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​金钱为什么会成为危险品

[转贴自:哈佛商业评论    点击数:47    更新时间:2020年03月23日]

     瑞贝卡•亨德森(Rebecca Henderson)通过《在水深火热的世界格局中重新思考资本主义》(Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire)一书,针对过去半个世纪商业带来的危害提出了补救性的建议,这位哈佛商学院教授用了大概2/3的篇幅,对可能不利于环保的行业进行有效自律的概率进行了评估。她说:“这是一个先有希望,然后绝望,再出现渺茫新希望的故事。”

    这一说法基本上总结了我最近的感受,因为我刚好读完了一些发人深省、多为批判资本主义和金融行业当前状况的纪实文学。在我的脑海中,适合这篇文章的标题从轻快的“拯救资本主义”,到略微令人担忧的“资本主义还有救吗”,再到繁复冗长的“资本主义最好是能自我修复,因为没有人有这个能力,本文介绍了一些最后的手段”。
 
    对于那些仍未意识到这些重要事情已经遭到破坏的人士,几本新书向人们展示了一幅令人信服的画面,其中充斥着极度不可持续的不公平性、腐败政治程序以及迫在眉睫的危机,其中一个罪魁祸首便是金融系统,它在过去约40年的时间中一直将短期利益放在首位,而且在实现这个目标的过程中系统化地除去了任何对其自身极恶冲动的审查。

    《金钱为什么会成为危险品》(How Money Became Dangerous)一书提醒我们,金融行业曾经是一个奇怪的服务行业,低调地维持着宏观经济的稳定和增长。银行家克里斯托弗•威瑞拉斯(Christopher Varelas)于1989年夏天在所罗门兄弟公司(Salomon Brothers)开始了漫长的职业生涯,一开始是一名实习生。他以一种自传的口吻和丰富的形式,展现了当代金融行业的原罪[与丹•斯通(Dan Stone)合著]。例如,他揭示了从私人合伙制到上市公司的转变如何让各大银行难以抵抗地用他人的资金,一次又一次地加注投资。威瑞拉斯早些时候问:“如果不再受自有资金亏损威胁的限制,人们还能指望银行家去做好人吗?”他的回答是“是的”,但他和他的银行家同僚一直感到纠结的是,到底应该如何在一个鼓励贪婪的体制中做好人。

    毕竟,在一些不怎么谨慎的银行家手中,这种态势会毫不意外地直接引发一些非常恶劣的行为。在《破坏力:金融行业隐藏的本性》(Sabotage: The Hidden Nature of Finance)一书中,政治经济学家阿南斯塔西亚•内斯威泰洛瓦(Anastasia Nesvetailova)和伦敦大学城市学院的洛南•帕兰(Ronen Palan)指出,真正高效、公平和充满竞争的市场在扣除运营成本之后提供的利润机会少得可怜。因此,各大公司,更准确地来说其领导者,一直在通过放松、打破或改变规则来获取发展。上述作者分析了一些非常诱人却又十分无耻的案例,例如苏格兰皇家银行欺骗客户,以及贝尔斯登公司因对手不道德竞争而破产,这些都是为了证明一个观点:“如果你想在金融界挣钱,而且是挣大钱的话,就得寻找各种方式来打击你的客户、竞争对手以及政府。”个中顶级高手能够一次性把三者都搞定。

    就像威瑞拉斯所说的那样,这类市场操控是危险的,而且会对它所剥削的人带来最直接伤害。当金融界上层建筑中的顶端人士赚得盆满钵盈时,无尽的风险和损失却被抛给了中层和底层员工。

