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资本主义的缺陷何在?   

2009-04-22 12:07:27|  分类: 文化历史 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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作者:

哥伦比亚大学(Columbia University)资本主义和社会中心(Center on Capitalism and Society)主任,2006年诺贝尔经济学奖得主

埃德蒙.菲尔普斯(Edmund S. Phelps)

 

在主要实行资本主义制度的国家,行为者和管理者似乎都没有充分意识到这种制度的优势或潜在危险。过去,对资本主义优势的无知,导致一些国家抛弃了这种制度或是对其加以限制。而对其潜在危险的无知,使得市场中的轻率行为和政策疏忽更有可能出现。要重新实现健康运转的资本主义制度,需要进行再教育和深度改革。

 

社保体系不一定损害资本主义

资本主义并不是“自由市场”或是自由放任主义——一种无政府“加警察”的制度。如果没有政府来保护投资者、债权人和企业,使其不受垄断、瞒骗和欺诈之扰,资本主义体制就无法健康运转。这样的制度可能缺乏必要的政治支持,并由于没有补助来刺激弱势群体参与社会正规商业经济,而制造出社会紧张。最后,大规模社保体系以及随之产生的高税收、低税后薪酬和低财富储蓄,不一定会损害资本主义制度。

本质上,资本主义制度是经济体能够藉以实现知识增加的一种机制——在这个过程中,知识的不完整性会产生许多不确定性因素。知识的增加带来收入和工作满意度的提高;不确定性则让经济体容易发生突然波动。这些现象马克思(Marx)在1848年就都已经指出。但理解却有些滞后。

进入20世纪以后,学者们认为经济进步源自商业创新,而科学家的发现让创新成为可能——这些发现来自经济部门之外,而且都是不期而至的。那么为什么资本主义经济能比其它经济制度受益更多呢?约瑟夫?熊彼特(Joseph Schumpeter)的早期理论指出,资本主义经济能更迅速地抓住突然而来的机遇,因此具有更强的生产率。这得益于资本主义的文化:能干的企业家的热情和专业银行家的勤勉。但认为银行家无所不知、企业家不会犯错的想法是可笑的。现在学者们发现,大多数知识增加不是由科学推动的。熊彼特经济理论——亚当?斯密(Adam Smith)理论加社会学——没有抓住多少要点。

弗里德里希?哈耶克(Friedrich Hayek)在20世纪30年代提出了另一种观点。任何现代经济制度,无论是资本主义还是国家控制,都是由散布在专业参与者之中的私人“实践知识”构成的大杂烩。他表示,没有人能够将所有知识全部收集起来,哪怕政府机构也做不到。这些是每个“第一线”的参与者必然获得的知识。政府根本不知道该在哪些领域投资。只有资本主义能解决这个“知识问题”。

 

发现过程:资本主义优越性的关键

之后,哈耶克又将资本主义如何自己做出“发现”的理论加以充实。他能够接受“创新理念”这个概念,因为他明白,关于大多数未经试验的事物的知识都是不完整的,即便是专家也同样如此。因此他认为可以做出如下假设:由于每个人都拥有自己独特的领悟,一位经理或是普通员工可能某天就能“想象出”(用哈耶克的偶像大卫?休谟(David Hume)的话来说)一种全新的商业路线——这种路线是该工作领域之外的人永远推断不出也想象不到的。随后,他将健康运转的资本主义制度描述为一个兼容并包、自下而上的有机体,让各种各样的新想法有机会相互竞争从而得以发展,幸运的话,还能在市场中得到应用。这个“发现过程”让资本主义具有比自上而下的社会主义或社团主义等制度更强的创新能力。后者过于官僚化,不利于了解来自下层的想法,而那些得以传递到上层的想法,也不太可能获得其所有社会伙伴的首肯。

