Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Take on Unpaid Leave

[Disclaimer] 我的領域不是勞動經濟學,跨行談並不是自己研究專長的部份難免掛一漏萬,看這篇文章的人請自行斟酌。
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上個星期六在大學同學家聚會,除了跟老同學聚一聚以外,我也想聽聽在產業第一線的人對於目前市場的看法。

這些老同學都在電子業工作,我是唯一一個既不在電子業也不在產業工作的人。由於 2008 和這次的問題的源頭都是金融資產 (mortgage backed securities 和 政府公債,以及對這些資產提供保險的 CDS),而且來源是在美國和歐洲,所以我關注的對象都是歐美的銀行,資料來源都是英文媒體。目前的情況和 2008 年相比有好有壞。好處在於這次問題的源頭是歐洲國家的公債,他們的價值消失的速度比跟房貸相關的產品慢的多,流動性的問題也較輕。而歐洲的銀行在 2008 年之後也從美國那裡學到了一些教訓,雖然槓桿可能由於資產價值一直沒回來而降不了多少,對於流動性的問題總是有較好的準備。不過 2008 年是從景氣大好的情況下反轉,目前全球的體質都很弱。上次有中國為首的新興工業國家還以強勁的成長支撐全球的景氣復甦,現在中國、印度等國家都有各自的疑慮。

整體來說,現在的情況應該比 2008 年好一些,最起碼比 2008 年 9 月、10 月那時候好的多。我們在股市上看到的也是如此。

不過跟這些在電子業工作的老同學聊天,感受到的卻不是如此。有人甚至跟我說 2008 年台灣電子業景氣急凍有一部份是自己嚇自己,砍庫存砍太兇,後來導致 2009 年年初就有不少公司要趕工補急單。這一次是訂單逐漸蒸發,而且速度越來越快。目前放無薪假、有薪假的已經不少了,更多的是等總統大選之後鋒頭過去才要開始放。

第一線的人可以直接觸摸到市場的脈動,是我們這些在學校裡的人無法直接接觸的。他們當然也可能會有盲點,人很容易把自己所接觸到的世界擴充解釋,把他們自己來往的廠商的情況擴大成整體的情況。我還沒有足夠的經驗判斷到底情況如何,可能要等到一月中總統大選之後才會有比較清楚的了解。

無論情況是比 2008 更糟還是好一點,無薪假已經成為許多受薪階級明顯而立即的危險了。這次由於總統大選在即,不能再讓行政院長耍嘴皮子,必須要有一些作為。所以政府提出了一些對於無薪假的限制,並且提出未來法制化的方向。

以一個雇用三十人的中小企業來說,老闆只有一人,員工有三十人。在選舉日還有三十天的現在,無薪假當然會變成『政治不正確』。不過如同所有其他的經濟學問題一樣,我們在討論時都有可能忽略很多面向的影響,在這裡我試著列出一些無薪假本身的好處和壞處。在討論之前我先說明我自己的立場。我贊成要留一些放無薪假的空間給資方,但是遊戲規則也必須設定好,不能夠開給他們一張空頭支票,愛放就放。早先政府提出來的方案,在執行方法上我並不完全同意,不過大致的精神是可以接受的。

Unpaid Leave is Not All Bad

先從無薪假對經濟的好處來看:無薪假提供了勞動市場的彈性,讓企業在少掉了這一部份支出後比較容易渡過不景氣的衝擊。從過往歷史來看,不景氣通常持續的時間不超過一年,很多時候半年就過去了。情況嚴重到公司必須停工因應的時間會更短,也許只是幾個月而已。在停工的時間,除了先前的應付帳款和日常的利息支出外,主要的現金支出就是員工薪水(折舊、攤銷這些是非現金項目,會影響會計帳,但是並不是真正的現金支出)。公司長期財務計畫健全,他們仍然有可能因為短期資金無法週轉或付不出薪水而倒閉。在短期資金的部份,我們從 2008 年 9 月 GE 賣不出去 commercial paper 可以看到,Wall Street 的失敗是如何的影響到 Main Street。在這部份政府可以做的事情是注意市場的流動性,如果銀行不願意借款,可能要增加貨幣供給以提供流動性,甚或以政府資金提供擔保讓銀行願意借錢。最糟糕的情況就是由政府直接提供 bridge loan,不過我希望最好不要走到這裡,我基本上也反對這樣的做法。這些政策當然都有爭議,Paulson 的 TARP 計畫在眾議院第一次闖關被否決時,我們就看到很多反對意見事實上也言之成理。我在個性上比較實務導向,所以雖然理念上我支持自由市場,但是對於緊急情況下政府介入我會採取比較有彈性的態度。如果有人在這裡看法不同,我也完全可以理解,我的指導老師就簽了 John Cochrane 那份關於 TARP 的請願書。

