Friday, August 1, 2014
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不公正的沙漠

伯克利—到目前为止,我所读到的托马斯·皮克提(Thomas Piketty)的《二十一世纪资本论》(Capital in the Twenty-First Century)的最佳书评由我的朋友、经常与我合作写作的劳伦斯·萨默斯(Lawrence Summers)在迈克尔·托马斯基(Michael Tomasky)的《民主杂志》(Democracy Journal)上。赶紧去读一读吧。

无动于衷?你说你不想读5,000字的文章?这一时间花的绝对物超所值,我可以保证。但如果你无动于衷,那么就听我说吧。我要说的不是这篇书评的概要和亮点,而是对萨默斯对道德哲学的评论中的一个不起眼的小侧面做一个简单的扩充。

“现有公司治理安排漏洞百出,”萨默斯写道,“但是,我认为,对于喜欢否认生产率与薪酬有任何关系的皮克提的人,我们应该给与回击。”为什么?“赚钱最多的高管并不是在……经营上市公司”并且“在董事会中安插各种朋友,”萨默斯说。相反,他们是“被私募股权公司选来经营它们所控制的公司的。这绝不是在为非常规薪酬开脱——只是提出一个关于这一现象背后的经济动力的问题。”

最后一个句子指出,我们关于谁值得获得什么的道德哲学讨论开始与收入分配的边际生产率理论的经济学相关,从根本上说,这根本毫无裨益。假设确实有决策者愿意在真正的市场交易中花大钱聘用你,其原因并非你过去给他们带来过甜头或者他们希望日后能从你身上尝到甜头。萨默斯说,这并不意味着你“赚了”或“应得”你得到的钱,从任何一个相关角度看都是如此。

如果你赢了彩票——并且你所获得的巨额奖金被用来诱使其他人高估获奖机会并购买彩票从而肥了彩票商——你是否“应得”你的奖金?你很开心得到了钱,彩票商很开心给你钱,但其他彩票买家不开心——或者也许如果他们能够意识到他们真正的机会有多大以及你的中奖被包装得花里胡哨用于误导他们,他们会不开心。

你是否有义务在中彩票后的余生中告诫所有人他们真正应该做的是将买彩票用的钱投入有税收优惠的退休金账户,这样一来,他们就不会为了要赌博而把钱白白浪费在赌场,相反,实际上他们自己倒能成为赌场,每年赚上5%?你是否如柯勒律治的古舟子(Ancient Mariner)那样,有义务向你所遇到的所有人讲述你的故事?

要我说,你显然有。我还要说,同样的逻辑可以推而广之,适用于所有炮制我们经济学家所谓的“锦标赛”(tournaments)的人。事实表明,锦标赛是极好的激励机制:它提供很大的奖励,很多人会争相前来碰运气。但是,由于人类的风险厌恶,组织锦标赛的唯一靠谱理由是它给普通参赛者造成认知扭曲。你作为组织者,通过散播扭曲伤害了他们——伤害他们最明智、最理性的自我;至少是在帮助和煽动他们自我伤害(他们就像是彩票买家,在做自由选择)。

但到这里还没完。假设你获得的报酬正是你对社会提供的边际产品。你幸运地能够得到等于你的边际产品的报酬,这一事实实在是幸运。其他人可没有那么幸运。其他人的讨价还价能力有限——或许只能达到让他们搬到育空地区(Yukon)过自给自足的生活的水平。你的幸运是应得的吗?根据定义,不是的:没人应该得到幸运。那么,你是否亏钱那些人呢?如果不是你先幸运地得到了你的位置,他们就能够居于得到他们应得之物的位置了。

当然,还有一个问题,你能够生活在让你的技能在今天的经济中具有高生产率的环境中,这又是凭什么呢?再说明白些,你如何选择了投胎给“正确的”父母?说到底,为什么你的有利结果不是纯粹的非你应得的幸运的产物?

如果我们坚持只考虑人类福利和有用的激励,就会对不平等和分配问题有更清晰的讨论。剩下的是精英统治思想;而正如皮克提的书所指出的,这一思想正在大行其道。

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  1. CommentedG. A. Pakela

    If meritocracy is an ideology, how then do you explain your apparent success in your chosen field, success that most academic and government economists would die for? Our whole society is built upon voluntary exchange and what people are willing to pay for goods and services. While it may not be easy or even possible to measure the marginal productivity of say, and administrator, we certainly know how much it costs to procure that individual. Somehow I can't imagine leaving that decision up to Harry Reid.

  2. CommentedPaul Daley

    The problem here is that DeLong attributes inequality to the "tournament" structure of the economy, while Piketty attributes it to returns on capital that have consistently exceeded growth, producing a "patrimonial capitalism," The returns are delinked from merit in either case but Piketty presents far more evidence for his view. Moreover, Summers and DeLong imply that if you're dissatisfied with the results of one tournament all you need do is wait for the next role of the dice. Piketty presents a more "actionable" alternative that flows naturally from his research.

  3. CommentedDavid Beard

    I would echo the William Pu: Who deserves what? I do not see Mr. J. Bradford Delong questioning does he deserve an economics job at UC, nor does he question the financial gains of Mr. Piketty's book sales nor the substantial royalty stream enjoyed by Ms. Jessica Simpson from her apparel sales...who does truly deserve what?

