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大卫·哈维:对皮克提“资本论”的事后思考

大卫·哈维 · 2014-06-11 · 来源:乌有之乡
《21世纪资本论》 收藏( 评论() 字体: / /
皮克提的数据富有价值,但他对于不平等和寡头化的解释则有着严重缺陷。因此,我们仍然需要马克思,或者马克思的当代化身。

  托马斯·皮克提的新书《21世纪资本论》最近引起了不小的轰动。他主张采取累进税制和全球财富税的手段,作为遏制资本主义趋向于“世袭”式状态的唯一途径,这种“世袭”形式的特点在于他所谓的“可怕的”财富与收入的不平等。他还通过翔实的、无可辩驳的细节,证明了在过去两个世纪,财富与收入两者间的社会不平等是如何演变的,其中特别强调了财富的地位。他摧毁了人们关于自由市场资本主义的普遍观念:认为它广布财富,认为它是保卫个人自由的坚强壁垒。皮克提向我们表明,自由市场资本主义在没有受到国家大的再分配干预的情况下,就产生了反民主的寡头。他的论证令自由主义者义愤填膺,让华尔街日报暴跳如雷。

  这本书往往被视作卡尔·马克思19世纪那本具有相同标题的著作在21世纪的替代物。皮克提实际的论述确证了他没有这种意图,因为他的书根本不是一本关于资本的著作。这本书没有告诉我们08年金融崩盘的原因,也没有告诉我们为什么会有那么多的人耗时那么久来摆脱长期失业和房产绝赎这双重负担。它无助于我们理解为什么现在美国经济增长如此迟缓,与中国情况完全相反,也无助于我们理解欧洲陷于经济停滞的和财政紧缩政策的原因。皮克提在统计学上向我们表明了(我们应当对他和他的同事们在这里所做的工作表示感激)资本在其整个历史中,趋向于产生程度越来越大的不平等。对于我们大多数人来说,这恐怕不是新闻。事实上,马克思在他的《资本论》第一卷中就已得出了同样的理论性结论。皮克提没有提到这一点并不奇怪:面对那些将他称作一个伪装的马克思主义者的右翼媒体的指责,皮克提声称他并未读过马克思的《资本论》。

  皮克提搜集了很多数据来支持他的论述。他关于收入和财富之间差异的说明是令人信服的,对我们很有帮助。同时,他还提出了一个深思熟虑的建议:将遗产税、累进税制和全球财富税等措施,作为应对财富和权力进一步集中的一剂可行的良药(不过几乎可以肯定,这在政治上是不可行的)。

  但不平等随着时间的推移而加剧的这种趋势为什么会出现呢?从他的数据中(同时也掺进了一些简·奥斯汀和巴尔扎克的美文学典故),皮克提得出了据以解释所发生状况的数学规律:那著名的1%(“占领华尔街”运动使得这个术语通行),他们的财富的日益积累是起因于这样一个简单的事实:资本的回报率(r)始终超过收入的增长率(g)。皮克提说这现在是而且过去一直是资本的“核心矛盾”。

  但这种统计上的规整还并不构成充分的解释,更别说是成为一个规律了。照他所言,那么是什么力量产生并维持了这样一个矛盾呢?皮克提并没有说。规律归规律,原因归原因,互不相干。马克思则旗帜鲜明地将这种规律的存在,归因于资方和劳方之间权力的不平衡,而这种解释依然成立。自20世纪70年代以来,由于资方动用技术、失业、外包和反劳方政策(如玛格丽特·撒切尔和罗纳德·里根)来压垮了所有反资方势力,劳方的政治和经济权力下降,从而劳方占国民收入的比例也持续下降。玛格丽特·撒切尔的经济顾问艾伦·巴德,在某个不经意间承认了80年代的反通胀政策已被证明是“增加失业的绝佳方式,而增加失业是减弱工人阶级力量的绝佳方式……增加失业所做的事情,用马克思主义术语来说就是资本主义的危机,这种危机重建劳动后备军、让资本家获得更高的利润。”在1970年,工人平均薪酬与CEO薪酬之间的比例约1:30,现在稳超1:300,而在麦当劳则达到了约1:1200。

