即时经济学| 经济学人双语

Instant economics

即时经济学

即时经济学| 经济学人双语

A real­time revolution in economics could make the world better off

一场使世界更美好的实时经济学变革。

1 Does anyone really understand what is going on in the world economy? The pandemic has made plenty of observers look clueless. Few predicted $80 oil, let alone fleets of container ships waiting outside Californian and Chinese ports. As covid­19 let rip in 2020, forecasters overestimated how high unemployment would be by the end of the year. Today prices are rising faster than expected and nobody is sure if inflation and wages will spiral upward. For all their equations and theories, economists are often fumbling in the dark, with too little information to pick the policies that would maximise jobs and growth.

有没有人真的明白世界经济到底怎么了?疫情让众多观察人士对现状摸不着头脑。几乎没有人曾预料到油价会涨到每桶 80 美元,更不会想到在美国加州和中国港口外一艘艘集装箱货轮正大排长队。随着新冠病毒肺炎于 2020 年在全球的大肆传播,预测者们高估了今年年底失业率的数值。今日物价的上升速度超出了人们的预期,没人能确定通货膨胀和工资会不会呈螺旋式上升。尽管有各种经济学算式和理论,经济学家们仍然在黑暗中笨拙地摸索,但可用的信息太少了,无从得知什么政策才能最大程度地提升就业率、促进经济增长。

2 Yet, as we report this week, the age of bewilderment is starting to give way to greater enlightenment (see Briefing). The world is on the brink of a real-time revolution in economics, as the quality and timeliness of information are transformed. Big firms from Amazon to Netflix already use instant data to monitor grocery deliveries and how many people are glued to “Squid Game”. The pandemic has led governments and central banks to experiment, from monitoring restaurant bookings to tracking card payments. The results are still rudimentary, but as digital devices, sensors and fast payments become ubiquitous, the ability to observe the economy accurately and speedily will improve. That holds open the promise of better public-sector decision­ making — as well as the temptation for governments to meddle.

然而,正如本周我们报告的一样,迷惘的时代正在过去,我们将迎来更大规模的启蒙运动(参见 Briefing)。随着信息质量和时效性的转变,世界正位于实时经济学革命的边缘。一些商业巨头已经在通过即时数据获取信息了,例如,亚马逊利用即时数据监控货物的交付,网飞则监测有多少人正在追《鱿鱼游戏》。从监测餐馆的预定量到追踪信用卡的支付情况,疫情也促使政府和央行展开了试验。目前获得的仍是初步结果,但随着数字设备、传感器和快速支付变得无处不在,人们迅速获得准确经济观测结果的能力将会提高。这可能会有助于公共部门作出更好的决策,同样可能诱使政府实施干预。

3 The desire for better economic data is hardly new. America’s GNP estimates date to 1934 and initially came with a 13-month time lag. In the 1950s a young Alan Greenspan monitored freight-car traffic to arrive at early estimates of steel production. Ever since Walmart pioneered supply-chain management in the 1980s private­ sector bosses have seen timely data as a source of competitive advantage. But the public sector has been slow to reform how it works. The official figures that economists track — think of GDP or employment — come with lags of weeks or months and are often revised dramatically. Productivity takes years to calculate accurately. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that central banks are flying blind.

希望获得更好的经济数据并非什么新鲜事。美国国民生产总值的估算可追溯至 1934 年,首次发布的数据滞后了 13 个月。上世纪 50 年代,一位年轻人 Alan Greenspan 通过监测货运车厢的运输情况,完成了早期对钢铁产量的估算。上世纪 80 年代,沃尔玛提出了供应链管理,从那以后,私营部门的老板们一直将及时的数据视为竞争优势的来源。但是公共部门对运营方式的改革却尤为缓慢。经济学家们追踪到的官方数据(例如国内生产总值和就业率)总是会滞后数周甚至数月,并需要大幅度修改。生产力数值则需要数年才能得出准确数字。“央行是在盲飞”,这一说法并非夸张。

4 Bad and late data can lead to policy errors that cost millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in lost output. The financial crisis would have been a lot less harmful had the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero in December 2007, when America entered recession, rather than in December 2008, when economists at last saw it in the numbers. Patchy data about a vast in­ formal economy and rotten banks have made it harder for India’s policymakers to end their country’s lost decade of low growth. The European Central Bank wrongly raised interest rates in 2011 amid a temporary burst of inflation, sending the euro area back into recession. The Bank of England may be about to make a similar mistake today (see Leader).

错误和滞后的数据会导致政策上的错误,继而造成数百万人失业和数万亿美元的产出损失。如果 2007 年 12 月,也就是美国经济进入衰退期的时候,美联储就能将利率降至“近零”水平,而不是等到 2008 年 12 月(此时经济学家们从数据中看到了危机)才采取措施,那么那场经济危机造成的损失将会大大减少。由于存在大规模非正规经济的散乱数据和腐朽的银行业,印度的政策制定者们想要终结十年来迟缓的发展现状真是难上加难。2011 年,面对短期爆发的通货膨胀,欧洲央行错误地提高了利率,此举将欧元区再次带回了衰退期。而在今天,英格兰银行可能即将做出类似的错误决策(参见 Leader)。

5 The pandemic has, however, become a catalyst for change. Without the time to wait for official surveys to reveal the effects of the virus or lockdowns, governments and central banks have experimented, tracking mobile phones, contactless payments and the real-time use of aircraft engines. Instead of locking themselves in their studies for years writing the next “General Theory”, today’s star economists, such as Raj Chetty at Harvard University, run well-staffed labs that crunch numbers. Firms such as JPMorgan Chase have opened up treasure chests of data on bank balances and credit-card bills, helping reveal whether people are spending cash or hoarding it.