  4. CommentedYoshimichi Moriyama

    I cannot judge Piketty's book as I do not have knowledge enough. but whether Piketty's book is perfect or has any flaws in it will be to a large extent irrelevant. Suppose our market is perfectly flat; everyone is equal in it, starting from the same place at the same time; the result at the finish line is that one per cent is wealthy and ninety-nine poor. Such a society will not be a good society and able to sustain itself in the long run.

    "All types of societies are limited by economic factors. Nineteenth century civilization alone was economic in a different and distinctive sense, for it chose to base itself on a motive only rarely acknowledged as valid in the history of human societies, and certainly never before raised to the level of a justification of action and behavior in every day life, namely gain. The self-regulating market system was uniquely derived from this principle (Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.)" Every society except our own has had rules and regulations which impinged on and hampered unlimited and unfettered
    economic activities. Focusing on greed is endangering our civilized way of life.

    Economics tells us what would be the least costly or most productive way of flying from Tokyo to New York. It tells us not to make stopovers at Honolulu and Mexico City. This part of economics is science. But it does not tell us why we should go to New York and not to Washington D.C. It does not tell us why we should not make stopovers if we wanted to.

  5. CommentedWilliam Pu

    "Who deserves what?"
    What your gunpoint will bear or what the "market" will bear is THE answer. Everything else is just talk.

    Global trade did not start after nations signed agreements. Global trade started with gunboat diplomacy. The "backlash"? W/o gunboat trades have been more fair. Well, pick your poison. Fair trade or isolation. But, gunboat has been replaced by drones. Effective or not? We'll see.

  6. CommentedMounik Lahiri

    Found it to be a very sketchy critique, ridden with logical fallacies on the construction of an absolutist definition of luck. The argument should just be very simple. Inequality that gives hope is an incentive for progress and inequality that kills hope is an incentive to remain in status quo and a barrier for upward social mobility. Institutions and individuals who govern and design them, by and large, need to understand therefore the limits of the ability of inequality to incentivise performance and how it does the reverse, in many a situation. Also philosophers and economists need to improve the understanding of inequality in clearly actionable terms rather than making complex arguments, with a dash of ethics and morality thrown in, for their own cognitive kicks.

  7. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Sometimes the obvious is shrouded in the mysterious argument that the obscure would find wanting in rationality; that inequality of wealth has been brewing under our nose facilitated by all means by the systems and structures of the market forces is now being questioned by the same wisdom that made all the allowances that led to its thriving growth prospects.

    Should not the wisdom be diverted towards the bottom 90% and how their income could be raised? It need not be that the solutions prescribed by Piketty is the only consideration, he himself has been modest to say that his way of looking at the problem and the solution is just one of the many ways that existed, he wrote in response to FT, “The main message coming from my book is not that there should always be a deterministic trend toward ever rising inequality (I do not believe in this); the main message is that we need more democratic transparency about wealth dynamics, so that we are able to adjust our institutions and policies to whatever we observe.”

  8. CommentedJohn Stevens

    Dear Prof. DeLong,
    I fully agree with your insights about Mr. Picketty's book contributing to raising the debate on moral philosophy and meritocracy. "Capital in the 21st Century" is indeed triggering global debates on a number of conveniently forgotten issues. Of all the reviews I have read so far about Picketty's master piece, Lawrence Summers is a indeed must. I would include here Robert Shiller's (which is available in this site) and a brilliant post written by Manuel Gomes Samuel linking high labor income concentration to office and factory automation (available at:
    http://www.prospectivemanagement.net/?p=206).

  9. CommentedGerry Hofman

    Delong is obviously keen that no limits will be imposed to the levels of wealth that one can achieve, ever. His argument that the wealthy are simply'lucky' but should not be judged on that, because nobody deserves to be 'lucky', sounds rather hollow. The fact that wealth is worshipped like a god in this society does not mean that it's right for the system to be set up to compel everybody to gamble to get somewhere in life. In a just system there would be limits to wealth and limits to poverty, but this social order can and will not impose such limits. The idea that the ideology of wealth has run its course is just pathetic. This story is certain not to end here, and you may yet have your 'just dessert' served up to you.

  10. CommentedCris Perdue

    To put it in another way, how about emphasizing values and vision for our world and human relationships in discussions about economics and inequality?

      CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Thank you for your refreshing comment, I fully agree with you.

      Most of the times it seems we are completely lost in the jungle of markets, GPDs, yearly growth figures, completely forgetting we are human beings after all not primarily producers and consumers.

      This whole discussion about economics, inequality, growth, financial institutions is useless in itself.
      We have completely lost sight of the purpose of our lives and the intention we should be acting with.

      A human being is not born in order to continuously gain possession, to gain profit, to measure one's worth in material wealth or in one's dominion above others. Production and consumption should be simply providing our necessities for a comfortable and natural human life.

      Human beings are social creatures and our contentment, health has to be measures in the quantity and quality of human interconnections we build with each other, and in with what intention we create those connections.

      Europe is one of the best examples of the misunderstanding, they on paper created a Union, an interconnection but only in order to facilitate markets and financial flows, in order to gather even more profit. And as a result it fails since the intention was wrong.

      And the ruthlessly competitive business mentality, the success at the expense of others brings wars, social inequality and global crisis, not to mention the depletion of human and natural resources.

      Without the right connections, without the right intention behind those connections, without mutually cooperating with each other humanity has simply no right to evolve further, we have no future.

      Our crisis is much deeper than a "simple economical or financial crisis".
      We are in a "human crisis", and the only solution is to return to the values that make us human.

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