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经济学人双语:道是无价却有价


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Free exchange

自由交流

 

 

Priceless

经济学人双语:道是无价却有价

 

Free stuff on the internet comes at a cost

互联网免费午餐有代价

FACEBOOK, whose users visit for an average of 50 minutes a day, promises members: “It’s free and always will be.” It certainly sounds like a steal①. But it is only one of the bargains that apparently litter the internet: YouTube watchers devour② 1bn hours of videos every day, for instance. These free lunches do come at a cost; the problem is calculating how much it is. Because consumers do not pay for many digital services in cash, beyond the cost of an internet connection, economists cannot treat these exchanges like normal transactions. The economics of free are different.

Facebook的用户平均每天花50分钟使用该网站。它“免费,且永远免费”的承诺对用户来说无疑像捡了个大便宜。表面上看,互联网上净是这种“大便宜”,Facebook只是其中之一——YouTube的观众每天观看视频的时间总计多达10亿小时。这些免费午餐确实是有代价的,问题在于如何计算这些代价。除了连接互联网的费用,消费者没有为很多数字服务付费,经济学家因而不能将这类交换视为常规交易。免费服务的经营模式有所不同。

① be a steal:informal to be very cheap 非常便宜

例:an excellent seafood dish that is a steal at 8.25 一道 8.25 美元价廉物美的海鲜

② devour:to read something quickly and eagerly, or watch something with great interest 如饥似渴地阅读;津津有味地看

例:He devoured science fiction books. 他如饥似渴地读科幻小说。

 

Unlike conventional merchants, companies like Facebook and Google have their users themselves produce value. Information and pictures uploaded to social networks draw others to the site. Online searches, selections and “likes” teach algorithms what people want. (Now you’ve bought “The Communist Manifesto”, how about a copy of “Das Kapital”?)

有别于传统商家,Facebook 和谷歌这样的公司让用户自己来为它们创造价值。上传到社交网络的信息和图片会将其他人吸引过来。在线搜索、选择和“点赞”让算法了解人们的需求。比如,既然你买了本《共产党宣言》,那是否考虑再买一本《资本论》呢?

 

The prevalence of free services is partly a result of history. In the early years of the internet, consumers became used to getting stuff for nothing. They have little idea of how much their data are worth; since digital companies have access to billions of people, the value of one person’s data is tiny anyway. More fundamentally, scarcity is not a constraint in the digital world as it is in the physical one. Data are both inexhaustible and super-cheap to transport. In 1993 MCI Mail was charging people 50 cents for the first 500 characters of a digital message, increasing by ten cents for each extra 500. The internet slashed that price to zero. Charging would have been impractical, so small is the marginal cost.

免费服务盛行在一定程度上是历史的产物。在互联网时代早期,消费者就已习惯了免费午餐。他们不清楚自己的数据值多少钱。而数字公司接触到的人数以亿计,因此单个人的数据不管怎么说价值都很小。更重要的是,不同于实体世界,数字世界里没有“稀缺”一说。数据取之不竭,传输又超级便宜。1993年,美国通讯公司MCI的电邮服务对前500个字符收费50美分,之后每增加500个字符续收10美分。而互联网则将这笔费用削减至零边际成本微乎其微,还收费的话就不切实际了。

 

Users may pay nothing, but companies like Google and Facebook have fixed costs to cover: engineers, data centres, etc. To make money, they squeeze their users indirectly, by charging companies to put appropriate advertisements in front of captive eyeball. In the second quarter of 2017, Facebook eked④ an average of $4.65 out of each of its users by peppering③ screens with ads and promoted posts. (By comparison, just eight cents came from payments and other fees, mainly from people paying for stuff within virtual games.)

用户也许是不用支付任何费用,但谷歌和Facebook这样的公司需要承担花在工程师、数据中心等上面的固定成本。为了赢利,它们间接榨取用户,将精准定位的广告推送到用户眼前,让他们不由自主地浏览,为此向公司收取广告费。通过充斥屏幕的广告和推广帖,2017年第二季度Facebook平均从每个用户那里赚取了4.65美元。相比而言,只有8美分来自用户付费和其他费用,主要是购买虚拟游戏中的装备。

③ eke:to make a small supply of something such as food or money last longer by carefully using small amounts of it 精打细算地维持;尽量节省使用

例:How did she manage to eke out the food? 她是怎样想方设法节省食物的呢?

④ pepper:[usually passive,一般用被动态] if something is peppered with things, it has a lot of those things in it or on it 在…上大量撒;使…布满

例:be peppered with sth

a speech peppered with amusing stories 穿插了许多有趣故事的演讲

The surface of the moon is peppered with craters. 月球表面布满陨石坑。

作名词时,指“胡椒、辣椒”。

 

In the absence of prices, economists struggle to work out what people are getting back when they barter their data and attention for digital services. Some evidence suggests that they are doing rather well. A recent study by Erik Brynjolfsson, Felix Eggers and Avinash Gannameneni of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offered people different cash amounts in exchange for giving up Facebook for a month. Based on the responses, they then estimated its average annual value to the consumer at around $750. A simpler survey in the same study (without real cash offers) suggested that on average people value free search engines at $16,600 per year, maps at $2,800 and video at $900.

