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美联储主席加入“幸福指数”运动

Nin-Hai Tseng 2012年08月09日

宏观数据显示,美国经济正在复苏,但很多美国人的感觉是日子依然不好过。美联储主席本•伯南克声称,美国需要找到更好的方式来衡量人们的幸福感。

    每次我们试图评估美国经济的健康状况时,通常都会看国民生产总值(Gross Domestic Product,GDP)等宏观性数据。但最近几年,越来越多的经济学家们表示,GDP或许并不能完全反映个人状况,也不能反映是什么改善了人们的生活。他们认为,或许需要制定专门反映幸福程度的新指标。

    所有这些或许听起来有些矫情,但美联储(Federal Reserve)主席本•伯南克近日也加入了这场幸福指数运动。而且,理由充分。虽然GDP等宏观指数显示美国经济正在(缓慢地)复苏,但伯南克表示,很多美国人和公司的日子仍然不好过。

    “我们应当寻找能更好、更直接地衡量经济幸福度的指标,经济幸福是我们政策决定的终极目标,”周一伯南克在国际收入与财富研究协会(International Association for Research in income and Wealth)于马萨诸塞州剑桥举行的一次会议上表示。

    伯南克列举了位于喜马拉雅山麓的不丹王国,其国民幸福指数(Gross National Happiness index)之高彰显了很多富国早已明白的一个道理:“有钱难买幸福”。同样重要(或许更重要的)是强有力的社会网络、医疗、教育等其他有助于提升生活品质的因素。

    伯南克还特别提到了经济合作组织(Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)的美好生活指数(better life index)。去年推出的这一指数在衡量全球34个最富裕国家的现状时依据的是个人反馈,而非经济学家或智囊团体的意见,调查涉及从住房、收入、社区、生活满意度到工作-生活平衡等多个领域。

    根据该指数,当今的美国人普遍比大多数工业化国家的人幸福。经合组织最近一次发布该指数是在5月份,美国在全球最幸福的工业化国家中排名仅次于澳大利亚和挪威,位列第三。从很多方面看,这样的排名不无道理。由于铁矿石和煤炭出口需求强劲,澳大利亚基本上避开了席卷欧洲的金融危机以及美国经济增长疲弱的冲击。GDP在某些方面依然重要。2011年澳大利亚经济增长2%,美国稍稍落后,年增长1.7%。

    虽然挪威去年也只增长了1.7%。但事实证明,挪威人比美国人略微幸福一些。不过,GDP以外,美国仍有很多值得高兴的地方。经合组织的美好生活指数显示,相比经合组织的平均水平,美国人获得了更多的教育和清洁水供应。美国人在住房上花费较少,而且还有很强的社区感——平均有92%的美国人相信在有需要时可以找到人求助,略高于经合组织平均水平的91%。美国人更愿意提供帮助:超过65%的受访者表示,上个月他们曾帮助过一个陌生人,显著高于经合组织47%的平均水平。而且,美国人依然富裕:美国家庭拥有的平均财富为102,075美元,大大高于经合组织36, 238美元的平均值,在经合组织中居首。

    那么,是不是真的像经合组织这份报告所显示的那样,美国人的幸福感其实超过了美国GDP增速所呈现的水平呢?或者说,就像伯南克指出的那样,就算美国GDP增速加快,美国人的日子依然不好过?真相是,也许美国人一般而言比大多数国家的人更幸福,但这可能只是其中一部分美国人。美国的贫富差距很大。根据该指数,收入最高的20%是年收入81,878万元,最低的20%却只有10,591美元。

    收入越低,幸福度就越低,这一点也许并不奇怪。根据这个指数,美国人对生活总体满意度的打分(0-10分制,10分为最满意)是7.1,高于经合组织6.7的均值。但鉴于“社会地位”对主观幸福感影响很大,收入最低的20%感到并不那么满意。收入最低的20%给出的生活满意度分数为6.3,而收入最高的20%则为7.6。

    确实,GDP等宏观经济数据或许显示美国经济正在复苏。但正如伯南克所指,它并没有反映出人们的真实感受。将来美联储和其他决策机构在考虑下一步怎么办时,需要探索其他方式来把脉经济。

    译者:早稻米

    Whenever we try to assess the health of the economy, we usually go by data sets that look at large groups, such as Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. But in recent years, a growing number of economists have suggested that GDP might not capture entirely how individuals are doing or what makes their lives better. They say they may need to develop new measures that focus on "well-being" or happiness.

    All this might sound a little touchy-feely, but Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently joined this happiness movement. And for good reasons. While GDP and other broad measures suggest the U.S. economy is recovering – albeit, slowly – Bernanke says many people and businesses still face tough times.

    "We should seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being, the ultimate objective of our policy decisions," he said on Monday at a conference of the International Association for Research in income and Wealth in Cambridge, Mass.

    Bernanke pointed to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index, which underscores the truism in rich countries that money doesn't buy happiness. Equally, if not more important, are strong social networks, health, education and other such things that help raise the quality of life.

    In particular, Bernanke also pointed to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's "better life index." Launched last year, it turns to private citizens rather than economists or think tanks to measure how the world's 34 richest countries are faring based on benchmarks that fall into several areas – from housing to income to community to life satisfaction and work-life balance.

    According to the index, Americans today are generally happier than most of the industrialized countries. In the OECD's latest index released in May, the U.S. ranked third behind Australia and Norway as the happiest industrialized nation in the world. In many ways, this makes sense, as strong demand or iron and ore and coal exports helped Australia largely sidestep the malaise gripping much of Europe and anemic growth in the U.S. In some ways, GDP is still relevant. Australia's economy grew 2% in 2011, while the U.S. trailed slightly behind growing at a 1.7% annual rate.

    But even while Norway also grew at 1.7% last year, the country proved slightly happier than the U.S. Nevertheless, beyond GDP, the U.S. has a lot to be happy about.

    Americans have greater access to education and clean water than the average citizen living in an OECD country, according to the OECD's better life index. They spend less on housing and there's also a stronger sense of community – on average, 92% of people believe that they know someone they could turn to in a time of need, slightly higher than the OECD average of 91%. Americans are more willing to help: More than 65% surveyed said they'd helped a stranger in the last month, markedly higher than the OECD average of 47%. And we're still rich: Average U.S. household wealth is estimated at $102,075 – much higher than the OECD average of $36, 238 and the highest figure overall.

    So are Americans happier than our GDP growth would suggest, as the OECD report seems to say? Or are we still struggling even as our GDP growth becomes stronger, as Bernanke pointed out? The truth is that while Americans are generally happier than most, that's probably only the case for a segment of our population. The gap between the haves and have-nots is wide. Whereas income of the top 20% is $81,878 a year, the bottom 20% lives on $10,591 a year, according to the index.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the lower your income, the lower your level of happiness. When Americans were asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10 (with 10 being the most satisfied), they gave it a 7.1 – higher than the OECD average of 6.7, according to the index. But given that "social status strongly influences subjective well-being," according to the index, those at the bottom 20% are less fulfilled. Whereas the bottom 20% has a life satisfaction level of 6.3, the score rises to 7.6 for the top 20%.

    Indeed, GDP and other macroeconomic data might suggest America's economy is recovering. But as Bernanke notes, that doesn't capture what's really going on. And moving forward, the Fed and other policy-makers need to consider other ways to diagnose the economy as they think what to do next.

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