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经济学人:自由交易 伟大开拓者

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Free exchange

自由交易
The great trailblazer
伟大的开拓者
Economists everywhere should mourn the passing of Gary Becker
世界各地的经济学家都该对加里·贝克尔的离世表示哀悼
IF THERE is one person to blame for economists' habit of opining on everything, it is Gary Becker, who died on May 3rd. Not content with studying the world's economies, he was the first prominent economist to apply economic tools to all aspects of life. His revelation was the sort that seems obvious only in hindsight: that people are often purposeful and rational in their decisions, whether they are changing jobs, taking drugs or divorcing their spouses. This insight, and the work that followed from it, earned him a Nobel prize in 1992. No less an eminence than Milton Friedman declared in 2001 that Mr Becker was “the greatest social scientist who has lived and worked in the last half-century”.
经济学家们习惯于对一切事情都发表意见,若要将这嗜好归功于一人,这个人便是已于2014年5月3日辞世的加里·贝克尔。不满足于仅仅研究世界经济,贝克尔是第一个将经济学方法应用到生活各个方面的著名经济学家。他揭示了那些事后似乎才一目了然的事:无论是换工作,嗑药或与配偶离婚,人们往往是有目的、理性地做出决定。正是由于此种见解以及其后一系列围绕它的研究,贝克尔赢得了1992年的诺贝尔经济学奖。声名卓著的米尔顿·弗里德曼在2001年称贝克尔是“过去的半个世纪以来最伟大的社会科学家”,他完全担得起这个评价。

At the heart of Mr Becker's work was the view that “individuals maximise welfare as they conceive it.” Welfare need not mean income; it could derive from the pleasure of altruism or the thrill of deviancy. But critically, this thesis implied that people respond to incentives—a realisation that opened the door to insights across the whole range of human activity.