我的想法是要開始一個企業不容易,台灣的制度仍然太過繁複,所需時間過長。要結束一個企業卻很快,法庭破產程序不論,讓員工確定沒有頭路是宣告破產後立刻就會成立的事情。台灣已經進入就業不易的時代了,我們應該盡量避免讓不該倒閉的公司倒閉。

在無薪假這邊,當公司完全沒有訂單時,除去租金和利息支出外,薪資支出變成相當大的一筆固定支出。如同前面所說,成立新公司比讓現有公司倒掉難的多,而且在公司破產過程中還會有不少金錢浪費在破產程序上面,雖然律師可以賺到一些,但是仍然會產生整體社會的無謂損失 (deadweight loss)。從這個角度來看,無薪假對於整體經濟來講是會有正面貢獻的,因為它可以提供企業在面臨困難的時候有更大的緩衝,讓他們有喘息的機會可以渡過難關。

It is Not Nobel Worthy Either

不過這只還不是事情的全貌,我們來看看可能的壞處。

首先是合約精神的損毀。資本主義市場的基礎在於完整的產權制度以及所有市場參與者會履行合約。法律制度保障這些問題會有公權力來監督執行,先進國家會有完整的法律體系來執行,即便是落後的傳統社會,也會有當地仕紳、部落領袖之類的角色來從事仲裁工作。在 2008 年的無薪假之前,台灣人可能想過失業的問題,但是不會有多少人考慮過自己在沒有丟工作的情況下會有幾個月拿不到薪水的情況。當無薪假沒有法制化也沒有成為就業文化的一部份前,沒有人在找工作時考慮到這種可能。受薪階級為什麼去幫人家做事而不是自己創業?要做一家 IC design house 當然不是隨便哪個工程師都做的來,要有人脈能找到錢和工程師,還要能找到顧客才行。這些 know how 需要有業界的經歷和人脈才能做的到,不是說隨便抓個人就可以創業。一般產業裡面也是一樣,就算是做到生產線的領班,也不是人人都能當廠長,更不是大家都可以做 CEO。但是一般人仍然可能去開家餐廳、咖啡店,甚或加盟超商之類的,最起碼夜市擺地攤在成本和 know how 上面來說門檻要更低一些。創業者除了創意和找到資金的本事之外,還有另外一個跟受薪階級很不一樣的特質:承擔風險的意願。願意去當員工的人,通常也追求一個穩定一點的生活。企業經營的風險本來應該由股東或者說老闆來承擔,不到逼不得已,不應該要求拿微薄薪水的員工來分擔這些風險。以台灣目前的情況來說,工會只有在比較不需要工會保障的地方才有強勢作為(國營事業工會一直是台灣工會裡最有力量的),真正需要工會的集體協商能力幫助的勞工通常都不在工會的大傘之下。如果無薪假完全沒有任何限制,老闆可以把風險隨自己喜歡轉移到員工身上,這對於勞動契約的精神損害相當大。

有許多公司在放無薪假時,除了節省薪水支出外,還可能藉著這個方法逼退員工,讓員工自動離職來規避資遣的支出。無薪假在台灣還算是個比較新的問題,勞委會在 2008 年底曾經提出來一個有無薪假規範的定型化契約範本,不過也沒有強制力。資方在這裡有很大的彈性,不管是變相資遣、逼退,或是藉此降低未來資遣時所需給付的資遣費計算基數,都會讓勞工承擔額外的風險。而這些在當初找工作的時候是沒有預期到,也多半沒有在合約中規範的。

2008 年時想不到會有無薪假這種問題落在自己頭上不意外,現在大家不只看報紙會讀到相關報導,甚至自己身邊都可能有親友在放無薪假了。在找工作時勞工應該已經把無薪假這種風險列入考量,所以就不再是問題了?沒有那麼簡單。

