, which I heard several times: Just before the midterm elections, which undid then-Representative Rahm Emanuel’s achievement of leading a Democratic takeover of the House in 2006, Emanuel announced that he was leaving as White House chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago. Shortly after William Daley, himself the son and brother of Chicago mayors, succeeded Emanuel in the White House, he came to Obama with his initial report. You are reeling, he said—stating the obvious after the Republican surge. Part of the problem is that the team around you is not good enough. To raise your game, you have to surround yourself with the best people available. There have to be changes.

Obama thought about it, and reportedly called Daley back in a few days later. “I like my team,” he said. “I am comfortable with who I have around me. Just so there’s no miscommunication, I’m saying that I like this team.” (The White House declined to comment on the episode.)

“The people he is most ‘comfortable’ with have the same limits of experience he does,” a veteran political figure told me. “An emotional reliance on people who are good people, and smart, but simply not A-plus players—it’s a limit.” These discussions often revolve around the central role of Valerie Jarrett in the Obamas’ professional and social lives. Her supporters say that she is the one friend they can truly trust; her detractors say that her omnipresence illustrates the narrowness of the president’s contacts.

Again, if you have been around politics, you have heard complaints about every White House staff—this one is too quarrelsome, that one is too paranoid. The one I was part of, in the Carter administration, was called Dogpatch-like and incompetent in its time. Several people who spoke on the record, like Lawrence Summers, made the opposite case about Obama. “Some White House staffs are well organized and disciplined, but the president is distant,” he said. “Others have intense presidential involvement but also some chaos, with micromanagement and relitigation.” Obama’s operation, he said, has been distinctive. The Obama team, he said, “stands out for having both intense presidential involvement and reasonable organizational order.” Still, this was the minority view—and given the brilliance of Obama’s campaign and the rigor of his standards for himself, “a subpar collection of talent” is not the complaint I expected to hear.

And symbolic mismatch? On the night he was elected, as a rhetorical opening of his speech to the throngs in Grant Park, Obama said, “Change has come to America.” He was careful to add that his election was only the beginning, that there was hard work and disappointment and—though he didn’t use the word—compromise still ahead. But every presidential election seems at the time to signal a new era, and that night the success of a handsome young black intellectual inevitably aroused expectations of comparably dramatic changes in policies. “I get the importance of his own achievement, and I celebrate it, but it was the wrong thing to say,” a senior Democratic official told me. “He opened himself to the interpretation that the great struggle was over just by virtue of his being elected, that ‘change had come’ to America before he had spent a day in office.”

In an influential Atlantic cover story published before the election, called “Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters,” Andrew Sullivan argued that precisely because of who Obama was—not just of mixed race but of a new generation, one not doomed to endless trench warfare in the cultural struggles that began in the 1960s—his election would in itself be significant, apart from any policies he might enact. Except for his early and politically crucial opposition to the Iraq War—the choice that made him rather than Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee—Obama’s policies placed him, if anything, to the right of Clinton and the rest of the Democratic field. For instance, he attacked Clinton’s health-care plan because it included an “individual mandate” to buy insurance. “If a mandate was the solution,” he said on CNN not long after her victory in the New Hampshire primary, “we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.”

No one remembered. A man who looked the way Obama did and ran on the platform of Hope necessarily faced expectations that would never have fallen on a President John Kerry, or Joe Biden, or Hillary Clinton. If Obama loses this year, inescapably he will be judged as a disappointment—not simply for having lost but for having governed in such a prosaic style after campaigning with such poetry. After Václav Havel’s death, late last year, TheNew York Times reported that he had met Obama shortly after Obama’s inauguration and given him a warning. “Limitless hope” projected onto a leader could be dangerous, Havel reportedly said, since “disappointment … could boil over into anger and resentment.” Obama told Havel that, as The Times put it, he was becoming “acutely aware” of the possibility.

What Obama Has Done …

Obama’s opponents will argue this year that he has been both incompetent and diabolically effective: too weak in defending the nation’s interests, and all too skillful in advancing his socialist agenda. The most disappointed of his former supporters may feel that the hopes he has dashed outweigh the achievements he has won. A year from now, we’ll all know what we think.

What I’ve concluded now is that Obama has shown the main trait we can hope for in a president—an ability to grow and adapt—and that the reason to oppose his reelection would be disagreement with his goals, not that he proved unable to rise to the job. As time has gone on, he has given increasing evidence that the skills he displayed in the campaign were not purely a fluke.

“Three of the most important things he has done are hardest to appreciate,” Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and an early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign, told me. Obama had named Daschle to head his health-care initiative as secretary of Health and Human Services, but Daschle withdrew in a controversy over his income-tax payments. He listed three of the achievements that I heard most often in talking with other Obama supporters.

The first is a negative accomplishment: avoiding an economic catastrophe even worse than the one the United States and the world have been through. Jim Webb, who was in the Senate when the Bush administration was requesting the first round of TARP “bailout” funds, said that he called economists he trusted for advice on what to do. “Every one of them said, ‘You have to do this’—vote for the funds,” he told me. “One of them told me, ‘These people need to be punished, but first you have to keep the system from going into cataclysmic default.’”

The second is what Daschle called “the dramatic improvement in the American image abroad.” The daily reports about American problems around the world, the crises in U.S. relations with Pakistan and a few other countries, the ongoing worldwide bull session about whether the U.S. is “in decline”—all of these things mask the broad and dramatic improvement in America’s “soft power” and international standing during Obama’s time. For instance: according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, in 2008 the positive view of the United States in Germany was 31 percent, in France it was 42 percent, and in Japan it was 50 percent. Last year, it was 62 percent in Germany, 75 percent in France, and 85 percent in Japan (the dramatic improvement in Japan was partly in response to U.S. aid after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident early in the year). These changes can make a real difference for American ideals and interests, but it is hard to mention them in American political debates without sounding “French.”

And finally, according to Daschle, the health-care bill that passed so narrowly and is so controversial will, especially if Obama is reelected, rank with Medicare in the list of legislative and social achievements by Democratic presidents. Yes, having helped plan the bill, Daschle is biased—as is Lawrence Summers, who argues that because of the health-care plan, “the historic debate will be whether the accomplishments of his first two years are the most substantial since Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965–66, or the most substantial since FDR’s in 1933–34.”

Other party grandees I spoke with, including Gary Hart and Walter Mondale, who had fought for the nomination that Mondale won in 1984, and Michael Dukakis, who won the nomination in 1988, emphasized how much Obama had accomplished given the economic hole he had to dig out of and the Republicans’ political strategy of simply trying to thwart him. Each had critiques and suggestions on the margin. Dukakis thought there could and should have been a stronger emphasis on public-service jobs—direct hiring of teachers, public-health workers, road builders—as part of an initial stimulus program. “In all the other recessions that I remember, public-service jobs were an important component of fighting unemployment,” he said. “I believe in giving people unemployment checks for half a year or even a year and helping in the course of their job search—and after that, if there simply are not a lot of jobs out there, you take the checks and turn them into jobs. But, for the Republicans these days, public-service jobs are Bolshevik policy”—a slight (but only slight) overstatement of the real Republican opposition to direct job creation through public projects. Mondale wished that Obama had been tougher on the banks and had started campaigning earlier against the Republican strategy of stonewalling his health-care proposals. Hart regretted that Obama had not tried harder to transform the Cold War military structure and contain the defense budget—areas of Hart’s expertise starting with his “defense reform” caucus in the 1980s—or moved more quickly toward disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan. I would add my amazement at the administration’s lackadaisical approach to the crucial business of staffing the government. Three years in, Obama had left more vacancies on the federal bench, and used his recess-appointment power far less often, than any of his recent predecessors. Part of this reflected Republican determination to block his nominations; part, Obama’s decision not to fight.

Test Cases

So where can Obama claim to have shown mastery of the job? In foreign policy, where a president can carry out his own strategy, he has shown that he actually has a strategy to execute. And in management of the domestic economy, he has shown increasing command of the tools of office, in ways surprisingly prefigured by his temperamental opposite, Harry Truman.

Like any president, Obama has had his share of embarrassments and failures in foreign policy. U.S. relations with Israel are near one of their periodic lows and perhaps worse than that, with many people in Israel feeling that they can’t trust Obama, and much of the rest of the world viewing him as having been outmaneuvered by Netanyahu. Relations with Pakistan are worse; the situation in Afghanistan has been contained rather than solved; and then there is Iran. But through his first three years in office, Obama suffered no major international disasters or setbacks, and meanwhile managed surprising progress on many fronts at once. If you were making a list of what has gone right, or not gone as badly wrong as it could have on his watch, it would include:

• containing what could have been an open-ended commitment in Iraq;

• walking a tightrope in Afghanistan: avoiding criticism from the military for doing too little while also preparing a path for withdrawal;

• managing the troubled relationship with Pakistan—including in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden raid;

• encouraging the Arab Spring events in general, without getting mired in the details of any of them;

• supporting the Europeans during their debt crisis, while keeping the United States somewhat insulated from it; and

• putting U.S. relations with China on a better footing than in many years, a task that has to be among the very most important for any president of the early 21st century.

This last item is one I watched unfold from the beginning of this administration, when I was still based in Beijing. Much like Nixon’s approach to China, I think it will eventually be studied for its skillful combination of hard and soft power, incentives and threats, urgency and patience, plus deliberate—and effective—misdirection. The details are significant:

As Obama began his term, official China was growing smug and prideful. The triumphant Beijing Olympics were just behind it; the American financial collapse symbolized the decline of a superpower and the world’s reliance on its new paymasters, the Chinese. Because of China’s heavy reliance on exports, its labor force was hit harder by the worldwide collapse of demand than that of any other major economy, but the Chinese pulled themselves out far more rapidly. Americans and Europeans dithered about applying stimulus; the Chinese went ahead and applied it, creating jobs for many millions of people and expanding the country’s physical infrastructure in the process.

By the time Obama made his state visit to Shanghai and Beijing, in November 2009, the press in both countries and the rest of the world was primed to present his usual low-key demeanor as servility. The Washington Post and The New York Times contrasted Obama’s supposed hat-in-hand manner with the bravado of Bill Clinton, who had mentioned the Tiananmen Square protests while standing next to President Jiang Zemin.

Yet even as Obama was politely listening to lectures about China’s new superiority, members of his administration were executing an elaborate pincer movement to reestablish American influence, real and perceived, among the growing economies of Asia. In practically every formal statement by U.S. officials, from President Obama to Secretaries Clinton, Geithner, and Gates, U.S. representatives hammered home a single message. The message was that America welcomed rather than feared China’s continued rise. This was directed at a widespread Chinese suspicion: that America would try to thwart China’s continued development because it viewed any increase in Chinese influence as a flat-out loss for the United States.

Many Chinese officials remained skeptical, but the reassurances set the stage for the next phase of the administration’s message: we welcome your rise, but we disagree on the following things—censorship, currency, and pollution, all matters that could be presented as containable items for discussion rather than as inherently threatening aspects of China’s ascent.

In the few months after Obama’s visit to China, some Chinese military and diplomatic officials began believing their own adulatory press clips. China entered its period of what was broadly described as overreach: challenging the Japanese, South Korean, Vietnamese, and Philippine navies with expanded claims of coming supremacy in the South China Sea and the broader Pacific; antagonizing trading partners from Russia to Burma to Australia with more-aggressive practices and claims. Through this period, the U.S. government was stitching up relations with every one of these countries. Part of the message was that with its inevitable extraction from the mire of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States could reassert its presence in the fastest-growing economic region of the world; the other part was that, for all its excesses, the United States was an easier regional power to live with than the Chinese would be.

Two years after Obama’s “humiliating” visit to Shanghai and Beijing, U.S. relations with China were a mix of cooperation and tension, as they had been through the post-Nixon years. But American relations with most other nations in the region were better than since before the Iraq War. In a visit to Australia late in 2011, Obama startled the Chinese leadership but won compliments elsewhere with the announcement of a new permanent U.S. Marine presence in Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast.

The strategy was Sun Tzu–like in its patient pursuit of an objective: reestablishing American hard and soft power while presenting a smiling “We welcome your rise!” face to the Chinese. “It was as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see,” Walter Russell Mead, of Bard College, often a critic of the administration, wrote about the announcement of the Australian base. “In the field of foreign policy, this was a coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be.”

In the realm of foreign policy, Barack Obama has learned what every modern president eventually does: despite the dangers, the emergencies, the intractable disagreements, and the life-and-death risks, international affairs naturally claim an ever-growing share of a president’s attention and enthusiasm. On the world stage, he represents an entire mighty country, not one perhaps-embattled party. International figures may be frustrating to deal with—Karzai, Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu in their different ways—but usually they can’t totally thwart or undermine him the way a Mitch McConnell or a Roger Ailes can. He can think big thoughts and announce big plans without seeing them immediately picked apart or ridiculed. And he can dare to devise a long-term strategy, like Obama’s with China, knowing that the tools for carrying it out—in the military, the diplomatic corps, the intelligence agencies, and the rest of the national-security apparatus—are within his line of command.

It is no wonder that the “national-security state” in all its aspects has continued to grow throughout the decades since the beginning of World War II. Defense budgets, intelligence and surveillance networks, private military contractors, irregular forms of war: these and other executive-branch tools of international power work like a ratchet. Some presidents rapidly increase them in times of emergency, as George W. Bush did after the 9/11 attacks. No president scales them back. Thus the imbalance continues to grow between international efforts, where a president has an ever greater array of tools and weapons, and the frustrating domestic arena. Despite having run on his opposition to the Iraq War and overseen the formal U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Barack Obama has, if anything, expanded the range of executive military power, from his unilateral (and mainly successful) decision to intervene in Libya to his expansion of drone attacks.

Think of the contrast with domestic affairs, especially economic management. Here the “chess master” case for Obama is that things did not deteriorate as disastrously as they easily could have. The “pawn” argument is that he was too often the victim of events, a cunning opposition, and his own naïveté—and will survive politically, if he does, thanks mainly to the clumsiness and overreach of his Republican opposition.

