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【美国的富人】强盗大亨与硅谷国王 (上) 2015年01月16日 11:43:20

Self-made wealth in America
美国白手起家的富人


Robber barons and silicon sultans

强盗大亨与硅谷国王


Today's tech billionaires have a lot in common with a previous generation of capitalist titans—perhaps too much for their own good
当今的科技亿万富翁同上一代的大资本家有许多共同之处——也许,这对他们是有很多好处的。


Jan 3rd 2015 | From the print edition of The Economist

 

译者:老狒狒

 

IN THE 50 years between the end of the American civil war in 1865 and the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, a group of entrepreneurs spearheaded America's transformation from an agricultural into an industrial society, built gigantic business empires and amassed huge fortunes. In 1848 John J. Astor, a merchant trader, was America's richest man with $20m (now $545m). By the time the United States entered the first world war, John D. Rockefeller had become its first billionaire.

在美国内战结束的1865年至第一次世界大战爆发的1914年的50年间,一群企业家带领美国完成了从农业社会到工业社会的转变。构建了巨大的商业帝国,累积了巨额的财富。1848年,商品交易商John J. Astor是美国首富,身价2000万美元(合现在的54.5亿美元)。到美国加入一战时,约翰·D·洛克菲勒已经成为美国的第一位亿万富翁。

In the 50 years since Data General introduced the first mini-computers in the late 1960s, a group of entrepreneurs have spearheaded the transformation of an industrial age into an information society, built gigantic business empires and acquired huge fortunes. When he died in 1992, Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was probably America's richest man with $8 billion. Today Bill Gates occupies that position with $82.3 billion.

在数据通用公司于上世纪60年代末期引进了第一台微型机算计至今的50年中,一群企业家在带领美国从工业时代向信息社会转变的过程中,构建了巨大的商业帝国,获取了巨额的财富。当沃尔玛创始人山姆·沃尔顿在1992年去世时,身价80亿美元的他可能是美国当时的首富。今天,比尔·盖茨以823亿美元占据这个位置。

The first group is now known as the robber barons. The second lot—call them the silicon sultans—could face a similar fate. Like their predecessors, they were once revered as inventive mould-breakers, delivering gadgets to the masses. But just like Rockefeller and the other “malefactors of great wealth”, these new capitalists are losing their sheen. They have been diversifying into businesses that have little to do with computers, while egotistically proclaiming that they alone can solve mankind's problems, from ageing to space travel. More pointedly, they stand accused of being greedy businessfolk who suborn politicians, employ sweatshop labour, stiff other shareholders and, especially, monopolise markets. Rockefeller once controlled 80% of the world's supply of oil: today Google has 90% of the search market in Europe and 67% in the United States.

第一群企业家就是如今被称为“强盗大亨”的人。第二群企业家——姑且称之为硅谷国王——可能面临同样的命运。像他们的前辈一样,他们也曾经被尊称为富有创造力的开拓者,能为大众带来花样百出的数码产品。但是,就像洛克菲勒和其他“罪恶的大富豪”一样,新一代的资本家正在逐渐失去他们的光环。他们一边拿出一部分资金进入与计算机毫不相干的商业领域,一边自恋地宣称他们能够独自解决从长生不老到星际旅行的人类难题。说得难听一点,他们是一群背着贪婪骂名的商业大鳄,干着与政客狼狈为奸、剥削血汗工厂的劳动力、陷害其他股东,特别是垄断市场的勾当。洛克菲勒曾一度控制了全世界80%石油供应。如今,谷歌占有90%的欧洲搜索市场和67%的美国搜索市场。

Together, the two groups throw light on some of the most enduring themes of American history—both the country's extraordinary ability to generate vast wealth and its enduring ambivalence about concentrations of power. Henry Ford, the youngest of the robber barons, once said that history is more or less bunk. He was wrong. The silicon sultans have the advantage of being able to learn from their predecessors' mistakes. It is not entirely clear that they are doing so.

这两群人加起来为美国历史上一些最经久不衰的主题——产生大批富人的特殊能力和长久的对于权力集中的矛盾心态——提供了注解。作为强盗大亨中最年轻的一位,亨利·福特曾经说:历史,多多少少是胡言乱语。他错了。硅谷的国王们拥有从前辈的错误中吸取教训的有力条件。但是,他们是否正在这样做就不完全清楚了。


History rhymes
历史基调


All business titans have certain things in common—a steely determination to turn their dreams into reality, a gargantuan appetite for success and, as they grow older, a complicated relationship with the fruits of their labour. But the robbers and sultans have more in common than most: they are the Übermenschen of the past 200 years of American capitalism, the people who feel the future in their bones, bring it into being—and sometimes go too far.

