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幸福来自于知足

文章发布时间:2015/5/27 5:59:42



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笔性与笔法领导干部要努力做到“三心二意”一个人可以走快,而要走远需要一群人(图)吴茱萸单用外治小儿疾病

2012年07月10日 06:25 AM   罗伯特?斯基德尔斯基和爱德华?斯基德尔斯基 , 联合为英国《金融时报》撰稿 
 

直到不久前,经济学家还认为经济发展分成三个阶段。

首先是工业革命开启的资本积累阶段。马克思主义历史学家艾瑞克?霍布斯鲍姆(Eric Hobsbawm)将之称为资本时代。社会将很大一部分收入储蓄起来用于投资资本设备。世界上的资本品逐渐多了起来。

经济学家认为,资本时代之后将是消费时代。在消费时代,人们开始收获他们此前勤俭节约的成果。随着新投资的回报率下降和消费的可能性加大,他们会减少储蓄并增加消费。

随后就是第三个、也是最后一个阶段:富足时代。由于消费品变得极大丰富,人们开始更多地休闲,而不是更多地消费。大量工作将会消亡。这被认为是经济发展阶段的终点。

世界上有很大一部分地区如今还未发展到消费时代。

例如,中国人仍在大规模地储蓄和投资。我们的问题在于,西方社会依然囿于消费时代。与100年前相比,我们现在要富有得多得多,但工作时间的降幅却比生产率的增幅小不少,我们的消费规模比以往任何时候都大。我们似乎不会说“适可而止”这个词。这是为什么呢?

要回答这一问题,可能需要从凯恩斯发表于1930年的未来派著作《我们子孙后代的经济可能性》(Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren)说起。凯恩斯在这一著作中预言,到现在这个时候我们每周只需工作15小时“来满足我们的本能需求”,剩下的则是休闲时间。他的预言到底错在哪里?

我们当然可以承认,早期经济学家的思路受当时物质产品匮乏的限制,在某种程度上缺乏想象力。他们是从数量上考虑问题:你只能吃这么多食物,穿这么多鞋,住这么多房子,开这么多汽车。他们未能考虑到商品质量的持续改善,而这种改善会刺激持续消费的欲望,使得人们无法减少工作时间。

但我们决不能认为全部答案就在于此。许多改善其实无足轻重,即便有些改善有积极作用,消费者也往往会被广告商忽悠得高估了它们的益处——比如那种种金融创新产品的神奇效果。

更为严肃的解释是,许多老一辈的经济学家低估了人类贪得无厌的本性。我们拥有得越多,似乎就越想要更多的东西,越想要我们手中没有的东西。这在一定程度上归因于我们躁动和容易喜新厌旧的天性。但主要原因是,需要是相对的,而非绝对的:总是这山望着那山高。我们越有钱,就越觉得比别人穷。

然而,这里面还有第三个原因,而这个原因不能完全归咎于早期的经济学家。他们并非平等主义者,但他们的确认为,只有不断发展经济,才能让所有人过上好日子。他们没有预判到,富人会跑赢其他所有人,将生产率提高的绝大部分果实收入囊中。(在对这个问题的预判上,卡尔?马克思(Karl Marx)是个明显的例外。)

结果就是,我们的消费社会出现了巨大的漏洞。许多人仍没有足够的财富过上好日子。在英国,1300万百姓生活在官方制定的贫困线之下,占到总人口的21%。与社会产出相比,社会消费明显不足。早期的社会主义者将此称为“丰裕中的贫困”。

这在一定程度上解释了债务大幅增长的原因:人们寻求通过举债来弥补增长日趋停滞的收入。

那么,我们该做些什么?首先,我们必须让自己相信,所谓的幸福生活是存在的,金钱只是过上幸福生活的一种手段。有人说生活的目的就是要变得越来越有钱,这与声称吃饭的目的是要变得越来越胖一样荒谬。其次,我们可以共同采取一些措施,使自己免于陷入无休止的消费。

一是提高就业保障。政府应该恢复充分的就业保障。这并不意味着要确保所有人都有一份每周40小时的工作。政府应该逐步降低大多数工作岗位的工作时间上限,确保每一位想在此上限内工作的公民都有一份工作。

与此同时,政府还应为所有公民制定一个无条件的基本收入下限。此举的目的是改善工作与休闲之间的选择。批评人士称,这将降低人们的工作积极性。但在一个工作时间应当更少、享受生活时间应当更长的社会里,这一效果恰恰是此举的价值所在。

第三,政府应该通过限制广告来减弱消费的动机。我们已经出台了一些限制措施来防范具体的危害,因此,让人们认识到过度消费本质上有损于环境、满足感和成熟的幸福生活观,并不会是多难的事情。

对这些措施形成支撑的将是累进幅度很大、最高一档税率达(比方说)75%的消费税。这将是一种对支出、而非收入征收的税。它将减弱消费动机,为基本收入提供资金,并鼓励个人为应对年老体衰而储蓄。

上述这些提议可能会招致批评。但是,如果我们不能共同决定摆脱无休止的消费,我们就永远说不出“适可而止”这个词。而如果我们做不到这一点,我们就仍会纳闷多挣那么多钱意义何在。

本文作者的新书名为《多少才算够?》(How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life)

By Robert?Skidelsky, Edward Skidelsky 

Until fairly recently economists envisaged three stages of economic development.

