2019年10月24日 英语美文 暂无评论



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Economic growth is the religion of the modern world, the elixir that eases the pain of conflicts, the promise of indefinite progress. It is the solution to our perennial worries about not getting what we don’t have. And yet, at least in the West, the growth model is now as fleeting as Proust’s Albertine Simonet: Coming and going, with busts following booms and booms following busts, while an ideal world of steady, inclusive, long-lasting growth fades away.
经济增长是当代世界的最高信条,缓解冲突之痛的灵丹妙药,是对无限进步的美好承诺。我们总是担心无法得偿所愿,而它就是解决这种担心的答案。不过,至少在西方,增长模式如今就像普鲁斯特笔下的阿尔贝蒂娜·西莫內(Albertine Simonet)那样捉摸不定:来了又去,萧条过后是繁荣,繁荣过后又是萧条,而那种稳定、包容而持久增长的理想世界却渐行渐远。 verywen.com


In the United States, 80 percent of the population has seen no growth in purchasing power over the last 30 years. In France, annual per capita growth has dropped steadily from 3 percent in the 1970s to less than zero in 2013. In the interim, the political class has been flummoxed by stagnation, a hesitation that has opened the doors to populists of various stripes. But in its desperate search for scapegoats, the West skirts the key question: What would happen if our quest for never-ending economic growth has become a mirage? Would we find a suitable replacement for the system, or sink into despair and violence?
John Maynard Keynes, writing at the outset of the economic crisis of the 1930s, warned against misdiagnosing the situation. In his famous article “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” he declared that a period of exceptional prosperity was at hand and that the world’s “economic problem” would soon be resolved — just as, in the preceding century, strong growth and food safety arrived on a wave of technical innovation. To wring all we can out of the economic growth model, he said, the world must set aside greed and fear, outdated characteristics of a bygone era of misery. Instead, we must learn to enjoy ourselves — and above all to consume, without restraint and without worrying about tomorrow. Ultimately, Keynes believed that we would end up working only three hours a day and after turn to the truly important tasks of art, culture and religion.
在上世纪30年代的经济危机之初,约翰·梅纳德·凯恩斯(John Maynard Keynes)就曾撰文警告对时局的误判。在他的著名文章《我们后代的经济前景》(Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren)中,他宣称,空前繁荣的时代指日可待,世界的“经济问题”将不日得到解决——就像,在头一个世纪里,技术革新的浪潮带来了强劲增长与粮食安全。他认为,为了充分挖掘经济增长模型的潜力,全世界必须摈弃代表着之前悲惨世代的那种已然过时的贪婪与恐惧。取而代之的是,我们必须学会享受生活——最重要是学会消费,无拘无束,不惧明天。到最后,凯恩斯相信,我们可以把精力放在真正重要的艺术、文化与宗教活动中,然后每天仅仅工作三小时。
Sadly, such metaphysical pursuits have not come to be the world’s priority at this point in history; instead, we still live in fear of poverty, inequality and joblessness. The perpetual quest for material wealth remains our primary goal, despite the fact that we in the West are six times richer than we were in the 1930s. Thus it must be said that Keynes, an intellectual giant of economics, erred: The vast accumulation of wealth hasn’t at all satisfied or moderated the appetites of our materialist society.
The so-called Easterlin paradox helps explain Keynes’s mistake. According to the economist Richard Easterlin, wealth does not correlate to happiness. A higher salary is obviously always desirable, yet once we’ve reached that target it is never enough: We fall victim to a process of habituation of which we are largely unaware. Similarly, as we each set goals for ourselves driven by our current desires, we fail to take into account how our desires change over time and in new circumstances. This explains why economic growth, more than pure wealth, is the key to the functioning of our society: It provides each of us with the hope that we can rise above our present condition, even though this dream remains ever elusive.
名为“伊斯特林悖论”的理论一定程度上解释了凯恩斯的这个错误。根据经济学家理查德·伊斯特林(Richard Easterlin)的研究,财富与幸福并无关联。涨薪当然总是好事,但一旦我们达到了目标,就会永远不够:我们陷入了一个基本不能察觉的循环而不能自拔。与之类似的是,当我们每个人受到当前欲望驱使而设定目标时,我们不会考虑到自己的欲望会随着时间与新环境而变迁。这解释了,为何经济增长而非纯粹的财富,是我们社会正常运行的关键:它为我们每个人创造了一种希望,也就是我们能够超越眼前,尽管这样的梦想总是那么虚无缥缈。
Which brings us to the fundamental question: Will economic growth return, and if it doesn’t, what then? Experts are sharply divided. The pessimists, led by the economist Robert Gordon, believe that the potential for economic growth is now much lower than in the last century. The new industrial revolution may have given us the smartphone, but that hardly compares, in his thinking, to the great advances of the 20th century: electricity, the automobile, the airplane, movies, television, antibiotics. On the other hand, optimists like Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee tell us in their book “The Second Machine Age” that Moore’s Law is going to allow “the digitization of just about everything.” Already, Google is experimenting with driverless cars, and robots are caring for the elderly in Japan: Another burst of growth appears to be at hand.