所有的商业巨头都有某些共同点:让梦想成为事实的钢铁决心,对成功的极度渴望;上了年纪后,同自己的劳动果实有一种复杂的关系。但是强盗大亨与硅谷国王之间的共同点是最接近的:他们都是美国资本主义在其200年历史中的“高等民族”,是能够在骨子里感受到未来,然后再将未来变为现实的人——虽然有的时候走得太远了。

The most striking similarity is that they refashioned the material basis of civilisation. Railway barons such as Leland Stanford and E.H. Harriman laid down more than 200,000 miles of track, creating a national market. Andrew Carnegie replaced iron with much more versatile steel. Ford ushered in the era of the automobile. Mr Gates tried to put a computer in every office and in every home. Larry Page and Sergey Brin put the world's information at everybody's fingertips. Mark Zuckerberg made the internet social. Just as the railroad made it possible for obscure companies to revolutionise everything from food (Heinz) to laundry (Procter & Gamble), the internet allows entrepreneurs to disrupt everything from retailing (Amazon) to transport (Uber).

最突出的相同点是:他们重塑了文明的物质基础。 以利兰·斯坦福和E.H.哈里曼为代表的铁路大亨铺设了超过200000英里的铁路,从而创造出一个全国市场;安德鲁·卡内基以用途更为广泛的钢代替了铁;福特开辟了汽车时代。盖茨试图让电脑进入每一间办公室和每一个家庭;拉里•佩奇和谢尔盖•布林把有关这个世界的信息置于每一个人的指尖之下;马克·扎克伯格造就了网络社交。正如铁路让默默无闻的公司去彻底改变从食品(亨氏)到洗衣(宝洁)的所有东西成为可能一样,互联网也任由企业家对从零售(亚马逊)到交通(优步)的一切进行创造性的破坏。

Both relied on the relentless logic of economies of scale. The robber barons started with striking innovations—in Ford's case, a more efficient way of turning petrol into power—but their real genius lay in their ability to “scale up” these innovations to squeeze the competition. “Cut the prices; scoop the market; run the mills full,” as Carnegie put it. The silicon sultans updated the idea. Mr Gates understood the imminent ubiquity of personal computers, and the money to be made from making their software. Messrs Brin and Page grasped that their search engine could create a massive audience for advertisers. Mr Zuckerberg saw that Facebook could profit from inserting itself into the social lives of a sizeable chunk of the world's population.

双方都借助了规模经济的冰冷逻辑。强盗大亨发迹于惊人的创新——对福特来说,他找到的是一种能够将汽油更有效地转化为动力的方式——但是,他们真正的天才是能够“成倍地放大”这些创新以击垮对手。正如卡内基所言:“降价,抢占市场;然后,开足马力”。硅谷的国王们升级了这种思想。盖茨在个人电脑普及之前就已经看懂了这一趋势,他知道财富就来源于为这些电脑制造软件;布林和佩奇深知,他们的搜索引擎能够为广告商创造大量的受众;扎克伯格发现,脸书能够通过让自己进入占世界人口很大一部分人的社交生活而获利。

Economies of scale allowed the robber barons to keep reducing prices and improving quality. Henry Ford cut the price of his Model T from $850 in its first year of production to $360 in 1916. In 1924 you could buy a much better car for just $290. The silicon sultans performed exactly the same trick. The price of computer equipment, adjusted for quality and inflation, has declined by 16% a year over the five decades from 1959 to 2009. Each iPhone contains the same amount of computing power as was housed in MIT in 1960.

规模经济曾经允许强盗大亨们一边降低价格,一边提高质量。亨利·福特将其T型车的价格从量产第一年的850美元降到了1916年的360美元。到1924年,人们只需花290美元就能够买一辆好很多的车。硅谷的国王们表演了几乎同样的戏法。扣除质量和通胀因素,计算机的价格在从1959年到2009年的50年间,年均下降了16%。一部iPhone的计算能力同麻省理工在1960年建造的一间房子大小的计算机不相上下。

The robber barons denounced regulators in the name of the free market, but monopoly suited them better. Rockefeller rued the “destructive competition” of the oil industry, with its cycle of glut and shortage, and set about ensuring continuity of supply. The first trust, Standard Oil's, established in 1882, was designed to persuade his rivals to give up control of their companies in return for a guaranteed income and an easy life. “The Standard was an angel of mercy reaching down from the sky and saying ‘Get into the ark. Put in your old junk. We will take all the risks',” he wrote.

强盗大亨们曾以自由市场之名指责监管,但是,用“垄断”一词来形容他们的行为是再合适不过了。洛克菲勒曾经对有着过剩合短缺周期的石油行业的“ 毁灭性竞争”表示后悔,并着手确保供应的连续性。创建于1882年的第一家托拉斯——标准石油的最初目的是劝说对手放弃对他们公司的控制,以换取一个有收入保障和舒适的生活。“标准石油是一位仁慈天使,她在从天而降的同时告诉我们:‘进入方舟,交出你们的破船。一切风险都由我们来承担。”他曾经这样写道。

Others followed. Although the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 outlawed these devices as restraints on free trade, the barons either neutralised the legislation or got round it with another control-preserving device, the holding company. By the early 20th century trusts and holding companies held nearly 40% of American manufacturing assets. Alfred Chandler, the doyen of American business historians, summed up the hundred years following the civil war as “ten years of competition and 90 years of oligopoly”.

之后,其他的强盗大亨也开始效仿洛克菲勒的做法。尽管1890年《谢尔曼反托拉斯法》将这些“设备”视为对自由贸易的抑制而加以明令禁止,但是,大亨们或是让这项立法失去了效力,或是

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