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馬克思主義回歸?貧富差距爭論回到原點

Christopher Matthews 2014年04月24日

托馬斯?皮凱蒂撰寫的《21世紀的資本》在經濟學界引起了轟動,它讓馬克思主義理論再次流行起來。那就是,如果不采取行動,資本主義就會自我毀滅。換句話說,全球財富和收入差距的擴大其實是資本主義經濟的常態,只有在全球范圍內征收財富稅才能縮小貧富差距。

????法國經濟學家托馬斯?皮凱蒂這些天來過得相當舒服。上周三晚上,經濟學家保羅?克魯格曼和約瑟夫?斯蒂格利茨都高度評價了皮凱蒂撰寫的《21世紀的資本》(Capital in the Twenty-First Century)——兩人都屬于全球經濟學界最知名的群體,一共獲得過三次諾貝爾經濟學獎。

????也許,皮凱蒂更愿意看到這本讓他這么受關注的書給人們帶來好一點兒的消息。但經濟學家成名的原因往往不是告訴公眾一切安好。這本600多頁的書當然也不會傳遞出這樣的信息——它以令人信服的方式告誡讀者,過去幾十年中,全球財富和收入差距擴大的局面實際上就是資本主義經濟的常態,而且今后這種趨勢還會繼續下去。

????這本書的題目效仿了卡爾?馬克思著名的資本主義批判理論。馬克思認為,資本主義社會的財富集中無可避免,皮凱蒂的分析證明了這條思路的正確性。皮凱蒂采用了最近幾年自己和同行們的研究成果,這些同行包括牛津(Oxford)大學教授安東尼?阿特金森和加州大學伯克利(Berkeley)分校教授艾曼努爾?賽斯。皮凱蒂用這些研究成果表明,富裕國家的收入和貧富差距正在拉大。他還指出,二戰后經濟領域的分配情況較為平均是一種反常現象,除非政府出臺相關政策,否則這種局面就不會再次出現。

????上周三晚上,紐約市立大學(CUNY)畢業生中心舉行了一場辯論會,出席者包括皮凱蒂、克魯格曼、斯蒂格利茨以及威斯康星大學(University of Wisconsin)經濟學家史蒂文?杜爾拉夫。他們對《21世紀的資本》(Capital)中的部分觀點進行了提煉,同時指出了它的不足之處。

????皮凱蒂的同事們都積極評價這本書。克魯格曼把它譽為經濟學領域的“統一場理論”,并稱其中的研究融合了經濟增長、資本和勞動力之間的收入分配以及收入差距。斯蒂格利茨對這本書也持同樣的觀點。他說,美國實現了人們在各個階層之間的流動,如果這本書以美國社會的這個優點為基礎,就無法讓美國人注意到貧富差距正在擴大。但美國的社會流動性接近全球最低水平。

????杜爾拉夫充當了辯論會上的批評者,他從更為技術性的層面指出了皮凱蒂論述中的漏洞,比如皮凱蒂不同意工資的“邊際產品理論”(這項理論的基本內容是,工人得到的報酬取決于他們對商業企業的邊際貢獻),但他沒有提出其他理論來予以替代。杜爾拉夫還說,皮凱蒂應該花更多的時間來探討造成貧富和收入差距拉大的原因是否應該是技術,而不是資本主義本身。

????和保守派經濟學家格雷格?曼昆以及凱文?哈西特提出的觀點一樣,杜爾拉夫的意見絲毫不能改變這樣一個事實,那就是,富裕國家的稅前收入和貧富差距正在迅速擴大。舉例來說,曼昆認為政府補貼、社會保障和福利等因素提高了人們的稅后收入,因此,皮凱蒂列舉的貧富差距拉大證據不應該受到重視。但這些因素恰恰表明,政府已經開始通過重新分配財富來解決貧富差距擴大的問題。

