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The Fall and Rise of the West

The Western World will ultimately arises from the crisis.

废话。


The Fall and Rise of the West

January/February 2013 Roger C. Altman

— Why America and Europe Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis

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Raise the roof: a worker building a home in Joplin, Missouri, May 2012. (Eric Thayer / Courtesy Reuters)

The 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed have had devastating effects on the U.S. economy and millions of American lives. But the U.S. economy will emerge from its trauma stronger and widely restructured. Europe should eventually experience a similar strengthening, although its future is less certain and its recovery will take longer to develop. The United States is much further along because its financial crisis struck three years before Europe’s, in 2008, causing headwinds that have pressured it ever since. It will take another two to three years for these to subside, but after that, U.S. economic growth should outperform expectations. In contrast, Europe is still in the midst of its financial crisis. If historical logic prevails there, it will take four to six years for strong European growth to materialize.

Such strengthening in both regions will occur for one major reason: the crisis years have triggered wide economic restructuring. Sweeping changes in government finances, banking systems, and manufacturing are under way, as are structural reforms in labor markets. All this is proving once again that global capital markets, the most powerful economic force on earth, can effect changes beyond the capacity of normal political processes. And in this case, they can refute all the forecasts of Western economic decline. Indeed, in the years ahead, the United States and Europe could once again become locomotives for global economic growth.

This is not to say that the crises were worth the pain; they most definitely were not. There is palpable suffering on both sides of the Atlantic due to unemployment and government austerity measures. It is tragic that so many people have lost their jobs and will never recover them. And it is socially corrosive that the crises have accentuated existing trends toward greater income inequality. But these events happened, and the subject being addressed here is their long-term impact.

The U.S. economy has been expanding — albeit in fits and starts — since the recession’s trough, in June 2009. Europe, however, is on an entirely different timetable. Unlike those in the United States, Europe’s financial systems did not implode in 2008. There were severe problems in Ireland and the United Kingdom, but capital markets did not revolt against Europe as a whole, and thus there was not a large fiscal or monetary response. It was not until 2012, when the sovereign debt and banking crises hit the continent in full force, that the eurozone confronted problems comparable to those that had afflicted the U.S. economy in 2008–9. As of today, therefore, the eurozone’s GDP is still shrinking, and its recession may not have bottomed out yet. Having experienced its crisis first, the United States now faces a shorter path to recovery. Yet if European countries can restructure their economies to the degree that the United States has, there will be cause for optimism.

The economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have argued that periods of economic recovery after financial crises are slower, longer, and more turbulent than those following recessions induced by the business cycle. The painfully slow recovery in the United States and the sharp economic stress in Europe corroborate this thesis. But history is filled with examples of countries whose economies grew stronger after financial implosions. Following the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, South Korea accepted a tough bailout package from the International Monetary Fund, strengthened its financial system, and increased the flexibility of its labor markets; soon thereafter, it enjoyed an economic boom. In Mexico, the economy has performed well ever since the collapse of the peso and the U.S. rescue package of 1994. A similar phenomenon occurred in parts of Latin America following the sovereign debt crises there in the late 1980s. Although these financial crises were far smaller than the 2008 collapse in the United States, they followed the same pattern, with capital markets rejecting the old order — and then inducing major economic restructuring.

RESTRUCTURING AMERICA

Why will the recent crises eventually strengthen the U.S. and European economies? In the United States, a resurgent housing sector, a revolution in energy production, a remodeled banking system, and a more efficient manufacturing industry will fuel a boom. Meanwhile, the reelection of President Barack Obama and the looming “fiscal cliff” have increased the prospects of a grand bargain on deficit reduction and a solution to the country’s debt problem.

First, after suffering a catastrophic collapse, the U.S. housing market is now poised for major, multiyear growth. Historically, when the U.S. housing sector has been pushed down far enough for long enough periods of time, it has eventually rebounded to very high levels. Before the recent crisis, the housing bubble had inflated so much that when it finally burst, the sector truly collapsed. Between 2000 and 2004, an average of 1.4 million single-family homes were built per year, but that number declined to 500,000 after the crisis and remained there until recently. Sales of new homes, which averaged 900,000 per year during the bubble, fell by two-thirds after the bubble popped. And overall residential investment, which accounted for four percent of U.S. GDP from 1980 to 2005, has averaged only 2.5 percent since 2008.

Although the housing collapse meant disaster for millions of homeowners who could not service their mortgages, it also cleared out the abuses and excesses that had plagued the sector for years. As a result, U.S. banks have spent the last few years improving their mortgage-underwriting standards and securitization markets, and household attitudes toward mortgages and home-equity financing have become healthier. Now, the housing sector has finally turned a corner, with a key home price index — the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite — rising by eight percent since March 2012. The levels of relevant supply have fallen sharply (in other words, fewer homes are for sale), mortgage credit is more readily available, and population growth, coupled with a recovery in household-formation rates, is likely to drive high demand — all of which means that house prices are bound to keep growing. These factors are likely to boost total residential investment, which includes new construction and home remodeling, by 15–20 percent over the next five years. This change alone could add one percentage point to annual U.S. GDP growth and as many as four million new jobs to the economy.

Second, new technologies are producing a spectacular turnaround in U.S. oil and gas production. Advanced seismic techniques and innovative approaches to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have opened energy deposits that were previously unknown or inaccessible. The result has been a dramatic recovery of both the natural gas and the oil industries. In 2012, U.S. natural gas output reached 65 billion cubic feet per day, which is 25 percent higher than it was five years ago and an all-time record. Shale gas accounted for much of this increase. Meanwhile, U.S. oil output has soared. It is estimated that in 2012 alone, the production of oil and other liquid hydrocarbons, such as biofuels, rose by seven percent, to 10.9 million barrels per day. This marks the largest single-year increase since 1951.

Moving forward, the U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that American liquid hydrocarbon production will rise another 500,000 barrels in 2013, and the International Energy Agency projects that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by about 2017. Overall, this energy boom could add three percent to U.S. GDP over the next decade, in addition to as many as three million direct and indirect jobs, almost all of which will pay high wages. The United States could cut its oil imports by one-third, improving its balance-of-payments deficit. Also, the higher natural gas output will reduce the average consumer’s utility bill by almost $1,000 per year, representing a further stimulus to the U.S. economy. And the American public’s hunger for economic recovery and jobs has softened opposition to this energy revolution.

Third, negative publicity aside, the U.S. banking system has been recapitalized and thoroughly restructured since 2008. No one could have reasonably imagined the speed of the improvements in banks’ capital and liquidity ratios that have occurred since then. The largest banks have consistently passed the rigorous stress tests administered by the U.S. Federal Reserve, and, surprisingly, they are well ahead of schedule in meeting their required capital ratios under the Basel III international regulatory framework. Midsize banks are in even better shape. Although the job is not yet finished, these institutions have rapidly rid themselves of their troubled legacy assets, especially mortgage-backed securities. Both large and midsize banks have divested from broad swaths of assets and raised substantial new capital from public and private sources. In many cases, moreover, they have revamped their management teams and boards of directors. In light of these changes, the earlier, acute concerns about the financial stability of U.S. banks have largely dissipated.

In fact, banks are already lending aggressively again to both businesses and consumers. According to the Federal Reserve, outstanding loans to U.S. businesses now total $1.45 trillion, having increased at double-digit rates for each of the past four quarters. This number is still below the 2008 peak, but the gap is closing quickly. In terms of consumer credit, the previous record high was surpassed in 2011, and the total rose by another three to four percent in 2012. All this credit is boosting GDP growth, and the banking sector is likely to expand its loan totals consistently over the next few years.

Fourth, the Great Recession has quietly spurred greater efficiencies in the U.S. manufacturing sector. Unit production costs are down by 11 percent in the United States compared with ten years ago, even as they continue to rise in many other industrialized countries. And the differences between U.S. and Chinese labor costs are narrowing. The U.S. economy has added half a million new manufacturing jobs since 2010, and this growth should persist for a number of years. The transformation of the U.S. manufacturing sector is perhaps best reflected in the auto industry. In 2005, U.S. automakers’ hourly labor costs were 40 percent higher than those of foreign producers that operate plants in the United States. But today, these costs are virtually identical, and the Big Three — Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors — have regained market share in North America.

The resurgence of the housing and energy sectors will also positively affect the manufacturing industry. Given that the outlook for residential construction is so strong — and considering that new homes contain so many manufactured products — further manufacturing job growth is a near certainty. Moreover, decreasing natural gas prices will aid the petrochemical sector and all types of manufacturing that use this fuel.

Finally, although there are no guarantees, the chances that Washington will fix the national debt problem have increased. With Obama citing deficit reduction as the foremost goal of his second term — and with election results that were unfavorable to Republicans, whose anti-tax position now lacks public sanction — the prospects for a decisive deficit-reduction agreement have improved. If this occurs in 2013, it will provide a further boost to business and investor confidence, as well as to overall private investment.

HOPE FOR EUROPE

In Europe, there is less evidence, so far, that economies will emerge stronger from the crisis years. This is largely because after a sharp dip in 2008, Europe was recovering until the eurozone’s twin sovereign debt and banking crises struck in 2011. Furthermore, compared with that of the United States, the amount of economic restructuring required in Europe is deeper and harder to achieve. In part, this reflects the sheer complexity of the European Union, which is composed of 27 very different countries. It is also an outgrowth of the inherently inflexible, sclerotic nature of many European economies.

Therefore, the consequences of the European crisis and the question of whether it will truly lead to wide-scale restructuring remain unclear. Nevertheless, it is logical that large and positive changes could emerge, and a few encouraging signs are already visible. The eurozone has been fitfully moving toward fiscal union and banking reform. Across the EU, economies are boosting their productivity and making their exports more competitive, and governments are reining in their public sectors.

There are also precedents within Europe of restructuring and strengthening after major financial crises, such as Sweden’s experience in the 1990s. In that case, a credit and real estate boom coincided with a long period of public-sector expansion and a debt-to-GDP ratio of around 80 percent. Sweden, at the time, was widely considered the model of the European welfare state. In 1992, however, its banking system collapsed and unemployment rose to 12 percent, triggering wide-ranging economic, fiscal, and banking reform. Stockholm raised taxes, deregulated the electricity and telecommunications sectors, and slashed federal spending, including on pensions and unemployment benefits. All these steps improved Swedish competitiveness and boosted GDP growth, which rebounded to four percent two years later, in 1994.

In the eurozone today, governments are making tentative progress. Consider, for a start, the fiscal side, where there has been movement toward instituting a central fiscal authority with meaningful control over budgets and debt on a country-by-country basis. The eurozone members will probably not accord the eventual fiscal union with the legal authority to completely reject national budgets. Still, if it has credibility in financial markets, the fiscal union will possess real power, because its expressions of disapproval could induce punitive reactions from those markets.

Second, the eurozone’s decision to give the European Central Bank supervision over the continent’s largest private banks is also a major step forward. As a result of this move, these banks will finally be regulated in a modern, transparent, and independent fashion — a far cry from the present situation, in which weak local overseers coddle the banks. It also moves the European Central Bank closer to the more powerful and flexible model of the U.S. Federal Reserve. This is an essential change.

To fully repair its banking system, the eurozone needs an entity similar to the United States’ Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, and the recapitalization of Spain’s banks is a first step in that direction. The EU’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, is providing Spanish banks with capital conditional on an overall cleanup of their balance sheets. If this approach were adopted throughout Europe, it would ultimately produce a healthier financial system.

Third, some countries in Europe are in the process of improving their structural productivity problems, which were a major, albeit less widely noted, contributor to the crisis. It looks increasingly possible that the least competitive European economies, mainly located along the continent’s southern periphery, will make substantial improvements in productivity. Without local currencies to depreciate, these countries have been cutting costs through internal devaluations, which involve cutting labor inputs. In Greece, Portugal, and Spain — the eurozone countries under the most financial pressure — unit labor costs have fallen significantly since 2010. These countries have also initiated crucial labor-market reforms, such as curbing minimum-wage requirements and eliminating restrictions on hiring, firing, and severance. Ireland’s path is instructive. After the Irish banking system collapsed in 2008, Dublin cut manufacturing costs sharply and boosted productivity. Today, just a few years removed from its crisis, Ireland is again one of the most efficient places in Europe for production.

Fourth, exports in the peripheral countries — which have long labored under large trade deficits with Germany and other northern European states — are regaining their competitiveness. As a result, Italy, Portugal, and Spain now enjoy reduced deficits in both trade and their current accounts, reflecting the lower costs of their exports and a weaker euro. In Greece, despite the severity of that country’s economic fall, the absolute level of exports has returned to pre-crisis levels.