  但就在《资本论》第二卷中(皮克提也没读过,甘愿拒斥它),马克思指出了资本倾向于压低工资会使得商品销售市场在一定时候出现萎缩。亨利·福特很久以前就承认了这种两难局面,而与此同时他对雇佣工人实行日薪5美元的8小时工作日制度,按照他的说法这是为了刺激消费需求。许多人认为有效需求不足是导致30年代出现大萧条的基础。这在二战后激发了凯恩斯主义的扩张性政策,而在强劲需求所带动的增长当中,收入之于财富的不平等状况一定程度上缩小了(虽说收入相较于财富而言并不算多)。但这种解决问题的办法,有赖于劳方权力的相对扩大、有赖于 “社会国家”(皮克提的术语)的建设,累进税制为这种建设提供了资金支持。皮克提写道:“1932年-1980年这将近半个世纪的时期内,美国联邦所得税的最高税率平均达到81%。”而这种税率并未抑制经济增长(这是皮克提驳斥右翼理念的另一项证据)。

  到60年代末,许多资本家都开始意识到需要对劳方权力过大采取措施,这些措施包括把凯恩斯逐出伟大经济学家的庙堂,包括转投米尔顿·弗里德曼的供给学派,包括稳定税率(即使不能减税的话),而这最后一项就可以解构“社会国家”、约束劳方权力。1980年后,美国的最高税率下降,资本收益的税率更是低得多(资本收益是超级富豪收入的主要来源),这就极大促进了财富向最上层1%的流动。皮克提向我们表明,减税对于经济增长的效果几乎可以忽略不计。因此,所谓利益在社会阶层中自上而下传递的“涓滴效应”(这是右翼所挚爱的另一个理念)并不成立。上述一切情况都不是由数学规律决定的,这都是政治问题。

  经历轮回之后问题变得更加迫切:需求在哪里?皮克提的体系当中忽视了这个问题。90年代的信贷巨大扩张,包括拓展次级市场的抵押贷款,蒙混过了这个问题。但由此产生的资产泡沫注定要破裂,就像07-08年那样,那次泡沫破裂就击垮了雷曼兄弟公司及其所牵涉的信贷系统。然而在09年后,利润率就迅速恢复了,私人财富的进一步集中也恢复了,尽管与此同时其他的人们其他的事业都还限于困顿。美国现在的企业利润率是史上最高,企业积压了大笔现金而不愿花出去,因为市场环境不旺。

  皮克提对数学规律的阐明,一定程度上揭示了数学规律所蕴含的阶级政治,但更多的是掩盖了这种政治。如同沃伦·巴菲特所指出的:“这里无疑有阶级斗争,我所属的富人阶级制造了这场斗争,并且不断赢得这场斗争。”说他们获胜的一个重要标准,就是顶层的1%所据有的财富和收入,较之其他人的差距在不断扩大。

  然而,在皮克提的论述中存在一个核心难题,这是建立在他对资本的错误定义基础上的。资本是一个过程,而不是一个事物【编者注:恩格斯《费尔巴哈论》归纳黑格尔的辩证法思想说:“一个伟大的基本思想,即认为世界不是既成事物的集合体,而是过程的集合体,其中各个似乎稳定的事物……处在生成和灭亡的不断变化中”】。它是一个流通过程,在流通过程中常常是“用钱生钱”,而不限于通过对劳动力的剥削来生钱。皮克提将资本定义为私人、企业和政府所持有的所有资产的股份,这些股份可以进行市场交易而无论这资产是否正在被使用。这样定义出的资本还包括土地、房地产和知识产权,以及我的艺术类和珠宝类收藏品。如何确定所有这些东西的价值在技术上是一个难题,没有公认的解答。为计算出一个有意义的回报率r,我们必须以某种方式确定初始资本的价值。不幸的是,要确定初始资本的价值,总得依赖于用这资本所生产出的商品和服务的价值,或者依赖于这资本在市场上的能卖出什么价。整个新古典经济学的思想(这是皮克提思考的基础)就是建立在一个循环论证基础上的。资本的回报率取决于增长率,因为资本的价值要通过它生产出的产品来确定,而不是通过用以生产出它本身的东西来确定。资本的价值深受投机环境的影响,还会被著名的“非理性繁荣”所严重扭曲,格林斯潘就指出了股票和房地产市场的“非理性繁荣”的特征。如果我们将房地产——更不用说对冲基金经理所投资的艺术收藏品的价值——从资本的定义当中去掉(将其包含在内本身根据就很薄弱),那么皮克提有关于财富和收入差距扩大的解释就将完全失败——尽管他对过去和现在的不平等状况的描述仍然成立。

