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富国究竟因何而富?  

2010-09-07 13:00:54|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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作者:英国《金融时报》专栏作家 蒂姆?哈福德

2010-01-05

 

这是一个古老的问题:为什么有些国家富裕,而有些国家贫穷呢?取得巨大成就的经济学家帕萨?达斯古普塔(Partha Dasgupta) 与所有人一样,完全有资格对此做出解释——他在今年皇家经济学会(Royal Economic Society)的公共演讲中给出了答案。达斯古普塔出生于达卡,在德里和剑桥接受教育。

达斯古普塔首先邀请他的听众(许多是A-Level学生)思考两个女孩的生活:一个是美国女孩贝姬(Becky),另一个是埃塞俄比亚女孩德斯塔(Desta)。

在贝姬生活的国家里,人均国内生产总值(GDP)达4.6万美元,人的预期寿命为78岁,几乎所有成年人都识字。而在德斯塔生活的国家里,人均GDP为780美元,人口预期寿命为53岁,有读写能力的成人占36%,大多数女性花15年左右的时间生育或照看孩子,平均每个妇女生育5个以上孩子。

虽然这类数据已经耳熟能详,但它们总是会令人感到吃惊。正如达斯古普塔指出的那样,埃塞俄比亚并不比5000年前更富裕,这是为什么呢?

经济学家一直不缺少答案。富国拥有更多的物质资本——更好的道路、更大的建筑和更多的机械。它们还拥有更多的人力资本——它们的居民接受的教育和培训更好,也更加健康。他们拥有更多的技术资本——更多的科学家、更先进的技术和更多的知识产权。

但这些是某种更深层次问题的表症。毕竟,就像目前中国所展示的那样,这三种资本都有可能迅速扩张。许多穷国却未能扩张,这又是为什么呢?

流行的答案是富国有更好的制度。这听起来比较深奥,但没有人就其含义真正达成一致。达斯古普塔指出,在各种情况下——从在超市购买看似新鲜的食品到结婚,从安全地在街上行走到起草国家宪法——我们必须能够信任他人会在协议中扮演自己的角色(这种协议可能是明确的,但往往相当含蓄)。达斯古普塔将演讲的大部分时间用来回答这个问题:什么时候我们可以预期其他人会遵守这些协议或准协议?

按照博弈论分析,达斯古斯塔得出两个结论。第一,稳定的社会——在这个社会,欺诈行为能够被发现,并且只要未来拒绝与其做生意,就能使其受到惩罚——是成功制度的先决条件。如果所有互动都是一次性的,那就不可能进行合作,而所有那些在机械、教育和创新方面的惊人投资就永远不会发生。

第二,合作是极端脆弱的。达斯古普塔的博弈论表明,即使是一个成功的合作社会也往往存在崩溃的可能性。他表示:“破坏制度比建立制度更容易。”并以华特暴动(Watts riots)和许多前现代文明的衰落为例进行了说明。可以说,信贷危机是另一个例子。

如果达斯古普塔所言属实,这就非常令人不安了:它表明,我们或许应该花更少的精力来考虑如何发展穷国,而应更多地关注如何维系我们自己的脆弱社会的完整。

我没有完全信服这种观点。或许我有点自满,但过去20年的经济史中有更多穷国变成富国的例子,而不是相反。

正当达斯古普塔爵士耐心地向一群充满仰慕之情的在校生解释他的代数理论时,我对于如下问题更加感到迷惑不解:我们为何信任彼此、信任我们的体制,以及这种信任是如何被创造和破坏的。我认为,这正是他的目的所在。

译者/君悦

 

What the wealth of nations is really built upon

By Tim Harford

2010-01-05

 

It is an old question: why are some countries rich and others poor? Sir Partha Dasgupta, a hugely accomplished economist, born in Dhaka and educated in Delhi and Cambridge, is as well qualified as anyone to come up with an answer – which he did, delivering this year's Royal Economic Society public lecture.

Dasgupta began by inviting his audience, many of whom were A-level students, to consider the lives of two girls – Becky, an American, and Desta, an Ethiopian.

Becky lives in a country with a gross domestic product per head of $46,000, life expectancy of 78 years and near-universal adult literacy. GDP per head in Desta's country is $780; life expectancy is 53 years, adult literacy 36 per cent, and most women spend about 15 years bearing or taking care of children, with average fertility of more than five live births per woman.

Familiar as this sort of data is, the numbers never fail to shock. As Dasgupta pointed out, Ethiopia is not notably richer than it was 5,000 years ago. Why?

Economists haven't been short of answers. Rich countries have more physical capital – better roads, bigger buildings, more machines. They also have more human capital – their citizens are better educated and trained, and healthier. And they have more technological capital, with more scientists, more advanced technology and more intellectual property.

But these are symptoms of something deeper. After all, as China is now demonstrating, it is possible to expand all three types of capital at speed. Many poor countries don't. Why not?

The fashionable answer is that rich countries have better institutions. It sounds profound, but nobody really agrees on what it means. Dasgupta pointed out that in a variety of circumstances – from buying fresh-seeming food at a supermarket to getting married, from walking the streets in safety to writing a country's constitution – we need to be able to rely on other people to play their part in a deal that may be explicit but is often entirely implicit. And he devoted much of his lecture to answering the question of when we can expect other people to keep to these agreements and quasi-agreements.

Relying on game theory analysis, Dasgupta reached two conclusions. The first is that stable societies – that is, where cheats can be found and punished, if only by a refusal to do business with them in future – are a precondition for successful institutions. If every interaction is a one-off, co-operation is impossible, and all those wonderful investments in machinery, education and innovation will simply never happen.

The second conclusion was that co-operation is extremely fragile. Dasgupta's game theory suggested that even a successful, co-operative society is always at risk of breaking down. “It is easier to destroy institutions than to build them,” he argued, and cited the Watts riots and the decline of many pre-modern civilisations. The credit crisis is, arguably, another example.

If true, this is very disturbing: it suggests that we should perhaps spend less effort thinking about how to develop poor countries, and more effort holding together our own fragile societies.

I was not totally convinced. Perhaps I am complacent, but the past 200 years of economic history contain far more examples of poor countries becoming rich than of rich countries becoming poor.

As Sir Partha patiently explained his algebra to a gaggle of admiring schoolchildren, I was left with more questions than answers about why we trust each other and our institutions, and how such trust is created and destroyed. That, I think, was exactly his aim.

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