首先是合約的設定。如果在合約裡沒有規範雇主和員工對於無薪假的權利義務,同時沒有公權力保護合約的執行,仍然不算是把這種風險內部化到勞動契約之中。其次是訊息揭露的問題,那些公司之前放過無薪假、放多久,這些訊息要能夠公開、完整的揭露,才能夠讓勞工知道自己暴露在什麼風險之下。如果有這些完整的做法,公司在放無薪假之前也會考慮再三,不是僅只為了節省成本而做,必須要為了生存才如此做。一個過往放無薪假放的兇的公司,在景氣好的時候聘請勞工應該會需要付出比別人更高的成本才能夠請的到人,要不然就必須接受素質較差的勞工。在資訊不透明的情況下,勞工求職時並沒有把無薪假這種風險納入考量,這對於勞動市場比較沒有效率。

最後是勞工的生活問題,這也是一般反對無薪假的人主要的論點。企業沒有支出,就當作是冬眠的熊一樣,雖然仍然在消耗熱量,不過消耗的相當慢,所以可以渡過長長的冬天。受薪階級要吃飯、付房租或貸款、要繳水電瓦斯費,如果有小孩還要付學費,這些不是說自己在放無薪假就可以一筆勾消了。目前台灣所得較低的組別已經存不太下什麼錢了。如果沒有薪水入帳,很快會陷入負債然後借錢還債和利息以致於欠更多的循環,這跟失業造成的情況沒什麼不同。

從整體社會來看,如果有太多人擔心自己可能會碰到無薪假,大家可能會大幅提高儲蓄率並減少消費。美國這樣儲蓄率接近零的國家大家多存點錢不是什麼壞事。雖然短期內需會受到打擊,但是長期來看對於經濟體的健康是有好處的。台灣以及東亞其他國家本來就有儲蓄傳統,如果還因為要預防未來無薪假而提高儲蓄率,有可能因為消費太低而影響內需。台灣經濟體不大,內需只佔 GDP 較小的一部份,產業還是要靠外銷。但是在打破原先的均衡狀態,大幅增加儲蓄減少消費的情況下,現有的內需產業也會無法得到足夠支撐而有部份會萎縮甚至倒閉。由於台灣的經濟特性,放無薪假的時候通常是國際經濟不景氣,導致外銷出口不順的時間。假如內需剛好在差不多的時間點遭受到打擊,只會讓整體經濟的波動更大,使得政府要付出的成本更高(稅收減少、失業救濟增加等)。理想的狀況當然是大家在景氣好的時候多儲蓄多投資,然後景氣不好的時候有存糧可以承擔無薪假的衝擊。不過從台灣過去家戶儲蓄率的變化來看,往往是到了問題快要發生來才開始增加戰備存糧,不但不能解決問題,反而有可能加重景氣衰退影響。如果造成儲蓄率結構性的上升,中國就是個好例子,不管政府怎麼做,消費就是不容易起來。

Policy Suggestion

這個部份最麻煩,要談不是自己領域的東西難免有太多憑空想像會想錯的事情。我的建議如下:

1. 加強資訊揭露,讓放無薪假的公司不能無限制的將風險轉嫁到勞工身上。

2. 在完全開放無薪假和完全禁止之間,找尋一個妥協的空間。如果公司在合約裡沒有明文對無薪假做規範的話,可以給他們一個放半薪或是三成薪的機會,以降低公司的資金壓力。我的建議是由政府擔保讓銀行介入或是由政府直接介入,以購買公司 preferred share 的方式提供資金讓公司可以發放半薪或三成薪給員工。股利可以延後到無薪假結束後,公司開始賺錢再給付。但是股利殖利率應該要訂在比市場利率更高的水準,這樣可以防止一些沒有放無薪假需要的公司為了節省成本放無薪假。公司可以在任何時間買回這些 preferred shares,但是他們當然要在結清所有先前欠的股利之後才能贖回。

3. 在放無薪假的會計年度,公司不得發放股利給股東(有 preferred share 在,如果發不出 preferred share 的股利,普通股的股東本來也就不應該拿股利)。

