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谢国忠

谢国忠博客:只说出心中真相

 
 
 

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麻省理工学院经济学博士

个性介绍: 1960年出生于上海,1983年毕业于上海同济大学路桥系,1987年获麻省理工学院土木工程学硕士,1990年获麻省理工学院经济学博士。同年加入世界银行,担任经济分析员。在世行的五年时间,谢国忠所参与的项目涉及拉美、南亚及东亚地区,并负责处理该银行于印尼的工商业发展项目,以及其他亚太地区国家的电讯及电力发展项目。1995年,加入新加坡的Macquarie Bank,担任企业财务部的联席董事。1997年加入摩根士丹利,任亚太区经济学家,2006年9月辞去该职务。

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谢国忠:胜者为王  

2009-07-06 17:59:57|  分类: 言论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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下一次革命

  

The next revolution

 

July 4, 2009

 

 

Anotherinformation revolution is unfolding. Possibly in two to three years howwe access and use information will change fundamentally, which wouldaffect the IT industry dramatically as well as the broad economy. PCstill dominates information storage and processing at present. The newworld is likely to shift data processing and storage to the net. Newmobile technologies will allow users to remain online anytime andanywhere. All knowledge will become available instantaneously. Therewill be no distinctions in processing voice, video or text data. Theadvances in mobile phone technology are making this always-on worldpossible.

 

 

The speculation about arrivalof this new world has been around for a long time. It is one of thecompeting visions on the future. In my recent visit to Taiwan I visitedseveral major IT companies and realized how soon this world was comingand how it was impacting Taiwan’s IT businesses. One of the majorimplications is that PC will lose its importance in the IT world. Ithas far reaching consequences for East Asian economies that haveinvested heavily in PC related manufacturing activities.

 

 

Taiwan’seconomy has benefited heavily from three factors in the past twodecades: (1) China’s opening made cheap labor available to itsmanufacturers, (2) outsourcing trend due to the rise of big-boxretailers in the US created a big market for its manufacturers, and (3)the rapid growth of the PC industry gave its tech companies room togrow fast. Taiwan’s strength in taking advantage of the three was itsfactory management expertise and its extensive connections in China andthe US. In particular, Taiwan has assumed an important role in the PCsupply chain. From components, assembly and even branding Taiwan’s PCindustry has risen to global prominence. It is now a sun-settingindustry.

 

 

In the new paradigm the mostimportant function for a consumer device is connectivity andinteractivity. It makes PC just one of the numerous existing and futuredevices. PC has two distinct disadvantages in competing against otherproducts. First, Microsoft and Intel charge high prices for theirproprietary products essential to a PC. The so-called WinTel standardserved to increase competition in downstream industries. It led todeclining PC prices and rising sales. However, WinTel’s monopolycharges limit how far PC prices. Also, as a PC was designed to be aself-containing device, it is loaded with expensive functions that arenot valuable in a web-based world. In summary, a PC is no longer thebest value for money in a web-based world.

 

 

ThePC industry is already suffering from the market evolution. The DRAMindustry is experiencing terrible hemorrhaging. When DRAM demand wasstrong, so many DRAM factories were set up, especially in East Asia. Itappears that most won’t survive. One industry veteran in Taiwan told methat only three would survive. The notebook industry that has seenrapid growth in the past decade seems destined for stagnation or evendeclining. In a stagnant industry profit margin shrinks to the thinnestpossible level.

 

 

Taiwan is suffering aterrible recession now. Its GDP shrank by over 10% in the first quarterfrom one year ago. The trade collapse due to the global economiccollapse is the main reason. The structural changes like in the PCindustry would hold Taiwan’s economy back even when the global economyrecovers. In addition, the OEM trend has saturated. It will pressureprofit margins on most Taiwanese factories in Mainland China. As far asI can tell, only a few Taiwanese businesses in the smartphone industryare prospering. Even there, lack of key intellectual propertiesrelating to 3G and 4G standards could limit their prospects.

 

 

Taiwan’seconomy is likely to stagnate for a long time to come. The structuralproblems will hold back its exports. The profitability of its exportfactories in the mainland will shrink. Even though some Taiwanesebusinesses are succeeding in China’s domestic demand, they are toosmall to lift Taiwan’s economy alone. Taiwan’s household wealth levelis still high, which could support its consumption for the foreseeablefuture. But this is a stagnation story. Taiwan hasn’t really grown muchin the past decade. Its living standard is stuck around $15 thousandper capita. It seems that Taiwan’s living standard will remain so forthe next decade.

