社會保障的歷史、原因與作用

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.

香港並不是福利國家/社會保障國家,香港只有部份社會福利但並沒有在制度上與思想上完整的社會保障體系。讀者須知道,福利與社會保障是兩個不一樣的概念,福利國家與社會福利的「福利」又是不一樣的概念。「福利」是指對特定人群,用於特定用途的各種援助;社會保障是爲了應付社會生活中所會發生的各種風險而做出的一套「保險」制度。福利國家是指一個爲了防範風險所產生的不良影響,例如,總需求下降的經濟危機,而做出了一套保障經濟持續發展與社會流動性制度的經濟體。一個福利國家的社會保障體制一般由「社會保險」+各種保障制度(勞工、工作安全等)與「福利」制度構成,這樣做的原因是如只倚靠單個「社會保險」或「福利」制度,因爲兩者運作方法與針對人群不一樣,某類人群會得不到保障。如只有「社會保險」,孩子、老人、貧窮人士將得不到保障,因此失去社會流動性或大大降低原來的生活質量。如只有「福利」,大多數的成年、工作中人群則會面對的各種風險所帶來的影響,引致生活質量下降。生活質量下降等於總需求下降等於購買力降低等於經濟波動。

簡單的說,香港的福利體系核心是綜合援助制度,只對符合資格的人發放金錢救濟,缺乏所有發達國家都採用的社會保險制度:醫療保險、退休保險、失業保險。勞工保障只有新出台的最低工資是勞工保障,缺少集體談判的工會機制與失業保險。在這種體制下會出現很多像李誠良一樣,處於夾縫中的人。因爲傷殘而失業,又缺乏失業保險、醫療保險,又沒到退休年齡,到了退休年齡也沒有退休保險。出了這種事故只能靠積蓄維持生活,但在香港之前並沒有最低工資,應付生活必需指出後,收入所餘不多,低收入人士的儲蓄從何來?有些人可能以爲這些只是個別個案,然而現實是香港貧窮人口已經到達歷史新高,這已經成爲社會現象。只要你收入大幅減少,就代表你會在香港這個社會失去流動性,生活質量降低,永遠停留在「貧窮」之中。這種「貧窮」與個人能力無關,都有可能發生在所有人身上。一個40嵗的CEO可以因爲一場疾病而需要長期臥床,家庭生活質量因此受到影響。缺乏醫療保險、退休保險、失業保險,他只能以積蓄維持家庭生活、支付醫療費用。這種情況下一個人只能盡期所能去儲蓄,因此社會形成一種「儲蓄」-「好」,「不儲蓄」-「壞」的道德理念,而不過問個人儲蓄有否應付這種大規模風險的能力與個人有否這種儲蓄能力。另外,「儲蓄」並不能以好與壞作兩分,過多的儲蓄是一種浪費。社會保障的另一個經濟功能在於減少不必要的儲蓄,使這部份資源成爲資本回流到經濟體中。

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。

改變社會其實是改變公衆對社會的概念。出現辛亥革命是因爲社會意識到君主體制的問題和國家並不需要君主與專制,一些問題思想,如纏足、獨專儒術,也應該一併摒棄。日本倒幕後武士階級逐漸消失。法國革命開創了公共建設的前驅。如果不改變意識形態,推翻一個政府後只會出現另一個本質一樣的政府。假如香港的社會運動不能喚醒香港市民的公民意識,摒棄原教旨自由市場思想,擴大公衆討論,就算推翻了特區政府,這樣的運動也只能算是失敗的。

註1:我觀察不到香港學界對建設社會保障制度與社會改變的呼籲。聼不到香港經濟學、社會學、政治學學界的聲音與相關辯論。這可能跟香港公衆討論空間不大,討論不流行有關,但我對香港學術界水平保有懷疑。在一次學術會議上,我聽到有香港社會學界一位副教授(忘了名字)公開說他為香港政府作調查時,他只會說/調查政府明確要求的事(等於說政府想聼的話),不會對政府、思維或政策做出批評。在社會保障與福利制度方面,他鼓勵「社會企業」的發展,因爲它們可以承擔社會保障制度的工作(不可能的任務,因爲民間組織缺乏徵稅與立法能力),而不問政府應有建設社會保障制度的義務。作爲香港人與學者知識分子,我為香港出現這樣的「學者」感到羞恥。

更新:Krugman說社會保障是「大衰退」(2007/8-?)不變為大蕭條的一大原因

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