要求的太多可能會讓公司不敢實行無薪假,導致這些政策最後沒有用武之地。如前所述,無薪假並不是完全的罪惡,所以我也不認為政策應該嚴格到將這種做法完全禁止。在尺度的拿捏上是任何政策施行最困難的地方,很多東西可能要邊做邊修。這是政策制定過程中需要開公聽會的緣故,聽聽各方的講法和需求,才能修正憑空想像想錯了的東西。

公司如果本身的 profit margin 在景氣好的時候只有 2% 到 3%,景氣不好的時候必須完全停業才能夠避免倒閉,他們在聘雇員工時就必須先講清楚。這類的產業事實上也不太適合存在下去,早就該外移或是收掉了。把一部份的無薪假成本內部化之後可以讓經營者即早做個決定。如果公司本身有不錯的獲利能力,但是受到景氣影響波動很大,靠政府幫助得到 bridge loan 甚或短期的資本注入,這是比較可行的方式。話說起來容易,要怎麼樣保護納稅人的錢不至於丟到無底洞裡拿不回來,那是政策制定和執行過程中必須仔細思考的。如果用減薪假的方式處理,政府這邊可以省下一些無薪假的補貼,勞工也有一定的保護。雖然可能仍然不足,那就要靠其他制度的設定了。

我仍然相信自由的資本市場是最好的選擇,也仍然相信效率市場假說。不過我不知道別人是否仍然相信我相信這些東西......。

13 comments:

Camus Tsai said...

比較可惜的是台灣市場完全不信奉資訊透明這招,所有一切都是保密資訊,從人力市場的薪資/無薪假輪休/年終/獎金,到一般生活消費的房價/仲介/傭金,這點倒是可惜了,另外要提就是,不少公司無薪假搭配"台式責任制"是要上班的,並不是讓員工真正休息或者是真正停職,其實只是做義工,

kiyoshi said...

也不算義工,只是資方要你減薪因應經營困局而已。

我倒是覺得,應該把無薪假視同資方有意向要裁員,只是把選擇權交由勞方自行決定。也就是說員工可以選擇這種暫時性的減薪(不管有沒有假放)或者是接受被裁員,若是後者則視同資遣並以勞基法相關規定處理以防止資方變相裁員。

至於這種減薪是否要事後補回以及要如何補回,這個應該有實務上的難度。

Ben said...

Interesting post. This topic is way above my pay grade....

A couple somewhat related follow-up questions for CCLu:

- I was shocked to learn last year that the average starting salary for a college graduate in Taiwan is less than US$12,000 a year and has been stagnant for years. Is this stat correct? Doesn't this trend worry you?
- Taiwan's demographics are also trending in the wrong direction - aging population coupled with low birth rate. There are no easy fixes for this problem. What are you thoughts on this issue?

Cheers!

Eric said...

爲什麼不顧用contrators就好了呢?

CCLu said...

To Camus Tsai,

不給錢要人上班這個是有問題的。不管是減薪工作或不工作,甚或是無薪假,都應該要有契約規定,雙方合意下為之。政府在這裡應該扮演遊戲規則的維護者。資本主義並不是資本擁有者為所欲為的主張,是讓市場機能運作的制度。在一般情況下我們盡量避免政府介入擾亂市場的運作,但是當市場過度傾向於某一邊時,也不能拿自由市場一詞當作不作為的藉口。

To kiyoshi,

如果在契約裡面訂明相關規則的話,可不可以放無薪假、一次可以放多久、接下來如何處理資遣等都應該規定清楚。一般人對於法律用語接受能力不佳,所以由政府設計定型化契約及規範可能是成本較低的方式。但是不同企業條件不同,很難設計出來一個一體適用的條款。

To Eric,

contractor? 有啊,人力派遣公司就是扮演仲介短期員工的角色。台灣這十年來人力派遣還不夠多嗎?

CCLu said...

To Ben,

1. Yes, that figure is true, but it does not tell the whole truth. In the past 10 years, the number of college graduates also increased by a lot. Each generation has its strength and weakness, but I don't think we can see any quantum leap in productivity from one to the other. Students from the electrical engineering department of NTU could find a good job back then, young college graduate from the same department can still find a good job right now. How many people in a generation can be a good engineer? a doctor? an economist? You don't put students in a department and expect them to be good in related jobs just because you put them there.

