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将金钱等同于价值:经济学的致命伤?



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经济学家有时无法衡量那些最重要的事物的价值

——经济学的不足系列之四


Economists sometimes fail to measure what matters most. The fourth in our series on the profession’s shortcomings


王尔德笔下的一个人物说过这么一句话:愤世嫉俗者知道万物的价格,对价值却一无所知。但是,正如哲学家们早就知道的那样,确定事物或事态的价值是件伤脑筋的事情。和愤世嫉俗者一样,经济学家常认为大家只需知道价格就行了。这导致他们的很多结论有失偏颇,也限制了他们在人类面对一些最重要的问题时所能发挥的作用。

 

A CYNIC, says one of Oscar Wilde’s characters, is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. But, as philosophers have long known, assigning values to things or situations is fraught. Like the cynic, economists often assume that prices are all anyone needs to know. This biases many of their conclusions, and limits their relevance to some of the most serious issues facing humanity.

 

自经济学这门沉闷的科学起源以来,价值的难题就一直潜藏其中。在亚当·斯密发表《国富论》的前后,杰里米·边沁(Jeremy Bentham)奠定了功利主义理论的基础,该理论主张以绝大多数人的最大幸福作为判断是非的标准19世纪末,阿尔弗雷德·马歇尔(Alfred Marshall)宣称,经济学应该关注的是对保障安乐的物质必需品的获取和使用。或者,用他的学生亚瑟·庇古(Arthur Pigou)的话来说,是能够直接或间接地用货币尺度来衡量的那部分社会福利

 

The problem of value has lurked in the background ever since the dismal science’s origins. Around the time Adam Smith published his “Wealth of Nations”, Jeremy Bentham laid out the basis of a utilitarian approach, in which “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. In the late 19th century Alfred Marshall declared the correct focus of economics to be the “attainment and…use of material requisites of well-being”. Or, as his student, Arthur Pigou, put it, “that part of social welfare that can be brought directly or indirectly into relation with the measuring rod of money”.

 

很多情况下,将货币等同于价值是迫不得已的权宜之计。人们用不同形式的货币,而不是根据效用或幸福感进行交易。但就算经济学家常常别无选择而只能够通过谁最终得到多少钱来判断结果,他们还是可以对一个问题多些关注——只盯着由货币尺度判定的物质福利如何影响并束缚了他们的工作。

 

Equating money with value is in many cases a necessary expedient. People make transactions with money, of one form or another, rather than “utility” or happiness. But even if economists often have no choice but to judge outcomes in terms of who ends up with how many dollars, they can pay more attention to the way focusing on “material well-being”, as determined by the “measuring rod of money”, influences and constrains their work.

 

货币尺度本身常引发麻烦。比如,并非每一美元都有相同的价值。你可能会认为,如果非要让两位经济学家竞拍一个苹果,胜者一定会是更想得到苹果的那个,因此竞拍就为这个苹果找到了能令福利最大化的最佳用途。但证据表明,金钱的边际价值是递减的:你拥有的金钱越多,就越不把增加的一美元当回事。因此,胜者最终得到苹果可能并不是因为苹果会给他带来更多快乐,而是因为他拥有的更多财富让他这次出价的牺牲更小。经济学家清楚这一点。比如在世界各国对于收入和幸福感之间关系的争论上,这方面的因素已经占据重要地位。但是,对于这一因素的潜在影响——比如价格机制对资源配置的作用会随着不平等的加剧而变糟——经济学界满不在乎的程度令人吃惊。

 

The measuring rod itself often causes trouble. Not every dollar is of equal value, for instance. You might think that if two economists were forced to bid on an apple, the winner would desire the apple more and the auction would thereby have found the best, welfare-maximising use for the apple. But the evidence suggests that money has diminishing marginal value: the more you have, the less you value an extra dollar. The winner might therefore end up with the apple not because it will bring him more joy, but because his greater wealth means that his bid is less of a sacrifice. Economists are aware of this problem. It features, for example, in debates about the link between income and happiness across countries. But the profession is surprisingly casual about its potential implications: for example, that as inequality rises, the price mechanism may do a worse job of allocating resources.

 

将价值和金钱成本划等号还会在其他方面产生误导。像GDP这样的经济统计数据存在缺陷并不是什么新鲜事。1968年,罗伯特·肯尼迪(Robert Kennedy)在一次演讲中抱怨道,衡量产出时会计入香烟广告、凝固汽油弹等方面的花费,却忽略了儿童健康和教育的质量。尽管在改进这些统计数据方面做了努力,这类问题依然存在。花在各种金融服务及昂贵体检上的钱无论是否增进了人类福祉都被计入GDP,而诸如污染之类的社会成本却未计入考虑。经济学家力图在其他情境下考虑这些成本,比如在评估气候变化带来的损害时。然而,即便如此,他们仍是常常关注环境变化会如何影响可衡量的产出,而忽视那些无法轻易用金钱尺度衡量的结果。

 

Equating dollar costs with value misleads in other ways. That economic statistics such as GDP are flawed is not news. In a speech in 1968 Robert Kennedy complained that measures of output include spending on cigarette advertisements, napalm and the like, while omitting the quality of children’s health and education. Despite efforts to improve such statistics, these problems remain. A dollar spent on financial services or a pricey medical test counts towards GDP whether or not it contributes to human welfare. Social costs such as pollution are omitted. Economists try to take account of such costs in other contexts, for example when assessing the harms caused by climate change. Yet even then they often focus on how environmental change will affect measurable production and neglect outcomes that cannot easily be set against the measuring rod.

