无味的舒适 - 2017年4月经济学人官译3
The future of America
Why Americans need to beware of becoming complacent
AMERICA is the land of opportunity, they say. Inspired by the ambition of its Founding Fathers, its people revel in their dynamism. Diversity is their strength, as captured in the national motto—E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”). Americans embrace change and reinvention, and this, they like to think, setstheir country apart from Europe or Asia.
有人说，美国是一片充满机遇的土地。美国人在开国元勋们的雄心鼓舞下尽情挥洒自己的活力。多样性是美国的优势所在，也写在了美国的国家格言——E pluribus unum（“合众为一”）中 。美国人拥抱变化与再创造，而他们也乐意认为这一点将美国与欧洲或亚洲国家区别开来。
Tyler Cowen, an economist, believes that this ideal is self-indulgent nonsense. America is losing its vim, he says, and Americans are settling into stagnation. In his new book, “The Complacent Class”, Mr Cowen shows not only that Americans move less now, crossing state lines at around half the average rate that they did between 1948 and 1971, and stay longer in their jobs, but American entrepreneurialismis flounderingtoo. Markets are becoming more concentrated. Fewer new companies are being started, and many struggle to grow. Even in the vaunted technology sector the creation and expansion of new firms peaked in 2000. Sluggish growth in productivity and living standards is making America more like Europe and Japan.
经济学家泰勒·考恩（Tyler Cowen）认为这种完美之说是洋洋自得的无稽之谈。他说，美国正在失去激情，美国人也渐渐安于停滞。在他的新书《自满阶级》（The Complacent Class）中，考恩表明，美国人搬家比以往更少，穿越州界的频次是1948年至1971年间平均频次的一半。他们持续做一份工作的时间更长了。美国的创业精神也陷入了困境。市场正变得越来越集中。新创立的公司更少了，许多创业公司为了增长而苦苦挣扎。即使在志得意满的技术行业，新公司创建和扩张的数量已在2000年达到了顶峰。生产力和生活水平增长缓慢让美国变得更像欧洲和日本了。
On the surface, Americans enjoy more choice than ever before. From over 1,400 types of music on Spotify, a music-streaming service, to a swipeable卡片式 menu of dating options, and rare books available at the click of a button, consumers have never had it so good. But there is a dark side to being able to select the perfect product, neighbourhood or partner. Freedom to choose means that it is ever easier for people to marry, live near or school their children with other people of the same kind. In the South, the proportion of black students in majority-white schools was 44% in 1988; in 2011 that figure was 23%—lower than in 1968. Segregationby income has risen dramatically in the past few decades. The American elite might celebrate diversity in dinner-table conversation, but in practice Americans are cocooning themselves in enclavesof like-minded folk.
Segregation shuts off growth and stymiesinnovation. Poorer states used to be able to attract talented people by offering them a combination of promising job opportunities and cheaper housing. But now no one expects Louisiana to catch up with Silicon Valley. For the past few decades poorer states have been caught in a vicious circle, says Mr Cowen, where the expectation that they will not catch up makes it harder for them to do so.
When it comes to economic segregation, market forces are not helping, or at least not when they are combined with restrictions preventing the construction of more low-cost housing. A housing market that allocates the nicest housing to the highest bidder will inevitably push poor folk out of sight—and thus out of mind. Richer, well-educated people want to live near each other, and high house prices conveniently discourage poorer people from spoilingthe view.
There will be consequences, says Mr Cowen. Hyman Minsky, an economist who grew up during the Great Depression, had a theory that financial stability would breed overconfidence, sowing the seeds of future instability. Largely ignored in his lifetime as he pushed against the prevailing wisdom that efficient markets would protect capitalist society against disaster, his idea became widely celebratedonly after the financial crisis appeared to confirm it in 2007-08. Complacent financiers, regulators and central bankers allowed risk to build and put the whole system in danger.
Extending the idea to all society, as Mr Cowen does, is trickybecause of the difficulty in telling the difference between complacency, contentmentand submission. He is unclear who the complacent class really are, and who exactly is responsible for the mess. Are Americans betraying their history of reaching for the American dream, or are they suffering because of a rotten system? (Were the bankers greedy, or responding to incentives?)
Still, there is some truth to Mr Cowen’s diagnosis that America’s strength is undermined by its divisions and by a willingness to protect the powerful. Pockets of rich Americans and the lack of opportunity implied for those who are shut out of those pockets represent a festeringproblem, says Mr Cowen. In a crisis, the system’s creakiness will leave it ill-equipped to cope. In the final chapter he reveals his fear that the biggest story of the last 15 years is the growing likelihood that “a cyclical model of history will be a better predictor than a model of ongoing progress.”
The main question Mr Cowen raises is whether a dose of disorderliness will joltAmerica back tostrength. He offers an optimistic scenario, in which driverless cars allow Americans to overcome the pain of having to commute over longer distances, or where global crises convince them that they should live for the moment. Artificial intelligence, clean cheap energy and alternatives to tranquillisingopioidscould all return America’s lost dynamism.
But the pessimism of his analysis sits uncomfortably with these rosy scenarios. Other, likelier forms of chaos include populist politicians bent on sowing division, or even international violence. The path from those to a restored, vibrant America seems longer and rockier. In cycles, things often go down before they go up.