That being said, we did see higher unemployment rate in the younger generation like in most other advanced and emerging economies. I think the reason is that the higher education grows much faster than the whole economy. There are just not that many good jobs for the young people. Michael Lewis described the situation of Iceland in his new book "Boomerang" that they trained a lot young people in different disciplines but what they need are fishermen. You don't need a Ph.D. to be a good fisherman, so there is a mismatch between the job market and schools. We expected the market to create enough high-end jobs to close this gap, but that did not happen. Subsidies to college education (relatively cheap tuition in Taiwan, government guaranteed student loans in Taiwan and in the U.S., etc) distorts the allocation in valuable resources, which is an important reason why we are here now.

2. This is a global problem. I don't think there is an easy fix. The U.S. is kind of immune from this problem by injecting itself with young and talented immigrants, but that exacerbates the problem elsewhere. This is not my field, but I've heard enough to know that you cannot attack the problem directly. No direct subsidy is ever proven to work. This is probably deeply rooted in the problem of the economy. If the younger generation can easily find better paid jobs with reasonable work hours, they might find it more interesting to bred future generations. The last part is my guess though.

Ben said...

Excellent points. I thought that the low and stagnant starting salary was an indication of over-supply of college graduates and lack of quality jobs. But your reply went beyond that and got to the root cause. Thanks!

We are facing a similar education crisis here in the U.S. as well. The problems in our secondary education in the poor neighborhoods are well known and documented. The real trouble is in the higher education student loan area, especially for students who attended the for-profit universities and took on massive debt. Our total outstanding student loans now stand at $1 trillion, more than our credit card loans. Students loans are backed by the federal government and will eventually be bailed out by the tax payers one way or another. I am getting pissed just thinking about this issue....

On a lighter note,

>>If the younger generation can easily find better paid jobs with reasonable work hours, they might find it more interesting to bred future generations.<<

And all I ever needed, in my younger days, to procreate was a pair of hot legs and some booze....the young kids today are so spoiled:))

By the way, have you read The End of Wall Street by Roger Lowenstein? Of all the 2008 crisis books I have read, this is my favorite.

CCLu said...

Roger Lowenstein is the author of one of my favorite books, but I haven't finished "The end of Wall Street" yet.

I've read Michael Lewis's "The Big Short". It is interesting, informative in a way, but the focus is kind of narrow. Lewis is a best selling author for a reason, his books are never dull.

I've also read Andrew Sorkin's "Too big to fail". Sorkin is a fine journalist and his book provides a lot of materials that will be cited by historians in the future.

To double check the facts in Sorkin's book, I also read Hank Paulson's memoir. We don't take the words of the actual players in an event with their face value, but Paulson seems genuine. His defense of some decisions may not be accepted by all, but I can see why he did what he did. Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson might did things that will be proven wrong in the future or even now, but I am convinced they are doing those things for their country, at least they believe they were doing the right thing. That being said, people do wrong things with good intentions all the time, politicians are not immune to that.

After those light readings, there is really no urgency to read Lowenstein's book. I flipped through the first few chapters and I believe it is a very good book, but it does not tell me something I don't already know and I'm afraid it will not. I'll keep it for later reading. I'm sure I will enjoy it a lot.

Now I'm on Rogoff's "This time is different". It's not real academic work, but it is almost as dry as one. Yet it is very informative, more so than the other books I mentioned here. For 2008 financial crisis, there is also an issue of Journal of Financial Economics (2010, 97(3)) which has a lot of good articles on it.

This not really my field, so I just keep them for bed time reading. I hope I can read longer every night, but I usually fall asleep very quickly.:p

Ben said...

I think you have pretty much hit all the major books on the 2008 financial crisis. If you haven't already, you might want to consider adding The Greatest Trade Ever by Zuckerman and 13 Bankers by Johnson to your reading list.

I wonder if Bernake and/or Geithner will write a book when they are no longer in public service. I don't doubt Paulson's sincerity expressed in his memoir, but he wrote his book too soon after the crisis and he is a lousy writer.