  货币、土地、房地产和未用于现时生产的厂房与设备都不是资本。如果现时正在使用的资本的回报率较高,那是因为资本的一部分被从流通中抽出而不再投入。限制新投资的资本供应(我们现在正看到这种现象),确保了流通中资本的高回报率。创造这种人为的稀缺性并不只是石油公司用以确保其高回报率的专利:一旦有机会一切资本都会这样做。这就是资本回报率(不管它如何被定义和衡量)总是超过收入的增长率的那种趋势的基础。这就是资本确保其自身再生产的方式,而丝毫不顾其后果会引起人类其他人何等样的痛苦。这就是资产阶级的生存方式。

  皮克提的数据富有价值,但他对于不平等和寡头化趋势出现的解释则有着严重缺陷。他关于补救不平等状况的建议,如果不说是空想的,那么也是幼稚的。当然,他就也没有为21世纪的资本提供出有效模型。因此,我们仍然需要马克思,或者马克思的当代化身。

  附:英文原文

  Afterthoughts on Piketty’s Capital

  Afterthoughts on Piketty’s Capital

  Source: davidharvey.org

  David Harvey

  Thomas Piketty has written a book called Capital that has caused quite a stir. He advocates progressive taxation and a global wealth tax as the only way to counter the trend towards the creation of a “patrimonial” form of capitalism marked by what he dubs “terrifying” inequalities of wealth and income. He also documents in excruciating and hard to rebut detail how social inequality of both wealth and income has evolved over the last two centuries, with particular emphasis on the role of wealth. He demolishes the widely-held view that free market capitalism spreads the wealth around and that it is the great bulwark for the defense of individual liberties and freedoms. Free-market capitalism, in the absence of any major redistributive interventions on the part of the state, Piketty shows, produces anti-democratic oligarchies. This demonstration has given sustenance to liberal outrage as it drives the Wall Street Journal apoplectic.

  The book has often been presented as a twenty-first century substitute for Karl Marx’s nineteenth century work of the same title. Piketty actually denies this was his intention, which is just as well since his is not a book about capital at all. It does not tell us why the crash of 2008 occurred and why it is taking so long for so many people to get out from under the dual burdens of prolonged unemployment and millions of houses lost to foreclosure. It does not help us understand why growth is currently so sluggish in the US as opposed to China and why Europe is locked down in a politics of austerity and an economy of stagnation. What Piketty does show statistically (and we should be indebted to him and his colleagues for this) is that capital has tended throughout its history to produce ever-greater levels of inequality. This is, for many of us, hardly news. It was, moreover, exactly Marx’s theoretical conclusion in Volume One of his version of Capital. Piketty fails to note this, which is not surprising since he has since claimed, in the face of accusations in the right wing press that he is a Marxist in disguise, not to have read Marx’s Capital.

  Piketty assembles a lot of data to support his arguments. His account of the differences between income and wealth is persuasive and helpful. And he gives a thoughtful defense of inheritance taxes, progressive taxation and a global wealth tax as possible (though almost certainly not politically viable) antidotes to the further concentration of wealth and power.

  But why does this trend towards greater inequality over time occur? From his data (spiced up with some neat literary allusions to Jane Austen and Balzac) he derives a mathematical law to explain what happens: the ever-increasing accumulation of wealth on the part of the famous one percent (a term popularized thanks of course to the “Occupy” movement) is due to the simple fact that the rate of return on capital (r) always exceeds the rate of growth of income (g). This, says Piketty, is and always has been “the central contradiction” of capital.

  But a statistical regularity of this sort hardly constitutes an adequate explanation let alone a law. So what forces produce and sustain such a contradiction? Piketty does not say. The law is the law and that is that. Marx would obviously have attributed the existence of such a law to the imbalance of power between capital and labor. And that explanation still holds water. The steady decline in labor’s share of national income since the 1970s derived from the declining political and economic power of labor as capital mobilized technologies, unemployment, off-shoring and anti-labor politics (such as those of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) to crush all opposition. As Alan Budd, an economic advisor to Margaret Thatcher confessed in an unguarded moment, anti-inflation policies of the 1980s turned out to be “a very good way to raise unemployment, and raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes…what was engineered there in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which recreated a reserve army of labour and has allowed capitalists to make high profits ever since.” The disparity in remuneration between average workers and CEO’s stood at around thirty to one in 1970. It now is well above three hundred to one and in the case of MacDonalds about 1200 to one.

