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What raspberry farms can tell us about inequality

来源:FT中文网    2017-04-13 06:12

        Raspberries are a petit-bourgeois crop, while wheat is a proletarian crop — or so says political scientist James C Scott in his remarkable 1998 book Seeing Like a State. That makes it sound as though Scott is musing on matters of taste. In fact, he’s highlighting the link between what we produce, and the political and economic structures that production makes possible.        覆盆子是小资产阶级作物,而小麦是无产阶级作物——政治学家詹姆斯•C•斯科特(James C Scott)在他1998年那本《国家的视角》(Seeing Like a State)中这样说。听上去斯科特在思考品味问题。事实上,他强调的是,我们生产的东西与这种生产所支撑起的政治经济结构之间的联系。
        Wheat is a proletarian crop, says Scott, because it works well on industrial farms. Harvesting can be mechanised. Not so easy with raspberries, which are best cared for on a small farm. They are difficult to grow and pick on an industrial scale.        斯科特称,小麦之所以是无产阶级作物,是因为它适合工业化农场。小麦可以机械化收割。覆盆子则不然,它最适合由小农场种植,很难工业化种植和采收。
        Such distinctions once mattered a great deal. We associate the invention of agriculture with the rise of ancient states but, as Scott points out in a forthcoming book, Against the Grain, much depends on the crop. Wheat is well-suited to supporting state armies and tax inspectors: it is harvested at a predictable time and can be stored — or confiscated. Cassava works differently. It can be left in the ground and dug up when needed. If some distant king wanted to tax the cassava crop, his armies would have had to find them and dig them up one by one. Agriculture made strong states possible, but it was always agriculture based on grain. “History records no cassava states,” he writes.        这种区别一度关系重大。我们将农业的发明与古代国家的兴起相联系,但正如斯科特在即将出版的新书《Against the Grain》中所指出的,具体作物关系重大。小麦非常适于支撑国家军队和税务稽查员:小麦的收割时间可预测,且可以储存——便于没收。木薯则不是这样。木薯可以留在地里不收,需要的时候再挖出来。假如远在天边的某个国王想要对木薯征税,他的军队得去把地里的木薯一个个找到、挖出来。农业让强大的国家成为可能,但这农业始终得是种植谷物的农业。“历史上没有‘木薯’国家的记载。”他写道。
        The technologies we use have always affected who gets what, from the invention of the plough to the creation of YouTube. Economists know this but our analytical tools are not well-suited to distinguishing wheat from raspberries or cassava. The brilliance of gross domestic product is the way it manages to measure all economic activity with the same yardstick — but that is also, of course, its weakness.        古往今来,我们使用的技术一直影响着谁得到什么,从犁的发明到YouTube的创建。经济学家们明白这一点,但我们的分析工具不能很好地区别对待小麦与覆盆子或木薯。国内生产总值(GDP)的妙处在于它能够用同样标准测量所有经济活动——但这同样也是它的弱点。
        Nevertheless, we try. Many researchers have examined whether countries with rich endowments of mineral resources — oil, copper, diamonds — tend to do better or worse as a result. The balance of opinion is that there’s a “resource curse”. Why?        尽管如此,我们尝试了。许多研究者考察了这个问题:矿产资源(石油、铜、钻石)丰富的国家,是否倾向于因为这种先天优势而发展得更好?普遍的结论是,存在一种“资源诅咒”。这是为什么?
        Sometimes the problem is obvious enough — for example, natural resources sustained a quarter-century of civil war in Angola, where the government could fund itself with oil while the rebels mined and sold diamonds. Sometimes it’s more subtle: a country that exports a valuable commodity will experience a strengthening of its exchange rate. This makes it harder to sustain any sort of industry that isn’t connected to the commodity itself.        有时候,答案可以说是显而易见的,例如,在安哥拉,自然资源的支撑使内战持续了四分之一个世纪——安哥拉政府军能够从石油获得收入,而叛军开采并出售钻石。有时候,答案更为隐秘:出口一种有价值的大宗商品的国家,其货币会走强——使得与这种大宗商品没有关联的行业更难维持。
        Still, we’ve lacked the statistical tools to paint a compelling picture of these issues, important though they seem to be.        话虽如此,我们一直缺乏能够有力地展现这些问题的统计工具——尽管这些问题看上去很重要。