健康运转的资本主义经济及其高创新倾向,只有在合用的机构到位时才会出现。英国1688年的光荣革命(Glorious Revolution)和苏格兰的“商业社会”(commercial society)所传载的自由度是不够的。必须成立这样的金融机构:其中的金融家没有私利,每个人都会努力做出最佳投资选择,而且重要的是他们的观点各异,因此能为各种各样的项目融资。此外,公司只应承担有限责任,而且拥有可以展开收购交易的市场。这些机构必须迎合大量商人的需求,这些商人希望构造新产品、新市场和新商业模式。初级机构在19世纪早期开始出现,从公司法、股票交易所到面向产业放贷的合股银行和“商业”银行。

随即欧洲和美国享受到了前所未有的回报:新城市兴起、生产率不断增长、薪酬稳定攀升、就业率普遍较高。所有或几乎所有社会成员毕生的前景得到改善。不太容易衡量但至关重要的一点是,在资本主义经济中,有越来越多的人拥有了满意的职业,并因其中的挑战与探索而充满活力。资本主义对他们来说乃是天赐之福。

 

不确定性:资本主义的最大缺陷

从一开始,资本主义就存在的最大缺陷是:创造性冒险活动不仅给企业家,也给全球经济的每一个成员带来了不确定性。冒险活动的波动制造出一种起伏不定的经济环境。法兰克?奈特(Frank Knight)在他1921年的著作中对美国的资本主义进行了观察。他表示,除了一些常规决策,一家企业在做出任何决定时,都面临现在所称的“奈特不确定性”(Knightian uncertainty)。在创新型经济体中,没有足够的先例来帮助你估算这种或那种结果出现的机率。约翰?梅纳德?凯恩斯(John Maynard Keynes)在1936年强调称,用于衡量投资价值的许多“知识”都具有“不确定性”——因此投资者的信念是脆弱的。(但如今,他被视为“斯密加上心理摇摆”。)

对于这样一种能够带来无价且不可取代的新颖性、问题解答和探索,从而带来个人发展的体制,从未有过有条理的道德理由去推翻它。相反,自古以来,人文主义哲学一直认为这种体验是“美好的生活”。社会主义和社团主义者从未提供足以替代的美好生活模式。他们只是宣称自己推崇的制度要优于资本主义:繁荣更广泛、就业机会更多、或是工作满意度更高。不幸的是,公众依然不太充分了解,公平而论哪些收益可以归功于资本主义,以及为什么这些收益是要付出代价的。这种知识的缺失导致资本主义更容易受到反对者的攻击,也更容易受到体制内部无知行为的影响。

在两次世界大战之间,资本主义失去了大部分声望,欧洲大陆上许多西欧国家转向了社团主义制度。公众对政治经济的掌控在这个时候陷入低谷。最终,更多繁荣和更少动荡的承诺无法兑现。而那些保留了资本主义制度,同时进行改革(或好或坏)的国家再次发展良好——直到现在为止。而那些脱离资本主义阵营的国家就没有那么强的创新能力。在经历了20世纪70年代的动乱之后,它们的失业率上升幅度远高于资本主义国家。在经济包容性上,它们的表现也更糟糕。

 

资本主义正陷于第二场危机

如今资本主义陷入了第二场危机。有一种解释称,无论银行家是否理解资本主义,他们都明白,要保住自己的工作和奖金,就必须借越来越多钱来放越来越多的贷,以完成利润目标并支撑股价。其含意是,造成危机的原因是公司治理未能对奖金设限,而监管未能把银行资本的杠杆操作控制在适当水平,导致银行很容易受到房屋价格暴跌的影响。

但是,为什么大股东们不采取行动,在杠杆率升至危险水平之前加以阻止呢?为什么立法者不提出监管干涉的要求呢?在我看来,这是因为他们都没有意识到奈特不确定性的存在。所以他们也没有意识到,房屋价格可能出现暴跌,或是银行使用的风险管理模型根本不适用。近年来,“风险”变成了对波动的定义。人们考虑到价格会围绕特定轨迹出现波动,却没有考虑到轨迹自身的不确定性:即它有下行的风险。银行高管们也不太理解不确定性。有些人出于直觉购买了保险,但却没有看到保险商偿付能力的不确定性。