The standard view of Obama’s failures in the closely intertwined domestic fields of economic management and political strategy involves this series of mistakes, with cumulatively worsening impact:

• His administration underestimated the severity of the economic crisis from the outset, and therefore

• it proposed too small an offsetting response, while promising too quick a recovery; and meanwhile

• it coddled the financiers who had created the crisis, being quick to cover their losses and very slow to impose any conditions or correctives; while

• it wasted precious “honeymoon” time humoring the congressional committees that dickered over a proposed health-care bill; and throughout this time

• it naively imagined that the congressional Republicans were interested mainly in compromise solutions, which dispirited the administration’s allies and gave Obama a reputation for prizing the appearance of being reasonable over the achievement of his economic goals; and even worse

• it was fatally slow to recognize the Republican strategy of blocking its appointments and filibustering bills—and even when it saw what was happening, it enabled that strategy, by refusing to fight for nominees who encountered resistance (Elizabeth Warren being only the most familiar name on a long list) and failing to fight the routine use of the filibuster, as its predecessors had. And as if all this were not enough, after the rout in the 2010 election

• it self-destructively adopted the Republican claim that the federal deficit was the most immediate threat to the country, even though cutting the budget in response to that threat would make the real emergencies of unemployment and recession worse. And, finally

• it created a disaster that nearly consumed it, by trusting the new congressional Republican majority, now that it had what Obama called “the responsibility to govern,” not to risk a showdown over raising the ceiling of federal borrowing last year.

The list could go on, with items elaborating two main concerns: that the president and his team didn’t know what they were getting into, and that they were always one move behind real-time events in the political combat of today’s Washington.

What is the possible contrary case? Someday, we may know how the president himself might answer that question. (The White House declined our repeated requests for an interview.) His reflections in public have tended to be anodyne laments about the failure of bipartisan spirit; he can’t possibly believe it’s that innocent. But those around him make the case that in addition to being very unlucky (in the circumstances he inherited) and very lucky (in the Republican field that chose to run against him), Obama also shaped his luck by being shrewd, in three significant ways. First, according to this view, he always kept his eye on what mattered most, namely avoiding another recession—and compromised and backtracked only when, in his assessment, the alternative would have been a greater economic risk. Next, he absorbed pummeling by Republicans not so much because he was weak or unsuspecting as because he recognized problems the over-reaching opposition was creating for itself, much as he had during the 2008 primaries (and much as Bill Clinton had in 1995). And finally, that while like all presidents he came in unprepared, he adjusted as fast as anyone could have expected and was increasingly in control of events as time went on. Obviously, these don’t add up to the hopes for a second Lincoln that some of his most fervent backers held four years ago. But I think they are plausible analyses on their own terms.

The first contention—that from beginning to end Obama has chosen the path he thought would minimize new shocks to the economy—accords with normal political logic, since the worst threat to a sitting president is exactly the kind of slowdown Obama has tried to avoid, with mixed results at best through his first three years. It also makes sense of an otherwise disparate pattern of decisions, starting with his administration’s apparent coddling of Wall Street in 2009. This early failure of accountability is the main theme of Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men, and virtually everyone I spoke with said that it created a substantive and symbolic problem the administration has never fully recovered from. Substantive, because of the “moral hazard” created by using public money to guarantee the bonuses and repay the losses of people who had been so recklessly destructive. Symbolic, for all the reasons that eventually came to a head with last year’s Occupy movement.

An official familiar with the administration’s economic policy told me: “The recapitalization of the banks was a good idea, and necessary. But we did not put enough conditions on [their] getting the money. Ultimately not being tougher with the guys that got the money is the thing that overthrows the government twice—in 2008 [in a reaction against Bush’s TARP plan] and again in 2010.”

Keeping the system going was the guideline during the early days of financial rescue, and again later during the argument over government shutdowns and the raising of the debt ceiling. During the initial rescue, Obama’s response was of course shaped by the technocrat circle that guided the effort. From their experience with Asian and Latin American financial panics during the Clinton era, the likes of Summers, Geithner, and Orszag understood that their task was akin to emergency-room medicine, or firefighting. They had to contain the emergency first, because otherwise there was no telling how dire the consequences could be, and worry about anything else later. “Larry, Tim, Peter—when they heard about restricting bonuses or compensation, they would think, These are people’s contracts, we can’t change their contracts,” a member of the executive branch said. “But really it was the idea that the problem was enormous, the economy is in big trouble, do we want to make enemies while we’re putting out the fire? Usually they opted for whatever they thought would keep the economy going.” This rings true about the mood in the middle of an emergency, and also about the cultural tone-deafness that can affect people who all come from the same rarefied world.

So too during the showdowns with Congress over keeping the government funded, or raising the debt ceiling to prevent a default on Treasury notes. After the Republicans gained control of the House in the 2010 midterms, the negotiating team on the administration side was heavy on Clinton-era veterans who had been through previous dealings with a Republican Congress. Gene Sperling, who succeeded Summers as head of the National Economic Council and had held the same job during the Clinton years, and Jacob Lew, who succeeded Peter Orszag at the Office of Management and Budget and then William Daley as chief of staff, had dealt with Speaker Newt Gingrich and his new Republican majority in the 1995 budget battle that led to a government shutdown. Jason Furman, now Sperling’s deputy at the NEC, was a young staff economist on Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers at about the same time.

As they tried to arrange budget agreements with Speaker John Boehner and his new majority, they seemed to be the last people in Washington to recognize how different the circumstances were. The 54 new Republican representatives who arrived with Newt Gingrich mainly owed their positions to him. Or they thought they did: Gingrich’s “Contract With America” had been the unified nationwide platform for the GOP surge that year. When Bill Clinton sat down to negotiate with him, a deal made with Gingrich was a deal that would stick.

But the Obama team got clearer and clearer signals—first in budget negotiations in the spring, then in votes on the debt ceiling in the summer, and then in the confrontation over the payroll-tax holiday just before Christmas—that Boehner was a leader without a following. The 63 Republican freshmen owed him nothing; many had run against Washington business-as-usual practices that included the GOP establishment. “The Tea Party didn’t want a deal,” Austan Goolsbee told me. “The world understood that default was crazy and would destroy the economy. But hitting the ceiling would force big parts of the government out of business. That’s what they wanted. They weren’t bluffing.”

If keeping the economy growing was so central for Obama, why was the initial stimulus “only” $800 billion? “The case is quite compelling that if more fiscal and monetary expansion had been done at the beginning, things would have been better,” Lawrence Summers told me late last year. “That is my reading of the economic evidence. My understanding of the judgment of political experts is that it wasn’t feasible to do.” Rahm Emanuel told me that within a month of Obama’s election, but still another month before he took office, “the respectable range for how much stimulus you would need jumped from $400 billion to $800 billion.” In retrospect it should have been larger—but, Emanuel says, “in the Congress and the opinion pages, the line between ‘prudent’ and ‘crazy spendthrift’ was $800 billion. A dollar less, and you were a statesman. A dollar more, you were irresponsible.” The three Republicans who voted for the stimulus bill—Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and about-to-be-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania—all complained that it was far too large, as did Jim Webb and many other Democrats.

Can Obama Play Truman?

The second, related argument is that Obama’s passive, even withdrawn-seeming stance as “the only adult in the room” has positioned him better for reelection—and thus for his best chance to lock in the gains he has made—than a more directly combative approach would have. Not until Obama writes his post-presidential sequel to Dreams From My Father, and perhaps not even then, will we know all the sources of his seeming horror of partisan conflict. His above-the-fray pose was certainly the key to his rise in the first place. I was in the arena in Boston when he declared in his 2004 convention speech, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” The house erupted in cheers, and America’s first black president could not have gone on to win had he struck a more strident or divisive tone.

But lines like that described an ideal, not an operational reality, and once Obama entered office, his opponents didn’t buy them. Late last year John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, explained to me that his colleagues would have been “only too willing” to work with Obama, if he had not, in Barrasso’s view, “frozen us out” by listening only to Nancy Pelosi and the extreme-liberal base.

If Obama really thought that America had moved past partisan division, then he was too innocent for the job. But part of political leadership is being able to project a positive idealism that you know is at odds with the real world. I am ready to believe that Obama adopted this faux-harmonious tone, apart from its being his natural register, as a way to win the election, and as a marker for what he hoped America could become, and—crucially—that once in office, he maintained it as a sound position for himself as he moved toward reelection. Late last year, he also applied it with chess-master skill against the congressional Republicans, in daring them to let the widely popular payroll-tax cut expire at the start of an election year. They backed off, and when the dust settled, the Republicans found themselves at an unaccustomed political disadvantage. Having secured an agreement on government funding for the rest of the year, Obama had taken one of their favorite tools, the threat of a government shutdown, out of their hands through the campaign season. And after three years of seeming to shy from “partisan” rhetoric, he began linking the slate of GOP presidential contenders to the Tea Party–dominated Republican Congress, whose approval ratings were far worse than his own.

The payoff for Obama in a strategy of remaining Mr. Reasonable is the prospect of occupying the acceptable center, as the Tea Party spins the Republican Party off to the extreme. The risk is that even if the Republicans make themselves unpopular through filibuster and obstruction, they make Obama look weak—and that’s worse.

Obama’s future, and his effectiveness, depend on that balance, whose results we will see this year. My impression from recent evidence is that he has found his footing, and has come to understand how to use the constrained but still real powers of a president facing congressional opposition—just in time. The most enlightening document I found for assessing Obama’s recent moves turns out to be 66 years old.

This is a memorandum that James H. Rowe Jr., a Harvard-trained lawyer who had been Oliver Wendell Holmes’s last law clerk on the Supreme Court and after World War II was a young official at the Bureau of the Budget, wrote to President Harry Truman soon after the midterm elections of 1946. In that election, the Republicans gained 55 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate, to take control of both houses for the first time since before the New Deal. Truman was if anything less prepared, for more overwhelming responsibilities, than Obama was. Three months after he unexpectedly became president upon Franklin Roosevelt’s death, he had to decide on the use of atomic weapons whose very existence FDR had never let him know about. After that came management of post-war Europe and Asia. But the fundamentals of Truman’s political situation, as described in Rowe’s memo, are amazingly similar to those Obama now faces.

Rowe tells Truman that, with the Republican victory, he should be prepared for obstruction and nonstop partisan stalemate, not because of strategic mistakes on his side but because this is the basic nature of the American system. Anyone who thinks that American politics is more embattled “than ever,” as I am often tempted to, should read this memo (and Samuel Popkin’s exegesis of it, in The Candidate).

Rowe points out that when an opposing party holds Congress, it will always view weakening the president as its paramount goal. It will launch as many congressional investigations as possible, in hopes of finding scandal in an administration or at least distracting its appointees. It will block nominations and try to frustrate a president’s attempts to keep the executive branch operational. Its leaders will define “compromise” as the president’s accepting all of their demands and abandoning his own. If the leaders of Congress do finally strike a deal with the administration, a president should be wary. The “simple fact” about most deals with a congressional opposition, he writes, is that “they just won’t work under the American two-party system”:

For “cooperation” is a one-way street. The President can discipline the Executive Branch sufficiently by exercising his right to hire and fire; he can force it to cooperate. The Republican leaders may agree to have co-equal responsibility for executing the agreements reached on policy but they do not have co-equal power “to deliver” … [Congress] has no parliamentary discipline … for a very simple reason—Congressmen are not representatives of all the people; they represent only their own districts or sections and the particular pressure groups within those sections which are vital to them. No Congressional leader can commit his party because no commitments are binding upon the Members except those they may personally make to their own sections.

Negative discipline, of the kind that Mitch McConnell has exercised to keep Senate Republicans voting as a bloc against Obama’s proposals, is easier to maintain than positive discipline, of the kind Newt Gingrich wielded temporarily over his Republican majority. That is the exception. A president “should first of all accept the inevitability that formal cooperation is unworkable,” Rowe concludes. “Despite his sincere desire to cooperate, he should accept the verdict of the politicians, of history, and of the disinterested students of government.”

And so Rowe offers his recommendation. With legislative ambitions blocked, with many appointments left to languish, with rear-guard battles under way to uphold vetoes and fend off investigation, a president should resort to the only tool that is uniquely his: the ability to speak to all of the public. He should prepare the ground by sounding reasonable and conciliatory, in light of an unquenchable if unrealistic belief that parties should be able to get along. (“Public demand for bipartisan cooperation will probably continue. The realpolitik of the situation requires that there be some gestures toward cooperation.”) Then, with his bona fides established, the president can move into the next election, making a clear case for his side.

If Barack Obama loses this fall, he will forever seem a disappointment: a symbolically important but accidental figure who raised hopes he could not fulfill and met difficulties he did not know how to surmount. He meant to show the unity of America but only underscored its division. As a candidate, he symbolized transformation; in office, he applied incrementalism and demonstrated the limits of change. His most important achievement, helping forestall a second Great Depression, will be taken for granted or discounted in the dismay about the economic problems he did not solve. His main legislative accomplishment, the health-care bill, may well be overturned; his effect on America’s international standing will pass; his talk about bridging the partisan divide will seem one more sign of his fatal naïveté. If he is reelected, he will have a chance to solidify what he has accomplished and, more important, build on what he has learned. All of this is additional motivation, as if he needed any, for him to drive for reelection; none of it makes him any more palatable to those who oppose him and his goals.

And for those who supported him the first time, as I did? To me, the evidence suggests that given a second term, he would have a better chance of becoming the figure so many people imagined.

>

James Fallows is an Atlantic national correspondent. His latest book, China Airborne, will be published in May.

