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作者: 来源: 日期:2016/9/20 9:12:48

What happens in a world where mediocrity rules?





It’s absolutely amazing, but under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit.” Thus spoke accountant Leo Bloom, played in The Producers (1968) by the much-mourned Gene Wilder. In Bloom’s thought experiment, a dishonest producer would raise a vast sum by selling the profits of a Broadway show many times over. Provided the Broadway show was a flop, nobody would come looking for their share of the profits and the fraudsters could retire to Rio. If the show was a hit, of course, “well, then you’d go to jail”. That was where Bloom and his partner Max Bialystock ended up: their musical, Springtime for Hitler, was far too good.

“这很不可思议,可是在适当的情况下,制作人如果出一部烂戏,反而比制作一部好戏赚更多。”利奥•布鲁姆(Leo Bloom)在《金牌制作人》(The Producers,1968)中如是说,饰演该角色的是深受人们缅怀的吉恩•怀尔德(Gene Wilder)。根据布鲁姆的思维实验,一个不诚实的制作人可以通过把一部百老汇戏剧的收益夸大好多倍,然后从中大赚一笔。倘若这部戏搞砸了,没人会去查看自己应获利润的份额,而骗子可以退隐里约热内卢。当然,如果这部戏火了,“那么你就得坐牢”。而这正是布鲁姆和他的伙伴麦克斯•比亚韦斯托克( Max Bialystock)的下场——他们制作的音乐剧《希特勒的春天》(Springtime for Hitler)实在太成功了。广州经济翻译公司。


In the real world, people tend not to become richer when they do a worse job. There are exceptions, of course. In 2013, a jury found that Fabrice Tourre, formerly a trader at Goldman Sachs, had misled investors about the nature of “Abacus”, a complex financial security — and done so because that was his job. Abacus was, like Springtime for Hitler, a bet on collapse mis-sold to investors who did not seem to fully understand it.

现实世界中,一个人如果工作做得不好,多半也不会变成有钱人。当然也有例外。2013年,一个陪审团裁定前高盛(Goldman Sachs)交易员法布里斯•图尔(Fabrice Tourre)在“Abacus”——一种复杂的金融证券产品——的性质上误导了投资者,而他这么做的原因正是职责所在。Abacus就像《希特勒的春天》一样,是一个被认准一定会失败的金融产品,被不当地销售给那些似乎并不完全了解的投资者。


Both cases are extreme examples of “moral hazard” — the odd phrase that economists have taken up to describe perverse incentives that encourage people to be careless, reckless or even outright saboteurs. Moral hazard traditionally applies in insurance cases, and indeed recent reports from Vietnam describe a woman who cut off her hand and foot in an attempt to collect a six-figure payout from her insurance company. There was a rash of such self-harming frauds in the Florida panhandle 50 years ago.

以上两个例子都是“道德风险”的极端个例,经济学家用这一术语来形容不正当的动机(perverse incentive),它鼓励人们行事马虎草率,甚至完全就是搞破坏。传统上道德风险适用于保险案例,近期越南就有报道称一位女性切断了自己的手和脚,企图从保险公司骗取六位数保金。50年前,佛罗里达州的狭长地带曾发生大量这类自残骗保案。广州经济翻译公司。


Economics has no difficulty analysing such cases — several Nobel Memorial Prizes have been given to economists who studied moral hazard. Still, they run counter to the mood music of mainstream economics, which tends to strike Panglossian chords. The starting point of modern economics is the perfectly competitive equilibrium, in which resources are allocated efficiently and the market will deliver more of what people really want. Against such a stirring symphony, Leo Bloom and Fabrice Tourre hit isolated, dissonant notes.

用经济学分析此类案件并不困难,已经有好几个诺贝尔经济学奖(Nobel Memorial Prizes)颁给了研究道德风险的经济学家。主流经济学往往奏响过分乐观的乐章,这些经济学家却是背道而驰。现代经济学的出发点是完全竞争均衡,这样资源可以得到有效配置,市场可以提供更多人们真正想要的东西。然而在这支激动人心的交响乐之中,利奥•布鲁姆和麦克斯•比亚韦斯托克奏出了孤立的、不和谐的音符。


Yet there are corners of the economy where poor work is the norm, not the exception. A few years ago, two Italian academics, sociologist Diego Gambetta and philosopher Gloria Origgi, published an article reflecting on what they called “the LL game”. It has since found a catchier term: Kakonomics — the economics of rottenness.

