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何谓蚂蚁经济?

全球金融网络错综复杂又令人迷惑难懂,可以将之比喻为隐形的化学信号网路,就像蚂蚁留下化学信号,从它们能够掌控输送路径,直达它们的巢穴。正如肯尼思·鲍尔丁(Kenneth Boulding)所述,在太空之上,我们只能看见地球的一般主要特征——沙漠、森林或城市,而通过一架望远镜,或许,移动的人类,就像是蚂蚁。对于全球金融网络,我们无法听见他们说什么或了解他们的资金交易。但是,我们却可以看见资源的大量活动—波斯湾油轮的航线,中国山西运煤火车的铁路线和巨型集装箱船穿梭于欧洲港口之间。这种实实在在的活动令人印象深刻,是商人间抽象契约关系的明显体现。而且,所有这一切是由金融体系所支撑——信用证、电子支付和各层级的贷款承诺。整个金融网络的运作是如此复杂,单一思维根本难以想象其细枝末节,然而,它就像一群蚂蚁,进行自我管理,能在周边环境条件发生变化时作出调整。

2008年9月18日,‘‘雷曼兄弟’’宣布破产,受华尔街影响的美国政府不得不介入,以确保其它银行维持原状,业务能够正常运作。此外,正如中行国际的安德鲁·肖(Andrew Shaw)所观察的,航空业脱离了保险业提供的保障,“飞机将停飞”。如果复杂的金融体系真的发生危机,不仅是飞机停飞,同月,运输业将也将停运,而全球最贫困的人或生活在森林和草原边缘的居民将被迫从环境获取更多资源,若干年之后,从太空就可以观察到整个地球的破坏程度。到时候,在每一个人类聚居地,环境问题都太过棘手,空气和水资源充塞了各种污染物;从太空看,这颗蓝绿星球的美丽将不复存在了,地球将变成人间地狱。

目前,世界到处都充斥着媒体发布的关于各种金融危机再次爆发的警告。而这场危机很有可能由希腊违约拖欠政府债务引发,而后波及欧洲乃至世界。葡萄牙、爱尔兰和其他许多国家正担负着无法承受的债务。华盛顿正面临没有能力支付公务人员薪金的威胁。正如对时不时在遥远的陌生国度爆发战争的新闻产生‘‘免疫’’一样,平民百姓已经不受这些新闻的影响。百姓们或许对美国14.3万亿美元的债务最高限额没有概念——这些钱换成现金会有多少呢?与此同时,媒体商业报道不停地鼓吹企业和经济的“复苏”、“转好”和“回弹”。在中国大街上,人们从未这么幸福过,享受着钢制饭碗,乃至iPad。出乎意料的是,中国人可能是对全球金融危机感触最小的人群。于是,在一些研究如何能真正实现科学发展的学者和策略家中出现了一种崭新的思潮。出了什么问题,问题能指向何方?

经济专家的警告

IMF新任总裁克里斯蒂娜·拉加德(Christine Lagarde)对最糟糕情况发出了警告,即人与人之间不再相互信任,不再进行贷款。或许,2011年将成为历史上的里程碑,因为这个时期将成为是最糟糕情形发生前的存仓。我们已逐渐地忽视了货币在我们现实经济和社会中的作用。货币是建立在信誉基础之上的人类发明,这种信誉就是用100美元纸钞或电子信号来代表某地的真实财富。货币作为购买力的象征,已变得如此根深蒂固而让我们忘记了其显而易见的涵义。当然,它可能只是纸,却代表了购买力。人为了金钱而杀戮,“金钱从未入眠”,金钱能说所有的语言并让世界转动。然而,还有些东西,我们需要反思和追溯。

经济学奠基人亚当·斯密(Adam Smith)在1776年撰写的《国富论》中阐释道,当一名猎人想要用一只海狸与有两只鹿的猎人交易时,货币让交易更方便快捷。海狸每只2英镑,鹿每只1英镑。有了货币,你不需要将动物切开,因而携带和贮存更方便。200年后,我们发现,迈克尔·米尔肯(Michael Milken)举债经营未来可能获取收益的垃圾债券而赚了数亿美元。这笔没有‘‘动物的尸体’’来支撑的资金,把米尔肯送进了监狱,但这主意激发了其他的想法。美国在经历了二战后而带来德0年繁荣时光后,因物质受限而走到了发展的瓶颈阶段。从里根开始,政客竞选都必定承诺将不再走老路且有所改善。而金融产品的“创新”在故意放松管制的环境下快速发展,留下了肆无忌惮的泡沫如世界通讯(World.com),美国安然(Enron),意大利帕马拉特(Pamalat),和麦道夫(Madoff),他们最后都以监禁终结。

