來自Mark Thoma, Francois Furstenberg論說福利國家(或社會保障國家)的歷史原因與其重要性,以下為載於《華盛頓郵報》的英文原文

In the wake of the economic crash, which has led to soaring budget deficits, Democrats and Republicans are negotiating “to move forward to trillions of spending cuts,” as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said recently. A report from House Speaker John Boehner’s office called for “eliminating [government] agencies and programs” and “reducing transfer payments to households.” These changes would result in unprecedented reductions in the size of the welfare state and the American social compact as it developed over the last century.

Lost in this debate is an appreciation of the historical origins of the American welfare state — long before FDR and the New Deal, after another epochal financial crash.Much like our time, the Gilded Age was an era of economic booms and busts. None was greater than the financial crisis that began in September 1873 with the collapse of Jay Cooke & Co., the nation’s premier investment bank. Like many other firms, Cooke & Co. overextended itself by offering risky loans based on overvalued real estate.

Cooke’s collapse launched the first economic crisis of the Industrial Age. For 65 straight months, the U.S. economy shrank — the longest such stretch in U.S. history. America’s industrial base ground to a near halt: By 1876, half of the nation’s railroads had declared bankruptcy, almost half of the country’s iron furnaces were shut and coal production collapsed. Until the 1930s, it would be known as the Great Depression.

In the face of economic calamity and skyrocketing unemployment, the government did, well, nothing. No federal unemployment insurance eased families’ suffering and kept a floor on demand. No central bank existed to fight deflation. Large-scale government stimulus was a thing of the distant future.

As demand collapsed, businesses slashed payrolls and reduced wages, and a ruinous period of deflation began. By 1879, wholesale prices had declined 30 percent. The consequences were catastrophic for the nation’s many debtors and set off a vicious economic cycle. When economic growth eventually began, progress was slow, with periodic crises plaguing the economy through the end of the century.

Neither political party offered genuine solutions. As historian Richard Hofstadter put it, political parties during the Gilded Age “divided over spoils, not issues,” and neither Democrats nor Republicans were inclined to challenge their corporate masters.

“There are two things that are important in politics,” Republican political operative Mark Hanna famously said in 1895. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

With laissez-faire ideas dominant and the political system in stasis, economic decline persisted. The collapse in tax revenue only strengthened calls for fiscal retrenchment. Government at all levels cut spending. Congress returned the country to the gold standard for the first time since the Civil War: “hard money” policies that favored Eastern financiers over indebted farmers and workers.

With neither major party responding to the crisis, new insurgent movements arose: antimonopoly coalitions, reform parties and labor candidates all began to attract support. Writer Henry George, running for mayor of New York, decried the “speculative” gains of financial barons and the monopolists who appropriated “unearned” profits.

The continued economic misery for the many, juxtaposed against fabulous wealth for the few, generated intense hostility to great fortunes. Workers, suffering the most without a welfare state, responded with ever-greater militancy.

The labor struggles of the age were as epic as the fortunes of the tycoons: the Molly Maguires of the Pennsylvania coal fields; the great railroad strike of 1877 that nearly paralyzed the nation; the Haymarket affair of 1886, in which a bomb killed eight people in a Chicago demonstration; the Homestead strike of 1892, probably the most violent labor conflict in American history.

But these were just the most famous episodes of labor unrest: Between 1881 and 1890, there were 9,668 strikes and lockouts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1886, more than 600,000 workers engaged in 143 strikes and 140 lockouts. State and federal militias were repeatedly called out to quash labor unrest. In the Pittsburgh rail yards in 1877, Pennsylvania militia members fired into the crowds and violence broke loose. President Rutherford B. Hayes sent federal troops to restore order.

The vast disparities between rich and poor, the spectacular concentration of wealth amassed by the richest Americans in the previous two generations, and the inability of government policies to mitigate the crisis brought the nation to the edge of class warfare and social disintegration.

The specter of a European social order, with societies irredeemably divided between aristocrats and a permanent underclass, seemed to have arrived on U.S. shores. Wealthy Americans began to fear for the stability of the social order.

What force, the wealthy asked in desperation, might mitigate the social chaos and misery, and mute what one public official called “the antagonism between rich and poor”?

Today, new fortunes have been accumulated that rival those of the Gilded Age. Some of that wealth, possessed by people like Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch or Peter G. Peterson, has been used to promote cuts to social spending. Before these opponents and their allies in Congress move forward with the dismantling of the welfare state, however, they might think harder about the reasons such policies were put in place.

The Gilded Age plutocrats who first acceded to a social welfare system and state regulations did not do so from the goodness of their hearts. They did so because the alternatives seemed so much more terrifying.



假如1997金融風暴有失業保險、集體談判等保障與機制,香港可以避免將近十年的惡性通縮、大規模失業等問題,減少貧富差距。假如當年有對社會投資,今天的政治糾紛將會大大減少。有趣的是,面對各種社會問題, 香港大衆普遍依然反對建立社會保障機制,反對醫療、退休、失業保險,反對最低工資、集體談判等機制,不支持通脹挂鈎債券,但對政府「派錢」感到高興,但又不願意新移民得到6000元。今天的政治問題是由於昨天的短見、意識形態的固步自封、思想的懶惰所形成,不能只責怪政府。試想,假如社會大部分人認爲炒賣股票是「好事」,政府會否作出嚴厲的監管制度防止炒賣與炒賣所引起的問題?同理,如社會大衆對醫療、退休、失業保險等存在錯誤的概念,不知道社會保障的功能與運作方法(在這點上香港人跟美國「茶黨」人 Tea Party很相似),對經濟學、社會學不認識,政府爲什麽要去得失一些既得利益者,去做一些大眾不明白之事?一個政府,不管它是專制或是民主,都會在某程度上反映民意,問題只是程度的多少。(註1)

有些人更奇怪,認爲近年香港的社會運動變得「激進」。這裡先不談論什麽叫「激進」這個問題,我的問題是,這些人希望通過什麽途徑去獲得民主、社會公義或公民權利?縱觀世界歷史,試問哪一個地方的公民權利是透過「理性表達意見」而得來的?Francois Furstenberg的文章詳說了美國社會保障制度建立的歷史過程,我們可以看到勞工發動的多次大罷工、公民抗命、癱瘓性行動甚至暴力事件,假如缺乏了這種社會衝突,我們很難想象勞工保障制度會得到確立。Furstenberg沒有譴責暴力事件,反之,他批評了美國政府對嚴重失業、極度貧富懸殊、「強盜男爵」獲得不義之財等事的無動于衷,認爲這些社會不義是社會衝突的根本原因。批評香港社會運動「激進」的人明顯的不知道什麽叫社會公義,又或者他們對這個問題根本漠不關心。假如一個人認爲道路受阻塞與公民核心權利受到剝奪的嚴重度是一樣的話,明顯的是這人並沒值得重視的立場。這些人口中所謂「理性」、「和平」、「非暴力」(香港這十多年内什麽時候出現暴力性社會衝突?)的呼籲只是為自己的無知與缺乏立場作開脫詞。




本篇發表於 政治與經濟, 月旦評 並標籤為 , , , , , 。將永久鏈結加入書籤。



WordPress.com 標誌

您的留言將使用 WordPress.com 帳號。 登出 /  變更 )

Google photo

您的留言將使用 Google 帳號。 登出 /  變更 )

Twitter picture

您的留言將使用 Twitter 帳號。 登出 /  變更 )


您的留言將使用 Facebook 帳號。 登出 /  變更 )

連結到 %s