e5a682e69e9c2020e58faae698afe4babae7b1bbe69caae69da5e58db1e69cbae79a84e9a284e6bc94 • 如果2020只是人类未来危机的预演 2020, 危机, 新冠病毒


What if the Coronavirus Crisis Is Just a Trial Run?

01Tooze master1050 • 如果2020只是人类未来危机的预演 2020, 危机, 新冠病毒
Almost two years since the novel coronavirus began to circulate through the human population, what lessons have we learned? And what do those lessons portend for future crises?
The most obvious is the hardest to digest: The world’s decision makers have given us a staggering demonstration of their collective inability to grasp what it would actually mean to govern the deeply globalized and interconnected world they have created. There is only one limited realm in which something like a concerted response has been managed: money and finance. But governments’ and central banks’ success in holding the world’s financial system together is contributing in the long run to inequality and social polarization. If 2020 was a trial run, we should be worried.
How did we get here? In a way, the failure was predictable. As instruments of coordination and cooperation, global institutions like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization had proved fragile and toothless long before the pandemic. The explanation for this failure used to be geopolitical antagonism: Power blocs couldn’t come together when they had competing priorities and agendas. It was thus tempting to imagine that some common threat — perhaps an alien invasion — might make a reality of the United Nations.
我们是怎么走到这一步的?某种程度上,这一失败是可预见的。作为协调与合作的载体,联合国、国际货币基金组织(International Monetary Fund)和世界卫生组织(World Health Organization)等全球机构早在疫情暴发前就已被证明是脆弱且无力的。以往对这种失败的解释是地缘政治对立:当优先事项和议程相互冲突时,大国集团就不能团结一致。因此,人们很容易设想某种共同的威胁——或许是一次外星人入侵——可能会使联合国成为真正的现实。
The coronavirus, one might think, was precisely such an invasion. And yet faced with this common threat, cooperation failed. Rather than a concerted shutdown of global aviation, frontiers were closed on the fly; supplies of personal protective equipment were grabbed at airports; haphazard travel bans continue to this day.
With America in the lead, the world was more divided than ever. America’s failure to coordinate a response was no mere sideshow. Like it or not, this continental nation-state, with the world’s largest economy, facing Europe, South America and the Pacific, is constitutive of globalism as we know it. It was a horrible irony that Donald Trump, the first American president to repudiate this, was in the White House when a truly global crisis hit. That encouraged talk of Covid as the first “post-American” crisis. But America will have to diminish a lot more before we can count it out. What 2020 showed, in fact, was that America’s dysfunctions are the world’s problem.
世界比以往任何时候都更加分裂,美国便是最为分裂的国家之一。这个国家没能拿出一个统一的应对,已经成为一个关键问题。不管你喜欢与否,这个大陆民族国家是面向欧洲、南美洲和太平洋的世界最大经济体,是我们所知的全球主义的基本组成部分。特别讽刺的一点在于,当真正的全球危机来袭,第一位否认这一点的美国总统唐纳德·特朗普(Donald Trump)正在主政白宫。这促使人们将新冠疫情称为第一场“后美国时代”的危机。但要真正给美国判负出局,它还得经历更多衰败。事实上,2020年表明,美国机能失调是世界的问题。
Vaccines are a case in point. The development of Covid vaccines was a collective triumph of researchers, governments and businesses around the world. Mr. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed was the most successful of all. But that program was defined by the needs of the United States — not the world. Scandalously, the United States under Mr. Trump did not even join the United Nations’ Covax initiative. Even after vaccine rollout began in earnest in 2021, the United States continued to hoard doses.
疫苗就是个很好的例子。新冠疫苗的开发是世界各地研究人员、政府和企业的集体胜利。特朗普的“曲速行动”(Operation Warp Speed)是其中最成功的。但这个计划是围绕着美国——而非世界——的需求打造的。令人愤慨的是,在特朗普的领导下,美国甚至没有加入联合国的“2019冠状病毒病疫苗实施计划”(COVAX)。即便在2021年疫苗开始正式推广后,美国仍在囤积
The failure to develop a global vaccination program is not just dismaying. It ought also to be profoundly puzzling: It defies the self-interests of the richest countries in the world. Booster shots aside, the greater the volume of infection, the greater the risk of variants even more dangerous than Delta.