 

经济学家还普遍忽视无偿工作等非市场化活动的价值。曾有一项估算得出,如果把无偿工作计算在内,2010年美国GDP将上升26%(并且会大大改写不同人群对GDP贡献的比例)。正如剑桥大学的戴安娜·科伊尔(Diane Coyle)所言,不把无偿工作计入GDP可能反映了最早执掌统计机构的那些官员(主要是男性)的价值判断。但今天的经济学家似乎仍然将那些不易衡量的事物看得无关紧要。

 

Economists also generally ignore the value of non-market activity, like unpaid work. By one estimate, including unpaid work in American GDP in 2010 would have raised its value by 26% (and drawn a very different picture of the contributions of different demographic groups). As Diane Coyle of Cambridge University has argued, the decision to exclude unpaid work may reflect the value judgments of the (mostly male) officials who first ran statistical agencies. But it seems likely that economists today still treat things which cannot easily be measured as if they matter less.

 

如果完全不使用量尺,经济学家也就百无一用了。例如,人们知道经济学家计算出了实现男女平等的经济效益。但不管是否影响GDP,男女平等本身就具有固有价值。同样,物种灭绝和被迫大迁徙会带来心理成本,这种成本无法用金钱估量,但却是气候变化带来的威胁的重要方面。

 

Economists are at their least useful when a measuring stick should not be used at all. They have been known to calculate, for example, the financial gains from achieving gender equality. But gender equality has an intrinsic value, regardless of its impact on GDP. Similarly, species loss and forced mass migration impose psychic costs that resist dollar valuation but are nonetheless important aspects of the threat from climate change.

 

如此窘境或许表明伦理问题应该留给其他的社会科学家。但这种分工是站不住脚的。诚然,经济学家的工作常以有形的成本和收益比主观价值更重要为出发点。例如,阿尔文·罗斯(Alvin Roth)认为,应该把对于令人反感的交易(如买卖人体器官)的道德不安放到一边,以实现一个器官交易市场所能带来的福利收益。或许确实应当如此,但如果在得出这一结论时摒弃了这类道德顾虑,而不是视之为可能同样与人类福祉相关联的准则,是不恰当的。此外,掏出金钱量尺这一行为改变了我们的价值观。尽管对影响的大小尚有争议,但心理学研究表明,敦促人们在做选择时从金钱的角度考虑问题会助长一种不信任他人和不够慷慨宽厚的务实思维模式。扩大市场的范围不仅仅更有效地满足了人们的偏好,它也将市场导向的价值观凌驾于其他价值观之上。

 

Such quandaries might suggest that ethical issues should be left to other social scientists. But that division of labour would be untenable. Indeed, economists often work on the basis that tangible costs and benefits outweigh subjective values. Alvin Roth, for example, suggests that moral qualms about “repugnant transactions” (such as trading in human organs) should be swept aside in order to realise the welfare gains that a market in organs would generate. Perhaps so, but to draw that conclusion while dismissing such concerns, rather than treating them as principles which might also contribute to human well-being, is inappropriate. Further, the very act of pulling out the measuring rod alters our sense of value. Though the size of the effect is disputed, psychological research suggests that nudging people to think in terms of money when they make a choice encourages a “businesslike mindset” that is less trusting and generous. Expanding the reach of markets is not just a way to satisfy preferences more efficiently. Rather, it favours market-oriented values over others.

 

幸福学派

 

一些经济学家主张创建并使用更宽泛的幸福衡量标准。包括欧盟委员会和世界银行在内的几个组织如今公布了一系列数据,展示了一幅更全面的社会健康图景。但是,使用这种标准方法的成本在增加。人们常通过提供数据来偿付数字化商品和服务,还用价格来衡量它们的价值就不够了。科技进步必然会带来更多伦理考量与狭隘的物质价值发生冲突的情形。如何在这样一个世界里提升人的福祉,这个问题值得更多关注。

 

The Pharrell Williams school

 

Some economists advocate the creation and use of broader measures of well-being. Several organisations, including the European Commission and the World Bank, now publish data series presenting a more comprehensive picture of social health. But the costs of the standard approach are growing. Price is a poor measure of the value of digital goods and services, which are often paid for by giving access to data. Technological progress promises to create ever more situations in which ethical considerations conflict with narrowly material ones. The question of how to increase well-being in such a world deserves greater attention. ■





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