Finally, by beginning to trim their public sectors, eurozone governments are playing an important role in the continent’s economic renewal, as these spending cuts will create more room for the private sector to grow. According to the European Commission, the collective deficit of the 17 members of the eurozone fell to 4.1 percent of GDP in 2011, a significant decrease from the 6.2 percent figure in 2010. Moreover, the broader EU saw its collective deficit cut by one-third in 2011. To be sure, many of the European countries’ deficit-to-GDP ratios remain well above the official target of three percent, and debt actually grew faster than GDP in the eurozone as a whole last year. Still, pressure from financial markets should continue to shrink European public sectors into the future.

Throughout modern history, severe financial crises have caused great pain to vulnerable segments of affected societies, but they have also often strengthened underlying economies. Both of these countervailing phenomena are asserting themselves in the United States today. Europe is inherently more fragile, but initial evidence suggests that the same dynamic is occurring there. If this historical pattern holds true, the United States and Europe could defy conventional wisdom and again lead growth in the world economy.

Comment

Broken BRICs

Ruchir Sharma

The most talked-about global economic trend in recent years has been “the rise of the rest,” with Brazil, Russia, India, and China leading the charge. But international economic convergence is a myth. Few countries can sustain unusually fast growth for a decade, and even fewer, for more than that. Now that the boom years are over, the BRICs are crumbling; the international order will change less than expected.

Essay

The True Lessons of the Recession

Raghuram G. Rajan

Most experts think the global recession was caused by a collapse in demand — and so, in good Keynesian fashion, they want governments to ramp up spending to compensate. But the West’s recent growth was dependent on borrowing. Going even further into debt now won’t help; instead, countries need to address the underlying flaws in their economies.

Can America Be Fixed?

The future is clear. “All they have to do is look at Japan”.

But where is the action?


Can America Be Fixed?

January/February 2013 Fareed Zakaria

— The New Crisis of Democracy

Can America be Fixed-1

We built that: President Barack Obama visiting the Hoover Dam, October 2, 2012. (Kevin Lamarque / Courtesy Reuters)

In November, the American electorate, deeply unhappy with Washington and its political gridlock, voted to maintain precisely the same distribution of power — returning President Barack Obama for a second term and restoring a Democratic Senate and a Republican House of Representatives. With at least the electoral uncertainty out of the way, attention quickly turned to how the country’s lawmakers would address the immediate crisis known as the fiscal cliff — the impending end-of-year tax increases and government spending cuts mandated by earlier legislation.

As the United States continues its slow but steady recovery from the depths of the financial crisis, nobody actually wants a massive austerity package to shock the economy back into recession, and so the odds have always been high that the game of budgetary chicken will stop short of disaster. Looming past the cliff, however, is a deep chasm that poses a much greater challenge — the retooling of the country’s economy, society, and government necessary for the United States to perform effectively in the twenty-first century. The focus in Washington now is on taxing and cutting; it should be on reforming and investing. The United States needs serious change in its fiscal, entitlement, infrastructure, immigration, and education policies, among others. And yet a polarized and often paralyzed Washington has pushed dealing with these problems off into the future, which will only make them more difficult and expensive to solve.

Studies show that the political divisions in Washington are at their worst since the years following the Civil War. Twice in the last three years, the world’s leading power — with the largest economy, the global reserve currency, and a dominant leadership role in all international institutions — has come close to committing economic suicide. The American economy remains extremely dynamic. But one has to wonder whether the U.S. political system is capable of making the changes that will ensure continued success in a world of greater global competition and technological change. Is the current predicament, in other words, really a crisis of democracy?

That phrase might sound familiar. By the mid-1970s, growth was stagnating and inflation skyrocketing across the West. Vietnam and Watergate had undermined faith in political institutions and leaders, and newly empowered social activists were challenging establishments across the board. In a 1975 report from the Trilateral Commission entitled The Crisis of Democracy, distinguished scholars from the United States, Europe, and Japan argued that the democratic governments of the industrial world had simply lost their ability to function, overwhelmed by the problems they confronted. The section on the United States, written by the political scientist Samuel Huntington, was particularly gloomy.

We know how that worked out: within several years, inflation was tamed, the American economy boomed, and confidence was restored. A decade later, it was communism and the Soviet Union that collapsed, not capitalism and the West. So much for the pessimists.

And yet just over two decades further on, the advanced industrial democracies are once again filled with gloom. In Europe, economic growth has stalled, the common currency is in danger, and there is talk that the union itself might split up. Japan has had seven prime ministers in ten years, as the political system splinters, the economy stagnates, and the country slips further into decline. But the United States, given its global role, presents perhaps the most worrying case.

Is there a new crisis of democracy? Certainly, the American public seems to think so. Anger with politicians and institutions of government is much greater than it was in 1975. According to American National Election Studies polls, in 1964, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time.” By the late 1970s, that number had dropped to the high 40s. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In January 2010, it had fallen to 19 percent.

Commentators are prone to seeing the challenges of the moment in unnecessarily apocalyptic terms. It is possible that these problems, too, will pass, that the West will muddle through somehow until it faces yet another set of challenges a generation down the road, which will again be described in an overly dramatic fashion. But it is also possible that the public is onto something. The crisis of democracy, from this perspective, never really went away; it was just papered over with temporary solutions and obscured by a series of lucky breaks. Today, the problems have mounted, and yet American democracy is more dysfunctional and commands less authority than ever — and it has fewer levers to pull in a globalized economy. This time, the pessimists might be right.

TRENDING NOW

The mid-1970s predictions of doom for Western democracy were undone by three broad economic trends: the decline of inflation, the information revolution, and globalization. In the 1970s, the world was racked by inflation, with rates stretching from low double digits in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to 200 percent in countries such as Brazil and Turkey. In 1979, Paul Volcker became chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and within a few years, his policies had broken the back of American inflation. Central banks across the world began following the Fed’s example, and soon, inflation was declining everywhere.

Technological advancement has been around for centuries, but beginning in the 1980s, the widespread use of computers and then the Internet began to transform every aspect of the economy. The information revolution led to increased productivity and growth in the United States and around the world, and the revolution looks to be a permanent one.

Late in that decade, partly because the information revolution put closed economies and societies at an even greater disadvantage, the Soviet empire collapsed, and soon the Soviet Union itself followed. This allowed the Western system of interconnected free markets and societies to spread across most of the world — a process that became known as globalization. Countries with command or heavily planned economies and societies opened up and began participating in a single global market, adding vigor to both themselves and the system at large. In 1979, 75 countries were growing by at least four percent a year; in 2007, just before the financial crisis hit, the number had risen to 127.

These trends not only destroyed the East but also benefited the West. Low inflation and the information revolution enabled Western economies to grow more quickly, and globalization opened up vast new markets filled with cheap labor for Western companies to draw on and sell to. The result was a rebirth of American confidence and an expansion of the global economy with an unchallenged United States at the center. A generation on, however, the Soviet collapse is a distant memory, low inflation has become the norm, and further advances in globalization and information technology are now producing as many challenges for the West as opportunities.

The jobs and wages of American workers, for example, have come under increasing pressure. A 2011 study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that from the late 1940s until 1990, every recession and recovery in the United States followed a simple pattern. First, GDP recovered to its pre-recession level, and then, six months later (on average), the employment rate followed. But then, that pattern was broken. After the recession of the early 1990s, the employment rate returned to its pre-recession level 15 months after GDP did. In the early part of the next decade, it took 39 months. And in the current recovery, it appears that the employment rate will return to its pre-recession level a full 60 months — five years — after GDP did. The same trends that helped spur growth in the past are now driving a new normal, with jobless growth and declining wages.

MAGIC MONEY

The broad-based growth of the post-World War II era slowed during the mid-1970s and has never fully returned. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland recently noted that in the United States, real GDP growth peaked in the early 1960s at more than four percent, dropped to below three percent in the late 1970s, and recovered somewhat in the 1980s only to drop further in recent years down to its current two percent. Median incomes, meanwhile, have barely risen over the last 40 years. Rather than tackle the underlying problems or accept lower standards of living, the United States responded by taking on debt. From the 1980s on, Americans have consumed more than they have produced, and they have made up the difference by borrowing.

President Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981 as a monetarist and acolyte of Milton Friedman, arguing for small government and balanced budgets. But he governed as a Keynesian, pushing through large tax cuts and a huge run-up in defense spending. (Tax cuts are just as Keynesian as government spending; both pump money into the economy and increase aggregate demand.) Reagan ended his years in office with inflation-adjusted federal spending 20 percent higher than when he started and with a skyrocketing federal deficit. For the 20 years before Reagan, the deficit was under two percent of GDP. In Reagan’s two terms, it averaged over four percent of GDP. Apart from a brief period in the late 1990s, when the Clinton administration actually ran a surplus, the federal deficit has stayed above the three percent mark ever since; it is currently seven percent.

John Maynard Keynes’ advice was for governments to spend during busts but save during booms. In recent decades, elected governments have found it hard to save at any time. They have run deficits during busts and during booms, as well. The U.S. Federal Reserve has kept rates low in bad times but also in good ones. It’s easy to blame politicians for such one-handed Keynesianism, but the public is as much at fault. In poll after poll, Americans have voiced their preferences: they want low taxes and lots of government services. Magic is required to satisfy both demands simultaneously, and it turned out magic was available, in the form of cheap credit. The federal government borrowed heavily, and so did all other governments — state, local, and municipal — and the American people themselves. Household debt rose from $665 billion in 1974 to $13 trillion today. Over that period, consumption, fueled by cheap credit, went up and stayed up.

Other rich democracies have followed the same course. In 1980, the United States’ gross government debt was 42 percent of its total GDP; it is now 107 percent. During the same period, the comparable figure for the United Kingdom moved from 46 percent to 88 percent. Most European governments (including notoriously frugal Germany) now have debt-to-GDP levels that hover around 80 percent, and some, such as Greece and Italy, have ones that are much higher. In 1980, Japan’s gross government debt was 50 percent of GDP; today, it is 236 percent.

The world has turned upside down. It used to be thought that developing countries would have high debt loads, because they would borrow heavily to finance their rapid growth from low income levels. Rich countries, growing more slowly from high income levels, would have low debt loads and much greater stability. But look at the G-20 today, a group that includes the largest countries from both the developed and the developing worlds. The average debt-to-GDP ratio for the developing countries is 35 percent; for the rich countries, it is over three times as high.

REFORM AND INVEST

When Western governments and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund offer advice to developing countries on how to spur growth, they almost always advocate structural reforms that will open up sectors of their economies to competition, allow labor to move freely between jobs, eliminate wasteful and economically distorting government subsidies, and focus government spending on pro-growth investment. When facing their own problems, however, those same Western countries have been loath to follow their own advice.

Current discussions about how to restore growth in Europe tend to focus on austerity, with economists debating the pros and cons of cutting deficits. Austerity is clearly not working, but it is just as clear that with debt burdens already at close to 90 percent of GDP, European countries cannot simply spend their way out of their current crisis. What they really need are major structural reforms designed to make themselves more competitive, coupled with some investments for future growth.

Not least because it boasts the world’s reserve currency, the United States has more room to maneuver than Europe. But it, too, needs to change. It has a gargantuan tax code that, when all its rules and regulations are included, totals 73,000 pages; a burdensome litigation system; and a crazy patchwork of federal, state, and local regulations. U.S. financial institutions, for example, are often overseen by five or six different federal agencies and 50 sets of state agencies, all with overlapping authority.

If the case for reform is important, the case for investment is more urgent. In its annual study of competitiveness, the World Economic Forum consistently gives the United States poor marks for its tax and regulatory policies, ranking it 76th in 2012, for example, on the “burden of government regulations.” But for all its complications, the American economy remains one of the world’s most competitive, ranking seventh overall — only a modest slippage from five years ago. In contrast, the United States has dropped dramatically in its investments in human and physical capital. The WEF ranked American infrastructure fifth in the world a decade ago but now ranks it 25th and falling. The country used to lead the world in percentage of college graduates; it is now ranked 14th. U.S. federal funding for research and development as a percentage of GDP has fallen to half the level it was in 1960 — while it is rising in countries such as China, Singapore, and South Korea. The public university system in the United States — once the crown jewel of American public education — is being gutted by budget cuts.

The modern history of the United States suggests a correlation between investment and growth. In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government spent over five percent of GDP annually on investment, and the economy boomed. Over the last 30 years, the government has been cutting back; federal spending on investment is now around three percent of GDP annually, and growth has been tepid. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence has noted, the United States escaped from the Great Depression not only by spending massively on World War II but also by slashing consumption and ramping up investment. Americans reduced their spending, increased their savings, and purchased war bonds. That boost in public and private investment led to a generation of postwar growth. Another generation of growth will require comparable investments.