也当一会儿无业游民——无业的心情记录,给想混金融的孩子们

观点:穷人越穷,富人越富的原因

就是文章没有什么结构,跳来跳去的。

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源地址:不明

隐居的鱼
2010-01-12 03:37:26
1、钱多钱少只是贫富的表面现象,真正决定贫富的是每个人的投资水平,是他们的收益率。
2、收益率比银行大的人,就表示他们可以击败银行,这些人就是富人,反之就是穷人。
3、穷人只能越来越穷,富人会越来越富。因为穷人总是要用很高的价格去买一些本来不贵的东西。金融越发达,借贷越发达,信用卡越发达,终值的期限(n值)就会越长,穷人就会越穷。永远别想翻身!除非他们学会投资的技能,把收益率提上去。

中国国家的GDP增长都在9%左右,而银行的利率却才是6%。要击败银行是很容易的。所以说,在中国要发财比在美国容易得多。 中国人这么聪明,学习投资技巧并不难。真正难的是在于投资意识的建立上。

我是小民,根本不关心国家的事情,也轮不到我来操心,我只管好我自己的事情。 对于我来说,首先判断我的资产集中在哪个市场上,其次判断如果这个市场会不会垮掉,会垮到什么程度,我该在哪里止损或者在哪里保值护住头寸。

真正难的不在于投资技巧,而在于投资意识的建立。有了投资意识,那些技巧只要慢慢磨练总是能学会的。

资金越大越难管理,这是投资界的常识。经常听到有人说“用人赚钱难,用钱赚钱容易”,这句话是不对的。只有行外的人才这么说,真正搞投资的人没人敢这么说。 你是否能操作大资金这取决你的投资策略和目标市场。比如,长线策略要比短线策略能容纳更大的资金,外汇要比股票能容纳更大的资金。

知识分子一直有个想法,觉得工资即便输给投资,但是工资却更稳定,是长治久安之道。我以前也基本是这个思想。不过,等我也走上投资的路,才明白其实是否稳定是取决个人而不是行业的。如果你本人能力不行,那你的工资其实也无法稳定的,就象一个低能的投资者一样,完全没有区别。如果你有能力,那么投资的收益率其实可以稳定得有如工资一样,甚至更稳定,就象汇丰银行的股息一般稳定。

现在总是有人提到经济越是发展,穷人反而越穷,责怪为什么穷人无法享受经济发展的好处。
穷人当然无法享受经济发展的好处,穷人当然是要越来越穷的,经济越是发展穷人就要越穷,这是一定的。原因就在于穷人的收益率低,甚至是负收益率,他们的收入完全依靠工资。工资是无法抵挡复利的。这是个简单的数学问题。他们跟富人比,富人的财富在按几何级数增长他们比不过。更重要的是,通货膨胀也是按复利计算的,穷人连通货膨胀都无法击败,怎么可能不穷呢?必穷无疑!

金钱的自由,最终将带来人格的自由。

呵呵,机关大院就不食人间烟火啦?那帮人争起职称、工资等级、房子等级的时候那才叫狠。

很多人的确是你这样,以为自己不是投资者。可是只要中国还在搞市场经济,就谁也跑不掉。
如果你不买股票,那你就是个股市看空的投资者;
如果你不买房子,那你就是个房地产看空的投资者;
如果你拿工资,存银行,那你就是个收益率为活期利率的投资者;
如果你无法击败通货膨胀,那你就是个收益率为负值的投资者。
千万不要以为把头埋在沙里市场就找不到你了。它一定会找到你的,把你痛扁一顿,然后在你目瞪口呆中扬长而去。
我敢肯定你已经被市场找到过,那你是不是还想玩这个捉迷藏的游戏呢?是否打算在同一个地方摔两次呢?

我说的投资并不是指在金融市场混,而是用投资的思想指导一切经济行为。
在金融市场,你投入的是钱收获的也是钱。
如果你打工,你投入的是劳动力,收获的是工资、技术经验和人脉关系。你完全可以把劳动力、技术经验和人脉关系折算成现金,看你这笔生意是否合算。不要以为打工就不是投资,当一个工程师在几种设计方案中做选择的时候,与你选股票的思想本质上并没有区别,都是要选择投入小、风险低、潜在回报大的方案。
打工不一定弱于直接投资金融市场,关键在于以什么样的思想去指导打工这种行为。某些人打10年工,就当上了打工皇帝,日子过得不比老板差。可另一些人打一辈子工也一无所有。天壤之别,值得深思。

不要总是以为有钱人占有资源就能剥削别人,并且更进一步地把剥削当做是差距的根源。这种思想是要不得的,绝对妨碍你发财致富。
关于贫富,真正的核心竞争力是收益率,而不是钱本身。有些人很有钱,可是他的收益率却很低。也许你没钱,可如果你收益率很高的话(这主要是凭借知识、技巧和经验),那么想挣钱并不难,那些有钱人会乖乖把钱送进你口袋里的。
前一阵子股票大涨,基本的行情是操盘手抽取利润的20%,不包赔。许多有钱人找人代操盘,赔钱自己兜着,赚了操盘手抽走赢利的20%。如果要想操盘手保本包赚,那么他们会抽走利润的60%。
出钱炒股票的金主普遍都很有钱,动辄上千万,上亿的我也见过,而那些操盘手却是普通的中产阶级、知识分子。那些操盘手所凭借的无非就是一张收益率的王牌而已。
在金融市场是这样,在实业领域又何尝不是如此?
投资只是一种思想,收益率只是一种技能。这些都是能学会的,是可以炼出来的,跟钱本身是没什么关系的。

房价上涨让你焦虑么?如果你认定房价上涨,那么就买房子好了,然后卖掉就行了。所以其实真正让你焦虑的原因并不是房价上涨,而是你不知道房价到底涨不涨。
对于个人来说,是否金融危机并不重要,重要的是如果有金融危机怎么活下来。如果每个人都知道如何活下来,那么其实金融危机是永远不会发生的。之所以有危机,是因为某些人正在干蠢事,市场需要惩罚他们。你不要干蠢事,不要被惩罚就行了。多看书,多学习金融市场。你害怕是因为你不了解,如果你了解你就不怕危机了,你甚至可以靠金融危机挣大钱,就像巴菲特那样。
如何扛过金融危机与投资市场如何赚钱其实是一样的,最重要的原则是:重视风险远远胜过重视收益。所谓风险靠自己,利润靠上帝。今年股票涨得这么厉害,但是多数人却赚不到钱,为什么?原因就是大部分人都更重视收益。金融危机就是这些人推动出来的,金融危机也会彻底把这些人全部干掉。
修改你的思路,把风险放在第一位,你就会热烈盼望金融危机的。

投资只不过是一件强大的武器而已,它本身是没有对错,也没有道德含义的,只有使用它的人才有道德含义.

即便没有央行,利率也仍然会存在,利率是资金的价格,它是不断变化的。如果大家的收益率都高,那么贷款需求就旺盛,利率就会上升,要一直上升到超过大部分人的收益率,达到大部分人都贷不起款的程度为止。也正是因为这个原因,利率才成为区分贫富的天然工具。

先不要管具体如何操作、如何挣钱,首先你要认清自己,建立自己的投资哲学。然后从这个投资哲学中衍生出独特的操作思路,操作必须与哲学高度统一,你才能坚持,你才能有稳定的收益率,而不是仅仅捞几把大钱。挣钱与收益率绝对是两回事!

为了得到自己的投资哲学,我建议你先看以下几本书:《共产党宣言》、《经济学原理》、《专业投机原理》、《金融炼金术》、《穷爸爸富爸爸》、《巴菲特致股东的信》、《技术分析》。先通读这些书不用细看。你对哪本书最感兴趣,其中的妙句经常萦绕在你心中,那就是你内心深处所信奉的哲学。把它挑出来仔细读,然后深研下去。等你建立了完整的投资哲学,投资操作是水到渠成的,非常简单。
顺便说一句,如果这些书里面你觉得《共产党宣言》是你最感兴趣的书,那你基本不用学什么投资了,放弃吧。

我不关心国家,我只关心自己. 每个人都把自己管好了,则国必强;每个人都被忽悠得放弃自我去关心国家,则国必亡!

投资与其说是技巧,不如说是一种习惯,思维的习惯。然而大家都是成年人了,都已经有了固有的习惯了,改起来很难的。小孩学东西倒是容易,直接灌进去就行了

只要收益率低在我看来就是穷人,我才不管他有多少钱,是否开着宝马奔驰住别墅呢。

如果你是先想清楚再进入市场,那么结果就会好很多。即便进入市场,你也要主动跟市场保持距离,所以旁观者清。巴菲特远远躲开华尔街那绝对是明智的做法。泡在市场里成天盯盘,难成高手。

谁不在场里呢,你以为你不在么?
豆油行情的例子是最典型的了。中粮在期货市场有大量的豆粕单边空单,而且是明仓。意思非常明显,大家都来把我的空仓打爆吧!没啥好客气的,市场当然要打爆它。豆类行情笔直上冲,直入云霄。大多数人在期货市场都在做多豆类,都赚了大钱,输家只有中粮一个而已。但是,中粮同时也是现货商,豆类上涨,豆油当然也涨。虽然期货上亏了,中粮在豆油现货市场赚了大钱,你看看超市里豆油涨成什么样子啦?
所有玩家都赚了钱,惟独那些自以为不在场内的消费者亏惨!

在不同市场间切换,互相转嫁风险是基本的商业技巧呀。这样才能最小化风险,而且全靠这种技巧才能发现无风险套利机会。炒期货的就死盯着期货,连现货都不关心,这是什么路子啊?散户大厅的路子?
有些时候你可以使用概率,有些时候你应该使用安全边际。安全边际的好处是它很安全,基本上可以铁赚大钱,但是它出现的次数很少,你可能一年也等不着一次交易机会。而使用概率的方法跟安全边际正好互补。
没有好的安全边际,我就采用赌概率的方式做投机。如果有好的安全边际机会,我就会把投机的头寸平掉,集中出击安全边际机会。

我理解的安全边际确实跟套利相当象。我们可以看看巴菲特的安全边际概念:如果某资产真实价值1美圆,可现在被卖价是0.3美圆,那么安全边际就是0.7美圆。巴菲特会买进,等到1美圆卖出。(早期巴菲特并不会持股很长时间,他会等到安全边际消失就卖出)
为什么要等到价格恢复成1美圆才卖呢?如果另一个市场正在以1美圆买卖该资产,那岂不是应该0.3美圆买了之后立刻就卖到另一个市场上去呢?如果存在这另一个市场,那么其实就是套利。
如果另一个市场并不存在(或者存在而你无法进入)需要时间去等,那么就是安全边际;如果另一个市场存在,那么就是套利了。套利和安全边际其实是一个概念。

没法救了。投资就象打仗一样,总得有个作战计划,在哪里进,在哪里出,碰到意外该怎么办,所有东西都要计划好。如果打输了,那重新分析一下作战方案,总结教训以后别再犯类似的错误就行。输的次数够多,总结的经验够多,以后自然就能赢了。
有两种人是没法救的:
  1、从来没有投资计划,从头到尾乱做的人。
  2、有计划,但是没有纪律,不按计划执行的人。
  没法救,也没法教。

我的定义是:风险可控的正期望收益率系统为投资,其余全是投机。

父母肯定没说:“孩子,好好读书,将来找份稳定工作,开始养老。”找份稳定工作没错啊,可找到稳定工作以后然后怎么办你就得自己想了。

谋生手段与个人最大的爱好、梦想和而为一是一种境界。

人做事,分为两个层次:
    1、把事情做正确
    2、做正确的事情
    每个人从小到大从学校里学的都是第一层次的东西,这属于技术层面的。别人告诉你什么,你就做什么,争取把事情做好。
当你逐渐长大,逐渐成熟,开始独挡一面之后,迟早会没人告诉你该做什么,你得自己去找事情做。那么什么是值得做的事情?什么是正确的事情?这便是第二层面的东西了。这属于方法层面。你在做哪个层面的事情,决定了你的能力,也决定了你的收入。
首先要方法正确,大方向正确,勤奋才有用,否则一点用也没有,全是无用功。所以,总是搞方法的人领导搞技术的人,第一层次的人的收入完全依赖于第二层次的人。

  最好是你的系统原理象巴菲特的一样简单,非常简单,简单到一看就是正确的,根本不用验证测试。
  如果做不到,那你就需要测试。开发系统大部分的时间正是花在这里的!你需要去找很长时间的历史数据来做数据测试。比如你需要去统计2倍以上涨幅的行情占多少比例,1倍以上又占多少,80%以上又占多少等等。如何做到出手的时候不紧张?大量的测试!如果你的出手是经过测试的,你心中是有数的,你才能不紧张。
  无论你做多长时间的历史数据测试,你的系统都可能崩溃。比如你测试了10年数据,果真碰到一个10年不遇的鬼走势,就能击垮你。所以你就需要组合。如果你有两个不相关的系统组合,每个承载极限都是10年不遇,那么你系统的总承载极限就变成100年不遇了。如果你再有一个系统,而且在不同的市场上,那么你的总承载能力就又会大大增强。
  回头再说巴菲特,你有没有考虑过他在几个市场上做交易,他有几个系统?果真是股票吗?那么你该想想他的白银多头和美圆空头,以及他通过保险公司的融资杠杆,还有一大堆没有上市的公司的现货头寸。我猜他系统牢不可破,搞不好承载极限能达到几十万年不遇。

保住本金的办法很简单,就是动手前永远要问:“我凭什么相信你?!”
  老板说:“好好干,以后不会亏待你”,“我凭什么相信你?!”
  股评说:“10年牛市,股票要涨到1万点”,“我凭什么相信你?!”
  政府说:“忍住阵痛,以后就有好日子啦”,“我凭什么相信你?!”
  这几个问题一问,你基本上不会被骗了,保住本金不成问题。高手从来不会无缘无故地相信别人,要么对方有抵押物、要么有很长很漂亮的交易记录或者信用记录、要么你得有一把大牌对方违约你就凭实力干掉他。

你一定要搞清楚自己的竞争对手是谁。如果你只是一般的打工仔,那你的对手就是其他打工仔,层次不同你是没有资格跟老板谈条件的,只有比其他打工仔付出更多才能站稳脚跟。可当你成为团队的核心,掌握了公司的核心技术或客户资源,你就有了跟老板谈判如何分享成果的资本,不用拼死拼活地讨他的欢心了。要加班是吧,那好,请加工资吧,不加工资也行,那就给期权吧,总之不能是我干活你拿钱,对吧?

