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Adair Turner:科技巨头或将引发下一次信贷危机

以前,人们一般不会将Facebook、Google、Apple与2008年的信贷危机和随后的地产崩盘联系在一起。

但Adair Turner认为,科技企业在导致贫富差距、催生地产需求以及引发下场信贷危机中都可能会"发挥"不小的作用。

上世纪八九十年代,Turner在著名咨询机构麦肯锡公司任职,此后改任英国工业联合会主席、美林集团(欧洲)副主席。2008年,Turner接任英国金融服务管理局(Financial Services Authority,简称FSA)主席。而目前,Turner的新职位则是英国新经济 (Institute for New Economic Thinking)董事会主席。

2015年,Turner就在《债务与魔鬼》(Between Debt and Devil)一书中对资本主义架构发出了一系列质疑。而其中最著名也是争议最多的观点就是,Turner认为科技界导致了财富不均(而非缓解此种现象),为资产泡沫推波助澜,并且有损经济类贷款需求增长。

科技企业正将收入与资本集聚至少数人手中

2014年,Facebook仅有5000名员工,市值1500亿美元(1080亿英镑)。而其最新季报显示,2017年第三季度该公司则有23165名雇员,市值5200亿美元(3750亿英镑)。

这么看来,Facebook似乎创造了不少的就业与财富。

但与福特等更大型企业相比就并非如此了。如今,福特拥有201000位雇员,市值525亿美元(378亿英镑)。换言之,福特的员工数是Facebook的10倍,而其投资者持资本量仅是Facebook股东的十分之一。

制造销售汽车需要的人力多,研发售卖软件需要的成员少。因此与福特相比,Facebook创造的就业岗位少,更加造成了资本不均现象。

显然,科技企业将收入与资本集聚至少数人手中,使其比他人更为富有。

富裕人群的问题

Turner表示,富裕人群的问题在于其很快达到"饱和"--他们购买的手机、软件与电脑游戏数量是有限度的,这些商品变的越来越便宜。因此他们可支配的资金就更多,于是开始相互竞争稀缺物品。"

这种稀缺物品就是土地,也是Facebook和Google等科技巨头的新投资目标。

Turner认为,土地、不动产、地产、建筑是为数不多的可以左右整体经济成败的经济领域。

Turner指出,现代经济的一个特征就是'集聚'--擅长利用某类技术获利的人会汇集到某个在这一方面极富吸引力的城市,并就此相互竞争,而这个过程也相应拉升了当地土地价格。那么问题就来了,既然技术已经极大地降低了交流的成本,那这些企业为什么还要聚集在一起竞争呢?难道他们不应该直接搬迁到苏格兰高地呢?

那么如果地产价格升高可对GDP作出有效贡献,这也不会成为问题。事实上Turner发现,科技企业买卖地产并没有创造新的产品和就业岗位。

随着土地价格上涨,消费者房产抵押贷款总额也在直线攀升

该现象引发了连锁反应中的又一环节。未来信息交流技术进步越快,房地产与土地价格上涨越高。随着土地价格上涨,消费者购买房产时候就需要申请更多的抵押贷款。银行乐意发放贷款,原因在于银行方认为地产价格上涨是支持其构建信贷市场重要资产。

虽然Turner并非直指技术企业造成了信贷泡沫。他只是指出该类企业并未助力缓解此现象,是项影响因子。而如今,大部分人却认为科技企业可解决信贷泡沫问题,而非是导致泡沫的原因。

如今的经济体系中,大多数人的富裕程度均不足以支撑起购入科技企业附近房产。而上述科技企业不仅推升了房价,而且也并未创造充足的就业岗位,或对GDP作出足够贡献从而使人们从新增的就业岗位中获得财富。此种问题在硅谷尤为极端:即便是最普通的房屋价格也超500000美元(360000英镑),三分之一的房产价格在250万美元(180万英镑)之上。纽约与伦敦也被类似的问题所扰。

非富裕人士如今需要更多信贷才能过活。富裕人士愿意通过银行向其贷款,这才使得消费者需求保持稳定。

富裕人士的生活可能因此还维持的不错,但是其他经济条件稍差的人可能就未必如此了。

这个观点听起来虽然有些骇人听闻,但情况确实如此,而这也是上世纪大萧条发生的原因之一。

总而言之,Turner认为,人们必须对科技巨头快速发展给信贷领域造成的风险给予充分的认识和准备。

People do not generally link Facebook, Google, and Apple to the 2008 credit crisis or the global collapse of the property market that followed.

But perhaps they should.

Or at least, perhaps they should ponder the role tech companies play in generating inequality, the demand for property, and the debt that may create the next credit crisis, according to Lord Adair Turner.

Turner is a regular at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where billionaires and political leaders meet annually to discuss "the global situation," as the conference portentously frames it. Turner was a consultant at McKinsey in the 80s and 90s, and has been a director of the Confederation of British Industry and a vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe. In 2008, he took over as chairman of the Financial Services Authority, right as it was failing to prevent the collapse of several British banks. Currently, he is chairman of the governing board of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

In other words, Turner is just the sort of ruling-class technocrat that Davos is repeatedly criticised for hosting.

His greatest heresy is his theory that the tech sector creates wealth inequality

But he is also one of the more radical — and because of his background, more credible — thinkers on the mountainside. His 2015 book, "Between Debt and the Devil," asks an astonishing series of questions about the underlying structure of capitalism that most people at Davos dare not touch.

His greatest heresy is his theory that the tech sector creates wealth inequality (rather than alleviating it), contributes to property bubbles, and fuels the demand for debt that can hobble economies.