The problems of reform and investment come together in the case of infrastructure. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D and calculated that repairing and renovating it would cost $2 trillion. The specific number might be an exaggeration (engineers have a vested interest in the subject), but every study shows what any traveler can plainly see: the United States is falling badly behind. This is partly a matter of crumbling bridges and highways, but it goes well beyond that. The U.S. air traffic control system is outdated and in need of a $25 billion upgrade. The U.S. energy grid is antique, and it malfunctions often enough that many households are acquiring that classic symbol of status in the developing world: a private electrical generator. The country’s drinking water is carried through a network of old and leaky pipes, and its cellular and broadband systems are slow compared with those of many other advanced countries. All this translates into slower growth. And if it takes longer to fix, it will cost more, as deferred maintenance usually does.

Spending on infrastructure is hardly a panacea, however, because without careful planning and oversight, it can be inefficient and ineffective. Congress allocates money to infrastructure projects based on politics, not need or bang for the buck. The elegant solution to the problem would be to have a national infrastructure bank that is funded by a combination of government money and private capital. Such a bank would minimize waste and redundancy by having projects chosen by technocrats on merit rather than by politicians for pork. Naturally, this very idea is languishing in Congress, despite some support from prominent figures on both sides of the aisle.

The same is the case with financial reforms: the problem is not a lack of good ideas or technical feasibility but politics. The politicians who sit on the committees overseeing the current alphabet soup of ineffective agencies are happy primarily because they can raise money for their campaigns from the financial industry. The current system works better as a mechanism for campaign fundraising than it does as an instrument for financial oversight.

In 1979, the social scientist Ezra Vogel published a book titled Japan as Number One, predicting a rosy future for the then-rising Asian power. When The Washington Post asked him recently why his prediction had been so far off the mark, he pointed out that the Japanese economy was highly sophisticated and advanced, but, he confessed, he had never anticipated that its political system would seize up the way it did and allow the country to spiral downward.

Vogel was right to note that the problem was politics rather than economics. All the advanced industrial economies have weaknesses, but they also all have considerable strengths, particularly the United States. They have reached a stage of development, however, at which outmoded policies, structures, and practices have to be changed or abandoned. The problem, as the economist Mancur Olson pointed out, is that the existing policies benefit interest groups that zealously protect the status quo. Reform requires governments to assert the national interest over such parochial interests, something that is increasingly difficult to do in a democracy.

POLITICAL DEMOGRAPHY

With only a few exceptions, the advanced industrial democracies have spent the last few decades managing or ignoring their problems rather than tackling them head-on. Soon, this option won’t be available, because the crisis of democracy will be combined with a crisis of demography.

The industrial world is aging at a pace never before seen in human history. Japan is at the leading edge of this trend, predicted to go from a population of 127 million today to just 47 million by the end of the century. Europe is not far behind, with Italy and Germany approaching trajectories like Japan’s. The United States is actually the outlier on this front, the only advanced industrial country not in demographic decline. In fact, because of immigration and somewhat higher fertility rates, its population is predicted to grow to 423 million by 2050, whereas, say, Germany’s is predicted to shrink to 72 million. Favorable U.S. demographics, however, are offset by more expensive U.S. entitlement programs for retirees, particularly in the area of health care.

To understand this, start with a ratio of working-age citizens to those over 65. That helps determine how much revenue the government can get from workers to distribute to retirees. In the United States today, the ratio is 4.6 working people for every retiree. In 25 years, it will drop to 2.7. That shift will make a huge difference to an already worrisome situation. Current annual expenditures for the two main entitlement programs for older Americans, Social Security and Medicare, top $1 trillion. The growth of these expenditures has far outstripped inflation in the past and will likely do so for decades to come, even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Throw in all other entitlement programs, the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has calculated, and the total is $2.2 trillion — up from $24 billion a half century ago, nearly a hundredfold increase.

However worthwhile such programs may be, they are unaffordable on their current trajectories, consuming the majority of all federal spending. The economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff argued in their detailed study of financial crises, This Time Is Different, that countries with debt-to-GDP burdens of 90 percent or more almost invariably have trouble sustaining growth and stability. Unless its current entitlement obligations are somehow reformed, with health-care costs lowered in particular, it is difficult to see how the United States can end up with a ratio much lower than that. What this means is that while the American right has to recognize that tax revenues will have to rise significantly in coming decades, the American left has to recognize that without significant reforms, entitlements may be the only thing even those increased tax revenues will cover. A recent report by Third Way, a Washington-based think tank lobbying for entitlement reform, calculates that by 2029, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt combined will amount to 18 percent of GDP. It just so happens that 18 percent of GDP is precisely what the government has averaged in tax collections over the last 40 years.

The continued growth in entitlements is set to crowd out all other government spending, including on defense and the investments needed to help spur the next wave of economic growth. In 1960, entitlement programs amounted to well under one-third of the federal budget, with all the other functions of government taking up the remaining two-thirds. By 2010, things had flipped, with entitlement programs accounting for two-thirds of the budget and everything else crammed into one-third. On its current path, the U.S. federal government is turning into, in the journalist Ezra Klein’s memorable image, an insurance company with an army. And even the army will have to shrink soon.

Rebalancing the budget to gain space for investment in the country’s future is today’s great American challenge. And despite what one may have gathered during the recent campaign, it is a challenge for both parties. Eberstadt points out that entitlement spending has actually grown faster under Republican presidents than under Democrats, and a New York Times investigation in 2012 found that two-thirds of the 100 U.S. counties most dependent on entitlement programs were heavily Republican.

Reform and investment would be difficult in the best of times, but the continuation of current global trends will make these tasks ever tougher and more urgent. Technology and globalization have made it possible to do simple manufacturing anywhere, and Americans will not be able to compete for jobs against workers in China and India who are being paid a tenth of the wages that they are. That means that the United States has no choice but to move up the value chain, relying on a highly skilled work force, superb infrastructure, massive job-training programs, and cutting-edge science and technology — all of which will not materialize without substantial investment.

The U.S. government currently spends $4 on citizens over 65 for every $1 it spends on those under 18. At some level, that is a brutal reflection of democratic power politics: seniors vote; minors do not. But it is also a statement that the country values the present more than the future.

TURNING JAPANESE

Huntington, the author of the section on the United States in the Trilateral Commission’s 1975 report, used to say that it was important for a country to worry about decline, because only then would it make the changes necessary to belie the gloomy predictions. If not for fear of Sputnik, the United States would never have galvanized its scientific establishment, funded NASA, and raced to the moon. Perhaps that sort of response to today’s challenges is just around the corner — perhaps Washington will be able to summon the will to pass major, far-reaching policy initiatives over the next few years, putting the United States back on a clear path to a vibrant, solvent future. But hope is not a plan, and it has to be said that at this point, such an outcome seems unlikely.

The absence of such moves will hardly spell the country’s doom. Liberal democratic capitalism is clearly the only system that has the flexibility and legitimacy to endure in the modern world. If any regimes collapse in the decades ahead, they will be command systems, such as the one in China (although this is unlikely). But it is hard to see how the derailing of China’s rise, were it to happen, would solve any of the problems the United States faces — and in fact, it might make them worse, if it meant that the global economy would grow at a slower pace than anticipated.

The danger for Western democracies is not death but sclerosis. The daunting challenges they face — budgetary pressures, political paralysis, demographic stress — point to slow growth rather than collapse. Muddling through the crisis will mean that these countries stay rich but slowly and steadily drift to the margins of the world. Quarrels over how to divide a smaller pie may spark some political conflict and turmoil but will produce mostly resignation to a less energetic, interesting, and productive future.

There once was an advanced industrial democracy that could not reform. It went from dominating the world economy to growing for two decades at the anemic average rate of just 0.8 percent. Many members of its aging, well-educated population continued to live pleasant lives, but they left an increasingly barren legacy for future generations. Its debt burden is now staggering, and its per capita income has dropped to 24th in the world and is falling. If the Americans and the Europeans fail to get their acts together, their future will be easy to see. All they have to do is look at Japan.

Ma the bumbler

长姿势了。马英九在独台的路上越走越远。

東海波濤洶湧中的台灣

「妒才」是馬英九個性的致命傷。

妒才的人其实还真不少。

在美华人的天花板(3):原因初探


Ma the bumbler

Nov 17th 2012 The Economist

WHEN he was first elected in 2008, Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, offered Taiwanese high hopes that the island’s economy would open a new chapter. He promised ground-breaking agreements with China to help end Taiwan’s growing economic marginalisation. At the time, Mr Ma’s image was of a clean technocrat able to rise above the cronyism and infighting of his party, the Kuomintang (KMT). He was a welcome contrast to his fiery and pro-independence predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, now in jail for corruption.

Five years on, and despite being handily re-elected ten months ago, much has changed. In particular, popular satisfaction with Mr Ma has plummeted, to a record low of 13%, according to the TVBS Poll Centre. The country appears to agree on one thing: Mr Ma is an ineffectual bumbler.

Ordinary people do not find their livelihoods improving. Salaries have stagnated for a decade. The most visible impact of more open ties with China, which include a free-trade agreement, has been property speculation in anticipation of a flood of mainland money. Housing in former working-class areas on the edge of Taipei, the capital, now costs up to 40 times the average annual wage of $15,400. The number of families below the poverty line has leapt. Labour activists have taken to pelting the presidential office with eggs.

Exports account for 70% of GDP. So some of Taiwan’s problems are down to the dismal state of rich-world economies. Yet Mr Ma’s leadership is also to blame. He has failed to paint a more hopeful future, with sometimes hard measures needed now. Worse, he frequently tweaks policies in response to opposition or media criticism. It suggests indecisiveness.

Public anger first arose in June, when Mr Ma raised the price of government-subsidised electricity. Few Taiwanese understood why, even though Taiwan’s state-owned power company loses billions. In the face of public outrage, Mr Ma postponed a second round of electricity price rises scheduled for December. They will now take place later next year.

People are also worried that a national pension scheme is on course for bankruptcy in less than two decades. Yet Mr Ma cannot bring himself to raise premiums sharply, because of the temporary unpopularity it risks. When Mr Ma does try to appeal to Taiwanese who make up the island’s broad political centre, it often backfires with his party’s core supporters. Following public grumbles that retired civil servants, teachers and ex-servicemen were a privileged group, the cabinet announced plans to cut more than $300m in year-end bonuses, affecting around 381,000. The trouble was, veterans are among the KMT’s most fervent backers. Now some threaten to take to the streets in protest and deprive the KMT of their votes until the plan is scrapped. Meanwhile, Mr Ma’s clean image has been sullied by the indictment of the cabinet secretary-general for graft.

Cracks are starting to grow in the KMT façade. Recently Sean Lien, a prominent politician, criticised Mr Ma’s economic policies, saying that any politician in office during this time of sluggish growth was at best a “master of a beggar clan”—implying a country of paupers.

But the next election is four years away, and presidential hopefuls will not try to oust or even outshine Mr Ma anytime soon. After all, they will not want to take responsibility for the country’s economic problems. Nothing suggests Mr Ma’s main policies will change (or that they should), but his credibility is draining by the day.

齐桓公的货币战争

唯囤积居奇。


齐桓公的货币战争

Date here 王吉舟

2700年前,齐桓公姜小白有个好宰相,叫管仲。这俩人交情那叫一个铁呀,一个大权在握,一个比犹太人还精,他俩合起伙来兢兢业业的工作,结果搞定了全天下。管仲使齐国成为春秋五霸,这说起来好像挺牛逼的一个事情,但是事实上,作为当时其他地区的中国人,那可是倒了霉,因为除非你是齐国人,否则,全被这哥俩算计了,即使你是齐国人,除非你是这哥俩认可的精英,否则,你也就是个牲口,也被这哥俩算计,整天牧来牧去的,还给人家哥俩拼命数钱呢。

姜小白和管仲这俩人是“中国经济梦幻二人组”,他俩的经济理论那叫一个多啊,整个一部《管子》俩人一问一答跟说相声似的,各种经济学包袱都在那里记录着呢,这些理论,是很牛逼的,甚至完全超越时代的,比后世的《国富论》一点不含糊。

大家可能不信,说中国有如此伟大的经济学家?