由于不存在价格,经济学家很难计算出人们在用数据和注意力换取数字服务时实际得到了多少。一些证据显示人们得到免费服务挺值的。在最近的一项研究中,麻省理工学院的埃里克·布莱恩约弗森(Erik Brynjolfsson)、菲利克斯·艾格斯(Felix Eggers)以及阿维纳什·甘纳门耐尼(Avinash Gannameneni)向受试者提供数目不等的现金,作为交换,受试者放弃使用Facebook一个月。他们根据受试者的反应估算出,对消费者来说Facebook的平均年价值在750美元左右。同一项研究中一个更简单的调查(没有真正提供现金)显示,平均下来,人们对免费搜索引擎的估价为每年16,600美元,免费地图2800美元,免费视频900美元。

 

This sounds like a wonderful deal for the consumer, but it generates problems elsewhere. Taketaxes. Professionals are not allowed to evade tax by selling their services for benefits in kind, so why should consumers not be taxed if they are paid for their data in the form of services? Statisticians also struggle in a post-price world. GDP is mostly measured by transactions at market prices. A recent study by Leonard Nakamura of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Jon Samuels and Rachel Soloveichik of the Bureau of Economic Analysis used the amount spent on advertising to estimate uncounted output, and calculated that in 2013 American GDP should have been $19bn higher than reported.

听起来,这对于消费者是个很不错的交易,但它却在其他方面引发了问题,比如税收。既然不允许专业人士以出售服务换取实物福利的方式逃税,那如果消费者提供了数据而以服务的形式获得报酬,他们怎么就可以不交税?统计人员同样因为无价格领域而为难。GDP大多由以市场价成交的交易来衡量。在最近一项研究中,费城联邦储备银行的莱纳德·纳卡穆拉(Leonard Nakamura)以及美国商务部经济分析局(BEA)的乔恩·塞缪尔斯(Jon Samuels)、雷切尔·索洛维切克(Rachel Soloveichik)通过广告费来估算未计入的产值,估测出2013年美国GDP应该比实际报告的多190亿美元。

 

Privacy activists also worry. Consumers tend to respond much more strongly to “free” offers than to prices that are only fractionally higher than zero. When Amazon first offered free shipping in European countries, orders surged—but not in France, where by mistake it charged around ten cents. The activists’ concern is that the “free” label fosters poor decisions, making people, for example, reveal more about themselves than they would in a more formal exchange. Researchers talk of the “privacy paradox”: when asked, people say that they care much more about their privacy than their actions would suggest.

隐私权倡议人士也感到担忧。比起那些几近为零的价格,消费者对免费品还是情有独钟得多。亚马逊在欧洲首次推出免运费服务时,订单激增,但法国除外——由于操作失误,亚马逊在法国收取大约10美分的运费。隐私权倡议人士担心,“免费”的旗号会助长轻率的决定,例如,比起较为正规的交易,人们在获取免费服务时会泄露更多的隐私。研究人员谈到了“隐私权悖论”的现象:当被问及隐私权时,人们表示他们很关心自己的隐私,而他们的行为却远非如此。

 

The free economy also troubles competition authorities. Excessive market power can be defined as the ability to raise prices above what would be charged in a competitive market. With no prices to compare, and other options only a click away, companies such as Google seem to operate in an environment of cut-throat competition. It is naive to think so. Consumers are more captive than the low cost of switching might imply. Google, for example, commands a market share for internet search of over 90% in most countries in the European Union, where antitrust authorities in June fined it €2.4bn ($2.7bn) for promoting its own comparison shopping services above its competitors’. Its services may have been free, but the trustbusters judged that its market power was curbing consumers’ choices. In the absence of prices, lack of competition will show up in other ways: demanding more information from users than they want to give, for example; or irritating them by stuffing their service chock-full of adverts.

免费经济同样困扰着竞争监管机构。过高的市场支配力可以定义为,企业能够将价格提升到高于竞争性市场中要价的水平。没有明码标价可以比较,且用户只需点一下鼠标就可轻易转向其他选择——这样看来,谷歌这样的公司好像是在一个竞争惨烈的环境中运营。如果这样想就未免天真了。虽然转换服务商的成本极低,消费者并没有看上去那么自由。例如,谷歌在欧盟大多数国家控制着超过90%的互联网搜索的市场份额,今年6月,因为在搜索结果中将自己的比价购物服务置于其他竞争对手之上,欧盟反垄断机构向其罚款24亿欧元(27亿美元)。它的服务或许是免费的,但是反垄断人士判定,它的市场支配力限制了消费者的选择。在没有标价的情况下,竞争不足会以其他方式呈现,比如要求消费者提供超出其意愿的信息,或者在服务中填满广告而让消费者不堪其扰。

 

No such thing as a free exchange

天下没有免费的交易

 

Opinion is divided on whether the free economy needs fixing, and if so, how. In his book “Who Owns the Future?”, Jaron Lanier suggests that tiny payments for digital contributions might correct yet another problem, a misallocation of labour. If companies paid people for useful data, rather than mopping up what they leave behind as they use online services, then prices could nudge people towards more productive online activity. Others advocate tougher regulation, mandating that consumers have the option of paying for a version of their social-media platforms free of advertisements and digital profiles. Neither seems imminent, and each comes with its own problems. But both would at least force people to start counting the cost of that priceless lunch.

免费经济是否需要修正?如果需要,该怎么修正?对此人们意见不一。杰伦·拉尼尔(Jaron Lanier)在《谁拥有未来》(Who Owns the Future?)一书中表示,如果用户在网络上的贡献能得到哪怕很少的报酬,可能还会纠正另一个问题——劳动力分配不当。假设公司为有用的数据向人们付费,而不是将他们使用网络服务时留下的信息“一网打尽”,那么价格可能会将人们向更富效益的网络活动。另一些人倡导更严厉的监管——规定消费者可以付费来选用一个没有广告也无需提供个人资料的社交媒体平台。以上两种措施似乎都不会很快到来,而且也都有各自的问题。但是至少两者都会迫使人们开始计算——这种免费午餐究竟代价几何?
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