如果大多数人通过修炼收益率达到7%了,那么银行就会把利率调整到8%以上去。银行的任务是觉察大多数人的收益率,然后调整利率,把大多数人打成穷人,让他们疲于奔命地干活,建设祖国:-)

从前啊,一个老小偷收了个徒弟,他们技术高超挣了很多钱。有一天他们经过广场见到一个绞刑架,徒弟说道:“无论我们挣了多少钱,这玩意儿总是让我害怕,世界上如果没有绞刑架该多好啊。”
师父说道:“如果没有绞刑架,那么所有人就都会来当小偷啦。我们就挣不着钱了。我们要敬畏绞架,不断地提高技艺。同时也要感谢绞架,它能使我们的高超技艺得到超额回报。”
其实各行各业都是一样的,每个行业都有自己的绞架。你是程序员也好、销售员也好、投资者也好、政客也好,你之所以能挣钱,就是因为你能赢你们那一行的绞架。

这是因为股民大部分都是工薪阶层,他们采用打工的思路而不是投资的思路来买卖股票。而打工的思路是:一分耕耘,一分收获,我看了一天盘了,就该有一天的工资了。至于风险嘛,那都是老板考虑的事情,打工者是很少考虑的。

绝大多数人花了6年时间去读小学,6年中学,4年大学,总共花了16年来读书,如果有研究生学历,那得更长时间。花这么大代价学到一点点技能,然后凭此技能得到每个月几千元的工资,好象每个人都觉得理所当然。

然而,让我惊异的是,同样的这些人却觉得投资很容易,觉得可以不花什么代价就从金融市场挣大钱,这怎么可能呢?!

投资是也同样是一项技能,是需要花很多时间才能磨练成的。哪个顶尖的投资家是轻易炼成的呢?把巴菲特和索罗斯可是磨练了一辈子才磨练出那样的技巧。即便如此,他们也仍然有犯错的时候,有输的时候。
投资领域与其他领域一样,有正确的思路和方法,却是没有捷径可走的。

你得想想经济危机从何而来。如果果真如你所言,商人们控制好了杠杆比例,留了充足的现金,那怎么可能发生经济危机呢?华尔街的杠杆比例如果在20倍以内,我敢保证这次他们太太平平的,屁事儿没有。
就是因为大多数商人的贪婪,他们根本就没有什么充足的现金,才会导致经济危机的。谁贪婪谁死,巴菲特有充足的现金,巴菲特是会赚大钱,可巴菲特只有一个。

金融是什么?

陈志武
2009年2月17日
(本文压缩版本在2009年8月6日《南方周末》上刊登,《金融的逻辑》已经由国际文化出版公司出版)

2007年7月,美国出现次贷危机。到2008年秋,次贷危机进一步演变成全方位的金融危机。在2008年9月15日雷曼兄弟公司倒闭之后,美国的金融危机不仅裂变成全球金融危机,而且转变成十足的经济危机,对全球经济形成严重冲击,给多国带来社会失业、政治动荡的严峻挑战。

在这种时候,我们自然想知道:金融到底是怎么回事?危机之后,金融市场是否会终结?人类社会为什么要金融市场?金融交易除了让华尔街、金融界赚钱之外,对社会到底有没有贡献、有没有创造价值?如果有的话,是如何贡献的?如何创造价值的?金融的逻辑是什么?

我跟金融结上缘,完全是巧合。或者说,整个人生都是一系列巧合,随机事件组合在一起,形成系列,就构成了你我的人生。

1986年1月,我从国防科技大学毕业,拿到系统工程硕士学位。由于那时我的英文较好,学校不让离校,于是,毕业即留校。只是到那时,我已对工程没有兴趣。作为权衡之际,就要求分到政治教研室工作,这样,至少能名正言顺地看些社会科学类著作。在那时候,全国没有几个政治学、社会科学类的研究生,就这样,我创造了历史,成了第一位进入国防科大政治教研室的硕士毕业生。去那里之后,具体工作主要是给教研室老师分苹果、送花生、收钱,等等。

到3月份,我收到耶鲁大学管理学院的录取通知,给我奖学金和生活费用,让我进入其博士班。由于该博士项目包括金融、财会、市场营销、管理经济学以及运筹学,说去了之后我可以选择其中任一学科作为研究方向。这么多选择,一下把我弄糊涂了,当时,除了经济学和运筹学之外,我确实不知道其它学科是什么。

那时,崔之元在国防科大读数学本科,我跟他在一起写文章、译书。问他,“什么是finance”?他说,“是金融”。“那,什么是金融”?他接着再给了一个解释,只不过,我确实没听懂,也就更不明白了,没记住他的解释。我想,反正我的兴趣是要用数理方法研究政治、经济与社会,所以,不知道“什么是金融”也无妨。

就这样,1986年8月28日,我稀里糊涂地来到耶鲁大学。第一学期,要上的课程没有多少选择,不管你今后学哪科,都要上线性代数、概率论与统计、微观经济学以及效用函数理论,第二个学期上的是非线性代数、计量经济学、博弈论、微观经济学。这期间,我发现,原来要跟随作导师的那位教授年纪已经较大,他所做的研究课题有些过时了。同学给我建议,“不要选择博弈论政治学或者数理经济学了,还是学金融经济学吧”。

但是,“什么是金融”呢?

到今天,按照我的定义,金融的核心是跨时间、跨空间的价值交换,所有涉及到价值或者收入在不同时间、不同空间之间进行配置的交易都是金融交易,金融学就是研究跨时间、跨空间的价值交换为什么会出现、如何发生、怎样发展,等等。

比如,“货币”就是如此。它的出现首先是为了把今天的价值储存起来,等明天、后天或者未来任何时候,再把储存其中的价值用来购买别的东西。但,货币同时也是跨地理位置的价值交换,今天你在张村把东西卖了,带上钱,走到李村,你又可以用这钱去买想要的东西。因此,货币解决了价值跨时间的储存、跨空间的移置问题,货币的出现对贸易、对商业化的发展是革命性的创新。

像明清时期发展起来的山西“票号”,则主要以异地价值交换为目的,让本来需要跨地区运物、运银子才能完成的贸易,只要送过去山西票号出具的“一张纸”即汇票就可以了!其好处是大大降低异地货物贸易的交易成本,让物资生产公司、商品企业把注意力集中在他们的特长商品上,把异地支付的挑战留给票号经营商,体现各自的专业分工!在交易成本如此降低之后,跨地区贸易市场不快速发展也难!

相比之下,借贷交易是最纯粹的跨时间价值交换,你今天从银行或者从张三手里借到一万元,先用上,即所谓的“透支未来”,明年或者5年后,你再把本钱加利息还给银行、还给张三。对银行和张三来说,则正好相反,他们把今天的钱借出去,转移到明年或者5年后再花。

到了现代社会,金融交易已经超出了上面这几种简单的人际交换安排,要更为复杂。比如,股票所实现的金融交易,表面看也是跨时间的价值配置,今天你买下三一重工股票,把今天的价值委托给了三一重工(和市场),今后再得到投资回报;三一重工则先用上你投资的钱,今后再给你回报。你跟三一重工之间就这样进行价值的跨时间互换。但是,这种跨时间的价值互换又跟未来的事件连在一起,也就是说,如果三一重工未来赚钱了,它可能给你分红,但是,如果未来不赚钱,三一重工就不必给你分红,你就有可能血本无归。所以,股票这种金融交易也是涉及到既跨时间、又跨空间的价值交换,这里所讲的“空间”指的是未来不同赢利/亏损状态,未来不同的境况。

当然,对金融的这种一般性定义可能过于抽象,这些例子又好像过于简单。实际上,在这些一般性定义和具体金融品种之上,人类社会已经推演、发展出了规模庞大的各类金融市场,包括建立在一般金融证券之上的各类衍生金融市场,所有这些已有的以及现在还没有但未来要创新发展的金融交易品种,不外乎是为类似于上述简单金融交易服务的。金融交易范围从起初的以血缘关系体系为主,扩大到村镇、到地区、到全省、到全国、再进一步扩大到全球。

为什么人类社会的金融交易规模与范围发生了这么大的变迁?跨越时间、跨越空间的价值交换所要解决的人类问题是什么?其发展的基础条件是什么,或者说,金融市场靠什么才能发展?

虽然到今天我对金融的定义和理解是这样,但刚开始,我接触金融的视角却是另一回事。1987年秋季,也就是在耶鲁大学读博士的第二年,我兴奋地等到了上《金融经济学》课程的时候。一开始,教授既没讲金融是怎么回事,也没介绍人类的金融发展史是如何如何,而是一上来就把所有金融交易由随机变量来描述,亦即,不管是股票、债券、借贷签约,还是其它任何金融交易合同,都可以由随机变量来表达。老师说,正因为所有的金融交易都是由金融合同来完成的,都涉及到今天和未来不同时间之间的价值交换,而未来又充满不确定性、充满着随机事件,所以,通过把任何金融交易合同的细节条款转换成不同的未来随机事件、分析清楚在每种事件出现时交易双方的得失,由此得到的交易双方得失跟未来事件的关系,就是概率论中讲到的随机变量。

于是,金融学所要研究的就是如何实现这些随机变量的交易、如何为这些随机变量定价的问题。老师说,金融市场的作用之一就是对未来定价、对交易风险定价。

对于当时还没有进入主题状态、没有了解金融交易实质的我,那些课是一头雾水。搞数学推导、为这些随机变量做定价模型,我还可以,因为在中南大学读计算机专业和国防科大读系统工程时,学过不少数学,到耶鲁的第一年学了更多。只是从那时一直到2001年前后,我研究的对象与其说是“大社会境况中的金融市场”,还不如说是数学世界里的随机变量和随机过程。对于我这个还比较喜欢数学的人来说,那不是一件坏事,也是中国教育体系出来的人的一种优势。可是,那也让我离人的世界较远,不能够从金融作为“大社会”中的一份子的角度来研究。

那些年的学习中也不乏观念上的冲击。最大的冲击莫过于价值论,一件东西、一种经济活动的价值由什么决定?交易行为本身是否创造价值?按照我们从中学、大学政治经济学中学到的劳动价值论来理解,一件物品有它的固有价值,即,其生产所要花的时间乘以社会单位劳动时间的成本。也就是说,只有劳动创造价值,交易不创造价值。

但是,在1987年的《金融经济学》课上,我学到,任何东西或证券不存在什么“固有价值”,只存在相对价值。也就是,只有相对于人的效用而言,才有价值这回事。东西或证券的价值取决于它能否让个人的效用提高,包括消费效用、财富效用、主观幸福或满足感。这等于说,即使要花百亿元投资、十万劳动力一年的时间才能建好的漂亮形象大楼,如果没有任何人或机构要用它,那么,那栋楼也会一文不值;花费再多的机器设备,如果没有人要,也一文不值;再怎么费苦力做成的衣服,如果没有人愿意出价钱买,那只是一堆废布。—— 这个观念对我帮助很大,特别是让我终于理解,原来计划经济时期只顾生产、不顾所产东西有没有人要或者有没有市场,那不是在创造价值,而是在摧毁价值。原来,没有派上任何实际用场的一代代银河计算机,也是一堆废铁,是在摧毁价值。等等,等等。

反而看之,即使一样东西没有花多少投资或者多少劳动时间,它的价值照样可以很高。最具体的例子是像百度、腾讯、无锡尚德这样的公司,这些公司都只有不到十年的历史,而且都是由几十人创办起来,也没有自己的高楼大厦(至少到几年前没有),但市值都是几十亿美元,不仅远高于其实际投入的资金和时间成本,而且比那些投资花费巨大、拥有众多厂房设备与高楼大厦、经营运作了几十年的武钢、一汽、二汽等,更值钱。之所以是这样,是因为价值取决于这些公司能带来的效用,或者说收益,而不取决于其建设成本,跟建设所需的劳动时间关系不大;换言之,价值由未来的收益而定,不是由过去的成本决定。

效用决定价值,而不是劳动成本决定价值,这对于理解金融的逻辑极为重要。一个最典型的例子是投资银行中介服务,假如张三要创办一个造船厂,就像江苏熔盛重工集团三年前创业时候一样,他手头已经有20亿美元的造船订单,只是需要两亿美元投资。如果造船厂做成了,公司的价值能涨到20亿美元以上。问题是,张三自己无法找到投资者。在另一方,温州、香港等地很多个人和机构有很多空闲资本存在银行,赚3%的年利息,他们找不到风险相对能接受但回报很好的投资机会。

这种情况下,挑战在于需要资金的创业者找不到投资方,而愿意投资的又找不到合适的项目,经济发展就这样受阻。投资银行家李四的作用恰恰是把他们两方牵到一起,利用他平时在张三和投资方中间建立的信任,让他们两方做成投资交易。这对张三和投资方来说,是双赢,张三的造船业务能扩张、个人财富能大大增加,而投资者的未来回报预期也远优于银行存款利息。为促成这种金融投资交易,虽然李四可能只花了5天时间,劳动付出有限,但是,由于张三和投资方都信任他,他信用增强服务为张三、为投资方分别创造了数亿美元价值(他至少是使这种价值前景成为可能),那么,李四得到1000万美元(相当于所筹两亿美元资金的5%)的佣金是应该的。——当然,5%的佣金或许有些高,但是,正因为李四给交易双方带来这么大的未来财富前景,他的贡献的价值显然应该跟这种未来财富前景相连,而不该由他花的劳动时间决定。

从金融作为“大社会”中一份子的角度研究金融,那还是2001年之后的事。回过头看,那之后的学术思考和研究,让我更加认识到金融发展的价值。转折点出现于2001年暑期,那次回国旅行,让我看到中国社会变化如此之大,激发我研究市场发展、关心社会转型的问题。

2002年6月至12月间,我在清华大学经济管理学院访问,期间上一门“金融经济学”课程。课程内容基本跟我从1991到2001年间在威斯康星大学、俄亥俄州立大学以及耶鲁大学所授博士班课程的相同,那就是,先假定各类金融市场已很发达,已给定了,我们唯一要做的是如何为金融资产定价、如何在资本市场上运作、如何利用证券产品把投资和风险配置得更好,等等,讲课的重点是推导金融数学模型、市场经济模型。之后,在北京大学光华管理学院也讲过类似课程与内容。

几次讲下来,我意识到,对于金融市场还正处于发展之中的国内同学来说,这些理论不仅很超前,而且的确难以把这些理论跟他们的生活以及未来就业联系上,因此,他们对于课程的反映一般,应属情理之中。

但是,那些教学经历和观察也启发我的思考,如果说今天的中国人还不能像金融理论模型中的消费者那样,能够在众多信贷、保险、投资、养老、理财金融产品中去挑选并找到最理想的投资理财组合的话,那么,在更传统的古代、近代社会中,人们又是如何生活、如何规避一辈子中方方面面的风险,做好养老、病残时期的生活安排呢?金融经济理论是不是对于没有外部金融市场的传统社会的人就不适用呢?

