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Britain’s dismal productivity is its biggest policy challenge

来源:FT中文网    2017-04-17 06:16

        The UK’s recent productivity performance has been calamitous. True, the productivity slowdown has been a widespread phenomenon among high-income countries. But Britain’s slowdown is remarkably bad even by these standards. The question is why. Recent research sheds light on this vital economic question. Why is it vital? The answer is that if recent performance continued, the economy would no longer generate rising real incomes per head. That would change everything for the worse.        英国近年的生产率表现是灾难性的。没错,生产率增长放缓在高收入国家是普遍现象。但即便按这些标准衡量,英国的放缓也糟糕得出奇。问题是为什么。近期的研究为这一至关重要的经济问题提供了一些启示。它为何至关重要?答案是,如果近年的生产率表现持续下去,英国经济将不再能够实现人均实际收入增长。这将让一切变得更加糟糕。
        Since the financial crisis of 2007-08, the UK’s growth of labour productivity has been about the same as Italy’s, in the performance basement of the high-income countries. Yet the UK suffered much the largest deterioration in productivity growth of any of the large high-income countries since the crisis. Its productivity levels are also among the lowest of the high-income countries, which indicates room for fast catch-up growth. This makes recent performance even more disturbing.        自2007-08年金融危机以来,英国的劳动生产率增长大约与意大利相当,在高收入国家当中垫底。然而,自金融危机以来,英国遭受了大型高收入国家中最大的生产率增长降幅。它的生产率绝对值水平在高收入国家中也徘徊在最底层,这表明存在快速追赶的空间。这让近年的表现更加令人担忧。
        Even I had not realised how bad performance has been until I read a recent speech on productivity by the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane. “For the past decade, average productivity growth has been negative,” he said, adding “you would have to go right back to the 18th century to see a similarly lengthy period of stagnant productivity.”        我在阅读了英国央行(Bank of England)的安迪•霍尔丹(Andy Haldane)最近关于生产率的演讲稿之后,才意识到英国的表现有多么糟糕。霍尔丹表示:“在过去10年里,平均生产率增长为负数,”他补充称,“你只有回到18世纪,才能看到类似的生产率持续停滞”。
        One reason why things might not be quite as bleak as this is laid out in a recent paper by Harvard’s Marty Feldstein. He argues that we tend to exaggerate inflation and so underestimate economic growth, because of growing difficulties in measuring quality improvements in the modern economy. In all probability, real incomes are rising more than statistics indicate. While plausible, this does not explain the virtually universal productivity slowdown. It certainly does not explain the UK’s exceptionally large slowdown.        哈佛大学(Harvard)的马蒂•费尔德斯坦(Marty Feldstein)在最近一篇论文中给出了局面没有如此惨淡的理由。他辩称,我们往往夸大通胀,从而低估经济增长,因为衡量现代经济的质量改善越来越难了。实际情况很可能是,实际收入增幅超出统计数据所表明的程度。尽管这种说法貌似有理,但它解释不了几乎所有国家生产率增长放缓的原因。它肯定解释不了英国生产率为何异常大幅放缓。
        Mr Haldane suggests another explanation: the huge lag between the productivity frontrunners and the laggards. He also shows that the dispersion in productivity performance is larger in the UK and has widened more than in other countries. Evidently, the UK economy contains many duff companies.        霍尔丹提出了另外一种解释:生产率领先者与落后者之间的巨大差距。他还指出,英国的生产率表现差异更大,其扩大幅度也超过其他国家。显然,英国经济中有许多无价值的公司。
        This analysis helps explain the UK’s low average level of productivity. But it does not appear to explain the sharp slowdown. Mr Haldane’s data show that the dispersion in productivity among British companies is exceptional, but not that it has grown faster since the crisis than before it. Indeed, he notes that “the tail of low-productivity companies today is, if anything, smaller than it was pre-crisis”. So that cannot explain the productivity slowdown.        这种分析有助于解释英国低下的平均生产率水平。但它似乎没有解释英国生产率增长为何急剧放缓。霍尔丹的数据显示,英国公司之间的生产率差异异常明显,但没有显示出自危机以来的扩大超过危机之前。的确,他指出,“如今低生产率公司的长尾要说有什么不同的话,那就是比危机之前要小”。因此这无法解释生产率增长为何放缓。
        Another hypothesis is that loose monetary policy explains the slowdown. But UK policy has not been exceptionally loose and so cannot explain its exceptional slowdown. Mr Haldane’s analysis does show that tighter monetary policy might have raised productivity levels by a modest 1-2 per cent, but at the cost of some 1.5m jobs. Inflicting that would have been grossly irresponsible.        另一种假设是,宽松货币政策造成了这种放缓。但英国的政策并非异常宽松,因而无法解释生产率的异常放缓。霍尔丹的分析确实表明,收紧货币政策可能会让生产率水平温和提高1%-2%,但代价是大约150万就业岗位的流失。制造那种代价将是极其不负责任的。
        There is another explanation. Research by my colleagues Chris Giles and Gemma Tetlow shows that the slowdown is mainly in banking, telecommunications, utilities, management consultancy and legal and accounting services. These sectors comprise 11 per cent of the economy, yet account for two-thirds of the slowdown. Many of these sectors were profoundly affected by the boom and bust of global finance. Indeed, one possibility is productivity growth has not so much slowed as never reached the heights estimated before the crisis. Surging real rewards might have been confused with booming output. If so, the slowdown is a return to normality.        还有一种解释。我的同事克里斯•贾尔斯(Chris Giles)和杰马•泰特洛(Gemma Tetlow)的研究表明,放缓主要发生在银行、电信、公用事业、管理咨询以及法律和会计服务行业。这些行业只占经济的11%,但占到放缓的三分之二。其中许多行业受到全球金融兴衰的深远影响。的确,一个可能性是,生产率增长与其说是放缓,不如说是从未达到危机前估计的高度。我们可能将实际奖酬飙升与产出繁荣混为一谈。若果真如此,生产率增长放缓是向正常的回归。
        It should be noted that none of these explanations is comforting. Eliminating the dispersion in productivity among companies would be desirable in itself and also raise productivity growth. But the question is why an economy that is open to the world, went though the Thatcher revolution and is among the least regulated of all the high-income countries, should show such a big dispersion in productivity. This suggests bad management is both rife and persistent. Again, while the Financial Times research clarifies where the slowdown has occurred, it does not explain why productivity growth is so pervasively low. One reason could be the exceptionally weak investment, by international standards. This would be another corporate governance failure.        应当指出的是,这些解释没有一个令人宽慰。消除企业之间的生产率差异不仅本身是可取的目标,而且也会加快生产率增长。但问题是,英国是一个向世界开放的经济体,它经历过“撒切尔革命”,而且还是所有高收入国家中监管最为宽松的国家之一,为何还会表现出这么明显的生产率差异?这似乎表明企业管理不善既普遍又持久。同样,尽管英国《金融时报》的研究澄清了生产率增长放缓的领域,但它没有解释生产率增长为何普遍低下。一个原因可能是按国际标准衡量投资异常疲弱。这将是又一个企业治理失败。
        Rectifying this disaster is the UK’s most important policy challenge, far more so than Brexit. The government should finance a high-level effort aimed at working out what has gone wrong, why and what (if anything) to do about it. The country’s very future is at stake.        矫正这场灾难是英国最重要的政策挑战,远远超过英国退欧。英国政府应该资助高层次努力,以找出问题和原因,并制定对策(如果有的话)。国家的未来取决于此。

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