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这个世界在走向地狱?诺贝尔经济学奖得主用理论证明:生活正越变越好

Robert Hackett 2015年10月13日

他是一名乐观主义者。在代表作中,他认为,纵观历史可见:世界在进步。在全球范围内,贫穷、死亡和孤立呈减少趋势;总体而言,我们正活在一个前所未有的好时代。

    这个世界正走向地狱?还是会变得更好?

    每个人对未来的看法不同,便会给出不同的答案。但如果你向普林斯顿大学教授、2015年诺贝尔经济学奖得主安格斯·迪顿问这个问题,他的答案肯定会令你倍受鼓舞。正如他在2013年所著的《大脱贫:健康、财富及不平等的起源》一书中所写的那样:“情况正越来越好,甚至超乎我们的想象。”

    迪顿是一名乐观主义者。在上述代表作中,他认为,纵观历史可见:世界在进步。他指出,在全球范围内,贫穷、死亡和孤立呈减少趋势;在他看来,总体而言,我们正活在一个前所未有的好时代。

    为什么今年的诺贝尔经济学奖授予了迪顿?据评选委员会表示,迪顿凭借三个方面的重大贡献获得这一奖项。首先,他在上世纪80年代开发出了一项工具——“近乎理想的需求系统”——这一模型模拟消费者如何消费。其次,他在上世纪90年代的研究,对当时流行的关于消费或消费者支出的宏观经济学理论提出了质疑,并指出了综合数据的不足。(他认为,个体数据同样重要。)第三,他率先在发展中国家使用家庭调查,收集更准确的、经验主义的、个性化的经济数据。

    迪顿有足够的理由保持乐观。他是一位著名学者,在一所常春藤盟校有着安逸的工作。他出生于发达国家,在职业生涯当中赢得了无数奖项、奖学金和荣誉学位。现在,他可以自豪地在无数荣誉前面再加上一条——他是所有人梦寐以求的诺贝尔奖的获得者。拥有如此多的荣誉,谁会不感到乐观呢?

    《纽约时报》记者戴维·伦哈德在对迪顿2013年的代表作进行评论时,敏锐地指出:“迪顿很清楚,许多读者对于他的观点会持怀疑态度。特别是那些重视金钱更甚于重视人类基本需求的人。”

    迪顿是第一个承认不平等存在的经济学家。世界上一直都有疾病、饥荒和战争。他在获奖感言中表示,日益严重的不平等和气候变化是棘手的问题。但总体而言,这位提倡教育,不赞成国外援助的学者主张,数据显示,我们有理由对未来抱以希望。人类的平均寿命正在延长。贫困正在减少。经济在迅速发展(这取决于你怎么看)。

    据CNN财经频道报道,迪顿在获奖之后表示:“我预计[贫困]将减少。过去20年,全世界贫困水平显著下降,我认为这一趋势仍会继续。但我并不想让人们认为我是在盲目乐观。”

    我们可以用他在那本过分乐观的书中的一句话,来总结迪顿的理论:“今天的世界总是比过去更美好的。”

    译者:刘进龙/汪皓

    The world: Is it going to hell in a hand basket? Or is life improving?

    The answer to this question likely depends upon one’s personal outlook. If you ask Angus Deaton, the Scottish-born Princeton professor who on Monday won the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics, however, he will supply a cheery answer. As he writes in his 2013 book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, “Things are getting better, and hugely so.”

    Deaton is an optimist. His reading of history, as laid out in his magnum opus (cited above), suggests one of progress. He argues that poverty, death, and isolation are in global decline; in his view, there has never been, on the whole, a better time to be alive.

    Why Deaton? According to the selection committee, Deaton earned the award for three major contributions to the field. First, for his development of a tool in the ’80s—the Almost Ideal Demand System—which models how consumers spend their money, or “how the demand for each good depends on the prices of all goods on individual incomes.” Second, for his research in the ’90s, which countered prevailing macroeconomic theories of consumption—or consumer spending—by pointing out the flaws of aggregate data. (Individual data is just as key, he argued.) And third, for his pioneering use of household surveys to collect more accurate, empirical, individualized economic data in developing countries.

    Deaton has every reason to be optimistic, of course. He is an eminent man of letters with a cushy gig at an Ivy League institution. He was born in the developed world and has won no small number of awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees, throughout his distinguished career. To that list, he may now add that he is the proud owner of a coveted piece of Swedish bling, so to speak. Who wouldn’t he be optimistic given those laurels?

    “Deaton is surely aware that many readers will view these claims with skepticism,” New York Times reporter David Leonhardt acutely observes in his review of the economist’s 2013 master work, “especially coming from someone whose discipline often seems to elevate money over basic human needs.”

    Deaton is the first to acknowledge that inequalities exist. There is disease, famine, war. Amid his acceptance of the award, he cited rising inequality and climate change as troublesome trends. Generally speaking, however, the proponent of education and a critic of foreign aid contends that the data show cause to be sanguine. Life expectancy is up. Destitution, down. Economic development—depending where you look—climbing apace.

    “I do foresee a decrease [in poverty]. We’ve seen a remarkable decrease over the past 20 years, and I do forecast that will continue,” Deaton said after receiving the prize, reports CNN Money. “But I don’t want to sound like a blind optimist.”

    To summarize the man’s life’s work, as his Panglossian book blurb asserts: “The world is a better place than it used to be.”

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