您把那个问号去掉,后面加上——管仲,就是答案。管仲在经济学领域的境界,相当于同时代的孙子在军事领域的境界,不过,不难想象,管仲和姜小白哥俩白天合伙收拾天下男人,晚上肯定也忙着收拾成群的女人,那叫一个忙啊,白天日理万机,夜里多姿多彩。所以,管仲没时间写书,这点跟亚当斯密不一样。管仲自己不写,也没想起来找枪手写,结果,死了很多年后,齐国才整理他的著作,弄了个半截子文集叫《管子》,大家搞经济的一定要读,跟《国富论》对比着读,读完,你一定说:我FUCK!中国老祖宗怎么这么牛逼呢?跟管子比,犹太人算个小JB。犹太人这些花花肠子,感情老祖宗早都知道啊。没错!治理通货膨胀、货币战争、价格与市场、税收与财政、国家宏观调控、社会分工,管仲都整的特明白,比亚当斯密早明白了2000年。

别不信,这一套,管仲称其为“轻重论”,他还挺谦虚,说不是自己发明的,是学习先贤的,OMG!还有更先的贤??!!是谁啊?管仲说他们是“燧人氏、孙叔敖、单旗、泰奢、伯高……”

中国古代真的很神奇!(或许,我们民族的一出悲剧,是把半部《管子》治天下,错弄成了半部《论语》治天下。)

管仲跟姜小白实际上军事上不太行,齐军有点今天美军的味道,遇到弱的就撵出人家的屎来,遇到强的,经常被人家撵出屎(曹刽就撵的他俩裤子都跑丢了)。他俩打仗不行,玩阴的,搞货币战争可是不一般的行!今天美国用石油收拾全世界,日本用铁矿石、稀土收拾中国,这些个阴损的货币战争的影子,姜小白和管仲那是祖师爷。这哥俩仗着自己有钱,有IQ,一箭不放,收拾了好多国家。

不信的话,听胖舟讲故事吧,大家权当乐一乐,借古思今吧。

第一次货币战争:衡山之谋

衡山国夹在齐鲁之间,国民擅长制造战争机器,齐桓公想搞定他们又怕干不过人家,就让管仲想办法。管仲说:衡山国的工厂,造一台战争机器要一年半以上时间,我们去衡山国不计价格,以高价进口战争机器,燕国和代国听说后,必然害怕我们买机器是要攻打他们,他们要防备就肯定也来订购,他们一买,秦国赵国也害怕,也会来争着订购,衡山国的产量就那么一点,天下都来订购,机器肯定涨价十倍,到时候如此如此,肯定搞定。

    于是,齐桓公去衡山国高价定购战争机器,结果十个月后果然燕代赵秦先后来争购,衡山国君高兴坏了,把自己的机器涨价了十倍预定给了天下各国,等着发大财。衡山国大街小巷的人都去兵工厂制造机器,没有人种地了。十二个月之后,齐桓公又派外交通商事务大臣隰朋去赵国收购粮食,赵国粮食卖一石十五钱,隰朋给人家一石五十钱,全天下的商人都把粮食往齐国运输,再五个月后,全天下的粮食都到了齐国,全天下的粮食价格被齐国抬高了三倍。

订购战争机器十七个月后,高价炒作粮食五个月后,齐国忽然不要衡山国的机器了,还跟衡山国断交了。齐国一不要,其他国家也都不要了,衡山国君手里没粮食,也没赚到钱,傻逼了。衡山国只好去齐国进口粮食,很快财政破产,齐国攻打衡山国北部,鲁国攻打衡山国南部,衡山国君想了想,啥也不说了,带着全体贵族搬到齐国做齐国公民去了。

原文载于《管子、轻重》:桓公问于管子曰:“吾欲制衡山之术,为之奈何?”管子对曰:“公其令人贵买衡山之械器而卖之。燕、代必从公而买之,秦、赵闻之,必与公争之。衡山之械器必倍其贾,天下争之,衡山械器必什倍以上。”公曰:“诺。”因令人之衡山求买械器,不敢辩其贵贾。齐修械器于衡山十月,燕、代闻之,果令人之衡山求买械器,燕、代修三月,秦国闻之,果令人之衡山求买械器。衡山之君告其相曰,“天下争吾械器,令其贾再什以上。”衡山之民释其本,修械器之巧。齐即令隰朋漕粟于赵。赵籴十五,隰朋取之石五十。天下闻之,载粟而之齐。齐修械器十七月,修籴五月,即闭关不与衡山通使。燕、代、秦、赵即引其使而归。衡山械器尽,鲁削衡山之南,齐削衡山之北。内自量无械器以应二敌,即奉国而归齐矣。

大家看过《管子》原著的,难免失望,这正是管仲有生之年没有亲手梳理自己的治国原理而造成的不可避免的杯具。《管子》虽然可以提供大量的佐证,但是没有系统的理论,写得东一榔头西一棒槌。因此,阅读《管子》要有明确的目的,比如我今天要搞清楚春秋时代是否存在民间贷款与贷款利息,如存在,那么春秋时代的民间贷款利率是多少,抱着这样的问题去找,就能取得鲜活的资料丰富自己的知识,如此这般方才可读《管子》。

姜小白和管仲的梦幻组合,发明了很多的搜刮天下钱财的剧本。虽则是2700年前的旧事,但是,后世只是换了演员和道具,他俩的剧本仍然在被使用。

比如:戴比尔斯和英美集团垄断世界钻石矿,通过拉抬钻石的价格,搞全世界男人的钱。美国攻打中东,垄断石油价格,搜刮世界财富。这些伎俩,管仲和姜小白有专利。

垄断天下奇货,拉抬价格,搜刮天下财富的典型代表作是《菁茅之谋》和《阴里之谋》。

大家知道姜小白在管仲的策划下,用了二十年,终于取得了会盟天下诸侯的成功,就是成了霸主,但他这个霸主有些历史问题。

因为,宋国是公爵,齐国是侯爵。公侯伯子男,所以,作为盟主的齐桓公心里边有些虚,他得让大家伙儿承认,他这个侯爵,已经不是侯爵,而是超~~~级~~~侯爵,他得证明自己行。

如何证明自己与众不同呢?一天,姜小白对管仲说:“我TMD想明白了,我要搞运动!我必须带头掀起一场尊重周天子的运动,周天子穷的都快要饭了,我这么一尊重他,他能不感激我吗,我这招儿叫尊天子以令诸侯!我真TMD是天才!”管仲说:“天才个屌,你以为宋国想不到啊,关键是搞运动需要经费,谁出钱?”姜小白一听就萎了,原来就差钱。管仲说;“我有一阴招儿,不差钱,你这么这么,就成了”。

管仲让姜小白去“阴里”这个地方铸城,那里独家出产一种美石(类似玉),这种美石是古代周天子制造王室祭祀专用璧的材料,姜小白修了三层城墙、九个城门,把阴里城防工事整的跟铁桶一样。姜小白让玉工在里边制作好石璧存着,石璧做了五种,一尺大小的标注面值一万泉。八寸的标注8000泉。七寸的标注 7000。珪中标注4000。瑗中标注500。为什么做这么多种类呢?因为天下诸侯繁衍了几百年,越来越多,阿猫阿狗都自称是诸侯后裔,都惦着粘粘封号的光,周天子家族萧条,他们可是繁荣的不行。管仲做这么多石壁,就是要把他们一网打尽。

玉工做好了,管仲就去见周天子,说我家国君想搞尊周运动,号召天下诸侯齐来拜祭太庙,但是按照传统礼仪,必须带着彤弓和石璧觐见,否则不能进庙去,您可以批准么?周天子说:这次活动经费谁出?管仲说:我们齐国出。周天子说:快~~~去~~~~办!!!还愣着干什么!!!

天下诸侯都没有石璧,强抢又打不下阴里城,只好去买,结果天下诸侯的黄金被齐国搜刮无数,阴里的石璧倒是流通到了天下。这一次,齐国赚的钱多得八年都不用收税。

这就是阴里之谋

齐桓公赚足了钱,很同情周天子,对管仲说:周天子也没经费,天子没钱也是孙子,咱也得给天子弄钱啊。管仲说:这简单,天下江淮之间有一小块特殊的土地,独家出产一种茅草,这种茅草品种独特,每只都从根上长出三个分叉,这叫“菁茅”。这种茅是古代诸侯参与天子封禅大会必须的进门证,请周天子派人先把这块地圈起来,然后号令天下诸侯:周天子要带着大家去封禅泰山,梁父山,老规矩:不抱着一束菁茅的,不许进门。

周天子如此去办,结果,天下的黄金就开始象流水一样流入周天子的口袋,菁茅一束就被诸侯炒到了一百斤黄金。周天子太有钱了,七年都没有再要求诸侯进贡。

是为菁茅之谋

齐国在管仲的治理下,十分富强,汉族在齐国的带领下,诸侯团结,取得了对西狄和北戎战争的全面胜利(老马识途就是这场大战的事情),使北方游牧民族对中原的威胁得到全面抑制。否则,蒙古灭中华的事情,可能在2700年前就已经成为现实了,大家如果不信,可以听听孔丘说的:

一天,孔子跟子贡说:管仲辅齐桓公,国富民强,天下太平。我们中原人民直到今天还在享受着他俩留下的福祉。如果没有管子,我们今天早被蛮夷灭了,咱们都得学习野蛮人的丑陋发型,穿蛮族的丑陋衣服啊。(2000多年后的清朝,孔子的噩梦成真)

管子这样的人出生在中国,而不是外国,实在是我中国人的福分,中国如再有此类大才,何愁不国富民强。宋代大诗人李清照的爸爸李格非,一次路过临淄遗址,写下了《过临淄》:

击鼓吹竽七百年,

临淄城阙尚依然。

如今只有耕耘者,

曾得当时九府钱。

这首诗成于管子死后1700年,齐国都城城阙依然存在,农夫经常能够挖到姜子牙发行的九府环钱,齐国之盛,可见一斑。

言归正傳:这一篇我主要写姜小白和管仲以发动经济战争为手段,征服其他国家的过程。过程虽然残酷,但是,你会发现,齐桓公追求的最终结果,无非是树立齐国的权威,他们二人是从来没有幻想过篡改朝代的,鼓吹邪教杀人筑观的事情,更是没有干过。即使最后经济手段不灵了,去打打杀杀,也是点到为止,很有喜剧精神,对方一服软,这俩人马上就收兵,绝不革命。说的直白一点,他俩打仗都是带着女人去的,当然,不是女特种部队,而是货真价实,如假包换的美女。炮房就建在马车上,仗打到哪里,炮就打到哪里。

最为过分的是有一次,他俩去征服一个大国(好象是宋国记不清了),管打前站,姜殿后,管走了一个多礼拜还在齐国边境附近磨蹭呢(看这效率)。路边一农夫荷锄而歌,歌词管大才子居然听不懂!结果他被窝儿里的美女给他解释了。妞儿还鼓励管子启用这个农民,结果农民不负妞望,仅凭一只舌头,就把宋国君给弄服了(看人这口活!),咱能看出,管子泡的妞儿,那是什么学问,那是什么素质。也不难想象,管子打仗的献身精神(事实上,他打仗经常第一个闪人,为此鲍叔牙记了他一辈子)。

老姜和老管自己泡妞爽了,还不忘记父老兄弟,特意为齐国官兵设立了随军妓院,齐军待遇如此人性化,成为了当时世界上最文明的军队。(妓院\桑拿\洗头房应该供的祖师爷是管子,怎么供关公呢?)

扯远了,再扯就成黄色野史了,赶紧收回来。

齐国收服鲁国、莱莒、楚、代、衡山,均是以轻重之策催垮对手的经济。其中心思想,就是利用“天下下我高,天下轻我重”的阴谋原则,即将外国特产之国内价格抬高到比正常水平高的多的水准,使其变成单一经济,生产力配比畸形成长,然后突然改变国际贸易规则,全面破坏外国的财政收入,最终迫使其完全成为经济殖民地。

鲁国是齐国的第一个障碍物,两国近邻,热战各有胜负,从经济上催垮鲁国,成为必杀的绝招。让我们看看这个过程。

桓公说:我TMD看鲁国不顺眼很久了,很想搞定鲁国,可怎么办呢?管仲说:好办,你用鲁国特产的绨做衣服,你是齐国的天皇巨星啊,全国都追你,你下令齐国人不许自己织绨,必须买绨就行了。于是桓公就穿着绨做的衣服到处晃。全国人民都争相买鲁绨效仿。管仲让鲁国的商人把绨出口到齐国,一千匹价格三百斤黄金,一万匹三千斤。鲁国靠出口创汇赚了大钱,国家都不用对老百姓收税了,财政十分富裕。十三个月后,管派特务去鲁国侦察,发现鲁国的人民太忙了,国家太繁荣了,城市里交通堵车,人都得慢慢挪着走。管仲说:哼,鲁国完了。桓公问:我操,他们这么繁荣,怎么就完了?管子说:请您以后不要再穿绨,也不要让老百姓穿了,咱跟鲁国断交,你看看结果吧。十个月以后,管仲再次派特务去侦察,发现鲁国人饿死的很多,鲁国政府命令老百姓赶紧去把绨厂破产了改种粮食,但是,粮食三两个月根本长不成熟,鲁国粮食价格涨到了齐国的十倍。两年后,鲁国的老百姓60%都移民到齐国了,三年以后,鲁国投降了。

收拾莱国,用的是把莱国特产的柴抬高价格大肆进口,结果莱国为了出口创汇,荒废了农业,结果是两年后,莱国粮食价格是齐国的三十七倍,70%的莱国老百姓都移民到了齐国,莱国只有投降。

收拾楚国,是进口楚国的鹿,过程一模一样,楚国粮食因此贵了四十倍,楚国老百姓移民的40%,楚国也只有降了。

收拾代国,是进口代国特产的传说中的白色变异狐狸,代国最惨,一只都没出口,国家就破产了,据说管仲给进口这屌狐狸制定的价格,高的令代国国君都不上班,亲自出马进山逮狐狸去了,结果,黄的有的是,白的两年一只都没逮着,国家没粮食没军队(都进山当猎户去了),被速灭。

出口创汇,在春秋时代,很容易被姜小白和管仲忽悠成国家财政吸毒。

在今天,我们必须深思身边是不是也发生了类似的情形,只不过,表现形式更加复杂,表现过程更加漫长,国家间“天下下我高,天下轻我重”轻重之术的本质,确是亘古不变的真理,2500年后的GDP到底是不是2500年前的那只白狐狸,又有谁知道。 

管仲实在是太牛了,读通了《管子》之后,你就发现,美联储+美国政府,今天做的事情,都是在copy咱的祖先而已。只可惜我们自己守着这么一座大金山,却没有学好,这是多么让人悲哀的一件事情啊!

