《紐約時報》上周五的 頭版發表了一篇由黃安偉(Edward Wong)撰寫的精彩文章，與許多大家可能讀到的任何同主題文章一樣，它很好地概括了中國及其經濟目前面臨的問題。中國正努力從一個高速增長的出口導向型 的發展中國家，轉型為更成熟的經濟體，期間問題不斷，而這些問題可能阻撓它成為自身夢寐以求的那種經濟強國，而且，它們幾乎全部屬於自食其果。
黃安偉的文章單單寫的是嬰幼兒配方奶粉。更具體地說，是有 關係和財力的中國家長撇下國內供應充足的奶粉，競相購買外國奶粉的故事。他們請人到英國等地的商店代購，或者是購買從香港走私過來的產品。在香港，走私嬰 幼兒配方奶粉如今已成為一種嚴重罪行。中國的家長主要是想要確保，餵給孩子的奶粉未經任何中國企業染指。
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times喬·諾切拉
問題一：中國正努力打造與其出口經濟相當的國內經濟之時， 人們對中國企業卻完全沒有信心。在上海生活的一名美國商人告訴我（由於擔心生意受影響，他要求匿名），「這不是打造品牌的問題」。他說，而是消費者感覺， 無論是哪個行業，都有太多的中國商人為了賺錢而不惜欺騙消費者。
由於中國商界偷工減料成性，的確需要政府通過監管和執法來 改變這種風氣。但是，儘管中央政府極其樂於通過看上去很美的法規，但基本不執行，也不存在真正的監管文化。此為問題二。省級政府本應對食品供應等問題進行 監管，卻往往不是成為幫凶，就是視而不見，因為他們害怕，重拳出擊可能會影響經濟增長。而官員考核幾乎只注重經濟增長。此為問題三：糟糕的激勵機制。
正如黃安偉在文章中寫到的那樣，中國政府正以價格壟斷為由 調查在中國銷售嬰幼兒配方奶粉的外企。（醜聞爆發之後，外國配方奶粉的單位價格上漲了30%。）不管存不存在價格壟斷——背後的原因更可能是市場的力量 ——這種反應正是問題所在：政府沒有加強監管來讓消費者對本國產品產生信心，而是轉而想方設法讓出售本國民眾所需產品的生產商日子更不好過。
當然了，在美國，譴責監管已成為保守派的一種信仰，他們聲 稱，監管打擊企業、阻礙經濟增長。不過，請想一想，上世紀之交的美國與今天的中國一樣，充斥着各種造假專家。賣萬能蛇油的人比比皆是，食品安全問題巨大。 不過，1906年，厄普頓·辛克萊(Upton Sinclair)發表了名為《屠場》(The Jungle)的小說，揭露肉類加工業的內幕。資深中國法專家陸思禮(Stanley Lubman)最近在《華爾街日報》(The Wall Street Journal)上發表了一篇博客文章。他在文中指出，正是《屠場》一書促使西奧多·羅斯福(Theodore Roosevelt)提出設立美國食品與藥品管理局(Food and Drug Administration)。該局繼而對肉類加工等諸多領域進行了改革，讓消費者對吃用之商品產生了信心。
The Baby Formula Barometer
July 30, 2013
Edward Wong’s terrific front-page article in The New York Times on Friday is as good an encapsulation of the issues currently facing China and its economy as anything you’re likely to read on the subject. As it tries to move from a fast-growing, export-oriented, developing economy to a more mature economy, it keeps bumping up against problems that could prevent it from becoming the kind of economic power it so clearly longs to be. These problems are almost entirely self-inflicted.
Wong’s article was about, of all things, infant formula. Specifically, it was about how Chinese parents with connections and money scramble to buy formula abroad, even though there is plenty available in China. They hire people who will go into stores in Britain and elsewhere and buy formula for them. Or they buy formula that has been smuggled in from Hong Kong — where smuggling infant formula is now a serious crime. Mainly, Chinese parents want to ensure that the formula they are feeding their babies has never been touched by a Chinese company.
The reason is obvious. In 2008, six babies died and some 300,000 became ill after their mothers fed them baby milk products that were tainted with the chemical melamine. Ever since, Chinese mothers haven’t trusted domestically made baby milk products — starting with formula.
In fact, as I learned during my recent visit to China, Chinese consumers don’t trust a lot of Chinese-made goods. In recent years, there have been food scandals surrounding cooking oil, eggs and meat, for starters. A few months ago, according to Time magazine, three people were caught processing pigs that had died of infectious diseases. A few years ago, contamination of Chinese-produced heparin, the blood-thinner, was linked to 81 deaths. Chinese consumers don’t even favor Chinese cars — foreign models dominate the market — because they fear that someone may have taken a shortcut (or worse) that will cause the car to die.
So problem No. 1: At a time when China is trying to build a domestic economy to match its export economy, there is a complete lack of faith in Chinese companies. “It is not about branding,” an American businessman living in Shanghai told me (he feared consequences to his business if he let me use his name). Rather, he said, there is a sense among consumers that no matter what the industry, too many Chinese businesspeople are willing to scam their own customers to make a buck.
With corner-cutting deeply ingrained as a Chinese business practice, it’s really up to the government to change that ethos through regulation and enforcement. But while the central government is more than happy to pass nice-sounding laws, there is virtually no enforcement, and no real culture of regulation either. That’s problem No. 2. Provincial governments that are supposed to oversee, say, the food supply, are often either in on the scam, or look the other way because they fear that a crackdown might impede economic growth. And officials are evaluated almost exclusively on the basis of growth. Problem No. 3: bad incentives.
And if your car does break down in six months because a supplier sold faulty parts — or your child dies from tainted infant formula? There’s not a thing you can do. Yes, when a big scandal breaks, some crooks go to prison, but even the biggest scandals don’t lead to systematic change. Nor is there any way to seek recompense in the courts; in the West, that has long served to help keep companies on the straight and narrow. The lack of a real rule of law is problem No. 4.
As Wong notes in his article, the government is now investigating foreign companies selling infant formula in China for price-fixing. (Since the scandal, the price of a can of foreign formula has risen by 30 percent.) Whether there is price-fixing or not — market forces are a more likely culprit — this response is exactly the problem: instead of enforcing regulations that would give consumers confidence in their own country’s products, the government instead is finding ways to make life more difficult for those who make products its citizens want.
In the United States, of course, it has become religion among conservatives to denounce regulation, saying it stifles business and hinders economic growth. But consider: At the turn of the last century, America was as riddled with scam artists as China is today. Snake oil salesmen — literally — abounded. Food safety was a huge issue. In 1906, however, Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle,” his exposé-novel about the meatpacking industry. That book, pointed out Stanley Lubman, a longtime expert in Chinese law, in a recent blog post in The Wall Street Journal, is what propelled Theodore Roosevelt to propose the Food and Drug Administration. Which, in turn, reformed meat-processing — among many other things — and gave consumers confidence in the food they ate and the products they bought.
That’s what China needs now. Infant formula just scratches the surface.