现在美国和英国的许多体系已经失效:金融部门背叛了商业部门,随后又导致了自身的毁灭,而商业部门则受到短期主义的困扰。如果我们还保有人文主义的价值观,我们会努力重组这些部门,让资本主义能够再次健康运转——更好的防止人们忽视金融部门中的不确定性,同时恢复商业部门的创新能力。我们不能将这种为越来越多的人带来满意生活的制度拒之门外。

 

The path out of capitalism's second crisis

By Edmund S. Phelps 2009-04-22

 

In countries operating a largely capitalist system, there does not appear to be a wide understanding among its actors and overseers of either its advantages or its hazards. Ignorance of what it can contribute has in the past led some countries to throw out the system or clip its wings. Ignorance of the hazards has made imprudence in markets and policy neglect all the more likely. Regaining a well- functioning capitalism will require re-education and deep reform.

Capitalism is not the “free market” or laisser faire – a system of zero government “plus the constable”. Capitalist systems function less well without state protection of investors, lenders and companies against monopoly, deception and fraud. These systems may lack the requisite political support and cause social stresses without subsidies to stimulate inclusion of the less advantaged in society's formal business economy. Last, a huge social insurance system, with resulting high taxes, low take-home pay and low wealth, may not hurt capitalism.

In essence, capitalist systems are a mechanism by which economies may generate growth in knowledge – with much uncertainty in the process, owing to the incompleteness of knowledge. Growth in knowledge leads to income growth and job satisfaction; uncertainty makes the economy prone to sudden swings – all phenomena noted by Marx in 1848. Understanding was slow to come, though.

Well into the 20th century, scholars viewed economic advances as resulting from commercial innovations enabled by the discoveries of scientists – discoveries that come from outside the economy and out of the blue. Why then did capitalist economies benefit more than others? Joseph Schumpeter's early theory proposed that a capitalist economy is quicker to seize sudden opportunities and thus has higher productivity, thanks to capitalist culture: the zeal of capable entrepreneurs and diligence of expert bankers. But the idea of all-knowing bankers and unerring entrepreneurs is laughable. Scholars now find that most growth in knowledge is not science-driven. Schumpeterian economics – Adam Smith plus sociology – captures very little.

Friedrich Hayek offered another view in the 1930s. Any modern economy, capitalist or state-run, is a great soup of private “know-how” dispersed among the specialised participants. No one, he said, not even a state agency, could amass all the knowledge that each participant “on the spot” inevitably acquires. The state would have no idea where to invest. Only capitalism solves this “knowledge problem”.

Later, Hayek fleshed out a theory of how capitalism makes “discoveries” on its own. He had no problem with the concept of an innovative idea, for he understood that, even among experts, knowledge is incomplete about most things not yet tried. So he felt free to suppose that, thanks to the specialised insights each acquires, a manager or employee may one day “imagine” (as Hayek's hero, David Hume, would have put it) a commercial departure – one that could not be inferred or envisioned by people outside the individual's line of work. Then he portrays a well- functioning capitalist system as a broad-based, bottom-up organism that gives diverse new ideas opportunities to compete for development and, with luck, adoption in the marketplace. That “discovery procedure” makes it far more innovative than the top-down systems of socialism or corporatism. The latter are too bureaucratic to learn about ideas from below and unlikely to obtain approval from all the social partners of the ideas that do get through.