        Now a new research paper from a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tries to explore how the mixture of products a country produces might influence a critical economic outcome: income inequality. The team includes César Hidalgo, author of Why Information Grows, about whose work I’ve written several times. Over the past few years, Hidalgo has been trying to map what he calls “economic complexity”, using statistical techniques from physics rather than economics.        来自麻省理工学院(Massachusetts Institute of Technology)的一个团队发表了一篇新的研究论文,试图探索这个问题:一个国家的产品结构,如何可能影响收入不平等这个关键的经济结果?这个团队的成员包括《增长的本质》(Why Information Grows)一书作者塞萨尔•伊达尔戈(César Hidalgo),关于他的研究我写过多篇文章。过去几年里,伊达尔戈一直在尝试利用源自物理学(而非经济学)的统计方法,来测绘他所称的“经济复杂度”。
        Complexity isn’t straightforward to measure — is a million dollars of reinsurance more or less complex than a million dollars of liquefied natural gas or a million dollars of computer games? Hidalgo’s method looks at a country’s merchandise exports. Sophisticated economies tend to export many different products, including the most complex. Complex products tend to be exported only by a few economies.        复杂度无法直接测量——100万美元的再保险,是比100万美元的液化天然气或100万美元的电脑游戏更复杂、还是更不复杂呢?伊达尔戈的方法考察一个国家的商品出口。先进经济体往往出口许多不同的产品,包括最复杂的产品。复杂产品倾向于只由寥寥几个经济体出口。
        In previous work, Hidalgo and colleagues have shown that economic complexity is correlated with wealth, but there are some economies that are spectacularly sophisticated but only modestly wealthy (South Korea is one) while other economies are very rich but not especially sophisticated (such as Qatar).        在先前的研究中,伊达尔戈和他的同事们已证明,经济复杂度与财富存在关联,但也存在一些非常先进、但只达到中等富裕程度的经济体(比如韩国),还有一些非常富裕、但并不特别先进的经济体(比如卡塔尔)。
        This new analysis finds a relationship between inequality and lack of economic complexity. Holding other things constant, the simplest economies tend to be the most unequal; the more sophisticated ones tend to be more equal.        这项新的分析发现了不平等与经济复杂度不足之间的关系。在其他因素不变的情况下,最简单的经济体往往是最不平等的经济体,而最先进的经济体往往是比较平等的。
        It’s raspberries and wheat all over again. Or, if you prefer, the difference between a business such as oil (which employs a few people at high wages), textile work (which generates lots of jobs, but at low wages) and making precision components (which requires many skilled and well-paid workers). The oil-based economy will tend to be the most unequal, while the precision-engineering economy will tend to be the most equal.        这简直是覆盆子和小麦理论的完全再现。或者,如果你愿意,可以把这看成石油业(雇用人数不多但支付的工资很高)与纺织业(创造很多就业但支付低工资)和精密零部件制造业(需要很多高技能、高薪水的工人)之间的区别。基于石油的经济体往往最不平等,而在精密工程领域拿手的经济体往往最平等。
        There are exceptions: Australia’s economy is surprisingly simple thanks to a dependence on natural resources, but not especially unequal. Mexico is an outlier in the other direction, with a sophisticated but unequal economy.        也有例外:因为依赖自然资源,澳大利亚的经济相当简单,但并非特别不平等。墨西哥是另一个方向上的例外,其经济先进,但不平等。
        This research answers some questions and raises others. There’s a large and unsatisfying literature on the relationship between inequality and growth. Are unequal societies dynamic and entrepreneurial or dysfunctional patron-client states? The MIT study suggests that what’s been missing from these questions is a measure of economic complexity.        这项研究回答了一些问题,同时带来了其他问题。关于不平等与增长之间关系的文献数量庞大但差强人意。不平等的社会是充满活力和创业精神的国家,还是失灵的恩庇-侍从国家?麻省理工学院的这项研究显示,这些问题一直缺失的是经济复杂度这个参数。
        And what about financial services? They seem both sophisticated and highly unequal — an exception to the rule? Hidalgo’s data are silent on the topic. But Hidalgo himself isn’t persuaded that banking is particularly complex.        还有金融服务业呢?该行业看上去既先进又非常不平等——它是一个例外吗?伊达尔戈的数据未涉及这个问题。但伊达尔戈本人并不认为银行业的复杂度特别高。
        “Most countries have financial services,” he tells me. “But few countries know how to design new microprocessors or new medicines.” By that measure, and others, he thinks financial services are cruder than we tend to think. Perhaps. If so, the City of London has more in common with the oilfields of the North Sea than we are inclined to admit.        “多数国家都有金融服务业。”他告诉我,“但没有几个国家懂得如何设计新的微处理器或新的药物。”按这一标准以及其他标准衡量,他认为金融服务业比我们倾向于认为的更简单。如果是这样,那么伦敦金融城与北海(North Sea)油田的相似之处比我们倾向于承认的更多。

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