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独家专访 | 柯成兴: 经济学中的“傲慢与偏见”-The Pride and Prejudice in Economics

(Reprinted from Jacky X LSEPKU 2015.04.18 – Part 1 of 2, continuing in 2. English version below)

柯成兴(Danny Quah)教授于1958年出生在马来西亚的槟城。柯成兴教授自2009年以来任北京大学-英国伦2013.04.23-Danny.Quah-KL-UOLIP-0387敦政治经济学院暑期学校的董事长,同时也是暑期学校的任课教师之一(“全球经济:对世界领导权和经济重心东移的再思考”,课程号LPS-EC205)

柯成兴教授目前在伦敦政治经济学院经济学系和国际发展学系任教,兼任伦敦政治经济学院东南亚研究中心负责人,新加坡国立大学访问教授。柯成兴教授曾经为马来西亚国家经济建议委员会成员,并先后在英格兰银行、世界银行,新加坡财政部担任顾问。柯成兴教授早年的研究集中于美国经济周期等宏观经济学的传统领域,近年来的关注点逐渐转向国际宏观经济学,探讨世界经济重心的东移问题。

在本次独家专访的第一部分中,柯成兴教授与我们分享了他的学术兴趣从西方转向东方的原因,将国际关系理论与经济学研究方法相结合的动机,以及他对经济学中“傲慢与偏见”现象的理解。

LSE-PKU Summer School = LPSS, 柯成兴 =

LPSS:虽然您目前的研究兴趣集中在中国(以及其他亚洲新兴市场经济体),但您在学术生涯的早期是研究美国的国内经济问题的。为什么您的研究眼光会从西方转向东方?在您看来,相较于中国本土学者而言,您在中国研究领域有什么优势和劣势?

柯:有不少原因促使我的研究兴趣从美国转向东亚。如你所知,我在早期花了很多的时间研究美国的商业周期——这个问题很有难度,也很有趣,并具有非常重要的政策含义——就像许多宏观经济学家所做的那样。

但后来我做了一个简单的计算:美国大约有2亿的劳动力;如果失业率为4%,那么我大概是在研究8万人的福利问题。而另一方面,世界上尚有五十多亿人生活在发展中国家,经济相对并不发达。其中,这些人中的很大一部分正是来自于亚洲。当我的眼光转向亚洲时,就无法绕过中国——这个国度已经使6.5亿人摆脱了赤贫。所以,从一个纯粹的、不带感情色彩的计算结果来看,我们是在衡量8万人和数十亿人的福祉。

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这让我感到,经济学界在人员分工上是存在失衡的:我们选出最有天赋的经济学家,教会他们宏观经济学,并赋予他们解决重大经济问题的任务。但从全球的角度来看,这些“重大”问题可能并不是最重要的。这是我发生转变的第一个原因。

要是我声称这是我改变的唯一动因,将无异于“篡改历史”——也就是不事实求是,来美化自己的形象。其实,当我的思想发生转变时,那些数字并不是第一时间就浮现在我的脑海中。事情并没有这么简单。

2010.09.27-Danny.Quah-WECG-LSE-Research-Map-Chinese如你所知,我在20世纪90年代初期时,还花了很多的时间研究经济增长和与经济收敛的问题。那个时期的许多经济学研究有两个重要的特点:第一,经济学家着眼于分析人均收入,因为增长模型告诉我们人均收入是重要的;第二,经济学家使用横截面分析作为研究的工具。但是,这些研究是有局限性的:首先,经济体的大小被忽视了——在这些研究中,国家的(人口)规模可能是经济增长的一个原因,但学者从来不会通过某国家(人口)规模的大小来判断该国经济增长所带来的后果。这样一来,我们就忽略了一个重要的现实:中国这个世界上人口规模最大的国家,其经济增速也是举世无双的——如果是小小的新加坡以中国的速度增长的话,绝不会产生如中国一般的影响力。其次,在进行横截面分析或类似的回归分析时,许多经济学者认为个别很反常的国家——如新加坡和中国——需要被排除在外。那时,我们都追逐着一个理想化的、“具有代表性”的经济体。

我自己则试图从回归分析和平均值抽身,转而从事对收入分配状况的动态分析。一旦我开始思考那些离群值(outliers)——而且意识到东亚孕育了这么多成功的“离群”的经济体——就一发不可收拾。这些离群值中既有庞然大物(如中国),又有城市国家(如新加坡)。