Is China more legitimate than the West?

The point of author is that the legitimacy of China government is that China is one civilization of one state while the Western country is one nation of many states.


Is China more legitimate than the West?

2 November 2012 Last updated at 13:48 ET Martin Jacques

Is China more legitimate than the West [1]

China and the United States are about to choose new leaders via very different methods. But is a candidate voted for by millions a more legitimate choice than one anointed by a select few, asks Martin Jacques.

This week will witness an extraordinary juxtaposition of events. On Tuesday the next American president will be elected. Two days later, the 18th congress of the Chinese Communist Party will select the new Chinese president and prime minister.

The contrast could hardly be greater.

Americans in their tens of millions will turn out to vote. In China the process of selection will take place behind closed doors and involve only a relative handful of people.

You are probably thinking, “Ah, America at its best, China at its worst – the absence of democracy. China’s Achilles heel is its governance. This will be China’s downfall.”

I want to argue quite the contrary.

You probably think that the legitimacy and authority of the state, or government, is overwhelmingly a function of democracy, Western-style.

But democracy is only one factor. Nor does democracy in itself guarantee legitimacy.

Think of Italy. It is always voting, but the enduring problem of Italian governance is that its state lacks legitimacy. Half the population don’t really believe in it.

Now let me shock you: the Chinese state enjoys greater legitimacy than any Western state. How come?

In China’s case the source of the state’s legitimacy lies entirely outside the history or experience of Western societies.

In my first talk I explained that China is not primarily a nation-state but a civilisation-state. For the Chinese, what matters is civilisation. For Westerners it is nation. The most important political value in China is the integrity and unity of the civilisation-state.

Given the sheer size and diversity of the country, this is hugely problematic. Between the 1840s and 1949, China was occupied by the colonial powers, divided and fragmented. The Chinese refer to it as their century of humiliation.

They see the state as the embodiment and guardian of Chinese civilisation. Its most important responsibility – bar none – is maintaining the unity of the country. A government that fails to ensure this will fall.

There have been many examples in history. The legitimacy of the Chinese state lies, above all, in its relationship with Chinese civilisation.

But does the Chinese state, you may well ask, really enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of its people?

Take the findings of Tony Saich at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In a series of surveys he found that between 80 and 95% of Chinese people were either relatively or extremely satisfied with central government.

Is China more legitimate than the West [2]
Chinese people say they are happy with their government’s economic record

Or take the highly respected Pew Global Attitudes surveys which found in 2010, for example, that 91% of Chinese respondents thought that the government’s handling of the economy was good (the UK figure, incidentally was 45%).

Such high levels of satisfaction do not mean that China is conflict-free.

On the contrary, there are countless examples of protest action, such as the wave of strikes in Guangdong province for higher wages in 2010 and 2011, and the 150,000 or more so-called mass incidents that take place every year – generally protests by farmers against what they see as the illegal seizure of their land by local authorities in cahoots with property developers.

But these actions do not imply any fundamental dissatisfaction with central government.

If the Chinese state enjoys such support, then why does it display such signs of paranoia? The controls on the press and the internet, the periodic arrest of dissidents, and the rest of it.

Good point. Actually, all Chinese governments have displayed these same symptoms. Why?

Because the country is huge and governance is extremely difficult. They are always anxious, always fearing the unforeseen. Anticipating sources of instability has long been regarded as a fundamental attribute of good governance.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese have a quite different attitude towards government to that universal in the West.

True, our attitude depends in part on where we stand on the political spectrum. If you are on the right, you are likely to believe in less government and more market. If you are on the left, you are likely to be more favourably disposed to the state.

But both left and right share certain basic assumptions. The role of the state should be codified in law, there should be clear limits to its powers, and there are many areas in which the state should not be involved. We believe the state is necessary – but only up to a point.

The Chinese idea of the state could hardly be more different.

The Chinese see the state as a member of the family – the head of the family, in fact

They do not view it from a narrowly utilitarian standpoint, in terms of what it can deliver, let alone as the devil incarnate in the manner of the American Tea Party.

They see the state as an intimate, or, to be more precise, as a member of the family – the head of the family, in fact. The Chinese regard the family as the template for the state. What’s more, they perceive the state not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves.

The fact that the Chinese state enjoys such an exalted position in society lends it enormous authority, a remarkable ubiquity and great competence.

Take the economy. China’s economic rise – an annual growth rate of 10% for more than 30 years – has been masterminded by the Chinese state.

It is the most remarkable economic transformation the world has seen since the modern era began with Britain’s industrial revolution in the late 18th Century.

Even though China is still a poor developing country, its state, I would argue, is the most competent in the world.

Take infrastructure – the importance of which is belatedly now being recognised in the West. Here, China has no peers. Its high speed rail network is the world’s largest and will soon be greater than the rest of the world’s put together.

And the state’s ubiquity – a large majority of China’s most competitive companies, to this day, are state-owned. Or consider the one-child policy, which still commands great support amongst the population.

The competence of the state is little talked about or really valued in the West, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Indeed, since the early 80s, the debate about the state in Britain has largely been conducted in terms either of what bits should be privatised or how it can be made to mimic the market.

Now, however, we are in a new ball game. With the Western economies in a profound mess and with China’s startling rise, the competence of the state can no longer be ignored. Our model is in crisis. Theirs has been delivering the goods.

As China’s dramatic ascent continues – which it surely will – then China’s strengths will become a growing subject of interest in the West. We will realise that our relationship with them can no longer consist of telling them how they should be like us. A little humility is in order.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of this will be the state. We think of it as their greatest weakness but we will come to realise that it is one of their greatest strengths.

Beyond a point it would be quite impossible for a Western state to be like China’s. It is the product of a different history and a different relationship between state and society. You could never transplant their state into a Western country, and vice versa. But this does not mean that we cannot learn from the Chinese state, just as they have learnt much from us.

China’s rise will have a profound effect on Western debate.

Is China more legitimate than the West [3]
The Chinese economy is set to overtake the US in 2018

In about six years hence, the Chinese economy will overtake the US economy in size. By 2030 it will be very much larger.

The world is increasingly being shaped by China, and if it has looked west for the last two centuries, in future it will look east.

Welcome, then, to the new Chinese paradigm – one that combines a highly competitive, indeed often ferocious market, with a ubiquitous and competent state.

For us in the West this is an entirely new phenomenon. And it will shape our future.

How would you describe the tensions in Tibet and Western China? It would appear that the indigenous populations there don’t seem to want to be part of the Chinese State?

Sean Halliday, Duqm Oman

The time-frame may be lengthy, but history tell us that all totalitarian states eventually fail. Additionally, extensive gaps between rich and poor create social unrest which, in China may be on an epic scale. The Chinese state may implode on itself.

Michael, Kendal UK

Martin’s viewpoint is absolutely spot on. Essdentially, the West is a fragmented units with different lifestyles (nation)held together by representatives of the units to form an entity (the state) legitimated by election of its representatives. Whereas China is a one unit with one lifestyle (a civilisation) held together by an entity (the state) legitimated by selection of its deemed solial leaders accross the civilisation. Legitimacy of the state is not only the Western form but any form that represents the people. I believe that calls for re-assessment of the concept of democracy itself.

Jesse Ofirikyi, London

You cannot really compare the Western & Chinese approaches to modern goverment without looking at how they have evolved hostorically. In most Western countries the autocratic approach to rule (one all-powerful ruler) evolved over several centuries to a democratic approach, although not without a few bumps on the way. As a consequence of this Western citizens are conditioned to the democratic approach, and tend to reject anything that smacks of dictatorship. China however has several thousand years of autocratic rule via the Emperors which was eventually overthrown and replaced by the autocratic and self-sustaining rule of the Chinese Communist Party. Hence Chinese citizens have never had any taste of true democracy; at best what democracy they have been allowed to experience has been carefully cleansed of any possible threat to the ruling hegamony.

Alan Hughes, Alton, Hampshire

Your premise has one great unstated assumption — that the Chinese central government will always get it right (given some of their past mistakes, can you trust this assumption?). It is relatively obvious how to develop an underdeveloped economy as so much infrastructure is required. The real challenge will come when the economy becomes highly sophisticated. Then governments have a much harder time making the right decisions to allocate resources and capital. I would hold out Japan as an example — in the 1970s and up to the 1980s everybody was in awe its industrial policy. And then it stopped working. The smooth assent of China is not guaranteed.

R Piller, Geneva, Switzerland

It is interesting to hear you conceptualise China as a civilisation rather than a nation. Chinese are rightly proud of their state and its rise as a global power but for me it is a country of contradictions. Literacy, opportunity, the hegemony of the Han Chinese, the widening gap between rich and poor (also an issue in western countries) will all be significant issues in the future and the difference between haves and have-nots seems like it may be a problem in a society that is supposed to be communist. I think of China as a teenager struggling to come to grips with its own identity.and its future may not be as clear as some people may think.

Tom, Shanghai, China

I hear that North Korea’s government also enjoys wide support and therefore legitimacy. This article is missing a distinction between “legitimacy” and support from a society that is relatively disenfranchised from the global pool of knowledge.

Victor Duncan, Beijing, China

Thatcher was right – there is no ‘society’

Perhaps the EU needs a “Thatcher” to solve the problem of PIGS.


Thatcher was right – there is no ‘society’

Date here Samuel Brittan

Now that both the obsequies and the ritual condemnations of Margaret Thatcher are over, the time has begun for a more analytical look at her legacy. I am not a bad person to start this off as I was neither a passionate anti-Thatcherite nor regarded by her inner circle as “really one of us”.

A point that has been missed in all the verbiage of recent days is how much her thinking owed to Keith Joseph, the Conservative who helped to put the idea of a genuine free market back on the political agenda.

In saying this I am far from trying to detract from her legacy. On the contrary, she often said: “One day people will realise what they owe to Keith Joseph.” Anyone can confirm this by looking at her Joseph Memorial Lecture of 1996 given to the Centre for Policy Studies. The first part of the lecture, on the connection between a free economy and a free society, and the last part, on the perils of the euro currency project, are still fresh and relevant.

I should like to start with a comment she made that has defined her – it was even raised at her funeral. Some see it as one of the worst things that she said; I regard it as one of the best.

“I think we have been through a period when too many people have been given to understand that when they have a problem it is government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant. I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They are casting their problems on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours. People have got their entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There is no such thing as an entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

Thatcher meant, I believe, that people should first try to solve their own problems and those of their families and friends, and only as a last resort rely on government. The government is simply a mechanism with which people can help each other and force would-be free riders to make a contribution. I interpreted her remarks as an expression of methodological individualism (although I pity any speech writer who sought to persuade her to say those words).

I have tried to explain all this in my book Capitalism With a Human Face. Very briefly it means that the workings of complex wholes must be capable of being expressed in terms of individual components – chemical elements in terms of atoms, atoms in terms of subatomic particles and nations in terms of their citizens. Methodological individualism has been espoused by a long line of empiricist thinkers, some of very different politics to Thatcher.

The classical liberal philosopher Karl Popper, for instance, looked at the abstract concept of war. “What is concrete is the many who are killed, or the men and women in uniform.” The 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume remarked that a nation was a collection of individuals. This doctrine has also been denied by many supposedly eminent philosophers, such as the overrated G.W.F. Hegel, who said: “All the worth which the human being possesses in all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the state.”

Thatcher was well aware that the support she has been accused of withholding from declining industries in the north of the UK would have come not from a mysterious entity known as the state. It would have come from fellow citizens. She may have been right or wrong. But it was not a matter of her personal generosity. Nit-picking political philosophers have said that if she wanted to be a true methodological individualist she would not have added “and there are families” in her famous statement. It was like saying: “There are no forests, only trees and copses.” She was not so stupid as to fail to see this. But she was not teaching a political philosophy class. She was pointing out that aid for the poor, or distressed regions, had to come from somewhere – namely the inhabitants of the country concerned.