First, there was the stage of capital accumulation started by the industrial revolution. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm called it the age of capital. Society saved a large part of its income to invest in capital equipment. The world gradually filled up with capital goods.

This stage, economists thought, would be followed by the age of consumption, in which people began realising the fruits of their previous frugality. They would save less and consume more, as the returns to new investment fell and the possibilities of consumption expanded.

Then would come the third and final stage, the age of abundance. With a surfeit of consumption goods, people would start swapping greater consumption for greater leisure. The world of work would recede. This was supposed to be the end point of the economic phase of history.

Much of the world has not yet reached the age of consumption.

The Chinese, for example, still save and invest on a colossal scale. Our problem is that western societies remain stuck in the age of consumption. We are much, much richer than we were 100 years ago, but hours of work have not fallen nearly as much as productivity has risen, and we go on consuming more than ever. We seem unable to say “enough is enough”. Why not?

One starting point to answering this question might be Keynes’ futuristic essayEconomic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, published in 1930. In this essay he predicted that by now we would only need to work 15 hours a week “to satisfy the old Adam in us”. The rest would be leisure time. What did he get wrong?

We can concede straight away that the earlier economists, taking their cue from the privations around them, suffered from a certain poverty of imagination. They thought in terms of quantities: you can eat only so much food, have so many pairs of shoes, live in so many houses, drive so many cars. They failed to allow for continued improvement in the quality of goods, which stimulates the appetite for serial consumption, and so keeps up the hours of work.

But we must not concede too much under this head. Many improvements are negligible and, even when positive, consumers are constantly seduced by advertisers into over-estimating their benefits – as with the wonderful effects of all those innovative financial products.

A more?serious charge is that many of the older generation of economists underestimated insatiability. Having more seems to make us want more, or different. This is partly because we are by nature restless and easily bored. But it is mainly because wants are relative, not absolute: the grass is always greener on the other side. The richer we become, the more we feel our relative poverty.

There is a third factor, however, for which the earlier economists can’t really be blamed. They were not egalitarians, but they did think that growing prosperity would lift up all boats. They did not foresee that the rich would race ahead of everyone else, capturing most of the fruits of increased productivity. (Karl Marx is the main exception here.)

The result has been to leave big holes in our consumption society. A lot of people still do not have enough for a good life. In Britain, 13m households, 21 per cent of the total, live below the official poverty line. There is a lot of underconsumption going on relative to what society is producing. Earlier socialists called it “poverty in the midst of plenty”.

This partly explains the huge rise in debt, as people aim to compensate for stagnating incomes by borrowing.

So what is to be done? First, we must convince ourselves that there is something called the good life, and that money is simply a means to it. To say that my purpose in life is to make more and more money is as insane as saying my purpose in eating is to get fatter and fatter. But second, there are measures we can take collectively to nudge us off the consumption treadmill.

One is to improve job security. Government should restore the full employment guarantee. This does not mean guaranteeing everyone a 40-hour a week job. Government should gradually reduce the maximum allowable hours of work for most occupations, guaranteeing a job for everyone who wants to work that amount of time.

At the same time it should institute an unconditional basic income for all citizens. This would aim to improve the choice between work and leisure. Critics say this would be a disincentive to work. That is precisely its merit in a society which should be working less and enjoying life more.

Third, government should reduce the pressure to consume by curbs on advertising. We already have curbs to guard against specific harms: it would not be a big jump to recognise that excessive consumption is itself harmful – to the environment, to contentment, to any mature conception of the good life.

Underpinning these measures would be a steeply progressive consumption tax, with a top bracket of, say, 75 per cent. This would be a tax on what is spent, not on earnings. It would reduce the pressure to consume, finance basic income, and encourage private saving for old age and infirmity.

All these proposals are open to criticism. However, unless we take a collective decision to get off the consumption treadmill we will never get to the point of saying “enough is enough”. And if we don’t do that, we will go on wondering what all that extra money was for.

The writers’ latest book is ‘How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life’

Enough is enough of the west’s age of consumption

 




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