And the greater the economic damage, too. In July, the I.M.F. estimated that an investment of $50 billion in a comprehensive campaign for vaccination and other virus control efforts would generate some $9 trillion in additional global output by 2025 — a ratio of 180 to 1. What investment could hope to yield a higher rate of return? And yet none of the members of the Group of 20 have stepped up, not Europe, not the United States, not even China. Billions of people will be forced to wait until 2023 to receive even their first shot.
This failure is all the more glaring for another lesson that the pandemic revealed: Budget constraints don’t seem to exist; money is a mere technicality. The hard limits of financial sustainability, policed, we used to think, by ferocious bond markets, were blurred by the 2008 financial crisis. In 2020, they were erased.
Governments around the world issued debt as not seen since World War II, and yet interest rates plunged. As the private sector shut down, the public sector expanded. As government deficits grew, the monetary system responded elastically. Government spending made up for the loss of private incomes and spending.
This balancing of public and private spending works best if all countries are doing it simultaneously. This was one area where there was an alignment of national policies. In Europe, there was even a dramatic new phase of cooperation, with the launching of a 750 billion-euro recovery program funded, for the first time, by borrowing by Brussels rather than the European Union’s member states. Providing a supportive frame for this global expansion was Mr. Trump’s United States with its own gigantic fiscal and monetary expansion.
This was a surprise. Before 2020 there were conversations in the halls of the I.M.F. about whether a nationalist president and the flat-earthers in Congress would permit the Federal Reserve and the Treasury to play a leading role in a global financial crisis. Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s Treasury secretary in 2008, refused to endorse Mr. Trump for just this reason. But when it came to it, Mr. Trump’s instincts all pushed in the right direction, at least on economic policy. If ever there was a president who took naturally to the idea of “fiat money,” it was Donald Trump. So long as his name was on the checks, more was better.
这是在意料之外的。在2020年之前,国际货币基金组织的大厅里曾有过这样的讨论:一位民族主义总统和国会里的“地平说”支持者是否会允许美联储和财政部在全球金融危机中发挥主导作用。2008年任乔治·W·布什(George W. Bush)政府财政部长的汉克·保尔森(Hank Paulson)就是因为这个原因拒绝支持特朗普。但事情到了那一步的时候,特朗普的直觉都是朝着正确方向推进的,至少在经济政策上是这样。如果说有哪位总统很自然地接受了“法定货币”的概念,那就是唐纳德·特朗普。只要支票上有他的名字,就多多益善。
It helped that the response was led by professional central bankers. Global finance is a world with a clear hierarchy, with the Fed at the top, followed by the European Central Bank, the People’s Bank of China, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. But it is also a close-knit community with a shared mental map. Central bankers trade in electronic money that can be created at the tap of a keyboard. Creating it does not “cost” anything and does not require approval from elected legislatures. After 2008, tools like quantitative easing — the large-scale purchase of assets — were well oiled.
由专业的中央银行家牵头的应对措施也有所帮助。全球金融是一个等级分明的世界,美联储高高在上,其次是欧洲中央银行(European Central Bank)、中国人民银行、日本银行(Bank of Japan)和英格兰银行(Bank of England)。但它也是一个紧密联系的社区,拥有一个共同的思维地图。中央银行家交易的电子货币只需敲击键盘即可产生。创建它不“花费”任何东西,也不需要获得民选立法机构的批准。2008年之后,像量化宽松(大规模购买资产)这样的工具已经驾轻就熟。
The world discovered that John Maynard Keynes was right when he declared during World War II that “anything we can actually do, we can afford.” The sheer scale of the action was intoxicating. Among the left wing of the Democratic Party, it generated excitement: If money was a mere technicality, what else could be done? Action on social justice, climate change, the Green New Deal, all seemed within reach.