我对世界经济重心转移的计算是试图将普遍性(平均值)和特殊性(东亚奇迹)相结合。我最终需要给不同的事物命名,因为我必须举出东亚经济,特别是中国经济中的例子。正好相反的是,那些计量经济学家可不喜欢赋予事物以合适的名称。他们更喜欢给一切标上j或t的下标。

我那篇于2011年发表的(有关世界经济中心转移的)论文中的实证结果颇有挑衅意味:那篇论文显示,世界经济的重心已经从大西洋向东推移。在过去的三十年间,这一重心已经东移了5000公里,这相当于地球半径长度的3/4。而且,这种变化还将继续。当我发表那篇论文后,我收到了来自世界各地的电邮和信件。其中一个人对我说,我应该悬崖勒马。这个人还说美国的神经已经够紧张的了,而我还在“为憎恶东亚、恐惧中国的思潮火上浇油。”

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我从不假装自己是一位土生土长的中国或新加坡的学者,甚至不装作是一位亚洲本地的学者——虽然我的确来自东亚,并有华裔血统。因为我认为,那些常年在东亚居住,并在当地拥有全职工作的学者永远比我更加了解某些细节。我将自己视作一个眼冷心热的旁观者:一方面,我带着计量经济学的工具来到这里(新加坡、中国,或其他东亚国家)来提炼(东亚经济的)普遍性;与此同时,我也对东亚经济的特殊之处怀有极大的好奇心——我认为在东亚地区,尤其是在新加坡和中国正发生着许多有趣的经济现象。我想这就是我的优势所在:我既知晓普遍性,又了解特殊性。

LPSS:在2015年的课程大纲中,我认为您似乎采取了多学科的方法——即超越经济学的藩篱,整合了其他学科(尤其是国际关系)的思想。您为什么要这么做?您曾经在曾经的采访中提到,经济学应该 “多一点包容性,少一些雄性激素”(“more inclusiveness, and less driven by machismo”)。这是否意味着您认为经济学本身有其局限,因此您想打破不同学科之间的壁垒?

柯:(必须承认)经济学拥有一套非常强大的思维体系。那些我在经济学原理课程上讲授的核心原理,也正是我一遍遍用周遭世界加以印证的那些思想。我将这些原理铭记于心,不是因为它们来自我的老师,或比我的老师们更早的诸位经济学大师,而是因为它们有用。因此从这个方面说,我并非经济学领域中的原教旨主义者。

新加坡和中国的主政者都很注重实用。他们观察周围的事物并加以试验,据此来评判哪种战略最具成效。对我来说,邓小平和李光耀留给后人非常重要的教训之一正是他们身上伟大的实用主义。在我看来,务实总是强于教条。因此,当我将经济学与其他学科的思想加以整合时,我正是在务实。

2013.04.23-Danny.Quah-KL-UOLIP-0216你刚刚着重提到了国际关系这个学科。对我来说,从思考如何在微观经济学的基础上建立宏观经济学,再到研究国际宏观经济学,最后转向国际关系领域是一个很自然的过程。虽然国际宏观经济学是最接近国际关系的一个经济学分支,但它将世界视作给定,仅仅模拟一两个国家的情况——一个简单的双寡头模型。然而,国际关系完全突破了这种局限:它是关于不同国家之间互动的学科,是一套早在经济学出现很久之前就已经存在的思维方式。当然,这样一来需要我研究的概念也就发生了改变,变成了一场有关大国竞争、软实力、单极霸权、和平崛起、全球权力转移以及帝国主义的讨论——传统上,所有这些概念更多地依赖于历史性的和定性的叙述,而这种叙述方式是不为经济学家所欣赏的。我相信,这些概念在经济学中可以有清晰的表述。因此,当我想要将国际关系与经济学整合起来时,我是在坚持实用主义。在一个全球化了的经济中,我们真的亟需了解国家间的关系,这因此,我尝试了解国际关系学家对于世界的看法,并将这些灵感融入我的经济学思想,使得这些想法更加具有经济学的意义。

你提问中的一个关键词是“包容性”。是的,我完全相信,我们需要更多地聆听那些被主流经济学界视作是离经叛道的想法。经济学中的傲慢与偏见有时可以让人叹为观止:相当长的的一段时间里,我们以为只有一种分析的范式,只有一套固定的问题需要回答;有些经济学界中的“思想警察”们一见到异己者就暴跳如雷;还有些经济学者念叨着:“我们可不会容忍这样的事情”。我认为,这种态度在我们试图理解一个变动不居的世界时只会帮上倒忙。

LPSS:一个业已功成名就的经济学家走出自己的“舒适圈”,并从陌生的领域汲取灵感,实属罕见。我很想了解,当您在谈论属于其它学科的概念(比如“霸权”和“和平崛起”)时,是否曾有感到不太自信的时刻(因为您是经济学家,并非国际关系专家)?您又会如何消解这种感受?