That's anathema to the narrative Silicon Valley would prefer. Facebook and Google give away their products for free. They grant people new tools to grow their own businesses. They make our working lives more productive. Apple rarely does anything for free, of course, but it gives billionaires and paupers identical computing power and access to information. To get rich in tech does not require you to be born into the right family, or go to private school, or attend Oxford or Cambridge. You need only a minimal level of technical ability and — more importantly — a superior idea to succeed.

Surely, tech companies are the great democratizers of economics?

Well, no, Turner told Business Insider in a conversation prior to Davos.

Tech companies are concentrating income and capital into fewer hands

For example, look at how Facebook creates capital and distributes employment income. In 2014, Facebook had just 5,000 employees and a market capitalization of $150 billion (£108 billion), Turner says in his book. In Q3 2017, it had 23,165 employees and $520 billion (£375 billion) in market cap, according to its most recent quarterly report.

That sounds like good news: Facebook has created jobs and created wealth.

But compare Facebook to Ford — a much larger company. Today, Ford has 201,000 employees and a market cap of $52.5 billion (£37.8 billion). In other words, it has nearly 10 times the number of paid staff but its investors hold only one-tenth of the capital that Facebook stockholders own.

You need a lot of people to make and sell cars. You need very few people to make and sell software.

Thus Facebook creates fewer jobs but more capital inequality than Ford.

By definition, tech companies are concentrating income and capital into fewer hands, and making them richer compared to everyone else.

The problem with rich people...

The problem with rich people is that they reach "satiation" very fast, Turner says. There is only so much food they can eat, so many clothes they can buy, so many cars they can drive.

"As more people, as a result of this process [tech investment], get richer, there's a limit to how many mobile phones and bits of software and computer games they can buy, and those things keep on getting cheaper [anyway]. So they have more disposable money and they compete with one another for the thing which is in scarce supply," Turner says.

And that thing is ... land

Land — real estate, property, buildings — is one of few economic sectors that is so massive its fortunes can make or derail entire economies. "Because it's in terms of trillions of dollars, this has a much more important effect" than other sectors, Turner says "It's many, many times bigger."

Immediately, success in the tech sector starts driving up the price of land.

"One of the observable and interesting features of our modern economy is 'clustering,'" Turner says. "When you have people who are good at making money out of all these technologies they tend to cluster in particular attractive cities to compete with one another, driving up the quality of that land. And again, the high-tech, high-touch paradox is, you think, 'why did they need to do that in a world where technology has dramatically reduced the cost of communications worldwide? ... Why don't they just go live in the Highlands of Scotland?"

"And observably, they don't," Turner says. "And it is a wonderful paradox. One of the biggest things that all of the big tech companies — the Googles, the Facebooks — now spend investment dollars on is land."

'You've got this extraordinary paradox that in this world where the technology which they're developing would enable people to work anywhere in the world, they spend enormous amounts of money on extremely expensive land'

"They buy up land in particular locations which has some of the most expensive land in the world, in the Valley, in Palo Alto etc., because they want all their tech guys, their developers, to be together. And they want them to be together in a state-of-the-art campus which looks rather gorgeous. So you've got this extraordinary paradox that in this world where the technology which they're developing would enable people to work anywhere in the world, they spend enormous amounts of money on extremely expensive land for them all to be in attractive locations."

Again, this would not be a problem if land and property improvement added meaningfully to GDP. But it doesn't, Turner believes. No more goods are produced, and no employment is created, by the buying and selling of property.

OK. But surely the new jobs tech companies create will add to GDP?

With land prices rising, consumers need to take on more mortgage debt to buy property

That sets off another part of the chain reaction. With land prices rising, consumers need to take on more mortgage debt to buy property. Banks are happy to lend, because they see rising property prices as an underlying asset that supports the credit market they are making.

Turner writes in his book, "Paradoxically, the rising importance of land is in part the direct consequence of the remarkable progress of information and communications technology (ICT). And the faster ICT progresses in the future, the more the value of real estate and land may increase."

"... If the supply of desirable locations is scarce, and the land on which desired real estate is irreproducible, the only thing that can adjust is the price. Thus the rising importance of real estate — and of the underlying land — in part reflects fundamental technological and consumer preference factors."

Turner isn't literally arguing that tech companies cause real estate credit bubbles, of course. He's merely pointing out that they don't help. They are a contributing factor. That's a problem because most people think they are the solution to the problem, not part of the cause.

We're living in a poker game in which the players who are losing can only stay in the game as long as players who are winning keep extending their credit.

Debt creation then becomes a real necessity. Now you have an economy where most people are not rich enough to buy the houses near the tech companies that are driving up property prices, and those tech companies are not creating enough jobs or contributing enough to GDP growth to make the poor richer through extra jobs. The problem is particularly extreme in Silicon Valley — where even a modest house costs more than $500,000 (£360,000) and one-third of all houses cost $2.5 million (£1.8 million) or more. New York and London are similarly plagued.

The non-rich now need more credit to get by. Consumer demand is only sustained because the rich are willing to extend credit — through banks — to those poorer than themselves.

The rich might be doing well, but everyone below them is not.

If this sounds like a doomsday scenario, that's because it is. But it's not fiction — it has already happened. As Turner describes in his book, it's what caused the Great Depression.

"We know that the level of inequality, which had existed in America in the 1920s, seemed to drive a level of debt creation, which then became unsustainable. One of the greats who looked at this ... was Marriner Eccles, who was chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1934-1951. He likened what was going on in the 1920s to a poker game in which the chaps who were losing could only stay in the game as long as chaps who were winning extended their credit."

So how does it end?

"When the chips run out, and the game collapses," Turner says.


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