I read The End of Wall Street right after reading The Big Short. I have never been a big fan of Michael Lewis and am still not. The Big Short was actually one of his better books. The New New Thing was unreadable, IMHO. Lewis writes for the masses as you suggested, and that's where the problem lies. I have often felt that he "re-arranges" facts in the name of telling a better story. And that's why I got in contact with Michael Burry(the-doctor-turned-hedge-fund-manager in the book) and tried to get his inputs. To make a long story short, Michael Burry basically confirmed my suspicions and recommended that I read The End of Wall Street for more accurate analysis and facts. Although I disagreed with some of Lowenstein's analyses and conclusions, I believe that, overall, the End of Wall Street gave the most comprehensive assessment of the 2008 crisis.

I am guessing that When Genius Failed was your favorite book by Lowenstein....no? That's one of my favorite business books of all time as well.

Too Big to Fail is almost to big to read:)) Sorkin is a NYT reporter and TBTF was just one very very long NYT column.

As you can probably tell by now, I am not an academic and don't even play one on TV! So This Time is Different was a difficult read for me, and some of their "researches" seem somewhat suspect to me as well. Heck, I don't have a PhD, so whom am I to doubt the former IMF Chief Economist:) Not sure if you have gotten to the part about the financial crisis of Newfoundland in the 1930s. After reading that, I wondered if that's how an eventual "integration" of Mainland China and Taiwan would play out - first a financial crisis, followed by economic "assistance" from China, then fiscal "integration", and finally political "integration." Thoughts?

Thanks for the Journal of Financial Economics reading recommendation. I will find a copy.

楊大寶 said...

I think the root of the furlough problem is that our entrepreneurs are very short-term oriented with little patience. There are some proven technologies and a viable market, cool, let's burn loads money into it and maximize our production and try to get economies of scale. Wow, these tablets and smart phones are so hot right now, let's get into it and do some ODM, OEM. Not to mention the amount of anti-competitive measures our firms have use to get an edge in the international market. Very disappointing.

I believe we should develop an industry with more inelastic demand, and one of our nation's strength is our medical professionals. There are some really brilliant doctors who are capable to perform very delicate operations. Such is this doctor http://goo.gl/pTZeM . Our government should overhaul our medicare system so talents can efficiently allocated evenly in different departments, and attract wealthy Chinese to fly over to receive medical treatments.

CCLu said...

To Ben,

I've got the Greatest Trade Ever, but I haven't read that yet and I don't know the other book. I'll look it up.

Tim Harford, the author of the Financial Times column "Undercover Economist", also recommends "Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay". I found that book a little dull. It explains everything too detailed that I found myself easily bored. I recommended that to college students instead.

I often found I give Michael Lewis more praise than most people knowing this discipline. His "facts" need to be double checked, no doubt about that. What he's really good at is to explain things to ordinary people. This is a skill often overlooked. I've told students if they can explain what stock option is to their grandma, that's when they really got it. No matter how many pricing models, equations we know, at the end of the day we have to be able to sell those fancy products to Joe six-packs and soccer moms.

I love "When Genius Failed", that book is brilliant. On the other hand, Lowenstein did not face such fierce competition back then.

Taiwan's capital market is kind of self sufficient if we pull all the resources back to the island like Japan did in March. Thanks to our hard working people here. I think we still have enough capital stock to sustain a major blow. As long as the government can keep the financial market and the liquidity intact, we should be able to survive this coming perfect storm.

CCLu said...

To 楊大寶

Can't argue with your points, but they are easily said than done. With the relatively infant financial market and a small domestic market, it is not easy to fund new startups with abundant ideas and knowledge.

Some of the points I made can be seen in the 12/19 post.

漫步在雲間 said...

>我仍然相信自由的資本市場是最好的選擇,也仍然相信效率市場假說。不過我不知道別人是否仍然相信我相信這些東西....

小弟原來是學物理的
個人感覺是
就像統計力學,某些總經定律必須在數目夠大的母體才會成立,對於數目過少的母體,審慎的調控可能是必須的

from wiki:
統計力學運用的是古典力學和量子力學的原理。由於粒子量大,存在大量自由度,雖然與古典力學應用著同樣力學規律,惟導致性質上完全不同的規律性。不服從純粹力學的描述,而服從統計規律性,用量子力學方法進行計算,得出和用古典力學方法計算相似的結果。從這個角度來看,統計力學的正確名稱,應為「統計物理學」。