柯:你说得很对。走出舒适圈的过程困难重重,甚至可能会毁掉一个学者的学术生涯。我并不建议刚刚踏入经济学的年轻学者去做和我一样的事情。而对于那些已经在经济学界立住脚跟的学者来说,我则认为由他们来做这种高风险的研究是有益的,因为他们已经具备了足够的职业保障。作为经济学者,我们的确需要走出我们的舒适圈,去做那些高风险的研究。这是为了让我们的经济学变得更好。

另一大挑战则来自于我的同事们。有时候,我发现扭头向自己的经济学家同事解释,我并没有——用他们的话来说——变“软”(即不再从事技术性的定量研究)非常的困难。这是经济学本身的一个症结:(不同流派的)经济学家们总是在智识上保持疏离。其实,我现在从经济学转向其他学科的做法,与我年轻时从工科转向经济学的经历如出一辙:几十年前,我曾从物理和工程学走进经济学的大门——无论是当时还是现在,我都只是想从这些学科中汲取养分,并希望做出些许的贡献。

有时当我告诉别人,我借鉴其他学科的成果的原因是我的博士导师,托马斯•萨金特(2011年诺贝尔经济学奖2015.04.18-LSEPKU-TJS-Captioned得主)教授说过的一句话,他们会非常吃惊。在很多人眼里,萨金特教授是一个新古典主义的宏观经济学家,可这跟我的所作所为又有什么关系?萨金特教授教给我的重要一课,是他曾经对我说:“一定要清楚你到底想解释什么事实;一旦明确了这一点,并且你认为这个问题非常重要,那么就动用手头上的一切工具解决它。”那个时候,我研究的问题是商业周期,所以我选用傅立叶分析等工具。现在,我研究的是关于国家间的交往,是具有惩罚性和破坏性的国际政策,以及这些政策对普罗大众所造成的冲击——于是,我使用的工具就变成了国际宏观经济学、国际关系和一些基础的博弈论知识。这些工具都有助于我思考动机迥异的国家之间是如何互动的。

LPSS:搁置“软”与“硬”的二元对立,正是您刚刚所说的“实用主义”。由于您认为这一“权力转移”的话题非常重要,因此你不惜动用一切的工具解决它,仅此而已。

柯:“权力转移”这个词用的非常准确。我们正在经历一个重要时刻——世界的经济中心正在转移;世界政治格局也将发生巨变,这使得国际关系学者们不得不重新思考单极世界的概念。而经济学家可以帮助我们理解这一权力转移的进程。

(Chinese version continued in part 2; English translation follows, reprinted from Jacky X LSEPKU 2015.04.17)

The Pride and Prejudice in Economics
An Exclusive Interview with Professor Danny Quah
Part One of Two

Professor Danny Quah was born in Penang, Malaysia. He has been chair of the board of the LSE-PKU 2013.04.23-Danny_Quah-KL-UOLIP-0387Summer School since 2009 and is also one of the teachers (LPS-EC205 Global Economy: Rethinking World Leadership and The Great Shift East).

As a Professor of Economics and International Development at LSE, and Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, at LSE’s Institute of Global Affairs, Professor Quah works on the shifting global economy and the rise of the east. His current writing is on global hegemony and world leadership in global economic policy-making.

In this exclusive interview, we have the privilege to ask Professor Quah the shift in his research interest, the multi-disciplinary method used in his summer school course, and his opinion on the pride and prejudice in economics.

LSE-PKU Summer School = LPSS, Danny Quah = Danny


LPSS: Though your research is now fixed upon China (and other Asian emerging market economies), I realized that it was not the case from the very beginning, when you engaged yourself with the US domestic issues. Why such a change from the west to the east? In your opinion, what is your strengths and weaknesses when competing with native Chinese scholars in the realm of China Study?