现代世界政治家一旦提到选民们能够实现超越了实际收入而使其维持生计时,就立即以落选收场。希腊政府面对愤怒的民众的反对时退缩了,他们甚至不断的拼命后退,举债换取喘息的机会。法国人并没有像所说的那样在60岁前退休。奥巴马迅猛推进改变的承诺,却让拉里·萨默斯(Larry Summers)继续掌控金融童话。整个华尔街在2008年9月18日面临全面打击时,财政部长汉克·鲍尔森(Hunk Paulson)大步走到白宫的麦克风前,为自己辩解道,他“曾给予援手”,更不提在他还是高盛的总裁时,曾靠真正的投资者入手风险贷款,并靠这个杀戮场贪得无厌地犒劳自己和同僚们。

让我们幼稚地问问那个赤裸裸的皇帝目前的事实:在这样的危机中,为何数千亿美元的漏洞无中生有地被新增的一万亿美元所掩盖?为何号召那些把自己口袋塞满也堵塞市场的金融奇才来提供诸如加印更多的钞票的解决之道?在美国,第一个宣称拥有8000亿美元的是‘‘保皇党’’成员,而从来没有人问过钱从何而来。一年之后,又一个6000亿美元诞生,这次被委婉地称为是“量化宽松(quantitative easing)”。实事求是的德国人尝试让周边的国家随时待命,这让欧元变得稍为理智。中国已表明拥护态度,这不仅仅是因为她想要一个协调统一的欧洲市场。

所有令人满意的政府都试图理性作为,而在20世纪上半叶,猖獗的腐败、饥荒、战争和恶性通货膨胀遍地丛生,中国在其近30年经济繁荣时期勤俭持家,并在看到外币储蓄缩水时感到了惶恐不安。作为一个民族,中国人能变得务实。大卫·伯纳维亚(David Bonavia)曾经写道,当中国人看见天上的馅饼,他们想要明白如何把饼弄到地上再吃掉。在70年代,华尔街解除管制后,其衍生物如雨后春笋般迅猛生长,被认为是脱离了商品和制造品的这些实物,正是中国经济衡量的标尺。正当中国政策走向谨慎的市场开放的时候,一批倡导物质流分析的研究者出现了,物质流分析(Material Flow Analysis)就是检验从矿石到铸锭、面板到制造品,甚至到废弃物和回收利用的物理学。如果他们在安然公司呆上10分钟,他们就明白公司管道里没有汽油,没有实物运营。

经济‘‘仿生学’’

如今,全中国有几十个研究中心,其务实的研究者将工程学引入经济核算的新层次,于是,一旦科学事实就位,传统经济学家和金融专家就有了发表意见的机会。这样,想在金融领域虚张声势就变得困难。在一个实物经济中,这个问题必须得到解答:在实物世界中,现金流实际上来自何处?清华大学环境科学与工程系石磊教授及他的研究生们追踪铝和钢铁行业的全程循环过程,并发现共生关系,即如何能在规划完备的工业园区成功利用所有的物质、能量并实现最低限度的损耗。北京大学和北京师范大学联手组建了一个有用能分析的新领域科学家队伍。有用能分析是指能用一个通用物理单位来评价所有物质和能量,并显示出很多企业实践流程中的效率低下和彻底的谬误的分析方法。北京大学力学与工程科学系陈国谦教授已经计算出中国经济的总有用能并能展示如何用于计算全球经济。今天,各方经济面临众所周知的严峻困境,早就被认定为不可持续,而且,它们的问题能被精确定位而非隐藏于债务金融网之中。

复旦大学陈平教授采用了一种耳目一新的方法。在清华大学最近的一次智囊团论坛上,他发表了名为“均衡假象和经济复杂性”的演讲,并评判了传统经济学所提供的经济冻结窗口掠影。陈教授根本就不是传统经济学家,他师从诺贝尔奖获得者普里戈金(Ilya Prigogine)20年。普里戈金思维开阔,热衷于全球理论热力学,还曾被蚂蚁群的社会经济现象所深深吸引,并提出思考,如果没有人类语言和金融账户,人类社会的高强度的勤劳付出能被客观地发现吗?蚂蚁不用货币。它们的资本财富是一个在地下不可见的综合物质基础设施,由一条地面化学信号供给链网络所连接,这些化学信号巧妙地规定了无懈可击的诚信和承诺。我们看到排成队的蚂蚁,看到他们搬运物品,看到他们实施各种各样的服务,包括建造、搜寻和防御。它们智能的逻辑行为是在小心翼翼建起的配有互相连接的线路和节点的的化学网络之中,是在存储的信息的资本和承诺的基础上建立起来的。非常像我们所称的由信息、存储和承诺组成的网络,即金融体系。