It was a pity that she was incapable of applying this reductionist thinking to foreign affairs. There are no beings such as Germany, Britain or Argentina – only complex entities composed of individuals. It is reasonable for a British citizen to value a British life more than an Argentine life, but it is unreasonable to put a zero value on the latter. It must be admitted that even if people habitually thought in these terms they might still support death as a necessary evil to avoid territorial losses and the like. But if this translation were always made it might sometimes lead to less nationalist policies. Even Thatcher must have been intuitively aware of this when she wept for 40 minutes at the loss of life when a battleship went down near the Falklands.

The End of the University as We Know It

tl; just skim.

After an exhausting reading experience, I sadly found I cannot be convinced by those points which the author have made.

The outline is clear. It is marked up by those drop caps that leads a new section.

I guess the word of “University” actually has a specific meaning in this article. It’s more or less like a business model. The model may change, just like a company may change its strategy based on the market circumstance. Therefore, this specific “University” that the author referred may end, but, from a general definition, the university will still last long.


The End of the University as We Know It

From the January/February 2013 issue Nathan Harden (The American Interest)

The End of the University as We Know It [1]

In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

We’ve all heard plenty about the “college bubble” in recent years. Student loan debt is at an all-time high—an average of more than $23,000 per graduate by some counts—and tuition costs continue to rise at a rate far outpacing inflation, as they have for decades. Credential inflation is devaluing the college degree, making graduate degrees, and the greater debt required to pay for them, increasingly necessary for many people to maintain the standard of living they experienced growing up in their parents’ homes. Students are defaulting on their loans at an unprecedented rate, too, partly a function of an economy short on entry-level professional positions. Yet, as with all bubbles, there’s a persistent public belief in the value of something, and that faith in the college degree has kept demand high.

The figures are alarming, the anecdotes downright depressing. But the real story of the American higher-education bubble has little to do with individual students and their debts or employment problems. The most important part of the college bubble story—the one we will soon be hearing much more about—concerns the impending financial collapse of numerous private colleges and universities and the likely shrinkage of many public ones. And when that bubble bursts, it will end a system of higher education that, for all of its history, has been steeped in a culture of exclusivity. Then we’ll see the birth of something entirely new as we accept one central and unavoidable fact: The college classroom is about to go virtual.

W

e are all aware that the IT revolution is having an impact on education, but we tend to appreciate the changes in isolation, and at the margins. Very few have been able to exercise their imaginations to the point that they can perceive the systemic and structural changes ahead, and what they portend for the business models and social scripts that sustain the status quo. That is partly because the changes are threatening to many vested interests, but also partly because the human mind resists surrender to upheaval and the anxiety that tends to go with it. But resist or not, major change is coming. The live lecture will be replaced by streaming video. The administration of exams and exchange of coursework over the internet will become the norm. The push and pull of academic exchange will take place mainly in interactive online spaces, occupied by a new generation of tablet-toting, hyper-connected youth who already spend much of their lives online. Universities will extend their reach to students around the world, unbounded by geography or even by time zones. All of this will be on offer, too, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional college education.

How do I know this will happen? Because recent history shows us that the internet is a great destroyer of any traditional business that relies on the sale of information. The internet destroyed the livelihoods of traditional stock brokers and bonds salesmen by throwing open to everyone access to the proprietary information they used to sell. The same technology enabled bankers and financiers to develop new products and methods, but, as it turned out, the experience necessary to manage it all did not keep up. Prior to the Wall Street meltdown, it seemed absurd to think that storied financial institutions like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers could disappear seemingly overnight. Until it happened, almost no one believed such a thing was possible. Well, get ready to see the same thing happen to a university near you, and not for entirely dissimilar reasons.

The higher-ed business is in for a lot of pain as a new era of creative destruction produces a merciless shakeout of those institutions that adapt and prosper from those that stall and die. Meanwhile, students themselves are in for a golden age, characterized by near-universal access to the highest quality teaching and scholarship at a minimal cost. The changes ahead will ultimately bring about the most beneficial, most efficient and most equitable access to education that the world has ever seen. There is much to be gained. We may lose the gothic arches, the bespectacled lecturers, dusty books lining the walls of labyrinthine libraries—wonderful images from higher education’s past. But nostalgia won’t stop the unsentimental beast of progress from wreaking havoc on old ways of doing things. If a faster, cheaper way of sharing information emerges, history shows us that it will quickly supplant what came before. People will not continue to pay tens of thousands of dollars for what technology allows them to get for free.

Technology will also bring future students an array of new choices about how to build and customize their educations. Power is shifting away from selective university admissions officers into the hands of educational consumers, who will soon have their choice of attending virtually any university in the world online. This will dramatically increase competition among universities. Prestigious institutions, especially those few extremely well-endowed ones with money to buffer and finance change, will be in a position to dominate this virtual, global educational marketplace. The bottom feeders—the for-profit colleges and low-level public and non-profit colleges—will disappear or turn into the equivalent of vocational training institutes. Universities of all ranks below the very top will engage each other in an all-out war of survival. In this war, big-budget universities carrying large transactional costs stand to lose the most. Smaller, more nimble institutions with sound leadership will do best.

T

his past spring, Harvard and MIT got the attention of everyone in the higher ed business when they announced a new online education venture called edX. The new venture will make online versions of the universities’ courses available to a virtually unlimited number of enrollees around the world. Think of the ramifications: Now anyone in the world with an internet connection can access the kind of high-level teaching and scholarship previously available only to a select group of the best and most privileged students. It’s all part of a new breed of online courses known as “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), which are poised to forever change the way students learn and universities teach.

One of the biggest barriers to the mainstreaming of online education is the common assumption that students don’t learn as well with computer-based instruction as they do with in-person instruction. There’s nothing like the personal touch of being in a classroom with an actual professor, says the conventional wisdom, and that’s true to some extent. Clearly, online education can’t be superior in all respects to the in-person experience. Nor is there any point pretending that information is the same as knowledge, and that access to information is the same as the teaching function instrumental to turning the former into the latter. But researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, who’ve been experimenting with computer-based learning for years, have found that when machine-guided learning is combined with traditional classroom instruction, students can learn material in half the time. Researchers at Ithaka S+R studied two groups of students—one group that received all instruction in person, and another group that received a mixture of traditional and computer-based instruction. The two groups did equally well on tests, but those who received the computer instruction were able to learn the same amount of material in 25 percent less time.

The real value of MOOCs is their scalability. Andrew Ng, a Stanford computer science professor and co-founder of an open-source web platform called Coursera (a for-profit version of edX), got into the MOOC business after he discovered that thousands of people were following his free Stanford courses online. He wanted to capitalize on the intense demand for high-quality, open-source online courses. A normal class Ng teaches at Stanford might enroll, at most, several hundred students. But in the fall of 2011 his online course in machine learning enrolled 100,000. “To reach that many students before”, Ng explained to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, “I would have had to teach my normal Stanford class for 250 years.”

Based on the popularity of the MOOC offerings online so far, we know that open-source courses at elite universities have the potential to serve enormous “classes.” An early MIT online course called “Circuits and Electronics” has attracted 120,000 registrants. Top schools like Yale, MIT and Stanford have been making streaming videos and podcasts of their courses available online for years, but MOOCs go beyond this to offer a full-blown interactive experience. Students can intermingle with faculty and with each other over a kind of higher-ed social network. Streaming lectures may be accompanied by short auto-graded quizzes. Students can post questions about course material to discuss with other students. These discussions unfold across time zones, 24 hours a day. In extremely large courses, students can vote questions up or down, so that the best questions rise to the top. It’s like an educational amalgam of YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook.

Among the chattering classes in higher ed, there is an increasing sense that we have reached a tipping point where new interactive web technology, coupled with widespread access to broadband internet service and increased student comfort interacting online, will send online education mainstream. It’s easy to forget that only ten years ago Facebook didn’t exist. Teens now approaching college age are members of the first generation to have grown up conducting a major part of their social lives online. They are prepared to engage with professors and students online in a way their predecessors weren’t, and as time passes more and more professors are comfortable with the technology, too.

In the future, the primary platform for higher education may be a third-party website, not the university itself. What is emerging is a global marketplace where courses from numerous universities are available on a single website. Students can pick and choose the best offerings from each school; the university simply uploads the content. Coursera, for example, has formed agreements with Penn, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan to manage these schools’ forays into online education. On the non-profit side, MIT has been the nation’s leader in pioneering open-source online education through its MITx platform, which launched last December and serves as the basis for the new edX platform.

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old on there a minute, you might object. Just as information is not the same as knowledge, and auto-access is not necessarily auto-didactics, so taking a bunch of random courses does not a coherent university education make. Mere exposure, too, doesn’t guarantee that knowledge has been learned. In other words, what about the justifiable function of majors and credentials?

MIT is the first elite university to offer a credential for students who complete its free, open-source online courses. (The certificate of completion requires a small fee.) For the first time, students can do more than simply watch free lectures; they can gain a marketable credential—something that could help secure a raise or a better job. While edX won’t offer traditional academic credits, Harvard and MIT have announced that “certificates of mastery” will be available for those who complete the online courses and can demonstrate knowledge of course material. The arrival of credentials, backed by respected universities, eliminates one of the last remaining obstacles to the widespread adoption of low-cost online education. Since edX is open source, Harvard and MIT expect other universities to adopt the same platform and contribute their own courses. And the two universities have put $60 million of their own money behind the project, making edX the most promising MOOC venture out there right now.

Anant Agarwal, an MIT computer science professor and edX’s first president, told the Los Angeles Times, “MIT’s and Harvard’s mission is to provide affordable education to anybody who wants it.” That’s a very different mission than elite schools like Harvard and MIT have had for most of their existence. These schools have long focused on educating the elite—the smartest and, often, the wealthiest students in the world. But Agarwal’s statement is an indication that, at some level, these institutions realize that the scalability and economic efficiency of online education allow for a new kind of mission for elite universities. Online education is forcing elite schools to re-examine their priorities. In the future, they will educate the masses as well as the select few. The leaders of Harvard and MIT have founded edX, undoubtedly, because they realize that these changes are afoot, even if they may not yet grasp just how profound those changes will be.

And what about the social experience that is so important to college? Students can learn as much from their peers in informal settings as they do from their professors in formal ones. After college, networking with fellow alumni can lead to valuable career opportunities. Perhaps that is why, after the launch of edX, the presidents of both Harvard and MIT emphasized that their focus would remain on the traditional residential experience. “Online education is not an enemy of residential education”, said MIT president Susan Hockfield.

Yet Hockfield’s statement doesn’t hold true for most less wealthy universities. Harvard and MIT’s multi-billion dollar endowments enable them to support a residential college system alongside the virtually free online platforms of the future, but for other universities online education poses a real threat to the residential model. Why, after all, would someone pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend Nowhere State University when he or she can attend an online version of MIT or Harvard practically for free?

This is why those middle-tier universities that have spent the past few decades spending tens or even hundreds of millions to offer students the Disneyland for Geeks experience are going to find themselves in real trouble. Along with luxury dorms and dining halls, vast athletic facilities, state of the art game rooms, theaters and student centers have come layers of staff and non-teaching administrators, all of which drives up the cost of the college degree without enhancing student learning. The biggest mistake a non-ultra-elite university could make today is to spend lavishly to expand its physical space. Buying large swaths of land and erecting vast new buildings is an investment in the past, not the future. Smart universities should be investing in online technology and positioning themselves as leaders in the new frontier of open-source education. Creating the world’s premier, credentialed open online education platform would be a major achievement for any university, and it would probably cost much less than building a new luxury dorm.

Even some elite universities may find themselves in trouble in this regard, despite their capacity, as noted, to retain the residential norm. In 2007 Princeton completed construction on a new $136 million luxury dormitory for its students—all part of an effort to expand its undergraduate enrollment. Last year Yale finalized plans to build new residential dormitories at a combined cost of $600 million. The expansion will increase the size of Yale’s undergraduate population by about 1,000. The project is so expensive that Yale could actually buy a three-bedroom home in New Haven for every new student it is bringing in and still save $100 million. In New York City, Columbia stirred up controversy by seizing entire blocks of Harlem by force of eminent domain for a project with a $6.3 billion price tag. Not to be outdone, Columbia’s downtown neighbor, NYU, announced plans to buy up six million square feet of debt-leveraged space in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, at an estimated cost of $6 billion. The University of Pennsylvania has for years been expanding all over West Philadelphia like an amoeba gone real-estate insane. What these universities are doing is pure folly, akin to building a compact disc factory in the late 1990s. They are investing in a model that is on its way to obsolescence. If these universities understood the changes that lie ahead, they would be selling off real estate, not buying it—unless they prefer being landlords to being educators.