 

 

The same forces willalso limit China’s rebound in exports. Most Taiwanese factories are inthe Mainland. In addition, numerous local businesses are eithersuppliers to Taiwanese businesses or competing against them for exportmarkets. Half of China’s exports are IT related products. As China is afactory for the world, what’s at stake is the relative value ofhardware vs. software or service. It seems that the importance ofhardware in the new world is declining. Many products that are stillconsidered hi-tech are commoditized and losing growth. I am deeplyconcerned that China’s policies are still geared towards promoting suchindustries. Some local governments are throwing billions of dollars atattracting such commodity industries. The money may be bringing insunset industries with few benefits for economic development.

 

 

Networkcontractors like China’s Huawai and ZTE are winners in this revolution.Mobile connectivity is the most important factor in contributing to therise of this new world. The demand for networking equipment will bestrong in the next few years. Network operators need to spend heavilyto upgrade their networks to compete for consumers.

 

 

Evensoftware companies may not win in this world. As the connectivity isanytime, anywhere and network is the computer, consumers can rentsoftware on the net for temporary use and won’t have to buy it forinstallation on a personal or company computer. This will increase thecompetition among software producers as it decreases their market powerfrom the lock-in effect. When software is no longer a fixed cost, usershave more incentive to switch. Software production has a high profitmargin so far precisely for this reason. In the emerging new worldsoftware producers may see their profit margins declining to theaverage among all industries.

 

 

Microsoftand Oracle, for example, command massive market capitalization in stockmarket. But they are hardly the most innovative or best qualitycompanies. Their consumers usually complain about their products. Stillthey have been earning high profit margins. The reason is that theirconsumers have sunk huge fixed costs into their products and have lowincentives to switch. The new world puts their business model intodoubt. I suspect that their market capitalization will declinedramatically over the next five years.

 

 

Intheory the biggest winners are the network providers like mobile phoneoperators. They have the best chance to control users. But, they willalso have a hard time. The differences among voice, video and textservices will vanish. Service providers maximize their profit marginsthrough price discrimination against high value customers. For example,even though Chinese mobile phone operators have vast numbers ofcustomers, a relatively small number of customers, mainly those thatuse their services for business purpose, contribute to most of theirprofits. The merging of voice, video and text will make suchdiscrimination impossible. The service providers can only collect asimple rental fee from their customers.

 

 

Thecontent providers should be big winners in the net world with a biggermarket and less marketing cost. But they are already losing big andcould lose more in the always-on world. The problem is that theexisting content providers don’t know have to sell their products.Technology companies like Google have taken advantage of that andcollect advertizing dollars by locating the content for its usersthrough their search service. In the end, as content providers arestarved of money, they will exit the business. The destruction of thecontent providers is already unfolding. Newspaper companies arestruggling around the world. The always-on world will accelerate theprocess. Newspaper production will probably vanish in its current form.

 

 

Magazines and books could also vanish intheir paper forms in the foreseeable future. Electronic papertechnologies are sufficiently developed that electronic paper works aswell as printed paper. They can’t change to electronic publishingeasily. Books and magazines exist because the fixed cost for printingis high. They generate economies of scale in disseminating information.In the electronic paper information can be transmitted at zero cost.The justification for information aggregation with large fixed costsisn’t there. In the future people won’t get their information fromfixed cost operators like newspapers, magazines and book publishers.

 

 

Ofcourse, the above story implies that the demand for paper will collapsein the future. Paper and pulp production requires massive fixed costs.The existing capacity is probably more than enough for the foreseeablefuture. It would be hard to justify any new investment in this business.

 

 

Onebig positive of the always-on world is that it makes all the knowledgein the world available to everyone anytime. Not everyone will know howto use this advantage. Enough people will. The world will change forthat. For example, education can be carried out outside of schools.Education is the biggest government monopoly allover the world. Itworks due to the economies of scale from the government imposinguniform standards that offset the inherent inefficiency from governmentcontrol.

