Past and future tense
The world economy in 2015 will carry troubling echoes of the late 1990s
世界经济在2015 年将出现20 世纪90 年代晚期令人烦恼的相似困境
A FINANCIAL crash in Russia; falling oil prices and a strong dollar; a new gold rush in Silicon Valley and a resurgent American economy; weakness in Germany and Japan; tumbling currencies in emerging markets from Brazil to Indonesia; an embattled Democrat in the White House. Is that a forecast of the world in 2015 or a portrait of the late 1990s?
俄罗斯发生了金融危机;油价和强势美元下跌;硅谷出现了新的淘金热，并且美国实现经济复苏;德国和日本则经济疲软;从巴西到印度尼西亚的新兴市场货币呈动荡;民主党在白宫四面楚歌。那是对2015 年世界的预测或上世纪90 年代末的景象描绘?
Recent economic history has been so dominated by the credit crunch of 2008-09 that it is easy to forget what happened in the decades before. But looking back 15 years or so is instructive —in terms of both what to do and what to avoid.
近期的经济已经由2008-09 年的信贷紧缩所主导，很容易忘记在十年前所发生的事情。但回过头来看15 年前的经济会发现有所启发—反观两者可以知道该做之事以及应避免什么问题。
Then, as now, the United States was in the vanguard of a disruptive digital revolution. The advent of the internet spawned a burst of innovation and euphoria about America's prospects. By 1999 GDP was rising by more than 4% a year, almost twice the rich-country average. Unemployment fell to 4%, a 30-year low. Foreign investors piled in, boosting both the dollar and share prices. The S&P 500 index rose to almost 30 times earnings; tech stocks went wild.
当时和现在一样，美国当年是颠覆性的数字革命的先锋。互联网的出现催生了一阵对美国的前景创新和兴高采烈的乐观情绪。到1999 年为止，美国国内生产总值每年增长率超过4%，几乎两倍于富裕国家的平均水平。美国失业率下降至4%，为30 年最低点。外国投资者主要集中于提升美元和股票价格。标准普尔500 指数升至市盈率的近30 倍;科技股疯狂飙升。
The optimism in America stood in stark contrast to gloom elsewhere, as it does today. Japan's economy had slipped into deflation in 1997. Germany was “the sick man of Europe”, its firms held back by rigid labour markets and other high costs. Emerging markets, having soared ahead, were in crisis: between 1997 and 1999 countries from Thailand to Brazil saw their currencies crash as foreign capital fled and dollar-denominated debts proved unpayable.
正如现今一样，在美国的乐观情绪和其他地方的悲观状态形成鲜明对比。日本经济已经在1997 年陷入通货紧缩。德国是那时的“欧洲病夫”，德国公司由劳动力市场僵化以及其他高成本阻碍了经济。已经提前高速发展的新兴市场也陷入危机：1997 年至1999 年之间，从泰国到巴西等国家货币出现崩溃，并伴随着外资外泄，而且以美元计价的债务被证明是无法偿还的。
Eventually, America ran into trouble too. The tech-stock bubble burst in early 2000, prompting a broader share price slump. Business investment, particularly in technology, sank; and as share prices fell, consumers cut back. By early 2001 America, along with most of the rich world, had slipped into recession, albeit a mild one.
America the powerful
Inevitably the parallels are not perfect. The biggest difference is China, a bit-part player in 1999 and now the world's second-biggest economy, contributing disproportionately to global growth. But there are three trends at work that destabilised the world economy then and could do the same now.
The first is the gap between America, where growth is accelerating, and almost everywhere else, where it is slowing. In the late 1990s Larry Summers, then the US deputy treasury secretary, warned that the world economy was “flying on one engine”. For 2015 The Economist's panel of forecasters expects 3% growth in America, compared with 1.1% in Japan and the euro area.China's growth rate may fall to around 7%.
第一个趋势是美国，经济增长加快，而几乎其他任何地方经济正出现放缓。在20 世纪90年代后期美国财政部副部长拉里·萨默斯警告说，世界经济是“依靠单台引擎在飞驰”。《经济学家》预测专家对于2015 年进行预测：美国经济增长3%，在日本和欧元区为1.1%。中国的经济增长速度可能回落至7%左右。
Americans can comfort themselves that, as in the late 1990s, the optimism gap is partially warranted. Jobs are being created in their country faster than at any time since 1999, cheap petrol has buoyed consumer spending and business investment has picked up. But the news is not all good: cheaper oil could tip plenty of America's shale producers into bankruptcy in 2015, while a stronger dollar and weakness abroad will hurt exporters —just as they did 15 years ago. Britain, the other Anglosphere champion, may also be clobbered by the euro zone's woes.