Now, because the demand for college degrees is so high (whether for good reasons or not is not the question for the moment), and because students and the parents who love them are willing to take on massive debt in order to obtain those degrees, and because the government has been eager to make student loans easier to come by, these universities and others have, so far, been able to keep on building and raising prices. But what happens when a limited supply of a sought-after commodity suddenly becomes unlimited? Prices fall. Yet here, on the cusp of a new era of online education, that is a financial reality that few American universities are prepared to face.

The era of online education presents universities with a conflict of interests—the goal of educating the public on one hand, and the goal of making money on the other. As Burck Smith, CEO of the distance-learning company StraighterLine, has written, universities have “a public-sector mandate” but “a private-sector business model.” In other words, raising revenues often trumps the interests of students. Most universities charge as much for their online courses as they do for their traditional classroom courses. They treat the savings of online education as a way to boost profit margins; they don’t pass those savings along to students.

One potential source of cost savings for lower-rung colleges would be to draw from open-source courses offered by elite universities. Community colleges, for instance, could effectively outsource many of their courses via MOOCs, becoming, in effect, partial downstream aggregators of others’ creations, more or less like newspapers have used wire services to make up for a decline in the number of reporters. They could then serve more students with fewer faculty, saving money for themselves and students. At a time when many public universities are facing stiff budget cuts and families are struggling to pay for their kids’ educations, open-source online education looks like a promising way to reduce costs and increase the quality of instruction. Unfortunately, few college administrators are keen on slashing budgets, downsizing departments or taking other difficult steps to reduce costs. The past thirty years of constant tuition hikes at U.S. universities has shown us that much.

The biggest obstacle to the rapid adoption of low-cost, open-source education in America is that many of the stakeholders make a very handsome living off the system as is. In 2009, 36 college presidents made more than $1 million. That’s in the middle of a recession, when most campuses were facing severe budget cuts. This makes them rather conservative when it comes to the politics of higher education, in sharp contrast to their usual leftwing political bias in other areas. Reforming themselves out of business by rushing to provide low- and middle-income students credentials for free via open-source courses must be the last thing on those presidents’ minds.

Nevertheless, competitive online offerings from other schools will eventually force these “non-profit” institutions to embrace the online model, even if the public interest alone won’t. And state governments will put pressure on public institutions to adopt the new open-source model, once politicians become aware of the comparable quality, broad access and low cost it offers.

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onsidering the greater interactivity and global connectivity that future technology will afford, the gap between the online experience and the in-person experience will continue to close. For a long time now, the largest division within Harvard University has been the little-known Harvard Extension School, a degree-granting division within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with minimal admissions standards and very low tuition that currently enrolls 13,000 students. The Extension School was founded for the egalitarian purpose of making the Harvard education available to the masses. Nevertheless, Harvard took measures to protect the exclusivity of its brand. The undergraduate degrees offered by the Extension School (Bachelor of Liberal Arts) are distinguished by name from the degrees the university awards through Harvard College (Bachelor of Arts). This model—one university, two types of degrees—offers a good template for Harvard’s future, in which the old residential college model will operate parallel to the new online open-source model. The Extension School already offers more than 200 online courses for full academic credit.

Prestigious private institutions and flagship public universities will thrive in the open-source market, where students will be drawn to the schools with bigger names. This means, paradoxically, that prestigious universities, which will have the easiest time holding on to the old residential model, also have the most to gain under the new model. Elite universities that are among the first to offer robust academic programs online, with real credentials behind them, will be the winners in the coming higher-ed revolution.

There is, of course, the question of prestige, which implies selectivity. It’s the primary way elite universities have distinguished themselves in the past. The harder it is to get in, the more prestigious a university appears. But limiting admissions to a select few makes little sense in the world of online education, where enrollment is no longer bounded by the number of seats in a classroom or the number of available dorm rooms. In the online world, the only concern is having enough faculty and staff on hand to review essays, or grade the tests that aren’t automated, or to answer questions and monitor student progress online.

Certain valuable experiences will be lost in this new online era, as already noted. My own experience at Yale furnishes some specifics. Through its “Open Yale” initiative, Yale has been recording its lecture courses for several years now, making them available to the public free of charge. Anyone with an internet connection can go online and watch some of the same lectures I attended as a Yale undergrad. But that person won’t get the social life, the long chats in the dinning hall, the feeling of collegiality, the trips around Long Island sound with the sailing team, the concerts, the iron-sharpens-iron debates around the seminar table, the rare book library, or the famous guest lecturers (although some of those events are streamed online, too). On the other hand, you can watch me and my fellow students take the stage to demonstrate a Hoplite phalanx in Donald Kagan’s class on ancient Greek history. You can take a virtual seat next to me in one of Giuseppe Mazzota’s unforgettable lectures on The Divine Comedy.

So while it can never duplicate the experience of a student with the good fortune to get into Yale, this is an historically significant development. Anyone who can access the internet—at a public library, for instance—no matter how poor or disadvantaged or isolated or uneducated he or she may be, can access the teachings of some of the greatest scholars of our time through open course portals. Technology is a great equalizer. Not everyone is willing or capable of taking advantage of these kinds of resources, but for those who are, the opportunity is there. As a society, we are experiencing a broadening of access to education equal in significance to the invention of the printing press, the public library or the public school.

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nline education is like using online dating websites—fifteen years ago it was considered a poor substitute for the real thing, even creepy; now it’s ubiquitous. Online education used to have a stigma, as if it were inherently less rigorous or less effective. Eventually for-profit colleges and public universities, which had less to lose in terms of snob appeal, led the charge in bringing online education into the mainstream. It’s very common today for public universities to offer a menu of online courses to supplement traditional courses. Students can be enrolled in both types of courses simultaneously, and can sometimes even be enrolled in traditional classes at one university while taking an online course at another.

The open-source marketplace promises to offer students additional choices in the way they build their credentials. Colleges have long placed numerous restrictions on the number of credits a student can transfer in from an outside institution. In many cases, these restrictions appear useful for little more than protecting the university’s bottom line. The open-source model will offer much more flexibility, though still maintain the structure of a major en route to obtaining a credential. Students who aren’t interested in pursuing a traditional four-year degree, or in having any major at all, will be able to earn meaningful credentials one class at a time.

To borrow an analogy from the music industry, universities have previously sold education in an “album” package—the four-year bachelor’s degree in a certain major, usually coupled with a core curriculum. The trend for the future will be more compact, targeted educational certificates and credits, which students will be able to pick and choose from to create their own academic portfolios. Take a math class from MIT, an engineering class from Purdue, perhaps with a course in environmental law from Yale, and create interdisciplinary education targeted to one’s own interests and career goals. Employers will be able to identify students who have done well in specific courses that match their needs. When people submit résumés to potential employers, they could include a list of these individual courses, and their achievement in them, rather than simply reference a degree and overall GPA. The legitimacy of MOOCs in the eyes of employers will grow, then, as respected universities take the lead in offering open courses with meaningful credentials.

MOOCs will also be a great remedy to the increasing need for continuing education. It’s worth noting that while the four-year residential experience is what many of us picture when we think of “college”, the residential college experience has already become an experience only a minority of the nation’s students enjoy. Adult returning students now make up a large mass of those attending university. Non-traditional students make up 40 percent of all college students. Together with commuting students, or others taking classes online, they show that the traditional residential college experience is something many students either can’t afford or don’t want. The for-profit colleges, which often cater to working adult students with a combination of night and weekend classes and online coursework, have tapped into the massive demand for practical and customized education. It’s a sign of what is to come.

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hat about the destruction these changes will cause? Think again of the music industry analogy. Today, when you drive down music row in Nashville, a street formerly dominated by the offices of record labels and music publishing companies, you see a lot of empty buildings and rental signs. The contraction in the music industry has been relentless since the Mp3 and the iPod emerged. This isn’t just because piracy is easier now; it’s also because consumers have been given, for the first time, the opportunity to break the album down into individual songs. They can purchase the one or two songs they want and leave the rest. Higher education is about to become like that.

For nearly a thousand years the university system has looked just about the same: professors, classrooms, students in chairs. The lecture and the library have been at the center of it all. At its best, traditional classroom education offers the chance for intelligent and enthusiastic students to engage a professor and one another in debate and dialogue. But typical American college education rarely lives up to this ideal. Deep engagement with texts and passionate learning aren’t the prevailing characteristics of most college classrooms today anyway. More common are grade inflation, poor student discipline, and apathetic teachers rubber-stamping students just to keep them paying tuition for one more term.

If you ask students what they value most about the residential college experience, they’ll often speak of the unique social experience it provides: the chance to live among one’s peers and practice being independent in a sheltered environment, where many of life’s daily necessities like cooking and cleaning are taken care of. It’s not unlike what summer camp does at an earlier age. For some, college offers the chance to form meaningful friendships and explore unique extracurricular activities. Then, of course, there are the Animal House parties and hookups, which do take their toll: In their research for their book Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that 45 percent of the students they surveyed said they had no significant gains in knowledge after two years of college. Consider the possibility that, for the average student, traditional in-classroom university education has proven so ineffective that an online setting could scarcely be worse. But to recognize that would require unvarnished honesty about the present state of play. That’s highly unlikely, especially coming from present university incumbents.

The open-source educational marketplace will give everyone access to the best universities in the world. This will inevitably spell disaster for colleges and universities that are perceived as second rate. Likewise, the most popular professors will enjoy massive influence as they teach vast global courses with registrants numbering in the hundreds of thousands (even though “most popular” may well equate to most entertaining rather than to most rigorous). Meanwhile, professors who are less popular, even if they are better but more demanding instructors, will be squeezed out. Fair or not, a reduction in the number of faculty needed to teach the world’s students will result. For this reason, pursuing a Ph.D. in the liberal arts is one of the riskiest career moves one could make today. Because much of the teaching work can be scaled, automated or even duplicated by recording and replaying the same lecture over and over again on video, demand for instructors will decline.

Who, then, will do all the research that we rely on universities to do if campuses shrink and the number of full-time faculty diminishes? And how will important research be funded? The news here is not necessarily bad, either: Large numbers of very intelligent and well-trained people may be freed up from teaching to do more of their own research and writing. A lot of top-notch research scientists and mathematicians are terrible teachers anyway. Grant-givers and universities with large endowments will bear a special responsibility to make sure important research continues, but the new environment in higher ed should actually help them to do that. Clearly some kinds of education, such as training heart surgeons, will always require a significant amount of in-person instruction.

Big changes are coming, and old attitudes and business models are set to collapse as new ones rise. Few who will be affected by the changes ahead are aware of what’s coming. Severe financial contraction in the higher-ed industry is on the way, and for many this will spell hard times both financially and personally. But if our goal is educating as many students as possible, as well as possible, as affordably as possible, then the end of the university as we know it is nothing to fear. Indeed, it’s something to celebrate.

亚马逊:政治丛林的王者

Buying a judge is much useful than buying a system and it is more agile when you get a disturbance.


亚马逊:政治丛林的王者

2013年05月06日 06:30 AM 雅各布•韦斯伯格

与普通零售店相比,亚马逊(Amazon)拥有商品类别齐全、折扣幅度大以及客户服务超级棒的优势。亚马逊凭借这些“正当”优势打造了自己的帝国。但与实体商店相比,亚马逊还有一项不那么“正当”的优势:它不必向顾客代征销售税(销售税是美国各州对消费品征收的高低不等的税)。这项规定让顾客可以节约最高达购物金额12%的税金(取决于顾客居住地所在州),因此,能在网上买到的东西,只有傻子才会选择在线下购买。

亚马逊成立迄今已近20年,美国国会终于开始着手填堵这个漏洞,提出了一项法案,允许各州要求电商向顾客代收税金。预计参议院下周将最终通过这项《市场公平法案》(Marketplace Fairness Act),但围绕法案的辩论,并不是事件中最引人注目之处。事实上,没有什么好辩论的。就连亚马逊也承认,原则上应该让电商和实体商店站在同一起跑线上。事件中最引人注目之处在于,这项法案拖延了这么多年才被提上议事日程。这种拖延显示,美国政治体系妥协和僵化情况之严重,致使其无法及时纠正经济中哪怕是最一目了然的不公平。

电商据以逃避向顾客代收销售税义务的法律,可追溯到那个人们通常去居住地的实体商店购物的时代。如果一家企业在某个州没有“实体存在”,只是从别处运来商品,它就不必向顾客代征税金。顾客要自行为所购商品支付“使用税”。但没有多少人会如此自觉地缴纳这项税,各州也无法追踪逃税者。

随着亚马逊发展壮大,其首席执行官杰夫•贝佐斯(Jeff Bezos)将这种不合理状况视作一种权利,并采用寻租技巧来保护自己的“优势”。他在游说组织身上花了数百万美元,聘请着大批律师,并通过竞选捐款在政界培植盟友。亚马逊弱小的竞争对手很难在法院里证明这种状况不合理。也没有任何消费者支持征税,尽管公共服务的缩水让消费者间接交了税。