 

 

Healthcare is another bigbusiness to be affected by the revolution. Healthcare accounts for overone tenth of GDP. Its impact is hard to quantify. Its size and thedifficulties in quantifying its effectiveness reflect informationasymmetry between doctors and patients. Developed countries protectpatients by giving them legal rights for ex-post legal actions againsthealthcare providers. That in turn causes the healthcare providers tooverkill in treatment to avoid bad legal consequences. The always-onworld will dramatically decrease the information asymmetry betweenpatients and doctors. This allows people to obtain informationinstantaneously to verify healthcare professionals’ opinions andprescriptions. It improves the market efficiency in two ways. Patientshave less need to sue doctors ex post. It decreases healthcareinsurance cost and the amount of care.

 

 

Hence, it reduces the need for doctors to overprescribe medicine or procedures

 

 

Thisflattening of the knowledge world has profound implications for howsocieties will be organized and governed. Human societies are governedby elite who control information and are capable of processing it.Inflation collection, processing, and dissemination are always costly.The existence of elite reflects the need for economies of scale inhandling information, which gives advantages and privileges to thosewho happen to handle information. This advantage often turns hereditaryand leads to the formation of a permanent ruling class. The decliningcost of obtaining information has already led to dramatic socialchanges in the past century. The final collapse of information cost tozero will accelerate the trend.

 

 

How theinformation revolution is destroying businesses is a classic example ofSchumpeterian creative destruction. The new technology renders asignificant share of the economy obsolete. Even though the technologyimproves efficiency overall, the unemployment that results frombusiness destruction could keep the economy weak for an extended periodof time. However, it would be wrong for governments to stop thetechnology. Overtime market will find alternative uses for theunemployed workers. For owners of the obsolete businesses this is anunmitigated disaster. Their capital stock would have only scrap value.

 

 

Asold businesses are destroyed, new ones will emerge. The internet isn’tjust a tool. It has become a world of its own. When human beings haveenough food and shelter, all other activities are entertainment orearning money for buying entertainment. The cheapest entertainment isfor people to amuse each other. This may be happening. YouTube,Twitter, Facebook, etc., are mainly platforms for people to entertaineach other. One can work hard to earn enough money for buying aMercedes car. Driving it would give one certain satisfaction. Or onecould spend time on the net getting entertained for free. Hence, thereis no need to work hard anymore. I suspect that in the always-on worldinternet will decrease rather than increase productivity in traditionalsense. But, people may get more satisfaction out of it.


下一场技术革命

本文见《财经》杂志 2009年第14期 出版日期2009年07月06日

  

在“永远在线”的世界,互联网将减少而不是增加传统意义上的生产力。但是,大家可能都能从中得到满足

  又一场信息革命正在展开。也许在两到三年内,我们获得和使用信息的方式将发生根本改变,这将给IT行业乃至广义的经济带来巨大影响。目前,个人电脑仍然占信息存储和处理的主导地位,而在“新世界”里,数据处理和存储可能都会被整合到网络上。新的移动技术将允许用户无论何时何地“永远在线”,所有的知识都可于瞬间获得。移动电话技术的发展,正在使这个“永远在线”的世界成为可能。

“永远在线”

  关于上面描述的那个新世界即将到来的猜测,已经存在了很长一段时间。这只是对未来的种种猜想中的一种。在最近一次访问台湾时,我参观了几个主要的IT公司,认识到那个描述中的世界正在以怎样的高速转变为现实,也意识到了这种变化又是怎样影响到了台湾的IT企业。其中,最主要的影响是,个人电脑将失去其在IT领域的重要地位。由于在与个人电脑相关的制造行业上投放了重资,因此,这一变革对东亚经济体有着深远的影响。

  过去20年,台湾经济发展在很大程度上得益于三个因素:(1)中国大陆的对外开放政策给制造商提供了廉价的劳动力;(2)由于美国大型零售商的崛起,使制造业外包逐渐成为趋势,并由此形成了一个巨大的市场,以及(3)迅速崛起的个人电脑产业,为高科技公司提供了快速成长的空间。

  台湾之所以能够充分受益于以上条件,除了具备出色的工厂管理经验,还因其同中国大陆及美国有着紧密的联系。特别是,台湾已经成为中国大陆个人电脑供应链中重要的一环。无论是组件、组装,还是品牌,台湾个人电脑产业已处于全球领先地位。这个行业在台湾已经属于夕阳产业了。