    说到金融界“如何侵蚀消费者的收入,剥夺生产商和商人的营收”,在社会学家肯-候•林(Ken-Hou Lin)和梅根•尼利(Megan Tobias Neely)看来,高利率信用卡、房贷和车贷只不过是危害程度最低的手段。在《剥离:金融时代的不公平性》(Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance)一书中,林和尼利认为,如今“金钱的唯一意义在于赚更多的钱”,而不是创造有价值的事物。与此同时,有关个人债务的严密网络已经取代了社会安全网,让很多人陷入更加不稳定的财务状况。这两位作者称,过多的利润、薪资和分红“并非来源于该领域对经济的贡献,而是通过市场力量的集中,对政治手段的利用,以及对公共政策的私人斡旋”。因此金融产品的普通消费者实际上是在花大钱赚小钱,与自由市场理应提供的回报截然相反。

    当前呈现出的一个总体画面是,财富正在被重新分配,从穷人和中产阶级手中向公司和超级富有人群转移,而后者则会利用获得的这些财富进一步巩固其优势。从历史上来看,这一进程从来没有自行逆转过。说到历史教训,既有好消息也有坏消息。好消息在于,纵观整个历史,当不平等和经济失调触及危机点时,人类通常会成功地进行改革。坏消息在于,改革通常发生在剧烈的动荡之后。

    《资本与意识形态》(Capital and Ideology)一书是托马斯•皮克提(Thomas Piketty)对“理念和话语在交替辩护和质疑社会不公平性时所发挥的中心作用”进行的权威调查。这本书提醒我们,政治反抗、金融崩塌以及战争是推动变革的因素,不妨想想法国大革命、大萧条和二战。皮克提说,为了解决极端不平衡问题,“社会需要相关体制能够周期性地重新定义和再分配财产权。”如果缺乏这些举措,或这些举措以失败告终,这种情况“只会提升更暴力、更低效补救行动发生的概率”。

    因此,如何看待那些渺茫的新希望?这里提到的所有经济学家和历史学家都认为,最重要的一个举措就是重新为政府赋权,尽管他们就赋权方式产生了分歧,比如是提高监管效率、采取累进税制、收取财产税还是其他方式。亨德森写道,“总之,市场需要有成熟的监管机制。”

    但除非政治瘫痪或监管俘获(regulatory capture)魔法般地消失,否则就得靠高瞻远瞩的商业领袖来灭火。亨德森列举了一些鼓舞人心的案例(与《破坏力》一书的案例相对应),在这些案例中,以目的为导向的高管成功为多个利益相关方创造了价值,而且没有贪婪地去榨取、剥削或造成环境破坏。

    而这便是她对拯救资本主义开出的核心药方。她希望管理者能够用更好的工具来衡量业务的真实(通常是隐藏)成本,并制定更加细化、包容性的指标,来倒逼整个体制在动荡发生之前进行重新校准。私人部门的领导者,尤其是那些数十年来因市场的低效价值创造和财富分配而获益匪浅的人士,应该在这一过程中身先士卒。
 
英文原文
 
Roughly two-thirds of the way through Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire, Rebecca Henderson’s prescription for reversing some of the damage business has done in the past half-century, the Harvard Business School professor rates the chances that environmentally iffy industries might effectively self-regulate. “This is a story of hope followed by despair,” she says, “followed by the glimmerings of renewed hope.”

That pretty much sums up the sweep of emotion I felt recently as I curled up with some sobering, often damning nonfiction on the current state of capitalism and finance. In my head, the working title of this article went from the chirpy “Fixing Capitalism” to the slightly panicked “Can Capitalism Be Fixed?” to the downright baroque “Capitalism Sure as Heck Better Fix Itself, Because No One Else Can, So Here Are Some Last-Ditch Ideas.”

For anyone still unsure that big, important things are now broken, several new titles paint a convincing portrait of grossly unsustainable inequality, corrupt political processes, and a looming crisis—much of it stemming from a financial system that for 40 years or so has prioritized short-term profit over all else and systematically removed any checks on its own worst impulses in pursuit of that goal.