然而,这场疫情已经成了变革的催化剂。等不及官方发布其对疫情或封城影响的调查结果,政府和央行已开展试验,追踪手机、无接触支付的数据和飞机发动机的实时使用情况。今日的精英经济学家们(例如哈佛大学的 Raj Chetty)不会再花上数年闭门造车、埋头撰写下一部《通论》,而是领导着人手充足的实验室,处理海量数据。摩根大通集团一类的公司则打开了银行余额和信用卡账单数据的宝箱,用于了解客户是在消费还是在储蓄。

6 These trends will intensify as technology permeates the economy. A larger share of spending is shifting online and trans­ actions are being processed faster (see Leader). Real­time payments grew by 41% in 2020, according to McKinsey, a consultancy (India registered 25.6bn such transactions). More machines and objects are being fitted with sensors, including individual shipping containers that could make sense of supply-chain blockages. Govcoins, or central-bank digital currencies (CBDCS), which China is already piloting and over 50 other countries are considering, might soon provide a goldmine of real-time detail about how the economy works.

随着技术渗透到经济领域,这类趋势会进一步加剧。很大一部分支出正转向线上,交易的处理速度也更快了(参见 Leader)。根据咨询公司麦肯锡的数据,2020 年,实时支付增长了 41%(在印度此类交易达到了 256 亿笔)。越来越多的机器和物品配备了传感器,包括一个个集装箱,这便于人们找到供应链堵塞的原因。中国已开发了政府数字货币,也称央行数字货币 (CBDCS),同时还有 50 多个国家正在考虑使用,这种货币可能很快为我们提供关于经济运行的宝贵实时详情。

7 Timely data would cut the risk of policy cock­ups—it would be easier to judge, say, if a dip in activity was becoming a slump. And the levers governments can pull will improve, too. Central bankers reckon it takes 18 months or more for a change in interest rates to take full effect. But Hong Kong is trying out cash handouts in digital wallets that expire if they are not spent quickly. CBDCS might allow interest rates to fall deeply negative.

及时的数据可以减少做出错误决策的可能,人们会更加容易判断某次经济下行是否将会演变成暴跌。此外,政府能够操纵的杠杆也会得到完善。央行的决策者们认定利率的变化若要发挥全部作用,至少需要 18 个月。但是香港正在尝试通过数字钱包派发现金,这类现金如不快速花掉就会过期。政府数字货币可能允许利率深陷负值。

8 Good data during crises could let support be precisely targeted; imagine loans only for firms with robust balance-sheets but a temporary liquidity problem. Instead of wasteful universal welfare payments made through social-security bureaucracies, the poor could enjoy instant income top-ups if they lost their job, paid into digital wallets without any paperwork.

金融危机期间的优质数据有助于实施精准支持,例如仅为资产负债表抢眼但暂时面临流动性问题的公司提供贷款。以往的社会保障制度提供的普惠性福利会导致浪费问题,而现在穷人失业时能够获得即时收入救济,这类救济会打到他们的电子钱包中,而无需任何纸质手续。

9 The real-time revolution promises to make economic decisions more accurate, transparent and rules­based. But it also brings dangers. New indicators may be misinterpreted: is a global recession starting or is Uber just losing market share? They are not as representative or free from bias as the painstaking surveys by statistical agencies. Big firms could hoard data, giving them an undue advantage. Private firms such as Facebook, which launched a digital wallet this week (see Business section), may one day have more insight into consumer spending than the Fed does.

实时变革有望使经济类决策更为精准、透明、规律,但也带来了危险。新的指标可能会被错误解读,例如,某个指标是预示着全球经济衰退,还是仅说明 Uber 的市场份额减少了?与统计机构费时费力得出的调查结果不一样,这类数据往往不够典型,也会出现偏差。大公司能够收集大量数据,使它们获得了一些不平等的优势。一些私营公司,如本周推出了电子钱包的脸书(参见 Business),未来某天或许会比美联储更加了解用户的支出情况。

Know thyself

认清自己

10 The biggest danger is hubris. With a panopticon of the economy, it will be tempting for politicians and officials to imagine they can see far into the future, or to mould society according to their preferences and favour particular groups.

最大的危险是狂妄自大。在经济领域架设这样一台望远显微镜后,政治家和官员们会幻想自己能够预知未来,或是按照自己的偏好组建社会,并惠及某一类人群。

10 In fact no amount of data can reliably predict the future. Unfathomably complex, dynamic economies rely on the spontaneous behaviour of millions of independent firms and consumers. Instant economics isn’t about clairvoyance or omniscience. Instead its promise is prosaic but transformative: better, timelier and more rational decision-making.

事实上,获得的数据再多,也无法准确地预测未来。变幻莫测的经济走势取决于数百万个独立的公司和消费者的自发行为。即时经济学不是关于预见力或神机妙算的经济学。相反,它可能很平凡,却能够引领变革,即:促使我们作出更优质、更及时、更合理的决策。

 

来源:经济学人

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