Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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技术进步和收入不均

坎布里奇——

直到如今,无休止的技术竞赛和全球化的发展使得高技能劳动者大受青睐,也导致全球范围内收入和财富的差距之大前所未有。这场技术之争会不会最终演变为新型的阶级斗争:民粹主义的政府掌权,进行收入再分配,并且对于经济生活施以更多的国家控制?

毫无疑问,收入不均是全球范围内社会稳定的最大威胁,不管是在美国,欧洲外围国家还是中国都是如此。然而人们很容易忘记,如果让其发挥,市场力量可能最终起到稳定的作用。简单地说,高技能劳动者的收入越高,雇主们就越想找出能减少使用他们才能的方法(以降低人工成本)。

我非常熟悉的国际象棋世界,鲜明地描述了未来几十年里,创新对于相对工资的影响可能将和过去三十年大不相同。

18世纪末和19世纪初,一款智能的象棋游戏“机器人”风靡全球。 在象棋比赛中,“土耳其人”大胜拿破仑和本杰明富兰克林这样的伟人。旁观者花了几十年才明白土耳其人是如何取胜的,原来在一堆令人眼花缭乱的小玩意的掩护下,一个真人玩家藏在了不断变化的隔间中。

今天,这样的骗局反过来了:象棋机假装成真人玩家。过去十年里,电脑象棋程序大大胜过了最优秀的人类玩家,而且象棋比赛中作弊的现象也越来越多。法国国际象棋联盟近来取消了三位顶级象棋手的比赛资格,因为他们试图用电脑作弊。(有趣的是,辨别比赛中是否作弊的最主要方法之一,是使用电脑程序来查明某象棋手的出棋思路是否和众多顶级电脑程序所青睐的如出一辙)。

当然,还有些曾经认为是人类特有的活动,现在却由电脑主宰。由于网络的发展使得抄袭再容易不过了,很多老师和学校现在使用电脑程序检查文章,从而判断其是否抄袭。的确,使用电脑对文章评分是一门方兴未艾的科学,有些研究表明,电脑的评判更公平,更具一致性,并且比那些水平一般的老师更具有指导作用,当然特别优秀的老师除外。

专家电脑系统还涉及医学,法律,金融甚至是娱乐领域。有了这些发展,人们有理由相信,技术创新终将使得现在似乎稀缺的技能变得普遍。

我和哈佛的同事Kenneth Froot曾经研究了某些商品在700年里的相对价格变动。令人惊奇的是,我们发现谷物、金属和其它基本物品的相对价格在很长时期内波动不大。我们推测,尽管随机发现、天气情况、和技术进步都有可能导致某些时期内商品的相对价格出现极大的变化,价格差别仍将促使创新者们更多地关注那些价格涨幅较大的商品。

当然,人类不是商品,但是这一理论同样适用。相对于非技术工,技术工的“价格”越来越高,公司和企业们越来越希望通过使用高价人工的替代品,从而找到“作弊”的方法。这种转变可能要花几十年,但是随着人工智能推动了又一波创新,所需时间可能会缩短。

也许高技能劳动者将试图联合起来促使政府颁布一些法律法规,使得企业们无法轻易淘汰他们的工作。但如果全球贸易体系仍处于竞争中,高技能劳动者试图永久阻碍可节省劳力的科技发展的做法终将失败,正如过去的非技术工一样。

通过促进人们享有均等的受教育机会,下一代科技进步也可以促进收入公平。当前,在一些比较贫困的国家,教育资源——特别是高等教育资源(大学),和富裕国家相比还很匮乏。而且迄今为止,互联网和电脑又加大了这一差距。

但这个问题是有办法解决的。高等教育终将从科技的迅猛发展中获益,正如汽车,媒体和其他产业一样。即使只是低端的大学课程得以普及,也将会对收入不均产生重大影响。

很多评论员似乎相信,穷人和富人间日益扩大的收入差距,是全球化和技术深入发展不可避免的副产品。在他们看来,政府将需要大力干预市场,以恢复社会公平。

我不同意这种观点。我们的确需要真正的累进税制,应该尊重工人的权利,富裕国家应采取慷慨的援助政策。但是过去并不一定代表未来:鉴于市场力量非凡的灵活性,从目前的趋势中推断未来几十年里收入不均将继续扩大,将是愚蠢的,甚至是危险的想法。

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  1. CommentedStamatis Kavvadias

    Amazing. Does this person ever think straight? Does he ...engineer all his opinions?

    "[...]market forces, if allowed to play out, might eventually exert a stabilizing role."

    ??? What is this? Is this guy blind to modern economics? Is he aware of Dr. Stiglitz PhD? "If allowed to play out"??? Whenever there is asymmetry of information --that is always-- markets are imperfect (I suppose, we do not know how imperfect: for all we know, they could lead to the worst possible outcome for the largest proportion of the population!).

    "[...] the greater the premium for highly skilled workers, the greater the incentive to find ways to economize on employing their talents."

    This sounds like ...letting employers "innovate" on how to prohibit technological innovation, since this is the basic engine of highly skilled employment creation. Alternatively, it could mean, allowing employers to "innovate" on ways in which payment of highly skilled workers will stagnate. That is exactly what happened with the US middle class.

    Is there any other way? Does prof. Rogoff agree to allow market forces "to economize on employing skilled workers' talents," but prohibit the previous two choices? Unless, we have to trust the markets to bring about yet another crisis?

    Maybe, the point of prof. Rogoff is exactly to let employers try to stagnate highly skilled worker income, and see if such workers will create firms to sell their skills in organized ways. This way, markets will be created (among these new firms) -- the dream of every economist, which will lead to the "best" price for highly skilled labor.

    If only we could find ways to automate the work of highly skilled financiers.... Their work is such a long way of producing any benefit for society (in fact the opposite is exaggerated because of the financial crisis), and they are extracting huge rents from the economy with their bonuses. Ah! And neither before nor after the crisis, did I see any result from the "incentive to find ways to economize on employing their talents"!!!

    Yes, there can be technological innovation that further pushes the boundary of skill required to have a job, rendering large sectors of knowledge subject to automated procedures and further levels of peoples' skills useless. Automated software production, can and will leave large numbers of plain web and application programmers without a use for their skills and, of course, without a job. This will save some of the need to employ skilled workers. But, such "savings" will always come from the bottom of the scale of skills.

    The only case when automation will be able to "save" humanity from most of skilled labor, will be when technological innovation stops and new knowledge becomes mostly the work of computers scanning big data. At that point, knowledge increase will pause, and automation will eventually catch up with all knowledge before that time. There are no signs of a slowdown in knowledge increase. Still, this could come in the form of diminishing returns from new knowledge. There are no broad signs of that either.

  2. CommentedMukesh Adenwala

    I found this argument to be evolutionary in nature. Indeed the life will assert itself and will become increasingly efficient over time. Automatism has higher appeal than systems requiring human interventions, which are bound to be imperfect. Economics is indeed one example where markets are preferred as organizing agents than governments. However, when we talk of human societies we forget that extinction, which is one of the necessary ingredients and outcomes of automated systems is not an option, and ways have to be find to a ensure smoother ride to a future about which we know almost nothing with any degree of certainty.

  3. CommentedShane Beck

    Too many variables in this skilled worker versus machine contest- price of education for skilled worker, cost and lifespan of technology including planned obsolsence, the fact that current globalization is planned this way to favor the elites whose skills cannot be transferred overseas- the politicians, the lawyers the bureaucrats, the security complex etc. Spain and Greece provide a test laboratory in which the variable of high unemployment will be tested against the stability of the state

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