有一点是肯定的,不管是古代,还是现代,单个人生存下去的能力是很低的,天灾人祸、身老病残时你都需要其他人的帮助。所以,为了能够更顺利地活下去,也为了生命的延续,个人必须跟其他人进行跨时间、跨空间的利益交换,即,人与人之间的金融交易是人类活下去的必须。比如,原始社会时期,人靠打猎野生动物、采掘野生果菜养活自己,那种生产方式下,个人时常会数天猎不到动物,如果不是在部落之内人人共享猎摘成果(亦即,部落成员之间隐性地进行跨时间的价值交换),许多个人很快会饿死。

因此,人际间的金融交易是任何社会都必须进行的,只是实现人际金融交易的形式、方式很不一样,今天我们熟悉的外部市场提供的金融证券只是其中之一。原始社会里,“部落”公有制是一种实现形式,那种安排下,个人没有自己的空间、没有自己的财产,也没有自己的权利,但好处是,在大家都没有自我的架构下,所有东西和果实都共享,让彼此活下去的能力最大化。

农业社会里,人际金融交易也以人格化的隐性方式实现,其交易范围缩小到家庭、家族这些血缘体系内。家庭、家族之内不分你我,养子就是为了防老,子女即人格化了的保险品、信贷品和养老投资品;亲戚间“礼尚往来”就是我说的跨时间价值交换的代名词。得到一份礼就让你“欠一份人情”,下次回送礼时你才还了那份“人情”,所以,那种金融交易安排下,交易头寸是以“人情”记下,而不是以显性金融合约的形式记录的。

当子女是实现跨时间价值转移的最主要方式时,农民规避风险、养老的境况就不是由保险产品的好坏、股票的多少、基金的投资组合诀定,而是由儿子的数量和质量决定,所谓“多子多福”。“四世同堂”之所以是一种理想境界,也因为这样以来,能进行人际隐性金融交易的范围就可以尽可能的大。所以,越传统的农业社会,会在医疗技术允许的条件下尽可能让人口膨胀。

中世纪时期的欧洲,教会是血缘之外、或者说与血缘网络并行的互助结盟组织,其结盟的基础不是血缘,而是对上帝、对耶稣的共同信仰。教会跟家族、宗族类似,一方面起到经济上的互助、互保,也就是,实现成员间的跨时间利益交换即金融交易,另一方面是促进成员间的情感以及其它非物质交流,给成员提供安身立命的信仰基础。

因此,现在我们熟悉的由金融市场提供的信贷、保险、证券、基金等等金融产品,并非人际间跨时间、跨空间金融交换的唯一形式,只不过,它们是超越血缘、超越社团组织的非人格化的实现形式:在金融市场上,那些金融公司不管你姓什么、是谁的儿子、读过多少书、有什么意识形态、保留什么政治信念、信过什么宗教,只要你具有交易信用、能够有支付能力,他们就会跟你做金融交易。

那么,为什么并非所有的社会都选择发展外部化、非人格化的金融市场呢?为什么在传统的中国没有出现现代证券市场呢?这又涉及到人际金融交易的性质、所要求的信用支持架构。仔细思考一下,我们会发现,正因为金融交易是跨时间、跨空间的人际价值交换,是把交易双方在不同时间的收入进行互换,那么,彼此信任是交易是否成功的关键之关键,信用和交易安全是核心基础。换言之,金融交易跟一般商品交易有本质差别,商品交易往往是现货、以现金交易,所以,交易双方即使素不相识,问题也不太大;但是,金融交易一般不是现货交易,而是价值的跨期支付,不能是一锤子买卖,所以,没有互信、没有保证金融契约执行的制度基础,就没有金融交易的发展。

现代股票市场、债券市场、基金市场等等,是伴随着现代法治制度发展起来的。也就是说,没有支持陌生人之间交易的现代商法、合同法、证券法等方面的发展,就不会有今天我们熟悉的那些外部化了的金融证券市场;反之,金融证券交易在陌生人之间的深化进程,也带来了更多、更深层次的法治要求,促进了后者的演变。在这个意义上,人际间金融交易范围的不同,对社会的文化价值体系、对正式与非正式制度的要求也会不同。

这就是为什么现代之前,几乎所有的农业社会都有立足于血缘的文化和社会秩序,儒家文化也不例外。血缘关系是一种个人出生之前无法选择的关系,出生在哪家、是谁的儿子、谁的兄弟姐妹、谁的父母、谁的爷爷奶奶等等,这些都不是你能挑选的,也是你一辈子不能改变的。这种稳定和不可选择性,对于还没有外部非人格化法治体系的传统社会来说,是最有利于建立并维护诚信的基础,血缘关系的永恒即是信用。所以,儒家的“孝道”是一种基于血缘的跨时间、跨空间人际利益交换安排,而“三纲五常”所规范的“名分等级”秩序则是支持这种交易体系的文化制度保障。“三纲五常”的安排之下,社会中每个人都有其名分、等级,越位就是“犯上”,甚至朝廷法律也明文规定不孝子该杀。这种刚性秩序当然能增加“孝道”下的人际隐性金融交易的安全,父母不用担心在子女身上的投资会没有回报,兄不用担心弟的回报。因此,传统中国社会中,人们普遍对儒家建立的这种刚性交易体系“放心”,家庭、家族内的金融交易风险小,这也是为什么这一体系能运作两千多年。

只不过,儒家的这种刚性体系过于偏重父母、兄长作为“投资者”的权利(甚至权力),压制子女、压制年幼者的权利。只要你出生的时间晚,那怕是晚一点,你这一辈子就永远地位低于先于你出生的人。以至于“五.四”新文化运动,呼唤着“打倒孔家店”、解放个人。特别是,在这样一种隐性金融交易安排下,“养子防老”等于把子女当成了经济工具,家庭的建立、养子等等,都过多受利益驱使,使利益和感情无法分离。其结果只能是淡化家庭的情感功能,侵蚀亲情间的情感氛围。

因此,虽然家庭、教会、金融市场都能提供人际间的跨时间利益交换,这几种交易安排之间也的确有极强的替代性,但是,它们的利弊差异极大。比如,在儒家“孝道”体系下,人更多是作为投资、保险、信贷交易的载体存在,人首先是经济工具,而人性价值、个人权利和个人自由被牺牲太多。一个人可以因为“不孝”而处死,等于说人存在的唯一价值就是金融交易的载体,就是他的金融工具作用,就是体现“养子防老”,不承认超越金融交易载体的人权。

相比之下,由非人格化的金融市场代替儒家“孝道”体系之后,压在家庭、家族之上的经济交易功能会逐步从家庭、家族剥离,信贷、保险、投资功能都可由金融市场取代,这就是为什么我说,金融市场正在把中国家庭从利益交换中解放出来,让家庭的功能重点定义在情感交流、精神世界上,家应该是情感的天地,是精神上的安身立命,而不是利益交换场。金融市场就是这样让中国文化走出儒家的刚性体系。从这个意义上,“五.四”运动主张的“打倒孔家店”、解放个人,还必须有家庭之外金融市场的发达,否则,“孔家店”还无法被打倒。

开始从社会的角度理解金融、从金融的角度理解社会变迁之后,我的思想世界顿时热闹了许多,原来文化就是这样随着人类生存的需要而演变、调整的,或者说,文化价值的目的第一是最大化人活下去的概率,第二是最大化个人的自由。也就是说,当生产能力低下、金融交易工具不发达的时候,人们会为了生存而愿意牺牲一些个人自由,比如,以前人们愿意接受部落公有制、儒家“三纲五常”刚性社会秩序。但是,一旦物质生产能力足够高、金融市场足够发达,继续牺牲个人自由、个人权利就没必要,社会文化必然会做相应调整,这也是中国今天的经历。

这是什么意思呢?刘教授是广州一所大学的历史学教授,他研究中国历代契约的变迁史,其学问之深令在下佩服。2005年,刘教授来耶鲁大学访问一年。期间,他讲到自己的亲身故事。2004年,在上海的内弟结婚,要花120万元买150平米的房子。他的内弟小王和未婚妻都在金融公司工作,年收入加在一起18万,他们手头的积蓄有30万,所以,买房子还缺90万元。那90万元怎么找到呢?

一种可能当然是小王从银行做按揭贷款,如果做30年到期、年息5%的按揭,小王今后的月供大约4832元,年供不到6万,他们当然能支付,但占小王夫妻未来年收入的三分之一。

不过,小王和未婚妻不愿意做按揭贷款,他们跟父母说,如果做按揭贷款,让他们不是一结婚成家就背上月供的包袱吗?小王的父母想想,觉得也是,不能让年轻夫妻背上这么重的担子!正好他的父母年纪60出头,已退休,手头有60万养老用的积蓄。就这样,小王父母拿出手头60万的积蓄,刘教授夫妇把手头仅有的20万积蓄贡献出,另一位亲戚出10万,给小王买上150平米的房子。

当然,刘教授的故事对中国人很普通,没有什么稀奇。只是这种安排改变了小王大家庭的关系和性质。第一,刘教授现在一想起这事就恼火,作为历史学教授,自己的收入不高,20万的积蓄是他当时所有的钱。他说自己在广州的房子还不到70平米,凭什么他要把自己所有的积蓄供他内弟买那么大的房子?所以,从那以后,提起他内弟,首先想到的是他过去的积蓄,而不是他跟内弟的感情有多么好,况且也因为那笔钱使刘教授跟夫人的关系紧张!

第二,本来,小王父母可以把自己的60万养老钱理财投资好,等再年老之后,自己能有钱养活自己,也能有自己的尊严。但是,现在钱都给了儿子,今后的养老就只能靠儿子、女儿了,也就是说,不管今后跟媳妇、女婿是否处得好,也没有别的选择,只好跟他们一起住,或者靠他们供养,等着他们给钱。这样,本来可以自立养老的小王父母,今后就只能看别人的脸面养老了,不能有自己的自主生活空间,不能想怎么花钱就怎么花了。

同样糟糕的是,正因为小王这么容易就得到90万元的帮助,让他无法感受到靠自己劳动养活自己的责任,那看似“免费午餐”的90万,只会培养懒惰。

而如果小王是通过90万按揭贷款,表面看会给小王夫妇带来月供压力,但是,这种压力不是坏事,会迫使小王奋发向上,培养“自食其力”的个人责任。同时,这也让其父母留住养老钱、年老后有自尊的财产基础,可以理直气壮,不需要看子女的脸面。另外,对刘教授夫妇来说,他们的关系就不会出现紧张,也当然不让刘教授一想起内弟就想到自己失去的积蓄。

实际上,这两种安排,给每个人带来的自由度也截然不同。试想,小王拿了亲戚的90万买了大房子,他们夫妻俩今后消费什么东西,亲戚自然有权过问、有权管,就像刘教授抱怨小王的房子比他自己的大很多一样!等小王父母更老、靠子女的钱养老时,他父母花钱也会受到儿子、媳妇、女儿、女婿的监督,花别人的钱能那么自由吗?

总之,儒家主张的靠血缘网络内部来互通有无,来实现人际金融交易,最终不能激励每个人奋发向上,培养的是等待“免费午餐”、搭便车精神。比较而言,外部金融市场更能逼着每个人去“自食其力”,也为个人空间、个人自由的最大化提供基础。

小时候,父母都会教我们不能借钱花、要“量入为出”,还有就是要多存钱。在中国文化中,借钱总是件很负面的事,透支、负债、欠钱等等是一些贬义词。或许正因为此,证券类金融市场在我们的历史上没有机会发展,一直受到抑制,金融学更是不能走上正堂。

这些年我学到,借贷类金融交易原来是,帮助借方把一次性大的开支平摊到今天和未来许多年月上,让一次性大开支不至于把个人、企业或者国家压垮。就像小王买房要120万元,这种开支的确很大,但买下之后,不只是今天享受,未来许多年也会享受其好处,所以,通过按揭贷款把这些支付压力平摊到未来30年,不是让“享受”和“成本”在时间上更匹配吗?这本应该是一件纯经济的正常事情。

到今天,借贷金融对个人、对家庭、对企业的贡献,仍然被低估。但是,如果做客观分析,我们会发现借钱花也可以是好事,在某些情况下,甚至是更好的选择。

在国家层面,过去我们总认为,国库真金白银越多的国家,就越强大;要借钱花的国家,是弱国。冲击我这种观念的是下面这段历史。如果我们把公元1600年左右的国家分成两组,一组是国库深藏万宝的国家,像明朝中国在那时国库藏银1250万两(尽管明朝当时快要灭亡)、印度国库藏金6200万块、土耳其帝国藏金1600万块、日本朝廷存金1030万块;另一组是负债累累的国家,像西班牙、英国、法国、荷兰、各意大利城邦国家。那么,从400年前到19世纪、20世纪,哪组国家发展得更好呢?当年国库藏金万贯的国家,除日本于19世纪后期通过明治维新而改变其命运外,其他的到今天还都是发展中国家,而当时负债累累的却是今天的发达国家!