  在新的模式中,消费电子产品最重要的功能就是连接与互动。不管是现在还是未来,电脑只是众多此类设备之一。与其他产品相比,电脑有两大缺陷。首先,微软和英特尔对于个人电脑的灵魂部分——也是其专利产品——要价颇高。所谓的“Wintel标准”,原本旨在增加下游产业的竞争程度,理应导致个人电脑价格下降,销量增加。但是,Wintel联盟垄断定价限制了个人电脑的价格。此外,个人电脑原本被设计为一个“自我承载装置”,它所装载的那些昂贵的功能,在基于网络的世界里并无多大价值。总之,在网遍世界的今天,个人电脑已不再显得那么物有所值了。

  个人电脑产业已经经历过了市场的演变。动态随机存取存储器(DRAM)产业正在经历可怕的大出血。当DRAM芯片市场需求强劲的时候,许多工厂纷纷上马,在东亚更是如此。现在看来,其中大多数无法生存。一位业界资深人士告诉我,在台湾,只有三个企业能够存活下去。在过去十年里,笔记本电脑产业取得了快速的增长,这也似乎注定了这一行业将停滞发展甚至萎缩,而边际利润也将缩小到最微薄的水平。

  台湾正经历着一场痛苦的经济衰退。其一季度本地生产总值减少了10%以上。主要原因就是由于全球经济衰退引起的贸易崩溃。正如个人电脑产业正在经历结构性转变,台湾岛内也面临着结构性调整。在全球经济开始复苏的时候,这一结构调整拖缓了台湾复苏的脚步。此外,原始设备制造商(OEM)趋于饱和,这将极大地压缩大多数在中国大陆设厂的台湾厂商的利润率。据我所知,智能手机制造行业中,只有有限几个台资厂商能够盈利。由于缺乏与3G和4G标准有关的知识产权,连这些厂商的利润前景也不那么光明。

  台湾经济很可能会停滞很长一段时间。结构性问题将阻碍其出口。在内地设厂的出口厂商的利润将进一步缩小。尽管有些台商由于中国大陆的旺盛需求而大获成功,但是,这些厂商规模还是太小,不能单独支撑台湾经济。台湾的家庭财富水平仍然很高,在可以预见的未来,还能够维持原来的消费水平。但是,在过去的十年里,台湾并没有取得真正的发展。一直维持着人均1.5万美元的生活水平。看来,在下一个十年中,台湾的生活水平很难有太大改变。

  其他一些因素也将限制中国大陆的出口反弹。大多数台资工厂设在中国大陆。许多当地企业不是这些台资工厂的供应商,就是和他们争夺出口市场的竞争对手。中国大陆一半左右的出口是与IT相关的产品。由于中国大陆是“世界的工厂”,其生产的硬件或者是软件,以及所提供的服务具有的相对价值,对于中国大陆来说至为重要。现在看来,硬件的重要性正在逐步下降。许多仍然被标榜为“高科技”的产品正在商品化,并且不再增长。目前,中国大陆的政策仍在大力促进这些行业的发展,一些地方政府已经为此一掷数十亿美元。从经济发展的角度来说,这笔钱可以带给这些夕阳产业的好处十分有限。

胜者为王

  华为和中兴通讯等网络承建商,可以说是这次革命中的胜者。移动连接是促成“新世界”崛起的最重要的因素。在未来的几年中,对网络设备的需求将十分强劲。网络运营商需要花费巨资升级其网络,才能在争取消费者的竞争中脱颖而出。

  在这个“新世界”里,软件公司可能不会有太大的赚头。这是因为人们随时随地都可以通过计算机与网络加以连接,消费者大可在线临时租用软件,而不需要去购买软件再将其安装在固定的个人或公司电脑中。这将大大提高软件生产商之间的竞争,因为它减少了软件厂商通过“锁定效应”获得的市场影响力。当软件费用不再成为固定成本,用户就有了更多的动力在各种软件中挑来挑去。正是由于这一原因,迄今为止,软件生产仍具有较高的利润率。但是,在正在崛起的“新世界”里,软件生产商可能会发现,他们的利润下降到了所有行业的平均水平。

  举个例子。微软和甲骨文,在股票市场引导着大规模资本运作。但是,他们根本不是最具创新性或最优质的公司。消费者通常对他们的产品抱怨多多。尽管如此,他们还是赚取到了高额利润。原因在于,消费者在这些公司生产的产品上,投入了巨大的固定成本,并且几乎没有任何要更换产品的想法。不过,在“新世界”里,消费者可能会对这些公司的商业模式产生质疑。我猜想,在未来五年中,这些公司的市值将会大幅下降。