在美国各州,亚马逊成为一个“官司霸王”,印证了那句老话:当一家企业足够强大,它就可以对贫穷的政府发号施令。每当州政府威胁要让亚马逊代收税金,它就警告称,自己可以将成千上万的工作岗位转移到别处。美国加州政府几年前濒临破产,州议会决定要求亚马逊代收税金,于是亚马逊中断了与加州当地商户的关系,并威胁为举行全民表决否决这一决定提供赞助。它的战略逐渐演变为让不可避免的法案能拖就拖。每当某个州政府看样子要打赢官司了,亚马逊就会与它谈判,同意代征税金,通常附带延后几年开始履行此项义务的条件。

在这场不讲道义的游戏中,亚马逊一直得以享受国会共和党议员们的包庇。这些议员们认为,“不征税而履行代表民众的职责”是自由的体现。有原则的保守派信奉,应该维持较低、稳定而公平的税率。相形之下,一名美国共和党人会认为,课税和税款的有效征集,均为政府滥用职权的体现。格罗夫•诺奎斯特(Grover Norquist)将这个理念编写为“反税收誓言书”,该誓言书如今已征集到大多数共和党人的签名。诺奎斯特领导的“支持税改美国人”(Americans for Tax Reform)组织,是反对向网购商品征税的主力。

憎恶征税的美国共和党人不放过任何可以利用的论点。在过去,他们鼓吹,在互联网还未长成之际对电子商务行为征税,无异于杀鸡取卵。其他人称,遵纪守法会对小企业造成过于沉重的负担,这些企业(年销售额少于50万美元、享受税收豁免的小型商户除外)可能成为没完没了的税收审计的牺牲品。亚马逊的游说者努力让拟议中的税收起征点进一步降低,显然是为了让这个论点更具说服力。

如今情况有何改变?主要的一点是,亚马逊的主导地位已牢牢确立,它已经不想继续捍卫这项优势了。能坚持到现在,已经超出了亚马逊当初的期望。如今,亚马逊希望能够到处建仓库,就“实体存在”在各州挨个打官司也就无意义了。换句话说,不是国会终于决定采取行动,而是金主们终于允许它采取行动了。

Huge survey reveals seven social classes in UK

Wealth Inequality in America

Wealth Inequality in America, The Critique

There are more discussions on Youtube about this video.


Huge survey reveals seven social classes in UK

3 April 2013 BBC

John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in the Class Sketch

People in the UK now fit into seven social classes, a major survey conducted by the BBC suggests.

It says the traditional categories of working, middle and upper class are outdated, fitting 39% of people.

It found a new model of seven social classes ranging from the elite at the top to a “precariat” – the poor, precarious proletariat – at the bottom.

More than 161,000 people took part in the Great British Class Survey, the largest study of class in the UK.

Class has traditionally been defined by occupation, wealth and education. But this research argues that this is too simplistic, suggesting that class has three dimensions – economic, social and cultural.

The BBC Lab UK study measured economic capital – income, savings, house value – and social capital – the number and status of people someone knows.

The study also measured cultural capital, defined as the extent and nature of cultural interests and activities.

The new classes are defined as:

Audio here (Check source)

  • Elite – the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals
  • Established middle class – the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital
  • Technical middle class – a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy
  • New affluent workers – a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital
  • Traditional working class – scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age at 66
  • Emergent service workers – a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital
  • Precariat, or precarious proletariat – the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital

The researchers said while the elite group had been identified before, this is the first time it had been placed within a wider analysis of the class structure, as it was normally put together with professionals and managers.

At the opposite extreme they said the precariat, the poorest and most deprived grouping, made up 15% of the population.

The sociologists said these two groups at the extremes of the class system had been missed in conventional approaches to class analysis, which have focused on the middle and working classes.

Methodology

Professor of sociology at Manchester University, Fiona Devine, said the survey really gave a sense of class in 21st Century Britain.

The survey has really allowed us to drill down and get a much more complete picture of class in modern Britain”

— Prof Fiona Devine, Manchester University

“What it allows us is to understand is a more sophisticated, nuanced picture of what class is like now.

“It shows us there is still a top and a bottom, at the top we still have an elite of very wealthy people and at the bottom the poor, with very little social and cultural engagement,” she said.

“It’s what’s in the middle which is really interesting and exciting, there’s a much more fuzzy area between the traditional working class and traditional middle class.

“There’s the emergent workers and the new affluent workers who are different groups of people who won’t necessarily see themselves as working or middle class.

“The survey has really allowed us to drill down and get a much more complete picture of class in modern Britain.”

Video here (Check source)

The researchers also found the established middle class made up 25% of the population and was the largest of all the class groups, with the traditional working class now only making up 14% of the population.

They say the new affluent workers and emergent service workers appear to be the children of the “traditional working class,” which they say has been fragmented by de-industrialisation, mass unemployment, immigration and the restructuring of urban space.

What class are you?

Class figures

  • The full class survey takes about 25 minutes and covers wealth and job type, interests and social circle
  • Compare your score to the nation’s
  • Receive a personalised coat-of-arms

BBC Lab UK worked with Prof Mike Savage of the London School of Economics and Prof Devine on the study.

The findings have been published in the Sociology Journal and presented at a conference of the British Sociological Association on Wednesday.

Researchers asked a series of questions about income, house value, savings, cultural and leisure activities and the occupations of friends.

They were able to determine a person’s economic, social and cultural capital scores from the answers and analysed the scores to create its class system.

The GBCS was launched online in January 2011, but data showed participants were predominantly drawn from the well-educated social groups.

To overcome this a second identical survey was run with a survey company GFK, with a sample of people representing the population of the UK as a whole, using the information in parallel.

西方的“空谈误国”

:P

纸媒文章,无链接。


西方的“空谈误国”

Date here 张维为(《求是》 评论)

希腊这样的国家正在整体滑向“第三世界”,如果西方还是无法克服“空谈误国”症,那么西方整体走衰的趋势恐将难以避免……

“空谈误国,实干兴邦”是中国崛起的一条重要经验。其实,“空谈误国”也是世界各国治国理政的一条普遍规律,对西方国家同样适用。西方陷入今天的金融危机、债务危机和经济危机,很大程度上也有“空谈误国”的因素。如果西方体制无法克服自己所患的“空谈误国”症,那么西方整体走衰的速度还将加快。

西方“空谈误国”症的主要症状有:

一、空耗内斗

由于西方国家“选举政治”的驱动,政客做事的主要考虑总是选举的需要。以深陷债务危机的希腊为例,尽管国家几乎破产,但各个政党还是为下一轮竞选而没完没了地打口水仗。希腊领导人去年竟然公开主张采用公投来要挟欧盟,一时使整个欧洲陷入紧张,但这些政客的真正目的只是为了国内党派间达成某种交易。难怪有西方学者这样评述希腊政治:“希腊发明了民主。但现代希腊却有可能给民主带来恶名。雅典的政客们争论不休,有可能使欧洲债务危机升级,对希腊、欧盟乃至世界经济整体产生严重后果。”

美国的“空谈误国”症也很严重。美国金融海啸本质上缘于金融监管失控和资本力量对体制的控制,但尽管危机当头,民主、共和两党却迟迟无法就应对危机达成共识,许多改革提案的讨论变成了马拉松式的扯皮。在金融海啸爆发的2008年,共和党使用或威胁使用了“阻碍议事”的方法,使80%的主要立法事项陷于瘫痪。这种空耗内斗至今仍未中断。英国《金融时报》去年曾发表题为《美国选择自我毁灭》的文章,惊叹“我们很难记起美国政治中还有比眼下更哀凉的时刻”,批评美国政客见利忘义,互拆墙角,甚至“希望经济尽可能糟糕”。

二、言而无信

西方模式一个普遍问题是政客喜欢开空头支票,但大都言而无信。日本经历了“失去的20年”,这也正是日本政坛走马灯一样换首相的20年,政客们竞相给出美丽的承诺,但落到实处的非常有限。西方政治制度今天的特点之一就是产生一大批能说会道但不能干的政客,日本是一个典型。前首相野田佳彦曾公开表示自己是“凡人一个,既非世袭议员,也没有雄厚资金,既不是帅哥,也没有卖点,但有一点让我引以为豪的是,在现有政治家中,我是街头演说做得最好的”。日本《大众周刊》一篇评论说:“如果实行美国式的竞选辩论就可以改变日本政治,我们只要有一群杰出的辩论家就行了,日本最不缺的就是这种人。国家政治混乱,不是这种人太少,而是这种人太多。日本现在需要的不是辩论家,而是实干家!”

四年前,美国总统奥巴马高喊着“变革”的口号入主白宫,但四年过去了,他兑现了多少承诺?华尔街还是我行我素,医疗改革仍然悬而未决;他承诺削减国债,但国债却从原来的11万亿美元增加到现在的16万亿美元。邓小平早在上世纪80年代初就调侃过美式民主的言而无信:“美国把它的制度吹得那么好,可是总统竞选时一个说法,刚上任一个说法,中期选举一个说法,临近下一届大选时又是一个说法。美国还说我们的政策不稳定,同美国比起来,我们的政策稳定得多。”2011年标准普尔降低了美国政府的信用评级,主要理由就是“美国政治决策过程中的不确定性增加”导致了“对美国政治决策机制的信心下降”。美国盖洛普公司2012年6月的民调结果也证明了这一点:美国公众对美国国会的支持率持续低迷,只有17%。

三、民粹盛行

民主政治在西方越来越演变成民粹政治,即政客对民众的不断操纵和忽悠,只要选票来得快,政客什么话都可以说,什么虚招都可以玩,不在乎事情本身的是非曲直,不在乎自己国家的长远和整体利益,结果是许多西方国家治国理政中的理性与责任日渐缺位。去年美国大选中,奥巴马和罗姆尼唇枪舌剑,就内政外交、经济民生等问题展开论战,而屡屡“中枪”的却是远隔万里的中国:明明是华尔街的贪婪等因素造成了美国今日之困境,政客们却大谈中国人偷走了美国的就业机会,还将中美贸易失衡归结于人民币汇率问题。对于美国政客来说,这样做的最大好处就是忽悠百姓,拉到选票,所以中国就成了美国诸多问题的“替罪羊”。

这种一味讨好选民的民粹政治是美国各级政府陷入债务危机的主要原因。美国加州政府破产就是一个典型例子。民粹政治使政客一路高喊减税,先是减少财产税,后是取消汽车税,最后加州政府陷入了破产的境地。州政府后来想恢复汽车税,但州议会又从中作梗,结果使加州财政陷入恶性循环。南欧葡萄牙、意大利、希腊、西班牙相继出现财务危机,主要原因也是低能政客竞相讨好选民,各种各样的福利支出耗尽了国库,最终恶果还是要百姓来买单。

“空谈误国”导致西方民主品质的严重滑坡,其大背景是西方民主制度越来越演变成一种“游戏民主”,也就是把民主等同于竞选,把竞选等同于政治营销,把政治营销等同于拼金钱、拼表演、拼空谈,政客所做的承诺很少兑现,多数选民对此也无可奈何,结果是国家治理品质的普遍下滑甚至急剧下降。

西方民主模式很像一个被宠坏的孩子,如果他有祖上遗留下来的丰厚家产,如西方多数国家那样,他还可以继续挥霍和“游戏”一段时间;而对于那些祖上遗产不多的发展中国家,照搬西方民主模式后,情况就更糟。印度实行西式民主,也染上了“空谈误国”症,其主要政客9年前竞选时的一句大话、空话:5年后世界将“忘掉上海,转而只谈孟买”,今天成了一个经典的政治笑话。

如果说中国概念的“空谈误国”点出了西方模式的某种顽症的话,那么“与时俱进”大概就是中国可以给西方模式开出的药方。其实西方许多有识之士也意识到了这个问题。比利时在经历了540多天无中央政府的危机后,这个西方国家的一批知识分子于2011年11月发表了《千人集团宣言》,对西方民主制度未能 “与时俱进”提出了强烈的批评:“除了民主,现在全世界的革新无处不在。如公司必须不断创新,科学家必须不断跨越学科藩篱,运动员必须不断打破世界纪录,艺术家必须不断推陈出新。但说到社会政治组织形式,我们显然仍满足于19世纪30年代的程序。我们为什么必须死抱着两百年的古董不放手?民主是活着的有机体,民主的形式并非固定不变的,应该随着时代的需要而不断成长。”

这段话说得很棒!如果西方还是拒绝“与时俱进”的改革,无法克服“空谈误国”症,那么西方整体走衰的趋势恐将难以避免,甚至不能排除一些西方国家加速滑向“第三世界”。这种现象实际上已经在许多西方国家内部出现,在美国、法国、意大利等国内部已经有相当规模的“第三世界”,而像希腊这样的国家似乎正在整体滑向“第三世界”。西方国家该警醒了:与其忙于向世界推销自己的民主,还不如好自为之,痛下决心,全面修理一下自己的治国理政模式。