莫非中国以及其他发展中国家今天又是外汇储备数万亿美元,而西方发达国家负债累累,在未来几个世纪还要重演过去数世纪的历史?关键看中国今后如何利用债券市场以及其他证券市场了,看中国是不是从这次全球金融危机中因噎废食、得出“抑制金融创新是上策”的结论了!

回过头看,正如我在《治国的金融之道》一文中谈到,我们中国是这么喜欢存钱,以至于在第一次鸦片战争之后,1842至1848年间朝廷每年的财政盈余还在1500万两银子以上,这种年年财政盈余状况一直持续到1895年。按理说,第一、第二次鸦片战争失败的教训,即使没有逼着朝廷把未来的收入借过来加快国力发展,也至少使他们愿意把岁入都花掉搞发展,而不是还想着往国库存钱!到最后,晚清也像宋朝、明朝末年那样,战争开支和赔款实在太大,在历来因为不用发债融资而使中国债券市场没机会发展的状况下,朝廷无法用债券把那些大支出的压力平摊到未来。过不了支付压力这一关,清朝就只好垮台。

这些历史不断引发我对金融的兴趣和思考。为什么借债花钱使西方国家不仅没垮,反而强大起来?后来我认识到,美国就是近代最好的例子。不只是今天的美国虽然负债全球第一却是最强大的国家,美国立国之初就是靠负债幸存下来,这应该跟中国各朝代的经历正好相反(中国历朝之初国库满满,但之后每况愈下,到最后财政危机终结朝代;而美国立国之初就负债累累,之后不断利用债券市场透支未来,而且还透支越来越多,可是其国力却越来越强)。

我们一般熟悉美国于1776年7月4日宣布从英国独立,1787年的宪法大会通过美国宪法,等等这些政治史实,但未必了解金融借贷对美国历史的支柱作用。

美国独立的起因当然是英国对北美殖民地的征税权失控,殖民地人必须向英国交税,但却没权选举代表进入英国议会,去参政、议政、立法。这一背景很重要,因为这决定了美国独立战争以及之后政府的开支不能靠大规模加税来弥补:如果新成立的政府也要加税,为什么还要独立呢?所以,各届大陆会议(Continental Congress,独立运动、独立战争期间的决策机构)只能靠多印纸币、借债,来找到财务支持。但是,那时期既没有联邦政府、更没有收税机构,“大陆币”、战争债难以有市场,在1776至1787年间不断出现的债务困难,几次都差点让独立运动破产,差点迫使北美重回英国的怀抱!

稍微细看,我们知道,1763年开始,英王乔治三世通过一系列法案勒紧对北美殖民地的控制、加大征税,由此激发殖民地人的反抗,导致诸如1773年“波士顿倾茶事件”(Boston Tea Party)、1775年列克星敦(Lexington)枪击案等关键性事件,使得北美对英国的敌意一发不可收拾。1775年6月15日,第二届大陆会议选举华盛顿作大陆军总司令,正式与英军作战。

1776年3月17日,为了避免战争对波士顿伤害太大,华盛顿请求把战场转移到纽约。英军接受请求,转移战场。当第二届大陆会议于7月4日宣布美国独立时,华盛顿正在纽约曼哈顿南端,其军队士气得到了及时的鼓舞,因为就在那时英国皇家海军正在汇集100多艘战船、3万多正规军,集中攻打守在曼哈顿、几乎没有受过正规训练的华盛顿的一万大陆军,而且大陆军也没有任何战船。8月27日,皇家海军轻而易举地夺下长岛,大陆军惨败。之后,华盛顿采用边退、边打游击战的办法,开始了跟英军的拖延战术。

实际上,宣布独立不久的美国,更大的挑战不在跟英军的战场上,而是在经费的来源上。起初,第一届大陆会议考虑过在各州征税,但因上面讲到的原因被很快否决。独立战争开支主要靠以下几方面来源,第一是由政府发行“大陆币”,在1775至1780年间共印了37次“大陆币”;第二,由大陆会议政府发行债券,1775年发行首批公债用于买军火;第三,是十三州(殖民地)的份子贡献,由各州自己发行战争债提供;第四,从法国借来的贷款;再就是给士兵、给供货商写欠条。

只是在1780年末之前,政府债已经没人买了;各州也弹尽粮绝,不愿再发债奉献了;大多数士兵的服役期到年底就结束,不愿再收欠条作军饷;眼看大陆军就要失败,几乎没有人再愿意接受大陆币。

就在独立运动要告终之际,华盛顿派助理前往法国,成功说服法国国王再借美国250万法国金币。法国贷款没到之前,这一消息让后来成为美国第一任财政部长的亚历山大?汉密尔顿先将其做抵押,立即通过再贷款得到救命钱,让独立军维系到次年9月。最终,在法国海军的支持下,大陆军于1781年9月在南方港口城市约克镇打赢关键一战,从此扭转独立战争的局面,迫使英国于1783年9月签署《巴黎条约》,承认美国独立。一个年轻国家就这样靠举债幸存下来。

1783年独立战争正式结束了,但是,建国的挑战却刚开始。如果说今天的全球金融危机是因美国联邦政府、地方政府、企业、家庭写“借条”太多,因债务泛滥而产生的,那么,1783年时的美国货币、“借条”、债券种类并没少多少,仅各类战争债、州政府债、社区债所用到的支付货币就五花八门,有以“老大陆币”、以“新大陆币”、以墨西哥银元、以西班牙银元、英镑,有的债券干脆就没注明以什么货币支付。整个金融市场一片混乱,许多债券的价格不到其面值的10%,基本没人问津,商品市场也没有秩序。这种乱局严重影响人们对美国前景的信心,挑战新共和国的命运。

1790年1月,年纪33岁的财政部长亚历山大.汉密尔顿,向国会递交一份债务重组计划,宣布在1788年宪法通过之前美国发行的所有债务,包括联邦与地方政府发的各种战争债、独立战争军队签的各类借条,全部按原条款一分一文由联邦政府全额兑现。为了实现承诺,联邦政府发行三只新债券,头两只债券年息6%(一只于1791年1月开始付息,另一只到1801年才付息),第三只债券只付年息3%。换言之,由这三只可以自由交易的债券取代原来五花八门的战争债,大大简化新国家的债务局面。

今天看,汉密尔顿的债务重组举措,好像只是一种简单的债务证券化运作,但是,他的天才创新在于,这三只债券埋下了纽约证券交易所、也就是“华尔街”的种子,因为这些债券从1790年10月上市交易后,加上次年由汉密尔顿推出的“美国银行”(Bank of the United States)股票,立即将市场的力量聚焦在这四只证券,强化价格发现机制,提升流动性,集中展现市场活力。从此,美国资本市场一发不可收拾,为之后的工业革命、科技创新效劳。

美国金融之父汉密尔顿的创举的意义也在于,他让这三只债券成为反映美国未来前景的晴雨表,债券价格就是市场对美国未来的定价。—— 汉密尔顿之兑现过去所有战争债的承诺,振奋了市场对美国未来的信心,使这些债券价格随即猛涨,为更多的政府融资广开财路!

债券市场先于其它证券市场发展,而债券市场又起源于战争融资需要,早期英国以及其他西欧国家是这样,后来的美国还是这样。

那么,从美国的经历中为什么我们能理解到,230年前负债累累的美国以及400年前债负压身的西欧国家,反而在那之后胜过当时国库满满的中国、印度呢?我的思路包括以下两方面。

第一,国库钱越多、朝廷银库越满,国王、皇帝肯定能专制,而且也会更专制,因为他们不需要靠老百姓的钱养着;相反,越是朝廷欠债累累的国家,其国王、政府就必然要依赖老百姓交税、有求于百姓,这最终能制约国王的权力、促进民主与规则的发展。如哈佛大学教授Richard Pipes在《Property and Freedom》中所说,之所以民主法治能在英国兴起,就是因为在英国皇家把土地权逐步卖掉之后,国王不得不每年与掌握征税权的议会交涉。就像在当初美国一样,一旦国家负债累累,而老百姓又不得不交税的时候,连那些本来不关心政治的公民也不得不关心政府的权力、自己的权利,交税是提醒公民权利、感受政府权力的最具体方式。不需要征税也能自己富有的君主或者政府,其制度必会走向专制。

第二,就如当年美国三只国债所表现的,这些国债的存在与交易给市场提供了评估其政府政策与制度优劣的具体工具,通过国债价格的上涨下跌,立即反映市场对国家未来的定价。只要国家的负债足够高、只要继续发债的需要还在,国债价格的下跌必然逼着政府对其政策或法律做出修正。公民投票是民主制度的重要形式,但投票无法天天进行,而证券市场对国家的监督、评估、定价却是每时每刻的!美国和英国的兴起如此,其他西欧国家的经历要么也如此,要么就被金融市场所教训!

负债累累的政府是一个权力难以扩张的政府,因为负债后,一方面政府就得面对债券市场,另一方面就得征税,就得面对纳税人。或许,负债、债券市场、征税、纳税人,这都是民主宪政的砖瓦。看来,金融不只是能帮助一个国家平摊一时的支付压力,还能促进制度的良性发展。

回头看,对金融的认识、理解,花了我二十余年时间。1986到2001年间的数理金融理论训练和研究,给了我分析人、社会、经济的科学方法和基本框架,让我认识到人生一辈子效用函数的最大化是人的行为的终极目的,而达到这一目的的手段和工具在不同时期、不同社会不一样。这一分析框架或许就是一把钥匙,帮助我认识社会、文化、历史还有其它,包括反思和审视我们习以为常的许多观念,也包括再思考企业和国家的治理战略。

本书收集的正是这些年反思、审视、研究、讨论的结果。

致谢

本书共收集我在2008年末之前写的相关文章,都是围绕金融、关于金融。各章节在结构上相对独立,因此,即使挑着章节读,基本不影响其可读性。由于这些文章起初是为不同媒体而写,因此除了注释所用数据资料的来源之外,基本没有能够一一给出相关参考资料和文献,这是本书的最大遗憾,希望各位同仁能够凉解。

在本书各章的写作中分别得到了很多朋友和同仁的帮助,比如,李利明、文冠中、龙登高、郭宇宽、曾人雄、张磊、朱武祥、王永华、张维迎、林毅夫、卢峰、陈平、熊鹏、石明磊、韦森、陈雨露、梁晶、吴冲锋、李玉、谢平、王巍、徐林、周年洋、汪姜维、张信东、李云龙、周程、刘凌云、冯玉、赵灵敏、谷重庆、曹惠宁、范文仲、李健、张宏、岳峥、袁为鹏、彭凯翔、孙涛、周克成、岑科、宋澄宇、张福山、高平阳、杜凯,等等,还有许多其他朋友,这些朋友时常是我文章的第一读者,他们因为是我的朋友而付出了很多代价,在此一并向他们致谢。茅于轼、吴敬琏、袁伟时、朱学勤等老前辈也时常给后学以指导,这是本人一辈子的荣幸,也不甚感谢。另外,特别感谢李利明,他是本书各章的总编辑,纠正了本书初稿中的众多错字,提高了可读性。当然,我也要感谢《经济观察报》、《新财富》、《财经》、《证券市场周刊》、《南风窗》、《南方周末》、《21世纪经济报道》、《证券日报》等杂志与报纸读者的支持。

最后感谢我夫人王蓓、女儿陈晓(Tiffany)和陈笛(D.J)多年的支持,感谢在湖南老家以及南京岳父母家的多位亲戚,他们总是我靠得住的粉丝。

我们这一代香港人

By 陈冠中 《中国时报》05年4月足本

我是上世纪52年在上海出生的,四岁到香港,小时候上学,祖籍栏填的是浙江鄞县,即宁波。我在家里跟父母说上海话其实是宁波话,跟佣人说番禺腔粤语,到上幼儿园则学到香港粤语。我把香港粤语当作母语,因为最流利,而且自信的认为发音是百分百准的,如果不准是别人不准,不是我不准。就这样,身分认同的问题也解决了。

我后来才知道,我是属于香港的「婴儿潮」,指的是1949年后出生的一代。香港人口在二战结束那年是五十万,到1953年已达两百五十万,光1949年增加了近八十万人。随后十来年,出生人口也到了高峰,像旧式的可乐瓶一样,开始还是窄窄的,后来就膨胀了。

可想我这代很多人对童年时期的贫穷还有些记忆,家长和家庭的目标,印在我们脑子里的,似乎就是勤俭,安定下来,改善生活,赚钱,赚钱,赚钱。 我们的上一代当然也有一直在香港的,但很大的一群是来自广东的、来自上海和大陆其它地方的,是在认同大陆某个地域而不是香港的背景下走出来的。南来的知识分子更有一种文化上的国族想象,逃至殖民边城,不免有「花果飘零」之叹。

然而,从我这代开始,变了,就是,中国大陆对我们来说只是一个带点恐怖、大致上受隔离的陌生邻区,而我们也没有寄人篱下的感觉,没有每天仇大苦深想着香港是个殖民地,我们只是平凡的长大着,把香港看作一个城市,我们的城市。

这里我得及时声明我是在发表对同代人的个人意见,并不是代表同代人说话,说不定有人一生出来就懂得爱国反殖。我在下文想说明的其中一点恰恰就是爱国和民主一样,对我们来说都是后天慢慢建构出来的。 意识中排斥当代中国 我们的中小学历史教科书是不介绍中国二十世纪当代史的。尽管中文报纸上有报导大陆的消息,我这代在成长期往往在意识中是把当代中国大致排斥掉的。

我这代一个最大的共同平台,就是我们的中小学,不管是政府还是教会或私人办的。唯一例外是「左派」学校的学生,在人数上是极少数。

我们的学校当时是怎样的学校呢?是一条以考试为目标的生产线。我们这代人一个很大的特点,就是考完试后就会把学过的内容给丢了,这对香港整代成功人士有很大的影响:他们可以很快很聪明地学很多东西,但转变也很快,过后即丢,而且学什么、做什么是无所谓的,只要按游戏规则,把分数拿到。 在中学里面,我觉得唯一不全是为了考试的学科,除了教会学校的圣经课,就是中文中史课。我们的中文老师可能也是我们唯一接触到中国大传统的渠道,关于中国文化,甚至做人德行,都可能是从中文课上获得的。现在我这代中人,对文化历史时政有些理想主义想法的人,很可能都是中文课的好学生,或读过武侠小说,否则说不定连小小的种子都没有了。