于是最根本的问题摆在了眼前:经济增长会重现吗?如若不能,又将如何?在这方面,专家的意见南辕北辙。以经济学家罗伯特·戈登(Robert Gordon)为首的悲观派认为,今时今日的经济增长潜力远不及上个世纪。新工业革命纵然给我们送上了智能手机,但在他看来,这与20世纪的那些伟大进步——电力、汽车、飞机、电影、电视、抗生素等等——比起来,不可同日而语。另一方面,埃里克·布林约尔松(Erik Brynjolfsson)与安德鲁·麦卡菲(Andrew McAfee)这样的乐观派,在他们的著作《第二次机器时代》(The Second Machine Age)中告诉读者,摩尔定律将令“几乎所有东西的数码化”成为可能。谷歌(Google)已经在测试无人驾驶的车辆,而机器人照顾老人的事情在日本成为了现实:又一轮的爆发性增长似乎近在眼前。
To decide who is right, one must first recognize that the two camps aren’t focusing on the same things: For the pessimists, it’s the consumer who counts; for the optimists, it’s the machines. Yes, computers have in some cases replaced humans, but the essential question then becomes: What happens to the workers who are replaced by machines? This is not a clash between those who believe in technology and those who don’t. New technologies are destined to produce marvels. What matters is whether they will substitute for human labor or whether they will complement it, allowing us to be even more productive.
It’s useful to compare this situation with the 20th century when American farmers, comprising 38 percent of the labor force in 1900, moved to the cities and became highly productive workers in new industries. Economic growth quickly doubled. The fact that the purchasing power of the American middle class has grown so little over the last 30 years reflects another major change: Workers have left the factories — but their productivity in their new jobs (if they find them) is stagnant, meaning that economic growth is petering out. The logical conclusion, then, is that both sides in this debate are right: We’re living an industrial revolution without economic growth. Powerful software is doing the work of humans, but the humans thus replaced are unable to find productive jobs.
So how do we deal with a world without economic growth — if that were to come to pass? How do we motivate people if we can’t fulfill their hopes for rising living standards? One recalls the radical move by Henry Ford to double salaries in his factories to cut back on absenteeism and to reinvigorate his employees’ desire to work. In growing economies you can reward diligent workers with rising wages. Today’s companies do give bonuses to workers based on merit, but that carrot comes with a stick: layoffs if goals aren’t met.
那么,我们该怎样面对一个失去了经济增长的世界呢——如果说它将注定到来的话?倘若不能满足人们不断提高生活水平的愿望,我们又该怎样激励他们?有人想起了亨利·福特(Henry Ford)的激进做法,为杜绝旷工现象并提高工作的积极性,把员工的薪酬加倍。在经济持续增长时,你可以用更高的工资来回报勤奋的员工。如今的公司也的确会根据绩效为员工提供奖励,但胡萝卜和大棒是同时祭出的:要是没达到目标,员工就会被解雇。
Work hard or get laid off, as opposed to work hard and get higher wages: This management-by-stress technique is a major cause of suffering in our modern societies. The economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald have shown that mental stress in the workplace has only grown worse over the years. Unfortunately, unhappy workers are less productive; on the other hand, content workers are more cooperative and creative. The point is this: If workers are to be productive again, then we must come up with new motivation schemes. No longer able to promise their employees higher earnings over time, companies will now have to adjust, compensate, and make work more inspiring.
不是努力工作就能涨工资,而是不努力工作就会被辞退:这种压力管理的策略,是我们当代社会令人痛苦的主要原因。经济学家戴维·布兰奇福劳(David Blanchflower)和安德鲁·奥斯瓦尔德(Andrew Oswald)已经告诉我们,职场的精神压力愈来愈严重。遗憾的是,不快乐的员工的工作效率也更低;另一方面,心满意足的员工则更具团队精神和创造力。归根结底:如果想让员工重新变得高效起来,我们必须拿出新的激励办法。由于无法再向员工承诺未来会提供更高的薪酬,企业现在需要做出调整和补偿,让工作更加鼓舞人心。
The Danish economic model, much discussed in Europe, shows that it is indeed possible to motivate workers by something other than fear. Denmark ranks highest in “job quality in Europe,” namely because the level of autonomy granted to workers is so extensive. The country’s ample safety net protecting laid-off workers and providing job retraining encourages mobility in the workplace and eases fears about losing one’s job. It’s no wonder then that in 2013 Denmark was declared the happiest country in the world.
It would be absurd to argue that the ills of Western societies all arise from the stagnation of individuals’ purchasing power. But to ignore the problem and go on pretending that growth will surely return, just as it did after World War II, will only blind us to the reasons weak economic growth produces a morose society. We must now imagine a world in which happiness and satisfaction with one’s life and work replaces the futile quest to always earn more.