  从理论上来说,最大的赢家应该是网络供应商,如移动电话运营商。他们有最好的机会来控制用户。但是,他们以后的日子也不太好过。以前,服务供应商通过价格歧视,筛选高价值客户,以最大限度地保证利润。例如,尽管中国移动电话运营商拥有大量客户,但只有那部分数量相对较少的商务客户,为其创造了大部分利润。但是,当语音、视频和文字等服务融为一体后,通过价格歧视来筛选优质客户就不再可能。服务供应商能得到的,仅仅是从客户那里收到的网络租赁费罢了。

  按理说,内容提供商也应该成为网络世界的大赢家,因为他们拥有更大的市场,以及相对较少的销售成本。但在这个“永远在线”的世界里,他们已经损失了很多,而且很可能会失去更多。关键的问题是,这些内容提供商并不知道,他们需要为自己的产品做营销。技术公司,如谷歌,正是利用了这一点。他们通过在搜索服务中为其客户提供“内容定位”而获得大笔广告收入。事实上,内容提供商已经开始溃败。世界各地的报业公司都在苦苦挣扎。

  在可预见的将来,纸质的杂志和书籍也会消失。电子报的技术已经非常发达了,完全能够跟纸质报纸的效果相媲美。但纸制的杂志和书籍转变为电子出版物可不那么容易。书籍和杂志之所以存在,是因为固定的印刷成本是很高的。它们能够在信息传播时产生规模经济。而电子报几乎可以达到零成本信息传输。至于“信息集中必然会产生巨大固定成本”的说词根本就站不住脚。将来,人们不再需要从报纸、杂志和图书出版商那些有固定成本的商家那里获得信息了。

  当然,上面所说的一切都在意味着,未来对于纸质文件的需求终会一朝崩溃。这样看来,在这个领域,任何投资都不是那么明智。

废旧立新

  另一个受到这场革命影响的是医疗保健行业。每年,医疗产生的费用超过国内生产总值的十分之一。其影响很难评估。其规模和评估其效用的困难,反映了医生和病人之间的信息不对称。发达国家授予患者合法权利,可以对医疗保健机构的治疗提出事后起诉,由此来保护患者权益。不过,这一做法反过来又导致医疗机构过度治疗,为的是避免不良的法律后果。

  “永远在线”的世界将大大降低病人和医生间的信息不对称,使得患者能够立刻了解专业医护人员的治疗意见及处方。这也使得市场双方都变得更有效率。患者不再需要对医生此前的行为提出起诉,同时减少了医保费用和治疗总量。

  知识世界平面化的趋势,深刻影响着社会的组织和管理模式。人类社会是由掌控信息、并有能力处理这些信息的精英阶层控制的。收集、放大信息,处理和传播信息都需要支付高昂的成本。精英的存在反映了信息处理也需要有规模经济,这给了那些恰巧掌握这些信息的人以优势和特权。这种优势往往会世袭,并导致形成永久的统治阶级。过去的一个世纪里,获取信息所需成本的下降,已经导致社会剧烈变化。最终信息成本接近于零,将加速这个趋势的到来。

  “熊彼特创造性毁灭”(Schumpeterian creativedestruction)就是一个典型的例子,说明信息革命是怎样摧毁企业的。新技术总是在产业落伍的时候显示出重要作用。虽然整体来讲技术提高了效率,但因为产业失败造成的失业,可能使经济疲软持续较长一段时间。然而,让各国政府停止采用新技术将是错误的。失业工人可以靠赚取加班费找到新生计。对那些从事过时产业的企业主来说,新技术将是十足的灾难。因为他们的股本可能只值废品价了。

  旧的企业被摧毁,新的问题将会出现。互联网不仅是一种工具,它已形成了自己的世界。当人有足够的食物和舒适的住所的时候,所有其他活动都变成了娱乐活动,或赚取金钱以购买娱乐活动。最便宜的娱乐活动就是大家互相取乐。这很有可能发生。YouTube、Twitter、Facebook等,都是供人们自娱自乐或娱乐他人的平台。我们可以努力工作,赚取足够的钱购买奔驰车。驾驶它将给人以特定的满足感。或者,我们可以花时间在网络上免费找乐子。因此,也许真没有必要努力工作了。我怀疑,在“永远在线”的世界,互联网将减少而不是增加传统意义上生产力。但是,大家可能都能从中得到满足。■  

  作者为《财经》杂志特约经济学家、玫瑰石顾问公司董事

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