可惜中文课在香港英文学校里是比较边缘的东西,有些根本就不理这门课。

1964年,我这代进入青春期,那年,披头士乐队访问香港。

我那比我大一岁的姊姊和同班同学去电影院看了十次披头四的电影「一夜狂欢」。

我们跟父母搞了些代沟,稍留长了头发,穿牛仔裤,弹吉他。因为我们曾手拉手唱过英语反战歌,我以为不用问大家都是接受平等及参与性的民主,我要到了1980年代中才觉悟到没有必然关连。 1973年,香港股市在狂升后出现「股灾」。

我这代的青春期,就由英美时髦文化开始,到全民上了投资一课后毕业。与同期同代大陆人太不一样,我们可说是「什么都没有发生」的一代。 当然,中间经过1966年和1967年的两次街头抗争插曲。第一次带头反天星小轮加价的是青年人,对未成年的我们有点不甚了了的轻微吸引。第二次冲突大多了,是文革的溢界,逼着站在港英一边的明智大多数和他们的子女,随后的许多年对中国大陆更有戒心──把大陆视为他者,相对于「我们」香港。除此外,以我观察,六七年事件对我这代大多数人的心灵和知识结构并没有留下显著痕迹。

繁荣安定压倒一切

这时候登场的是香港随后三十年的基调:繁荣与安定压倒一切。

这时候香港政府调整了管治手法,建公屋,倡廉政。

这时候我这一代也陆续进入人力市场。

连人口结构都偏帮我这一代:我们前面没人。 

就是说,婴儿潮一代进入香港社会做事时,在许多膨胀中和冒升中的行业,他们往往是第一批受好教育的华人员工,直接领导是外国人或资本家。我们不愁找不到工作,我们晋升特别快,许多低下层家庭出身的子女凭教育一下子改变了自己的社会阶层,我们之中不乏人30来岁就当外企第二把手。

似乎不论家庭或学校、文化或社会,都恰好替我一代做了这样的经济导向的准备,去迎接随后四分一世纪的香港经济高速发展期。 

我们这批人不知道自己的运气好到什么地步,其实并不是因为我们怎么聪明,而是因为有一个历史的大环境在后面成就着我们。香港是最早进入二战后建立的世界贸易体系的一个地区,在日本之后便轮到我们了,比台湾早,台湾还搞了一阵进口替代,我们一进就进去了,转口、贸易、轻工业加工代工,享尽了二战后长繁荣周期的先进者的便宜。另外,大陆的锁国(却没有停止以低廉货物如副食品供给香港)也为我们带来意外的好处,这一切加起来,换来香港当时的优势。我这批人开始以为自己有多厉害、多灵活、多有才华了。我们不管哪个行业都是很快就学会了,赚到了,认为自己了不起了,又转去做更赚钱的。 

我并不是说我们不曾用了力气,我想强调的是:这一代是名副其实的香港人,成功所在,也是我们现在的问题所在。香港的好与坏我们都要负上绝大责任。 

我们是受过教育的一代,可训练性高,能做点事,讲点工作伦理,掌握了某些专业的局部游戏规则,比周边地区先富裕起来,却以为自己特别能干。 

我们从小知道用最小的投资得最优化的回报,而回报的量化,在学校是分数,在社会是钱。这成了我们的习性。

自以为擅随机应变 

在出道的1970和1980年代,我们在经济上尝到甜头,这成了路径依赖,导致我们的赚钱板斧、知识结构、国际观,都是局部的、选择性的,还以为自已见多识广。 

我们整个成长期教育最终让我们记住的就是那么一种教育:没什么原则性的考虑、理想的包袱、历史的压力,不追求完美或眼界很大很宏伟很长远的东西。这已经成为整个社会的一种思想心态:我们自以为擅随机应变,什么都能学能做,用最有效的方法,在最短时间内过关交货,以求那怕不是最大也是最快的回报。

我在香港拍过一部美国电影,美国的设计师要做一个布景台子,叫香港的道具师帮他做,他每天来问做好没有,香港道具师都回答他,不要紧,到时一定会做好的,等到开拍那天,果然那张台子及时被搬进来了,表面上看起来还是不错,但仔细一看,台子的后面是没有油的,因为后面是拍不到的,而且只能放着不能碰,一碰就塌,,美国的道具师不明白,为什么我早就请你们做个台子,要到最后一刻才交货,并只有前没有后;香港的道具师也装不明白,你要我们做个道具,不是及时交货了吗,而且是几秒钟镜头一晃就过去的那种,为什么要做得太全呢,在镜头里看效果是不错的,况且不收货的话也没时间改了。这是我们的can do精神、港式精明和效率。

我这代这种心理,早在成长期就有了,到我们出道后更是主流价值,不是现在年轻人才这样,现在年轻人都是我们这代教出来的。

说1970年代是「火红的年代」、我这代是理想主义一代──喂,老鬼们,不要自我陶醉了。

正如太多我这代人自以为了不起,其实比不上我们的上一代,只是运气比较好。同样,火红的一代也只是后来膨胀了的神话,严格来说,都是失败者。 

首先,火红并不是我那代的主流特质,实际参与的人就算在大学里也只是很小的一群:我在1971年进香港大学,在我所住的宿舍里前后三年百多名宿生中,我知道的参加过「保卫钓鱼台」运动最大一次示威的才只有3个──有个别的宿舍比例确是较高。

我这代开始了香港人这种奇妙弹性组合。我们当管理人,不像西方和日本上世纪中想像的那套刻板的白领中产组织人,而是十分机动的。我们自以为有专业精神懂得依游戏规则办事,但如果能过关也随时可以不守规。我们好学习,甚至加班拚搏,不太是为了忠诚完美,而是为表现加薪,或说有上进心。我们随时转工易主换业。我们是不错的企业管理人,却同时在外面跟朋友搞生意。 

当时大学生的左翼小圈子里有两派,一个是毛派,也叫「国粹派」;另外是更小的圈,是左派中对当时的毛和文革有批判的一派,叫「社会派」。在大学外,有几个无政府主义者,和几堆跟当时仅存的港澳老托派联络上的年轻激进派,这些圈子也很小,虽然戏剧效果较大。教育、教会和后起的社工界、法律界、新闻界也有个别关心公义的人士和组织。像我这样松散参加过校园民主、民生(反加价、反贪污)、民族(中文成法定语文、保钓)等活动的人则稍多一点。港澳工委在香港的有组织「左派」(不包括亲北京工会会员)人数当然又多一点。但总的来说在主流社会里是少数,说起来远不如1989年、2003年上街人数──那才是火红的年份。

待四人帮倒台,不少毛派学生马上进入商界,到美国银行等商业机构做事,一点障碍都没有。1979年改革开放后,他们又是第一批去大陆做生意的人。到底是香港教育出来的精英。 

可以看到,毛派的深层执着不是毛主义,而是国族,可提炼出来给今天的是爱国。其他零星异端左派当年的主张也幸好没有实现,然而他们的基本关注是公义,可滋养今天的民主诉求。这就是火红一代的遗产。 

火红年代的影响很有限,所以在1980年代,民主和爱国都未竟全功。如果婴儿潮一代人当时空群而出要求民主如2003年的五十万人上街,基本法都怕要改写,事实是大部份我这代经济动物根本没有去争取,而少数已成既得利益的同代人,竟有反对……(此段豆瓣贴不上)

主流:赚快钱 

不在公共领域集体争权益,只作私下安排,也是本代人特点:1980至1990年代中出现往加拿大和澳洲的移民潮。对部份南来的老一代是再出走,对婴儿潮一代是留学以外第一次有规模的离散,大部份是因为九七要回归而移民,故不是经济移民,而是替家庭买一份政治风险保险。有部份的家庭,将太太和子女送去彼邦,丈夫仍在港工作,成「航天员」,因为香港的工作更能赚钱,兼想要两个世界的最好。真正断了香港后路者,他们的位置也很快为留港的原下属补上。许多成年人移民后的香港身份认同并没有动摇,身在彼邦心在港。对我这代来说,在亚洲金融风暴前,从财富和机会成本计算上,移民加澳应属失利。眼见香港持续发达和大陆的变化,九七前后回流香港的也不少。当然也有决心融入彼邦,选择另一种生活方式和价值观的。总的来说,移民潮势头虽强,最终只是移民个人和彼邦的新经验,过后竟没有在香港留下重大烙印,没有妨碍过去二十年香港主流的发展,而九七效应更曾一度加强这主流:赚快钱。 

一直以来,就香港大学来说,主流所向往的,除了当医生外,是在香港政府里当官。文官有两种,政务官和行政官,都要大学资格;而那些所谓最精英的政务官,他们的英语要好,大概头脑也要比较灵活,这类官员总处于职位变动中,今年可能管经济,明年说不定派去搞工务,换来换去,当久了自以为什么都懂,其实是按既定规章制度程序办事,换句话说只懂当官僚。说到底,他们也只是香港教育出来的精英,我们又如何能对他们有着他们认知程度以上的期待? 

到1970年代中,主流精英除了各种专业如律师、建筑师、工程师、会计师、教师外,还多了一种选择:进入商界,特别是外企。1973年港大社会科学院应届毕业生就有几十人同被数家美资银行招揽。我们走进了香港的盛世──婴儿潮代的镀金年代。 

我们带着这样的教育和价值观,自然很适合去企业打工,却同时想去创业和投机。我这代开始了香港人这种奇妙弹性组合。我们当管理人,不像西方和日本上世纪中想象的那套刻板的白领中产组织人,而是十分机动的。我们自以为有专业精神懂得依游戏规则办事,但如果能过关也随时可以不守规。我们好学习,甚至加班拚搏,不太是为了忠诚完美,而是为表现加薪,或说有上进心。我们随时转工易主换业。我们是不错的企业管理人,却同时在外面跟朋友搞生意。 

是的,我们爱钱 

我这代人到底是在相对安稳的社会长大的,不算很坏,我们有做慈善的习俗(当然是在保持安全距离的情况下捐点余钱),在不影响正业的情况下愿意做点公务(尤其当公务直接间接有助正业),表现出大致上守信(理解到这种社会资本长远来说减轻自己的交易成本),也会照顾家人亲友(扩大版的家庭功利主义),不过,底子里是比较自利和计算的,如以前在学校考试,最终是自己得分过关。是的,我们爱钱。 

所以出道十年八年后,我们想象力就被绑架了,很甘心的受勾引,从赚辛苦钱,进化到想同时赚更多更容易的钱:股票、地产、财技。我们初是羡慕,后是不安分,怀疑自己的赚钱能力比同代其它人落后了,最终一起陷入了一个向地产股票倾斜的局。而那几个行业,从1970年代初开始,一直节节上升,只有在1973-74、1982-84、1987、1989、1993-94等年,有个短暂股灾或楼价回落什么的,很快又更猛的往上冲。至此,我这代有了这样的全民共识:明天一定会比今天更好,因为今天确比昨天好;楼价是不会跌只会升的,打一生工赚的还不如买一个单位的楼。谁能不相信呢?我们的上半生就是在这样的情况下过来的。至此我们整代的精英都强化了本来已有的投机习性,一心想发容易财。

我的牙医边替我整牙边打电话问股票价。多少做工业的人把工业停掉﹐用厂地让自己转项去做房产,我们的偶像改成地产商或做股票玩财技的人,而我这代很多人搭上了顺风车而确实得利。 

1980年代也是新古典经济学复兴的里根撒切尔年代,这学说背后的意识形态很符合我这代人的个人发财愿望,我们知道了世界上没有免费午餐、政府好心做坏事、产权不清出现公地的悲剧、寻租行为增加交易成本等启迪民智的观念。公司化、解规管渐成政策。资本市场进入更多人的意识。我屡次在聚会上听到黑社会大佬在谈PE(市盈率)、IPO(首次公众认股)。好像是天赐给我这代香港人一个方便法门,原来自利就是对社会最大的贡献。 

不过,当学说变成信仰咒语后,就出现外部效应,不利于社会进阶和凝聚。 

1980年代我们的一些作为,决定了今日香港的局面。不用多说的是中英联合声明、一国两制、基本法,这些1980年代开始订下的规范性的纲领。 

我们一些作为决定今日香港 

1980年代大陆开放,我们的工业就搬到珠三角去了,谁都不能用工业空洞化的理由劝别人留港,或提出什么工业政策。既然是赚钱机会嘛,那就去吧,本来已经有点到头的轻工业,也不用烦升级再投资,那些陈旧的设备都被运进大陆,找到廉价的劳动力,重赚了一笔,并实时利及香港。工厂搬走(像当初上海人南来开纺织厂的用地),正好改做房地产。可这样一来,整个香港在1980年代开始等于是自动放弃了制造业。 

1983年的9月,因为中英谈判的前途未卜,港元对美元的汇率变成一比九块五毛五,人心惶惶,香港政府断然放弃港币自由浮动,改跟美金挂钩,当时也是非常有效的决策:民心很快被稳定了下来,外资也安心,知道他们投进香港的热钱随时可以定价换回美金。

可是也因此香港政府只得放弃了自主的货币政策,从此跟着经济体质差异很大的美国走,这个1980年代的决定一直绑住了香港调控通胀通缩的一只手,几任政府都不敢解套。

举个著名案例,在九七回归前,那时美国恰恰因为墨西哥危机,在减利息,减得非常低,香港也只能跟着把利息降得非常低,但香港当时的房地产是过热的(投机者期待回归效应、大陆很多单位希望在香港开个「窗口公司」等等原因),应提高利率才是,却变了降息火上加油。 

后果是把已经是泡沫的房价再往高吹,毁了香港的价格竞争力,诱导了我这代中产者高价入市后变负资产。 

香港1980年代以来关键都在房地产。1984年「中英联合声明附件三」每年限量批地50顷(1981年还在售地216公顷),这方面政府是赤裸裸干预市场而不是放任,托高了地价,成就了财富集中在大地产商的「不完全竞争」布局(1991年至1994年落成的私人住楼有七成是由当时最大的七家地产商提供)。1984年至1997年首季,楼价升了14倍,推到一个和港人收入远不相称的地步﹐把全民财富集中在不神圣的三位一体(房产、地产股和按贷银行),进一步鼓动了港人走精面赚快钱,增加了政府收入,扭曲了政府决策。

世界上比较上路的政府,很少故意搞地产过热,玄妙的是香港历任政府竟甘于会同发展商和银行扮演地产热钱化的主谋共犯,而沾沾自喜的我这代有恒产者岂能不成从犯? 