Well-functioning capitalist economies, with their high propensity to innovate, could arise only when serviceable institutions were in place. The freedoms borne by England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the “commercial society” of the Scots were not enough. There had to be financial institutions where there would be disinterested financiers, each trying to make the best investment, and – importantly – a plurality of views among them, so financiers funded a diversity of projects. There also had to be limited liability for companies and a market enabling their takeover. Such institutions had to wait for demand by wide numbers of business people wanting to build a new product or new market or new business model. Rudimentary institutions began to emerge early in the 19th century, from company law and stock exchanges to joint-stock banks and “merchant” banks lending to industry.

Unprecedented rewards soon followed in Europe and America: new cities rising, unbroken productivity growth, steadily climbing wages and generally high employment. Lifetime prospects improved for all or nearly all participants. Less measurable but ultimately fundamental, growing numbers of people in capitalist economies had engaging careers and were energised by their challenges and explorations. Capitalism was a godsend for them.

From the outset, the biggest downside was that creative ventures caused uncertainty not only for the entrepreneurs themselves but also for everyone else in the global economy. Swings in venture activity created a fluctuating economic environment. Frank Knight, observing US capitalism in his 1921 book, said that a company, in all of its decisions aside from the handful of routine ones, faces what is now called “Knightian uncertainty”. In an innovative economy there are not enough precedents to be able to estimate the probability of this or that outcome. John Maynard Keynes in 1936 insisted on the “precariousness” of much of the “knowledge” used to value an investment – thus the “flimsiness” of investors' beliefs. (Yet now he is seen as “Smith plus psychological swings”.)

No coherent moral justification was ever suggested for throwing out a system providing invaluable and irreplaceable novelty, problem-solving and exploration, thus personal growth. On the contrary, humanist philosophy has continued since ancient times to hold up such experience as the “good life”. Socialists and corporatists never offered an alternative good life. They simply claimed that the system they advocated could out-do capitalism: wider prosperity, or more jobs, or greater job satisfaction. Unfortunately, there is still no wide understanding among the public of the benefits that can fairly be credited to capitalism and why these benefits have costs. This intellectual failure has left capitalism vulnerable to opponents and to ignorance within the system.

Capitalism lost much of its standing in the interwar period, when many countries in western continental Europe shifted to corporatist systems. This was a low point in the public's grasp of political economy. In the end, the promises of greater prosperity and lesser swings could not be delivered. The nations that kept capitalism while making reforms, some good and others maybe not, ultimately performed well again – until now. Those that broke from capitalism were less innovative. After the disturbances of the 1970s, they saw unemployment rise far more than the capitalist nations did. They were worse on economic inclusion too.

Now capitalism is in the midst of its second crisis. An explanation offered is that the bankers, whatever they knew about capitalism, knew that to keep their jobs and their bonuses they would have to borrow more and more to lend more and more, in order to meet profit targets and hold up share prices. The implication was that the crisis flowed from a failure of corporate governance to curb bonuses and of regulation to rein in leveraging of bank capital to levels that made the banks vulnerable to a break in housing prices.

But why did big shareholders not move to stop over-leveraging before it reached dangerous levels? Why did legislators not demand regulatory intervention? The answer, I believe, is that they had no sense of the existing Knightian uncertainty. So they had no sense of the possibility of a huge break in housing prices and no sense of the fundamental inapplicability of the risk management models used in the banks. “Risk” came to mean volatility over some recent past. The volatility of the price as it vibrates around some path was considered but not the uncertainty of the path itself: the risk that it would shift down. The banks' chief executives, too, had little grasp of uncertainty. Some had the instinct to buy insurance but did not see the uncertainty of the insurer's solvency.

Much is dysfunctional in the US and the UK: a financial sector that turned away from the business sector, then caused its self-destruction, and a business sector beset by short-termism. If we still have our humanist values we will try to restructure these sectors to make capitalism work well again – to guard better against reckless disregard of uncertainty in the financial sector while reviving innovativeness in business. We will not close the door on systems that gave growing numbers rewarding lives.

The writer is director of the Center on Capitalism and Society, Columbia University, and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics. To join the debate go to www.ft.com/capitalismblog

 

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