Danny: I suppose there were a few ideas I had in mind when I did this. As you know, I spent a lot of my time on the American business cycles early on, as many macro economists did. Studying those issues presents interesting questions and intellectual problems from which many important policy issues flow. But then I thought of a simple calculation: there may be 200 million people in the US labor force; if we are talking about 4% of unemployment rate, then basically we are talking about the well-being of 8 million people. On the other hand, 5 billion people in the world live in countries where development remains a hugely important issue; and a large chunk of these poor people are in Asia. When we turn to Asia, we have to turn to China, a country that has lifted 650 million people out of extreme poverty. So from a purely detached computational point of view, this is comparing the well-being of 8 million people against that of billions of people.

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It strikes me that there is an imbalance in the way that economics as a profession allocates people. We allocate people with talent, we train them in macroeconomics, and we set them the task of thinking about certain problems. But from a global perspective, those problems might not be the most important ones. So I think that is one reason for my change.

But if I were to claim that as the only reason for my own switch, it would be “rewriting history”—altering 2010.09.27-Danny.Quah-WECG-LSE-Research-Mapsome part of my own history to make myself look good. When I made this transition to thinking about issues in the west to those in the east, I did not immediately think of these numbers. It wasn’t as straightforward as that. As you know, I also spent a lot of time in the early 1990s working on growth and convergence. A great deal of the work from that period in the economics had two important features: economists looked at per capita income because that was what our growth models told us to study; and researchers approached the study of growth and convergence by looking at the behavior of per capita income through cross-section regressions. But such methods had limitations: firstly, in our research the size of an economy was never thought to be important. Or, more correctly, size might have been a cause for growth – either raise growth or slow it down – but a researcher never looked at the size of an economy to think about the consequences of economic growth. What we missed was that how the world’s most populous economy—because of its size—was also the one growing fastest would indeed turn out to be very important. If it were only tiny Singapore growing so quickly, the impact on the world’s distribution of power would not be the same as when it was China doing so; secondly, many researchers felt that in a cross-section regression or similar analysis, very anomalous individual countries – Singapore and China for instance—needed to be excluded. Back then we were all chasing the notion of an idealized representative economy.

I was myself trying to move away from regression analysis and the analysis of averages by thinking about distribution dynamics. Once I started thinking about those outliers—and so many of the Eastern ones were successful—the trail just kept going. And the interesting anomalies came both large (like China) and small (like Singapore). My calculation on the world’s economic center of gravity shifting was an attempt to combine the general (averaging) and the local (the pull of the East) ideas. So I ended up trying to give things proper names—I had to refer to these examples in the east and explicitly China. Econometrics and formal economics do not like to give things names; much preferred are things with subscripts j or t.

I got emails and letters from all over the world when I published that paper. One of the messages told me that I should stop doing this work, because the US was already nervous enough: I “was stoking resentment and inciting greater fear of China and the East”.

So I do think that it is in East Asia, especially Singapore and China that a lot of interesting economics is happening. The empirical results in that 2011 paper were provocative, showing that the world’s economic center had been pulled from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean towards the east. That center has already moved east 5,000 kilometers or 3/4 of the earth’s radius in the last thirty years, and this change is going to continue.

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No, I don’t pretend to be a native Chinese or Singaporean scholar or even a native Asian scholar, though originally I am from Asia and am of Chinese descent. I think those who live and work full time here will always have a greater insight into some specifics than I ever will. I think of myself as a “sympathetic outsider”, coming here (Singapore or China or elsewhere east) with tools –econometrics—to generalize. But I also have great interest in thinking about what is special here and what doesn’t generalize. I’d guess that’s what sets me apart—a mixture of general and local.

LPSS: You once mentioned that economics should be “more inclusive, and less driven by machismo” in a previous interview. In your course outline 2015, it occurs to me that you seem to follow a multi-disciplinary method, which is to go beyond the boundaries of economics and to integrate ideas from other subjects, especially international relations. Why are you doing this? Does it mean that you think economics itself is not enough so that you wish to somewhat break the barrier between different disciplines?

Danny: Policy makers in both Singapore and China are pragmatic. They look at the things around them, and try to experiment to assess which strategies work. For me, one of the hugely important lessons from Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew is the great pragmatism in how they approach things; and pragmatism, I think, always tops dogmatism.