香港用于城市建设的土地少于20%,英国殖民者留了超过80%给山和树,香港的土地真的不足吗,还是利用这个迷思来政策性的逐步把地价推高?答案是后者。

1997那年,香港卖地收入占政府总收入23%,还未算印花税。反讽的是,一半人口住的公屋,加上公共设施、公立医院,公费教育和公务员,不靠卖地和房税征来的钱,我们又怎能享有这么窄的税基交那么少的所得税和利得税? 

这就是香港经济的移形换影大法:香港政府既似是积极不干预的放任小政府,又是对社会能力强势投入的大政府,像是有两个迥异的经济学家──傅立曼和阿玛塔耶森── 同时在指导香港经济,而从制度政策看,看到的却是一只依重地产并以干预来偏护地产金融财团的有形的手。一切美好,全靠地产,直到它变了怪兽。

这个举世无双的香港本色是值得大书特书的,不知道是天才的剧本,还是自然浑成:土地是皇家的,政府做庄家,以限量供地造成稀有令房价长期上扬,吸引香港人纷纷向银行贷款买房,世代相传了地产必升的神话,港人有余钱就继续买房,或投在当时七大地产公司主导的股市,让有恒产者与地产商、股市、银行利益与共,至于在私人住宅市场买不起恒产的人,政府建公屋或租或卖的低价让大家住,同时靠卖地增加政府收入,保持低平窄税,法治开放,联系汇率,繁荣安定,进一步吸引全世界包括中国的直接投资、避难逃资、投机热钱涌入香港,房价股市越发猛升,大家发财,顺便造就了香江几十年的富贵与浮华、我这一代人的灿烂与飞扬,思之令人感伤,然后不禁哑然失笑,简直是一个近乎完美的天仙局,谁还理会制造业空洞化、资源投在非生产性的建设、竞争力消失、房价比新加坡高三倍、大陆在改变、地缘优势在磨灭、热钱靠不住?突然物换星移,好日子不再。

场面撑久了,我这代人没见过别的世面,还以为这就是本该如此的永恒。一个亚洲金融风暴,问题都出来了,可是已积重难返。 

今天香港的问题,都和1997年以前我们自己设的套有关。 

譬如,我们的基本法里,规定公务员的薪水不能低于九七前,就算经济不景,他们的薪水也不能大调,以此来保护当时公务员的信心。

打笼通资本主义 

又譬如,我们自以为平衡的预算很重要,故在基本法里对此有期待。这点让董建华担心,从1998年到现在,香港每年都有赤字。

有些人说董建华上台后改掉了许多东西,其实现在香港更多是九七前的继承,而不是九七的决裂﹕并不是说英国人走了,我们不用他们的政策,不受他们的影响了。重大的局面都是九七之前已经布好,而不是九七后才有的,我们只是把九七前的问题更劣质化更外露罢了。

我们的公务员以前听命于英国外交部和女皇任命的殖民长官,现在也是采取和上面完全一致的态度,他们无所谓,只要老板叫他们做什么,他们把它做好就是了,现在做事是没以前轻松了,但他们除了自保自惠外是不担当的,敢为老板在外面说几句话护主,就叫很有胆色了。 

董建华政府的认受性来自北京和财团主导的一小撮人,自然向北京治港官僚及财团倾斜,现在香港高级的官员,我同代的聪明人,也就不会去挡住北京治港官僚及财团对政府的黑箱操作。不过财团和主权国官僚的影响向来很大,1997后只是延续,倒是特区行政长官的自主性似更弱于受命伦敦的港督,遂恶化了「打笼通资本主义」的局。 

1997年的香港是非常繁荣的,给了好的开始,财团和官僚结合的新政府以为自已掌握到过去香港成功的要素,很懂香港,非常自信,其实他们由工商专业从政,或由官僚扮政治人,对香港的认识是局部的、选择性的、甚至自我误导的。 

本来,回归后的政治安排有点像中国当代史上名声不好的训政,不过训政也是一个机会,大权在握,是可以趁头几年解决一些香港旧有问题及部署应对外部剧变,可惜董建华运气和能力俱不好,无法用上训政给他的机缘。 

现在看起来,从外部来说,大陆的改革开放,初则对香港有利,再下来既一定有互补互利的双赢情况,甚至是大陆领着香港雁飞的共荣,但也会让香港体验到「让你的邻居做乞丐」这句话,地区与地区间的激烈竞争是必然的,究竟,香港以前的独占性的地缘优势是没有了。所以说外部的情况是喜忧参杂的。 

从内部来说,香港很殊胜,税低,效率高,法治尚存,廉政未泯,言论还自由。我自己去了大陆台湾后也有这个感觉﹕在香港办事多方便!我们没有别的社会的城乡、族群、宗教等重大冲突。当然,这些内部的优势也是1997年以前就已经有的,甚至可说是我这代出道前已铺垫的──其中廉政是成就在我这代的。我一代人的问题是太自满于自己的优点却看不到内部的盲点,更落后于急剧变化的外部形势。 

交不出来的功课 

我相信香港不会像扬州、威尼斯般,由区域枢纽都会一落千丈只剩下旅游。不过看到英美一些工业城市一衰落就是几十年,也有可能香港转型需要漫长的一段时间。 

我知道还是有人以为政府少说话少计划,香港经济就自然会好,这是我这代既得利益者的一厢情愿。2004年市道转旺,大家憋了很久,期待重温旧梦,很不争气的香港人又把资本拿去炒楼了。可惜时代不一样,一个更严峻的变局已成形,我们不可能回到往日 ──何况以前香港政府也从来不是我们以为的那种不干预。

往前走,我们要解掉一些1980年代以来自已设的套。我们要来一个「边缘向主流的反扑」。 

爱国和民主就是必须并肩变为主流现实的两个边缘价值,缺一不可,否则既有宪政危机,也改不了打笼通资本主义的决策腐败、政府自主性旁落、财富两极化──香港的财富差距越拉越开,反映贫富差距的坚尼系数竟由1971年的0.430升至2001年的0.525,属最糟糕的发达国家之一。 

爱国和民主都是香港这场实验早该完成却未完成的部分,是自利的我这一代人迟迟交不出来的功课。

现在我们需要的是好好的去研发作为民族国家一份子的民主宪政时代的管治。 

我们1980年代开始过度重视地产和金融,连政府的思惟都像地产发展商,而把原有的贸易、工业冷落了。现在,我们不应只膜拜对香港生产力和竞争力最没贡献的地产商和被过誉的资本市场财技人,应重新推崇有国际或地区视野的贸易商、工业家、物流界、基建发展商和创意业,以及实干赚辛苦钱的其它产业如零售业和部分不受利润保护的公共设施业。我们需要更多样化的产业类型。

政府现在说香港以金融、物流、旅游、工商业为主,仍不突显工业。 

但我这代人所未遇上过的结构性失业,终于出现。失业打击了我这代部分的人,而将持续困扰下一代。这是外部环境转变和产业偏食的后果,只鼓吹金融和服务业,很明显不能提供足够就业机会。

高失业是很伤害社会凝聚的,有经济学家就提出「二元经济」,一方面,我们还要继续鼓励金融这类「高价值、低就业」行业,但从另一元来说,我们也要开发那些「低价值、高就业」的产业,包括所谓本地经济,不然的话,我们的社会就会缺少就业机会。 

「二元经济」原指某些大面积地区内大企业与中小企业并存或城乡分列的经济。在全球化下的全球城市,则倾向出现收入二元分化的趋势,一元是高收入职业,一元是低价值服务业,像快餐店职员、清洁工、小贩、迪斯尼主题园的服务员等。 

找回出口导向制造业 

二元经济的说法很正确的指出维持就业不能只靠金融服务和大企业,但我们要注意「低价值、高就业」这样的思惟语境里的「认命」倾向,小心反过来合理化了已经严重的两极化趋势,并衍生出二元分割的路径依赖。 

我这代很多人是穷出身然后翻身到富裕,现在若把就业者锁在两个世界,扼杀了往上流通的机会,等于正式宣告了下一代人的香港梦──水涨船高大家明天都更好──的幻灭。这将是香港的倒退。

我觉得,香港必须也有条件去倡导二元经济的一个更进取的规范性目标,就是「中价值、中就业」,这样大多数下一代才会有寄望。 

我们要鼓励制造业、贸易和与制造业配套的服务业,找回80年代给我这代人弄丢了的出口导向制造业创业观,如果不是那样,以后香港凭什么来做珠三角的前店呢?人家为什么要把物流给我们呢﹖香港完全不参与某些工序的研发生产升级,不深入珠三角生产链,最后我们连物流也沾不到。我们不能总是厚着脸,求中央政府扭住广东省的脖子让利给其实更富裕的香港。 

香港并非一无所有之地,我们有多年的累积底蕴,重做制造业、贸易和配套服务的产业不是不可行,有很多榜样可以学,意大利北部的工业是由无数工作坊式的小工厂组成的,绝对是中价值、中就业。(不过意大利的重家族不重法的作风则不值得恭维。) 

我在上文说过,我这代人的国际观其实是有局限的,其中一种局限是参照对象太窄。美国固然不能忽略,但更适合为香港整体参照的有新加坡、台湾和韩国,有社会成就高的丹麦、比利时、荷兰等欧洲小国。荷兰环水地小人稠(是香港人口两倍多一点),是全球第六大对外投资国和出口国(跟香港相似),产业比香港均衡多元,以贸易和物流著称,强盛的制造业则传统和高科技俱重,大公司和工作坊并列,既有国际名牌,兼发展金融旅游原料通讯,连渔农业(含花农业)也蓬勃,城市化程度高,失业率在西欧是偏低的,财富分布相对均衡,她的政府、资本与劳工的协商民主政治,也值得参考,通过协商减政府预算、限劳工工资,是后福利主义第三条路的典范。近年欧洲经济不景气,荷兰免不了,偏右政府上台,继续砍政府预算,减公务员工资人数。 

当然,香港最重要是认识自己,弄清楚自己的各种能力,新的发展是要「附加」在现有资源和经验上的,要「趁势」,要「扎堆」,要「透孔」给多点人参与,我称之为「香港作为方法」。 

这里,政府除了改善基建、教育和促进交流外没有太大的参与空间,首应做一件事:减税,给愿意做制造业者一点税务优惠,以诱创业者回来香港,这做法象征意义比较大,给大家一个明确的信息:香港政府的优先次序和作风已调整了。在减税这点我相信连香港的弗利民追随者也不会反对。

还有,现在空置的厂房和写字楼,让他们的价格跌到最后,并继续提供工业用地,以诱中小企业和工作坊进场,因为当初就是政府促成的高房价把它们扼杀的。厂房写字楼不同住宅,不伤及中产阶级,政府想都不应想去救市,这才是积极不干预。 

当然,政府应该用公权反垄断,为中小企业除障,甚至引导本地企业为内部市场生产中价值的进口替代,让本土经济也不但开动且能走向中价值、中就业。

城市本身是品牌,要有良好的营商、旅游和居住的软硬条件,要人家赞赏自已满意。在全球化状态下,城市品牌的经营可以创汇、可以提升城市的综合竞争力,其中少不了世界性品味文化和精致生活带来的中价值内需。 

我们不要那么失败主义的说要保障就业,只能一元是高价值低就业的,一元是低价值高就业的。在两极之外,应有更多层次,而作为政府的政策愿景,更宜奋力造就中价值中就业,或用我同代的经济学家曾澍基、陈文鸿的说法:是「优化的低价值高就业」。 

如果香港没有新就业机会,有的也只是些很低价值的工作,这样的把部份人排拒在下的社会将是令人沮丧的。我这代很多人已上岸,可是在我们退场前是不是也应替下一代铺好路,总不该留下一个大多数人是低价就业的鸡肋城市给下一代。 

要做出中价值,很关键的一点,也是我这代主流所忽略的,就是文化和价值观上,我们也要从边缘反扑主流。 

以后人家需要的不是那些价低的产品,而是要创意、要想法、要服务、要弹性、要科技和文化内涵、要满足利基需求。 

香港本身并不是没有这类文化、学术、技术和社会资源,无论是精雅的、通俗的、科技的、工艺的还是另类的,香港全光谱都有,现都在边缘。不够的话,作为开放社会,我们现有的人才知道如何引进更多外面的人才。现在要做的是让这样的文化技艺和价值观走回到我们社会的中心来,不能单靠我这代人过去那种考试过关、做个不能近观的道具、赚快钱的心态了。意大利工作坊里做个家具,要有资产性投资、技艺、审美品味,也要愿花时间、有所追求。

我前阵子看过一篇大陆杂志的人物访谈,那大陆人说他最近去过一次香港后对香港的印象完全改变了,他去了一家小小的冷门唱片店,在那里,他把他一生所有想找的唱片都找到了。原来香港什么都有,如果你真的去找的话,是什么东西都找得到的。但同时,它们又都是小小的,处于社会的边缘,而主流对文化学术一直少有理会,主流1990年代都在忙地产。

如果中价值中就业的产业是香港的出路,最终还得回到香港人的教育,建构较丰满的文化价值──但不要以我这代的主流为榜样。