要想知道全球金融信用网络的故障用物理术语是什么,这将类似于取出了蚂蚁信号路径的一节。这必将导致整个供给链的突然停止。没有石油、没有其他资源,也没有制造品。像蚂蚁那样,这就将导致疯狂地尝试修补或重新探索。如果情况非常糟糕,故障具有多米诺效应,那么,就像众所周知的,发展将倒退数十年,甚至导致文明的崩溃。人类和蚂蚁都有非凡的复原能力,但是,如果我们比蚂蚁聪明,那么我们在事前就应该明白用物理术语表达的金融故障途径所带来的未来的抽象威胁是什么。

Our intricate, complex global financial network can be likened to the invisible trails of chemical signals that ants lay down as they manage the supply chains leading to their nest.  From up in space, as Kenneth Boulding commented, we can only see our globe by its broad features – deserts, forests and cities, and with a telescope, maybe people moving about…like ants.  We cannot hear what they say, or understand when they transact in money.  But there are bulk movements of resources – lines of tankers from the Persian Gulf, long trains of coal out of Shanxi China, and giant container ships shuttling in and out of European harbors.  This physical impressive industriousness is the manifest obverse of the abstract contractual relationships between traders.  And all this is underpinned by the finance system – letters of credit, e-pay, and the tiers of loan commitments.  It is so complicated and no single mind can imagine the details, but just like an ant community, it is self-organizing and can adjust as conditions at the margins undergo change.

When Lehman Bros defaulted on 18 September 2008, the Wall St-driven US Government had to step in and assure the banking industry that all else would be kept in place and that business could carry on.  Otherwise, as Andrew Shaw of Bank of China International observed, “planes would stop flying” because the aviation industry needs insurance guarantees.  If the complex financial system does collapse, it will not just be the same day stoppage of planes, the same month stoppage of shipping, but around the globe, the poorest or people living on the edges of forests and grasslands will be pushed further to take from the environment, and with a few years, destruction would be observed from space.  In every human settlement, environment issues would seem too troublesome and air and water would clog with pollutions.  The blue green Earth would not be pretty from space, and be hell on earth.

Currently the media is saturated with warnings of a possible financial collapse, perhaps triggered by Greece defaulting in sovereign debt, with follow-on to Europe and the world.  Portugal, Ireland and many other nations are burdened with unsustainable debt.  Washington is threatened with being unable to pay its public servants.  Ordinary citizens may grow immune to these stories, as they do with chronic news of wars in strange far-off countries.  Ordinary citizens may have no concept of America’s $14.3 trillion dollar debt ceiling – what would that look like in cash?  At the same time media business stories promote news of a “recovery”, “turnaround” and “bouncing back” for firms and economies.  And in the streets in China, people have never had it so good.  From iron rice bowl, to iPad.  Ironically, while Chinese may feel the least pain of the Global Financial Crisis, there is a new wave of fresh thinking here by scholars and strategists on how development can be truly scientific.  What has gone wrong and where could it lead?

New IMF chief Christine Lagarde warns of the worst scenario, when no one trusts anyone to loan money.  Mid-2011 may be a milestone in history and time to take stock before the worst scenario actually happens.  What we have increasingly come to overlook is the role of money in our real economy and society.  Money is a human invention based on trust that a $100 paper bill or electronic signal represents real wealth somewhere.  Money as a representation of power to buy whatever we want has become so ingrained in thinking that we forget the obvious.  Of course it may be only paper but it represents buying power.  People kill for money, “money never sleeps”, money speaks all languages and makes the world go round.  But there is something more we need to retrace and rethink.

The founder of economics, Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations explained money as a handy shortcut for when a hunter with a beaver wants to trade with another hunter for 2 deer.  2 pounds for the beaver and one pound for the deer.  Money means you don’t have to cut animals up, and it is easier to carry and store.  Fast forward 200 years and we find Michael Milken “making” hundreds of millions of dollars by leveraging junk bonds against possible future returns.  There were no animal carcasses to back up the money and Milken went to jail, but the idea excited other dreams.  As America’s thirty boom years (after and because of WWII) came to a plateau of physical limits, politicians from Reagan onwards were elected on promises that there was bound to be more of the same.  Creativity in “financial products” in a deliberately deregulated environment took off, with only the brazen of bubbles (World.com, Enron, Pamalat, Madoff) ending in jail terms.