不过在经济领域的某些角落,拙劣的工作表现并不是例外,而是常态。几年前,两位意大利学者,社会学家迭戈•甘贝塔(Diego Gambetta)和哲学家格洛里亚•奥里吉(Gloria Origgi)发表了一篇文章,探究了他们所称的“LL game”(粗制对滥造的游戏)。这种现象后来有了一个让人更容易记住的术语:“Kakonomics”——腐朽经济学(kako源自希腊语,有粗糙恶劣之意,编者注)。广州经济翻译公司。


In a kakonomy, mediocrity rules. People not only supply shoddy work and expect shoddy work in return, they actually prefer to receive shoddy work. I’m put in mind of the shared student house in which nobody can quite be bothered to wash the dishes, empty the bins or even buy new toilet paper. The presence of a housemate who bustles around wiping up the filth might seem to be welcome but, in fact, it’s an aggravation because it puts pressure on everyone else to join in.



Gambetta and Origgi observed the LL game being played at an advanced level in Italian universities. Not only would both parties to an agreement deliver low-quality (hence the “LL”), but they would insist to each other that they were doing an excellent job, and pronounce themselves delighted with what they had received in return. For example, a visiting lecturer might agree to deliver a series of eight original seminars and be paid an honorarium of €1,200 in advance. In fact, the payment is six months late and it’s only €750 (some excuse about taxes); meanwhile, the lecturer is mostly on holiday with his family and only gives five lectures, all of which are old hat. Both sides expected as much yet both sides loudly announce they’re delighted with the superb professionalism on show. Meanwhile, they are indeed pleased enough: the faculty has not been embarrassed by some visiting star and retains a larger entertainment budget; the lecturer enjoyed a free holiday without having to do any serious work.

甘贝塔和奥里吉观察到意大利大学里上演着高水平的“LL game”。约定一项协议的双方不仅都提供劣质的东西(因此是“LL”),而且他们还向彼此坚称双方都做得很出色,并宣布他们对获得的回报很满意。例如,一位客座讲师可能同意开办八场独创性的研讨会,而学校要提前支付1200欧元酬金。但实际上酬金要到半年后才到账,而且只有750欧元(以税收之类借口为由)。在此期间,这位讲师主要是在和家人度假,讲座也只办了五场,所有内容还都是炒冷饭。不过双方心里都有数,也都说非常满意对方展现的一流专业素养。而且他们也确实皆大欢喜,本校的教师们不必被某个客座明星搞得尴尬,还省下了大笔招待预算;而客座讲师不必做任何正经工作,就享受了一个免费的假期。广州经济翻译公司。


There is something rather charming about a kakonomy at first glance. It can be quite pleasant to relax and be a little bit crappy for a while, and we all know that there is nothing quite so exhausting as a colleague — or, worse, a spouse — who is relentlessly perfect.



But a true kakonomy is collusive, a tacit agreement to be mediocre at someone else’s expense. In the case of many Italian universities, it appears that collusive mediocrity costs Italian students and the Italian taxpayer. (Lacking personal experience, I take Gambetta and Origgi at their word about the quality of most Italian universities.) Once a kakocracy has been established, it is likely to endure: recruiters will be careful not to hire anyone who might not only rock the boat but also repair the leaks and fix the outboard motor.



The spectre of kakonomics is a reminder of the importance of things that cannot be measured: the culture of an investment bank, or a university, may matter just as much as the explicit rules. Even when Bialystock and Bloom went to jail, they moved on to the next scam without missing a beat.



Tim Harford is the author of ‘The Undercover Economist Strikes Back’. Twitter @TimHarford

本文作者著有《卧底经济学家反击战》(The Undercover Economist Strikes Back)