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经济学应洞察现实  

2009-10-13 17:17:27|  分类: 管理教学 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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英国《金融时报》 社评 2009-10-13

 

经济学家有什么用处?过去一年来,有很多人提出这个问题,从英国的伊丽莎白女王(Queen Elizabeth),到储蓄蒸发的小储户——还有本报社评专栏。如果说有人能够给出答案,那应该就是瑞典皇家科学院,该机构昨日颁发了诺贝尔经济学奖。它的决定没有让人失望。

获奖者——美国印第安纳大学的埃莉诺·奥斯特罗姆(Elinor Ostrom)和美国加利福尼亚大学的奥利弗·威廉姆森(Oliver Williamson)——本身有资格获奖。但在金融危机和人们对经济学产生的信心危机之后,他们的获奖也突显出,好的经济学发现能够提供伟大的洞见。

这两位诺贝尔奖得主的研究课题都是经济治理:经济交易的结构如何取决于权力及合作制度。威廉姆森的工作源自于这样一个问题:为什么会有公司?答案在于,在有交易成本的情况下,与外部的市场交易相比,公司决策的正式权力也许能够更好地解决议价问题。从竞争政策到金融,这一发现为许多领域提供了启示。

奥斯特罗姆研究的是“公共资源”,如鱼类资源和地下水。著名的“公地悲剧”主张认为,除非进行私有化或由政府控制,否则此类资源将遭到过度开发。但奥斯特罗姆在研究中发现一些案例,表明私人用户可以联合行动,有效地管理公共资源。借助博弈论,她确立了设计规则时应当遵循的原则。比如,当惩罚是团体自身的责任,以及当用户民主地参与制定使用规则时,治理能发挥更好的效用。

两位学者都思索什么使市场失灵,又是什么使市场成功,他们还研究了可用于分配资源的非市场机构。今年的诺贝尔经济学奖承认,经济学家对于市场的局限性,与他们对于市场的力量有着同样多的见解。它同时也是对讲究方式方法的多元主义的及时认可。奥斯特罗姆使用了大量的案例研究,而威廉姆森的理论正如瑞典皇家科学院所委婉指出的,“仍属相对非正式”。该机构补充表示,问题“并不是(威廉姆森的理论)能否得到正式化,而是我们将在什么时候看到该理论的全面正式化版本”,这有点像在呼应一个笑话:经济学家看到某个事物在实践中管用,然后纳闷它在理论上是否也说得通。

这两位诺贝尔奖得主的工作显示,经济理论能够帮助我们观察现实,并对其形成更深入的理解。这样的奖项当然应该颁发。

译者/和风

 

NOBEL INSIGHTS

Editorial 2009-10-13

 

What are economists good for? The question has been asked a lot in the past year, by everyone from the UK's Queen Elizabeth to small savers who have lost out – and by this column. If anyone has an answer, it should be the Swedish Academy, which awarded the Nobel prize in economic science yesterday. It did not disappoint.

The winners – Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University and Oliver Williamson of the University of California – are deserving in their own right. But their award also highlights – after a financial crisis and a crisis of confidence in economics – the great insights that good economic science can provide.

Both laureates address economic governance: how economic transactions are structured by institutions of authority and co-operation. Mr Williamson's work starts from the question of why there are firms. The answer is that in the presence of transaction costs, the formal authority of company decision-making may solve bargaining problems better inside the firm than market trading outside. This carries lessons for fields from competition policy to finance.

Ms Ostrom studies “common pool resources” such as fish stocks or groundwater. The well-known “tragedy of the commons” argument is that such resources are overexploited unless privatised or controlled by government. But Ms Ostrom's research finds cases of private users acting together to manage common resources efficiently. Using game theory, she establishes principles for how rules should be designed. For example, governance works better when punishment is the responsibility of the group itself, and when the users participate democratically in shaping the rules of use.

Both scholars think about what makes markets fail or succeed, and study non-market institutions that can also allocate resources. This prize acknowledges that economists have as much to say about the limits of markets as about their power. It is also a timely recognition of methodological pluralism. Ms Ostrom draws on a wealth of case studies. Mr Williamson's theory “remains relatively informal” as the Academy politely puts it. Echoing the joke that economists see something work in practice and wonder if it can work in theory, it adds that the question “is not whether [the Williamson theory] can be formalised, but when we will see fully fledged formalisations of it”.

The laureates' work shows economic theory can help us see reality with a deeper understanding of it. That is certainly worth a prize.

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