衡量经济的复杂性 The tricky business of measuring growth
The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity,” Bill Gates once opined, and he was right: many problems in development cannot be solved simply by wanting solutions badly enough. And yet when it comes to one of the key development outcomes, economic growth, the problem is not too much complexity, but not enough.
Complexity plays no obvious role in mainstream economics. Under the surface of traditional accounts of economic growth there is a rather crude model: economies are a bit like loaves of bread. They are made of two or three key ingredients, and bigger loaves simply have a bit more of everything.
Compare the economy of the UK with the economy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with a similar population, and the textbook will say that the UK simply has more physical capital (factories, buildings, roads) and more human capital (education, training) and perhaps even better “institutions”. Of course, everyone knows that you cannot simply turn the DRC economy into the British economy by doubling the quantities of all the ingredients. The British economy is a different and more complex kind of thing altogether.
如果将英国经济与刚果民主共和国（人口与英国差不多）的经济加以比较，教科书的说法会是，英国 只是拥有更多的实物资本（工厂、大楼和公路）和人力资本（教育和培训），或许还有更好的“制度”。当然，所有人都知道，你不可能只将刚果经济所有要素的数 量翻倍就使其转变为英国经济。英国经济是一种完全不同且更为复杂的经济。
The economist Ricardo Hausmann and the network physicist César Hidalgo have been trying to measure this complexity, and I’ve written before about their work. They argue that economies are collections of “capabilities”, building blocks that can be put together like Lego to produce different products. A trustworthy post office is a building block; so is high-speed internet; so are functional bankruptcy courts; so is a literate workforce; so is a fast lane at customs for processing perishable foodstuffs. It’s not clear how one would go about measuring all of these capabilities. Instead, Hausmann and Hidalgo measure them indirectly, tracking the shadows that they cast upon a country’s trade statistics.
经济学家里卡多•豪斯曼(Ricardo Hausmann)和网络物理学家塞萨尔•伊达尔戈(César Hidalgo)一直试图衡量这种复杂性，以前我已撰文描述过他们的工作。他们认为，经济是各种“能力”的集合体，这些能力就像乐高积木那样，可以被组合 成不同的产物。一个值得信赖的邮局是一个模块；高速互联网是一个模块，正常运转的破产法庭是一个模块，受过教育的劳动大军是一个模块，审验易腐烂食品的海 关快速通道也是一个模块。目前尚不清楚人们会如何着手衡量这种种能力。豪斯曼和伊达尔戈采取了间接方式来衡量它们，即追踪它们在一国贸易统计数据中的体 现。
Their latest work, “The Atlas of Economic Complexity”, includes analysis not just of the general method, but of the “complexity statistics” of 128 countries. Hidalgo and Hausmann show that their generic ranking of economic complexity is much better correlated with gross domestic product than traditional indicators, such as governance or educational standards. The authors seem pleased with this, but it is depressing that they are tempted to engage in such statistical arm-wrestling. Their research is far more interesting than that.
他们的最新著作《经济复杂性图集》(The Atlas of Economic Complexity)不仅包括一般方法分析，还包括对128个国家的“复杂性统计”分析。伊达尔戈和豪斯曼的分析表明，各国经济复杂性与国内生产总值 (GDP)的相关程度，远胜过治理或教育标准等传统指标与GDP的相关程度。两位作者似乎对此感到高兴，但令人沮丧的是，他们总忍不住陷入这类“统计角 力”之中。他们的研究其实比这类角力有趣得多。
If we can measure economic complexity and find it is highly correlated with economic productivity, then the question is: how can economies become more complex, acquiring new capabilities? A couple of points suggest themselves. Modern economies require complex rules: the English version of EU law contains more than 55 million words, equivalent to about 100,000 pages. Some of this is no doubt useless, but I wonder how much. To shape such rules sensibly is no easy task.
如果我们能够衡量经济复杂性，并发现它与经济产出高度相关，那我们面临的问题就是：经济如何才 能变得更复杂、也就是获得新的能力？有两点可以参考。现代经济需要复杂的规则：英文版的欧盟法律条文有逾5500万个单词，相当于10万页左右。其中有些 条文无疑是无用的，但这样的条文又能有多少呢？制定此类复杂的规则显然不是个轻松的活儿。
Think of a business that wants to export cut flowers. That requires appropriate phytosanitary regulations, that fast lane at customs, quick transport links between farm and airport, laws governing irrigation and much else. Getting governments to think about all this is a tall order – especially for a business that simply will not exist until the building blocks themselves do.
The second point is linked to the first: Hidalgo and Hausmann find it is easier to develop new capabilities that have something in common with those you already have.
And what of those countries whose existing capabilities offer no obvious avenues for development? The complexity approach asks some good questions, but answers must wait.
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