  But in Volume 2 of Marx’s Capital (which Piketty also has not read even as he cheerfully dismisses it) Marx pointed out that capital’s penchant for driving wages down would at some point restrict the capacity of the market to absorb capital’s product. Henry Ford recognized this dilemma long ago when he mandated the $5 eight-hour day for his workers in order, he said, to boost consumer demand. Many thought that lack of effective demand underpinned the Great Depression of the 1930s. This inspired Keynesian expansionary policies after World War Two and resulted in some reductions in inequalities of incomes (though not so much of wealth) in the midst of strong demand led growth. But this solution rested on the relative empowerment of labor and the construction of the “social state” (Piketty’s term) funded by progressive taxation. “All told,” he writes, “over the period 1932-1980, nearly half a century, the top federal income tax in the United States averaged 81 percent.” And this did not in any way dampen growth (another piece of Piketty’s evidence that rebuts right wing beliefs).

  By the end of the 1960s it became clear to many capitalists that they needed to do something about the excessive power of labor. Hence the demotion of Keynes from the pantheon of respectable economists, the switch to the supply side thinking of Milton Friedman, the crusade to stabilize if not reduce taxation, to deconstruct the social state and to discipline the forces of labor. After 1980 top tax rates came down and capital gains – a major source of income for the ultra-wealthy – were taxed at a much lower rate in the US, hugely boosting the flow of wealth to the top one percent. But the impact on growth, Piketty shows, was negligible. So “trickle down” of benefits from the rich to the rest (another right wing favorite belief) does not work. None of this was dictated by any mathematical law. It was all about politics.

  But then the wheel turned full circle and the more pressing question became: where is the demand? Piketty systematically ignores this question. The 1990s fudged the answer by a vast expansion of credit, including the extension of mortgage finance into sub-prime markets. But the resultant asset bubble was bound to go pop as it did in 2007-8 bringing down Lehman Brothers and the credit system with it. However, profit rates and the further concentration of private wealth recovered very quickly after 2009 while everything and everyone else did badly. Profit rates of businesses are now as high as they have ever been in the US. Businesses are sitting on oodles of cash and refuse to spend it because market conditions are not robust.

  Piketty’s formulation of the mathematical law disguises more than it reveals about the class politics involved. As Warren Buffett has noted, “sure there is class war, and it is my class, the rich, who are making it and we are winning.” One key measure of their victory is the growing disparities in wealth and income of the top one percent relative to everyone else.

  There is, however, a central difficulty with Piketty’s argument. It rests on a mistaken definition of capital. Capital is a process not a thing. It is a process of circulation in which money is used to make more money often, but not exclusively through the exploitation of labor power. Piketty defines capital as the stock of all assets held by private individuals, corporations and governments that can be traded in the market no matter whether these assets are being used or not. This includes land, real estate and intellectual property rights as well as my art and jewelry collection. How to determine the value of all of these things is a difficult technical problem that has no agreed upon solution. In order to calculate a meaningful rate of return, r, we have to have some way of valuing the initial capital. Unfortunately there is no way to value it independently of the value of the goods and services it is used to produce or how much it can be sold for in the market. The whole of neo-classical economic thought (which is the basis of Piketty’s thinking) is founded on a tautology. The rate of return on capital depends crucially on the rate of growth because capital is valued by way of that which it produces and not by what went into its production. Its value is heavily influenced by speculative conditions and can be seriously warped by the famous “irrational exuberance” that Greenspan spotted as characteristic of stock and housing markets. If we subtract housing and real estate – to say nothing of the value of the art collections of the hedge funders – from the definition of capital (and the rationale for their inclusion is rather weak) then Piketty’s explanation for increasing disparities in wealth and income would fall flat on its face, though his descriptions of the state of past and present inequalities would still stand.

  Money, land, real estate and plant and equipment that are not being used productively are not capital. If the rate of return on the capital that is being used is high then this is because a part of capital is withdrawn from circulation and in effect goes on strike. Restricting the supply of capital to new investment (a phenomena we are now witnessing) ensures a high rate of return on that capital which is in circulation. The creation of such artificial scarcity is not only what the oil companies do to ensure their high rate of return: it is what all capital does when given the chance. This is what underpins the tendency for the rate of return on capital (no matter how it is defined and measured) to always exceed the rate of growth of income. This is how capital ensures its own reproduction, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences are for the rest of us. And this is how the capitalist class lives.

  There is much that is valuable in Piketty’s data sets. But his explanation as to why the inequalities and oligarchic tendencies arise is seriously flawed. His proposals as to the remedies for the inequalities are naïve if not utopian. And he has certainly not produced a working model for capital of the twenty-first century. For that we still need Marx or his modern-day equivalent.

  David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His most recent book is Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, published by Profile Press in London and Oxford University Press in New York.

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