Current world politicians become instant losers when they mention constituents may be living beyond their physical means.  The Greek government is wincing under incensed popular protests even as they bend over backwards for another gasp of borrowed injection.  The French did not like being told not to retire at 60.  Obama swept in with a promise of change and then kept Larry Summers on to manage financial fairlytales.  When the whole Wall Street façade cracked wide on 18 September 2008, Treasurer Hank Paulson strode to the White House microphone and pleaded he “had been dealt a hand” that went back before his time, not mentioning that time was when he was head of JP Morgan, avariciously rewarding himself and cronies while practicing killing fields on genuine investors suckered into toxic loans.

Let’s naïvely ask the emperor the naked truth:  In such crises, why are holes of hundreds of billions of dollars papered over with a new trillion dollars made up out of thin air?  Why call in financial wizards who stuffed up the market while stuffing their pockets to provide solutions… like print more money.  In the US, the first announced $800 billion was cavalier and no one asked where from.  A year later another $600 billion, this time euphemised as “quantitative easing”.  The Eurozone has been a little more rational, with the pragmatic Germans trying to get the peripheral states to toe the line.  China has been supportive, not least because it wants a coherent European market.

Any good government tries to act rationally, and after the chaos of the first half of the 1900’s, ridden with rampant corruption, starvation, wars and hyperinflation, the Chinese have been frugal in their recent 30 years of boom, and are unsettled at seeing their foreign currency savings watered down.  As a nation Chinese can be pragmatic.  David Bonovia commented that if Chinese hear about a pie in the sky, they try to figure how to get it down to eat it.  The deregulation on Wall Street beginning in the seventies and the mushrooming of derivatives were seen to be unhinged from the reality of commodities and manufactures that the Chinese economy measured itself by.  Even as Chinese policy moved towards a careful opening up of markets, there were researchers pioneering Material Flow Analysis that checked the physics of ores to ingots, panels to manufactures, and even to rubbish and recycling.  If they had spent 10 minutes on Enron they would know there was no gas in the pipes.

There are now dozens of centers around China where pragmatic researchers take engineering to a new level of economic accounting, and then let conventional economists and financial experts have their say once the scientific facts are in place.  In this way, it is difficult to conjure financial bluffing.  In a physical economy, the question must be answered: where in the real world, will cash flow be physically sourced?  At Tsinghua University Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Professor Shi Lei and his postgraduates track the full cycles of the aluminium and steel industries, and find how they can succeed in symbiotic relationships in well planned industrial parks to make use of all material and energy and minimum loss.  Both PekingUniversity and BeijingNormalUniversity have teams of scientists in the new field of usable energy analysis which can evaluate all matter and energy in the one universal physical unit, and shows up inefficiencies and downright errors in the processes many enterprises practice.  Professor Chen Guoqian, Department of Mechanics and Engineering Science at PekingUniversity has calculated the total usable energy of the Chinese economy and can show how it fits into the global economy.  The economies now known to be in serious trouble could be identified long ago as unsustainable, and their problems pinpointed rather than hidden in financial webs of debt.

A refreshing approach is taken by Professor Chen Ping of FudanUniversity.  At a think tank forum recently at TsinghuaUniversity he presented on “Equilibrium Illusion, Economic Complexity” and critiqued the frozen window snapshot of an economy that conventional economics provides.  Professor Chen is anything but conventional – a protégé of Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Laureate, under whom he studied 20 years.  Prigogine’s wide ranging mind soared from theoretical global thermodynamics down to a fascination with the social “economy” of an ant community and wondered if the intense industriousness of human society could be objectively observed without being privy to human languages and financial accounts.  Ants don’t use money.  Their capital wealth is an integrated physical infrastructure unseen underground linked by a surface supply chain network of chemical signals intelligently laid down in unquestionable integrity and commitment.  We see the lines of ants, we see them carrying goods, we see them conducting all kinds of services, including construction, exploration and defense.  Their intelligent logical behavior is grounded on the capital of stored information and commitments in their carefully built up chemical network of interconnecting lines and nodes.  Very much like the network of information, storage and commitments we call our financial system.

To wonder what a breakdown of global financial network of trust might look like in physical terms, it would be analogous to taking out a section of the ant’s signal trails.  It would definitely bring that entire supply chain to a halt. No oil, other resources or manufactures.  Like the ants there would be frenzied attempts to patch up or explore anew.  If it was very bad and the breakdown had a domino affect, development as we know it would be set back decades, and even bring on a collapse of civilization.  Humans and ants are both resilient, but if we are wiser than the ants we should appreciate before hand what the remote and abstract threat of financial breakdown means in physical terms.

: http://www.coulterexergy.com/archives/996

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