So, on your question—economics integrating ideas from other subjects—I think of what I do as simply being pragmatic. Economics is an extremely powerful set of ideas, and the core set of ideas—the ones I would lecture on when I teach Introductory Economics – are principles I come back to, over and over again whenever I look at the world around me. I remember these principles because they work, not because they were handed down by my teachers and other economists before them. So I am not fundamental or dogmatic in that way.

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On your question about international relations in particular, I think it is quite a natural transition for me that I go from thinking about how Macroeconomics builds on Microeconomics, to go then to International Macroeconomics and further to the domain of International Relations. Though International Macroeconomics is a branch of economics that comes closest to thinking about this, it is typically about a single country taking the world as given, or at most about one country engaging with another country—a simple duopoly model. However, International Relation explodes that vision; IR is about many different countries interacting with each other. Of course, then the ideas change as well, towards discussion of great power rivalry, Soft Power, unipolarity, hegemony, peaceful rise, global power shifts, imperialism – all of which I believe have clear descriptions in the language of economics but have traditionally been viewed more in terms of history and qualitative description, rather than what economists prefer. Therefore, when I think about my trying to use ideas from international relations, I think of pragmatism—we really need to understand relations between countries in a global economy, which is a set of ideas long before economics. I try to learn what the international scholars have to say about the world, and I try to use that in my economic thinking. It is about trying to use all these ideas to eventually make more economic sense.

One of the keywords in your question is inclusiveness. Yes, I absolutely believe we need to listen to more of those who the mainstream consider quirky or strange. Our economics profession can sometimes become a mountain of prejudice: for significant lengths of time we are socialized into thinking there’s just one way to do things, one fixed set of questions to analyze. And there’s an intellectual police squad that jumps onto those who are different. There are those in the economics profession who advance an attitude of "we won’t tolerate things like that here". I think that’s not particularly helpful in our seeking to understand a world that’s constantly changing.

LPSS: I suppose it is quite rare for an established economist to go out of the comfort zone, and to keep absorbing knowledge from unfamiliar realms. But have you ever felt uncertain or uneasy when talking about concepts belonged to other discipline like “hegemony” and “peaceful rise” (After all, you are an economist but may not be an expert in IR)? If you do, how do you overcome such feelings?

Danny: You’re absolutely right, it’s tricky. It can be very disruptive to one’s career – in your words, to move out of one’s comfort zone. I wouldn’t recommend it to scholars newly starting out; I’m not sure I recommend it to old scholars who really ought to stop doing the same thing they’ve already been doing for decades—just kidding. Actually, for those who have stayed in this profession for a while, it is good that they take on the high-risk things, because they have the safety and security required. As a profession, we need to step out of the comfort zone—to do the high-risk things so that our profession can become better.

But then again another constituency that can make things difficult is our own economics colleagues. It can be hard to turn around and convince one’s own economist colleagues that one hasn’t—in some of their words—"gone soft"—which means stop doing technical and quantitative things. That is a problem within economics: we always have a sort of intellectual distancing within economics. But I go into other fields the same way I went into economics from physics and engineering decades ago—I just want to learn, and hope to contribute in some modest way.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that I am simply taking the lessons I learned from my 2015.04.18-LSEPKU-TJSPh.D. supervisor, Thomas Sargent (2011 Nobel Laureate), who in many people’s eyes is a neo-classical macroeconomist. It won’t be apparent how I go from that to what I do now in the conversations I have with the scholars in international relations.

For me, the lesson I took from Sargent was what he once said to me:“be clear about the facts you want to explain; once you are clear about that and you can convince yourself it is important, then use all the tools you have to attack that problem.” Back then the problem for me were business cycles, so I used the tools of Fourier analysis among others; now it’s about countries engaging with each other, about punitive and disruptive international policies and about large swathes of humanity feeling the impact of those policies; so I turn to tools in international macroeconomics, international relations and some very basic game theory—but all these tools, fundamentally, just give us different ways to think about how different countries with different motives interact with one another.

LPSS: So that is what you called “pragmatism”—one has to put the distinction between soft and hard aside. You think this “shift in power” topic is of great importance, so you just use all the tools at hand to tackle it.

Danny: This “shift in power” phrase that you just mentioned is exactly the right one. We are living through a momentous time where the world’s economics center is changing; the world’s politics will be hugely disrupted. International relations have to rethink its model of unipolarity. This is a moment when economists can be very helpful in understanding this global power shift.

English version continued in part 2