世界发现,当约翰·梅纳德·凯恩斯(John Maynard Keynes)在“二战”期间宣称“凡是我们实际上能做到的事情,我们都能负担得起”时,他是对的。这一行动的规模之大令人陶醉。民主党左翼对此感到兴奋:如果金钱只是一个技术问题,我们还能做什么?社会公正、气候变化、绿色新政等方面的行动似乎都触手可及。
But there were three interrelated problems.
First, the sense that government action had been liberated from the tyranny of finance was illusory. The interventions triggered in March 2020 were not free acts of creative political will. The central bankers were not buying government debt to help finance lockdown life-support checks. They were acting to rescue financial markets from melting down. “Too big to fail” has become a systemic imperative.
That meant, second, that the interventions were double-edged. Propping up the Treasury market enabled government spending on furlough schemes and paycheck protection plans to be funded in the normal way, by borrowing. But government IOUs are fuel for private speculation. When liquidity is flushed indiscriminately into the financial system, it inflates bubbles, generating new risks and outsize gains for those with substantial portfolios. Nowhere was this polarizing effect more pronounced than in the United States. While tens of millions struggled through the crisis, trillions of dollars piled up in the balance sheets of the wealthy.
Finally, the digital money creation was the easy bit. Keynes’s bon mot has a sting in its tail: We can afford anything we can actually do. The problem is agreeing on what to do and how to do it. In giving us a glimpse of financial freedom, 2020 also robbed us of pretenses and excuses. If we are not doing a global vaccine plan, it is not for lack of funds. It is because indifference, or selfish calculation — vaccinate America first — or real technical obstacles prevent us from “actually” doing it.
It turns out that budget constraints, in all their artificiality, had spared us from facing the all-too-limited willingness and capacity for collective action. Now if you hear someone arguing that we cannot afford to bring billions of people out of poverty or we cannot afford to transition the energy system away from fossil fuels, we know how to respond: Either you are invoking technological obstacles, in which case we need a suitably scaled, Warp Speed-style program to overcome them, or it is simply a matter of priorities. There are other things you would rather do.
The challenges won’t go away, and they won’t get smaller. The coronavirus was a shock, but a pandemic was long predicted. There is every reason to think that this one will not be a one-off. Whether the disease originated in zoonotic mutation or in a lab, there is more and worse where it came from. And it is not just viruses that we have to worry about, but also the mounting destabilization of the climate, collapsing biodiversity, large-scale desertification and pollution across the globe.
Looking back before 2020, it seemed that 2008 was the beginning of a new era of successive and interconnected disruptions, such as the global financial crisis, Mr. Trump’s election, and the trade and tech war with China. It all had a familiar ring to it. Great-power competition, nationalism and banking crises all harked back to the 19th and 20th centuries. Then came 2020. It has given us a glimpse of something radically new: the old tensions of politics, finance and geopolitics intersecting with a natural shock on a global scale.
The Biden administration declares that “America is back.” But to what is it returning? As recent events in Afghanistan demonstrate, President Biden is determined to clear the decks, brutally if necessary. As far as the Pentagon is concerned, at the top of the agenda is great-power competition with China — a 19th century writ large. But what of the interconnected global crises of the 21st century that cannot be attributed to a national antagonist? For those, the one model that we have is central bank financial market intervention — a form of crisis-fighting based on technical networks, rooted in existing hierarchies of power and backed by powerful self-interest. It is conservative, ad hoc and lacking in explicit political legitimacy. It tends to reinforce existing hierarchy and privilege.
The challenge for a progressive globalism fit for the next decades is both to multiply those crisis-fighting networks — into the fields of medical research and vaccine development, renewable energy and so on — and to make them more democratic, transparent and egalitarian.

Adam Tooze是哥伦比亚大学经济历史学家,他即将出版新书《停摆:新冠如何撼动全球经济》(Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy),本文就是从这本书改编而来。他也撰写通讯Chartbook newsletter.。欢迎在Twitter上关注他 @adam_tooze