How Money Became Dangerous reminds us that the financial sector was once a quaint service industry, humbly facilitating the greater economy’s stability and growth. The banker Christopher Varelas, who began a long career at Salomon Brothers as a summer intern in 1989, takes us on an autobiographical, picaresque tour of modern finance’s original sins (written with Dan Stone), showing, for example, how the shift from private partnerships to public corporations irresistibly tempted banks to make bigger and bigger bets with what was now other people’s money. “Should we be expected to be good,” Varelas asks early on, “if no longer constrained by the threat of losing one’s own capital?” His answer is yes, but he and his fellow bankers wrestle with exactly how to be good in a system that incentivizes greed.

After all, in less-scrupulous hands this dynamic has led directly, if unsurprisingly, to some very bad behavior. In Sabotage: The Hidden Nature of Finance, the political economists Anastasia Nesvetailova and Ronen Palan of City, University of London point out that a truly efficient, fair, and competitive market would provide little opportunity for profits beyond operating costs; therefore companies—or, more precisely, their leaders—strive to win by bending, breaking, or changing the rules. These authors offer some delectably vile case studies, from the Royal Bank of Scotland’s swindling of its own customers to Bear Stearns’s demise at the hands of unethical rivals, to illustrate the point: “[I]f you want to make money—real money—in finance, you need to find ways of sabotaging either your clients, your competitors or the government.” The highest achievers here manage to sabotage all three of them at once.

To return to Varelas’s adjective, this type of market manipulation is dangerous, and most immediately so to the people it exploits. While those at the very top of the finance superstructure have enjoyed huge gains, inordinate amounts of risk and loss have been offloaded onto middle- and lower-class workers.

High-interest credit cards, mortgages, and car loans are the least-exotic examples of how finance, in the words of the sociologists Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely, “nips income away from consumers and revenue away from the producers and merchants.” In Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance, Lin and Neely argue that today “the sole purpose of money is to make more money,” as opposed to creating something of value. Meanwhile, “spider webs” of personal debt have replaced the social safety net, leaving a great many of us in a more-precarious financial position. Outsize profits, salaries, and bonuses “are not driven by this sector’s contributions to the economy,” the authors add, “but by the concentration of market power, political entanglement, and the private intermediation of public policies.” So the average consumers of financial products are, in effect, paying a lot more for a lot less—the exact opposite of what free markets are thought to deliver.

The overall picture that emerges is one in which wealth is being redistributed—from the poor and the middle class to corporations and the superrich, who use the spoils to further cement their advantage. Historically, this process has not reversed on its own. Looking to the past for guidance, we can find good news and bad news. The good news: Throughout history, inequality and economic dysfunction have swelled to crisis points, and we’ve usually managed to reform. The bad news: That has generally happened after a violent rupture.

In Capital and Ideology, Thomas Piketty’s magisterial survey of the central role that ideas and discourse have played in alternately justifying and questioning societies’ inequities, we are reminded that political uprisings, financial collapses, and wars—think the French Revolution, the Great Depression, and World War II—are what drive change. To address extreme inequality, Piketty says, “societies need institutions capable of periodically redefining and redistributing property rights.” If those are lacking, or fail, it “only increases the likelihood of more violent but less effective remedies.”

So, about those glimmerings of renewed hope? All the economists and historians mentioned here agree that the single most important step is re-empowering governments, though they diverge on whether that means more-effective regulation, progressive taxation, wealth taxes, or other measures. “In a nutshell, markets require adult supervision,” Henderson writes.

But unless political paralysis and regulatory capture somehow magically disappear, it will be up to future-minded business leaders to start putting out the inferno. Henderson offers inspiring case studies (counterpoints to those in Sabotage) of purpose-driven executives who manage to create value for multiple stakeholders (including, yes, shareholders) without rapacious extraction, exploitation, or environmental damage.

And this is the heart of her fix for capitalism. She wants managers to have better tools for measuring businesses’ true (too often hidden) costs and more-nuanced, inclusive metrics for describing success. The message is clear: It will take good, determined individuals to force the system to recalibrate before an upheaval. Private-sector leaders—especially those who have profited from the market’s decades of inefficient value creation and wealth distribution—should be leading the charge.


 
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