????皮凱蒂認為,需要通過在全球范圍內征收財富稅來縮小貧富差距。對此,來自美國企業研究所(American Enterprise Institute)的凱文?哈西特提出了最有意思的反駁意見。哈西特指出,過去二、三十年來,全球貧富差距縮小的幅度和富裕國家貧富差距拉大的幅度相仿,如果在全球范圍內研究這個問題,那么在貧富差距縮小的情況下似乎沒有必要征收財富稅。哈西特還認為,要點在于,發達國家的人們不要以自身為中心來觀察整個資本主義世界,他們不應該忽視這樣一個事實,那就是30年來資本主義體制讓如此之多的人擺脫了貧困。

????但對皮凱蒂的所有批評都沒能證明各個國家的稅前收入和貧富差距沒有擴大。換句話說,這本書已經讓爭論的焦點從貧富差距是否帶來了問題發生了轉變,變成了我們究竟應該怎么應對貧富差距。(財富中文網)

????譯者:Charlie

????Life's pretty good these days for French economist Thomas Piketty, who spent Wednesday evening having his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, lavishly praised by two of the world's most famous economists -- Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz -- who just happen to own three Nobel Prizes between them.

????Piketty would probably prefer that the book that is garnering him such attention were the bearer of better news. But economists don't tend to gain renown by assuring the public that everything is A-Okay. That is certainly not the message of Capital, a 600-plus page work that convincingly warns readers that rising global wealth and income inequality over the past generation is actually the norm for capitalist economies, and that we should expect that trend to continue in the years to come.

????The title of the book is an allusion to Karl Marx's famous critique of capitalism, and Piketty's analysis shows that Marx was right to believe that wealth concentration would inexorably increase in capitalist societies. Piketty draws upon work he and colleagues like Anthony Atkinson of Oxford and Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley have done in recent years to show that income and wealth inequality are increasing in the rich world, and to argue that the more egalitarian economic distribution seen after World War II was an anomaly that we can't expect to return to unless we implement government policies to bring it about.

????A debate on Wednesday evening at CUNY's The Graduate Center featuring Piketty, Krugman, Stiglitz, and University of Wisconsin economist Steven Durlauf helped distill some of the ideas presented in Capital, and to critique its weaker points.

????Piketty's colleagues were quick to praise the book. Krugman lauded it as a "unified field theory" of economics which joins together the study of economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and income inequality. Stiglitz was equally taken by the work, arguing that Americans would not be bothered by increased inequality if it were based on merit within a society that enables class mobility. But the U.S. is near the bottom when it comes to social mobility.

????Durlauf played the role of the critic in the debate, poking holes in some of the more technical aspects of Piketty's argument, like his dismissal of the "marginal product theory" of wages (which basically asserts that a worker is paid based on his marginal contribution to a commercial enterprise) without suggesting some theory to replace it. He also suggested that Piketty should spend more time thinking about whether technology could be the reason, rather than capitalism itself, for growing disparities in wealth and income.

????This critique, like those that have been offered by conservative economists Greg Mankiw and Kevin Hassett, doesn't do anything to challenge the evidence that pre-tax income and wealth inequality is growing very quickly in the rich world. Mankiw, for instance, has argued that things like government subsidies, social security, and welfare have increased people's after-tax income, so Piketty's evidence of rising inequality shouldn't be taken seriously. But such programs just show that the government is already responding to increased inequality by redistributing wealth.

????The most interesting argument against Piketty's idea that a global wealth tax is needed to combat inequality comes from Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute. He points out that the rise in inequality in the wealthy world over the past generation has been matched by similarly striking reductions in global inequality, and if we are studying this issue on a global scale, this reduction in inequality makes the need for a global wealth tax seem unnecessary. Hassett also believes it's important for those of us in the developed world to not take a self-centered view of global capitalism, and that we should be hesitant to mess with a system that has brought so many people out of poverty over the past 30 years.

????But none of Piketty's critics have been able to disprove the rise in pre-tax wealth and income inequality on a national level. Capital, in other words, has shifted the debate from the question of whether inequality is a problem to what exactly we should do about it.

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