美国人可以安慰自己的是，在上世纪90 年代后期，乐观缺口部分得到了填补和保障。1999年以来美国创造了比以往任何时候都要快的就业率，价格便宜的汽油提升了消费者支出，并且商业投资回升。但并非全是喜讯：便宜的油可能会使得许多美国的页岩生产商在2015 年破产，当美元走强和外币出现疲软时会伤害出口商—和他们15 年前如出一辙。英国，其他盎格鲁势力范围的捍卫者，也可能被欧元区的危机重挫。
The second worrying parallel with the late 1990s is the dismal outlook for the rich world's two other big economies. Germany's growth rate has tumbled to around 1% and there is a deeper malaise caused by years of underinvestment, a disastrous energy policy and a government that is too obsessed by its fiscal targets to spend money and too frightened of its voters to push through the sort of structural reforms that Gerhard Schr?der implemented in 2003. Meanwhile Japan has repeated the error it made in 1997—thwarting its escape from stagnation with a premature rise in consumption tax.
上世纪90 年代末的第二个令人担忧的是世界上其他两大经济体惨淡前景。德国的增长率已经下降到1%左右，多年投资不足导致更深的萎靡现象，灾难性的能源政策和政府过于迷恋其财政目标来花费金钱，太害怕选民对推动政府进行如格哈德·施罗德于2003 年实施的结构性改革，同时日本已经出现了1997 年所犯的错误—挫败了其逃离经济停滞与过早增加消费税。
The third echo of the 1990s is the danger in emerging markets. Back then the problem was fixed exchange rates and hefty foreign debt. Now the debts are lower, the exchange rates float and most governments have built up reserves. Still, there are growing signs of trouble, especially in Russia (see article). But other commodity exporters also look vulnerable, especially in Africa. Oil accounts for 95% of Nigeria's exports and 75% of its government revenue. Ghana has already gone to the IMF for support. In other countries the danger lies in the corporate sector. Many Brazilian firms are heavily indebted in dollars. A rash of corporate defaults may prove less spectacular than Asia's sovereign-debt crises in the 1990s, but they will make investors nervous and push up the dollar.
上世纪90 年代的第三波回音是新兴市场的危险。当时的问题是固定汇率和巨额外债。现在，债务较低，汇率浮动，大多数国家的政府都建立了储备。不过，也有麻烦越来越多的迹象，尤其是在俄罗斯(见文章)。但其他大宗商品出口国也很脆弱，尤其是在非洲。石油占95%，尼日利亚的出口和政府财政收入的75%。加纳已经申请国际货币经济组织的支持。在其他国家的危险存在于企业部门。许多巴西公司都对美元负债累累。一连串企业违约可能比亚洲的主权债务危机在20 世纪90 年代不那么引人注目，但他们会让投资者紧张，推升美元。
Fear the hangover
Add all this up and 2015 seems likely to be bumpy. Bears will bet that a surging dollar coupled with euro-zone torpor and a few emerging-market crises will eventually prompt a downturn in America. On the plus side, stockmarkets do not look as frothy as they did in the 1990s: the price/earnings ratio of the S&P 500 is 18, not far above its historical average. Although many big tech firms are investing recklessly, most have decent balance-sheets. And the global financial system is less leveraged and hence less vulnerable to contagion. In 1998 Russia's default felled LTCM, a big American hedge fund. Such knock-on effects are less likely today.
把所有这一切添加起来思考可以想见2015 年很可能是崎岖不平的。大咖们会打赌，一个美元升值加上欧元区迟钝和一些新兴市场的危机最终会促使美国进入经济低迷时期。从有利的一面看，股市不会像他们在上世纪90 年代那样看起来像泡沫：在标准普尔500 指数的价格收益比是18，而不是远高于历史平均水平。尽管许多大型科技公司正在投资硬拼，最有体面的资产负债表。与全球金融体系的杠杆率较低，因此不容易受到传染。1998 年，俄罗斯对美国长期资本管理公司(LTCM)发生了债务违约，这是一家大型美国对冲基金，结果致使该公司垮台。这样连锁反应是不太可能出现在今天。
But if the world economy does stumble, restoring stability will be harder this time round because policymakers have so little room for manoeuvre. Back in 1999 the Federal Reserve's policy rate was around 5%, leaving plenty of scope for cutting when the economy slowed. Nowadays interest rates all over the rich world are close to zero.
The political scene is also different, and not in a good way. At the end of the 1990s most people in the rich world had enjoyed the fruits of the boom: median American wages rose by 7.7% in real terms in 1995-2000. Since 2007, by contrast, they have been flat in America, and have fallen in Britain and much of the euro zone. All over the rich world voters are already grumpy with their governments, as polling numbers and their willingness to vote for protest parties show. If they are squeezed next year discontent will turn to anger. The economics of 2015 may look similar to the late 1990s, but the politics will probably be rather worse.
政坛出现了不利的变化。在20 世纪90 年代，大多数人在富裕世界的尽头尽享繁荣的成果：美国中产阶级工资在1995-2000 年实际上涨了7.7%。自2007 年以来，相比之下，美国工资增长持平，英国和大部分欧元区工资甚至出现下降。各地富国选民已经对他们的政府持不满态度，正如民意测验记录以及他们愿意把票投给抗议党即可看出。如果他们被打压，明年的不满会变成愤怒。2015 年的经济可能类似于20 世纪90 年代末，但政治形势可能会相当糟糕。