贝克尔研究的核心是认为“个体总是最大化他们自己所认为的个人福利”。福利不一定意味着收入,它可能源自利他主义的满足感或越轨的快感。但关键的是,这个论题暗指人们会对激励做出回应—这个认知为全方位地洞悉人类活动打开了一扇门。
Mr Becker first used this approach in his doctoral study of discrimination, a raw issue in 1950s America. At the time economists' models assumed that employers cared only about productivity, whatever the colour of the worker. Shunting this view aside, Mr Becker instead assumed that many individuals had a “taste for discrimination”, and perceived themselves to be worse off when forced to work alongside people of other races. He then explored how this preference affected labour markets.
贝克尔在其博士生涯研究歧视问题时第一次使用这种方法,歧视问题在20世纪50年代的美国还未受到重视。当时经济学家的模型假定雇主只关心生产率,而不管工人的肤色如何。抛开这一观点,贝克尔代之以假设许多人有“歧视偏好”,被迫与其他种族的人一起工作人们会感觉很糟糕。然后他探讨了这种偏好如何影响劳动力市场。
In America, where the black population was roughly one-tenth of the total, discrimination against blacks led to relatively small reductions in white incomes but far more substantial ones for black workers. In South Africa, with a far higher proportion of blacks, discrimination brought much larger reductions in incomes across the economy. Mr Becker pointed out that although competition from more rational firms might gradually eliminate corporate discrimination, market forces alone would rarely erode discrimination rooted in the tastes of workers or consumers. His book on the subject, “The Economics of Discrimination”, became the foundation for subsequent research.
在美国,黑人数量占其总人口约十分之一,对黑人的歧视导致白人工人收入相对削减较小而黑人工人的工资却较大幅度下降。在南非,黑人占比较高,歧视使整个经济体的收入更大幅度的下挫。贝克尔指出,虽然那些来自更理性的公司的竞争可能逐步消除企业歧视,但仅仅依靠市场力量很难削弱根植于工人或消费者偏好中的歧视。他探讨这一问题的书籍《歧视经济学》为后续研究奠定了基础。
Mr Becker's restless mind then focused on crime. He became intrigued after weighing the odds and cost of getting a parking ticket, and deciding to risk it. He looked sceptically on the view, common at the time, that crime was simply deviant behaviour—a form of mental illness. At least some of it, he reckoned, sprang from a rational consideration of perceived costs and benefits. Moral norms might inhibit some individuals from breaking the law, but others would overcome their qualms when the return to criminal activity was high, or the likely punishment mild. Such calculations would apply, he argued, across a wide variety of crimes, from parking scofflaws to corporate fraudsters.
思维活跃的贝克尔紧接着专注于犯罪领域。在比较了停车罚单的收益和成本并决定冒险违章停车后,这个问题引起了他的兴趣。按照当时流行的观点,犯罪只是简单的越轨行为,贝克尔对此表示怀疑。他认为,至少部分犯罪是源自权衡成本和收益后的理性考量。道德准则可能会约束某些人不要去违法乱纪,但若犯罪活动回报颇高,或潜在处罚轻微时,其他人还是会将诸般疑虑抛诸脑后的。他认为这种方式也适用于衡量各种不同的犯罪,从违章停车到企业诈骗。
Mr Becker puzzled over why crime was economically costly. Part of the answer, he realised, was that it represents rent-seeking: fighting over the spoils of productive activity rather than creation of new wealth. Resources invested in commission of crimes might otherwise have gone towards growth-boosting activity. His work contributed to new crime-fighting methods. He reckoned there is an optimal amount of crime in society, since it makes little sense to pay huge sums to wipe out illegal activity carrying low social costs. Where enforcement is patchy, governments might still deter misbehaviour by increasing the severity of the punishment—by raising fines, say.
贝克尔对犯罪为何在经济上代价高昂感到困惑。他意识到部分原因在于犯罪是一种“寻租”行为:争食生产活动的战利品,而非创造新的财富。否则,实施犯罪(或阻止犯罪)投入的资源本可用来促进生产活动。他的研究成果为新的打击犯罪的方式做出了贡献。贝克尔认为,由于支付巨额资金以杜绝低社会成本的非法活动意义不大,社会上的犯罪有着最优量。凡执法存在漏洞的地方,政府仍可能通过加大惩罚力度以震慑不端行为—比如增加罚金。
Mr Becker was again a pioneer, alongside his Columbia University colleague Jacob Mincer, in developing the concept of “human capital”, the investments individuals make in their own education. Mr Becker ventured that spending on education and training should be thought of as an economic choice, made in anticipation of perceived future gains, rather than a high-minded search for cultural enrichment. His view gave insight into labour-market oddities. By taking into account the difference between general knowledge and “firm-specific” skills, Mr Becker could explain why skilled workers are less likely to change firms, or why firms are more likely to promote from within. Human capital also shed light on gaps in pay across demographic groups—between men and women, for example. That, in turn, shaped Mr Becker's groundbreaking study on the economics of the family.
贝克尔与其哥伦比亚大学的同事雅各布·明赛尔一起发展了“人力资本”的概念,即个体为自身教育做出的投资。他在这方面再次成为先驱。贝克尔大胆假设,用于教育和培训的开销应当被看作是一种在预期未来收益的情况下做出的经济选择,而非为了寻求提升高尚的文化修养。这一观点给劳动力市场怪象提供了视角。考虑到通识知识(比如数学)和“企业特有”技能(如内部软件知识)之间的差别,贝克尔可以解释为什么技术工人不太可能跳槽,或者企业为什么更青睐从内部提拔人才。人力资本也揭示出人口群体——比如男性和女性间的薪酬差异,这反过来形成贝克尔对家庭经济的开创性研究。
Family values
家庭价值观
Mr Becker brought his characteristic analysis to the question, assuming that people are guided in family choices by a desire to improve their own welfare. That included marriage and divorce: his analysis implied, for instance, that those in wealthy families would divorce at lower rates, a prediction borne out by data. His work also helped explain falling fertility in rich countries. As wages rise, the opportunity cost of raising children increases, and large families become less attractive. What is more, as the link between education and economic success grows stronger, parents invest ever more in their children.
分析这个问题,贝克尔引入了他的特性分析,假设人是出于提高自身福利的愿望来指导家庭选择的,包括结婚和离婚在内。举个例子,他的分析暗示那些富裕家庭往往离婚率较低,数据也证实了这一预测。他的工作也有助于解释富裕国家出生率下降的问题。随着工资的上升,抚养子女的机会成本增加,拥有一个大家庭变得不那么有吸引力。更重要的是,教育与经济成功之间的联系变得更加强大,父母在子女身上的投资越来越多。
Mr Becker's trailblazing earned plenty of criticism. The interdisciplinary adventurism it embodied peeved other social scientists, who doubted that cool-headed analysis played much part in matters of love or larceny. But his work yielded unexpected insights and forced social scientists to rethink their assumptions and sharpen their analyses, the better to learn why people behave as they do and how policy can best help. Whole branches of microeconomics owe their existence to him. It is hard to imagine a more welfare-improving contribution.
贝克尔的开创性理论遭到了很多批评。它体现出的跨学科冒险性使许多社会科学家非常气恼,他们怀疑冷静分析在爱情或盗窃问题起到的作用会更大。但贝克尔的研究成果提供了出人意料的思路,迫使社会科学家重新考虑他们的假设,完善他们的分析,以更好地了解人们的行为:人们为何那么做,政策怎样提供最好的帮助。微观经济学的整个分支的存在都归功于贝克尔,没有谁在提升福利方面作出的贡献比他更大了。
重点单词   查看全部解释    
contribution [.kɔntri'bju:ʃən]

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n. 贡献,捐款(赠)

 
exaggeration [ig.zædʒə'reiʃən]

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n. 夸张,夸大

 
exchange [iks'tʃeindʒ]

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n. 交换,兑换,交易所
v. 交换,兑换,交

 
deviant ['di:viənt]

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adj. 不正常的,离经叛道的 n. 异常的人

 
substantial [səb'stænʃəl]

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adj. 实质的,可观的,大量的,坚固的
n.

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proportion [prə'pɔ:ʃən]

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n. 比例,均衡,部份,(复)体积,规模
vt

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eliminate [i'limineit]

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v. 除去,剔除; 忽略

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colleague ['kɔli:g]

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n. 同事

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puzzled

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adj. 困惑的;搞糊涂的;茫然的

 
qualms

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n. 良心之谴责;不安

 

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