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2010-08-20 16:01:47|  分类: 考研英语 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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THIRTY years ago, Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich entered into a famous bet. Mr Simon, a libertarian, was sceptical of the gloomy claims made by Mr Ehrlich, an ecologist best known for his predictions of environmental chaos and human suffering that would result from the supposed “population bomb”. Thumbing his nose at such notions as resource scarcity, Mr Simon wagered that the price of any five commodities chosen by Mr Ehrlich would go down over the following decade. The population bomb was defused, and Mr Simon handily won the bet.




Now, Matt Ridley has a similarly audacious bet in mind. A well-known British science writer (and former Economist journalist), Mr Ridley has taken on the mantle of rational optimism from the late Mr Simon. In his new book, he challenges those nabobs of negativity who argue that the world cannot possibly feed 9 billion mouths, that Africa is destined to fail and that the planet is heading for a climate disaster. He boldly predicts that in 2110, a much bigger world population could enjoy more and better food produced on less land than is used by farming today—and even return lots of farmland to wilderness.




However, mankind cannot hope to achieve this if it turns its back on innovation. Feeding another 2 billion people or more will, of course, mean producing much more food. Genetically modified (GM) agriculture could play an important role, as this technology can greatly increase yields while using smaller inputs of fertiliser, insecticide and water. Many years of field experience in the Americas and Asia have shown GM crops to be safe, but, Mr Ridley rightly complains, the Luddites of the green and organic movements continue to obstruct progress.




The progress (and occasional retardation) of innovation is the central theme of Mr Ridley’s sweeping work. He starts by observing that humans are the only species capable of innovation. Other animals use tools, and some ants, for example, do specialise at certain tasks. But these skills are not cumulative, and the animals in question do not improve their technologies from generation to generation. Only man innovates continuously.




Why should that be? Some have suggested that perhaps it is the chemistry of big brains that leads us to tinker. Others that man’s mastery of language or his capacity for imitation and social learning hold the key. Mr Ridley, a zoologist by training, weighs up these arguments but insists, in the end, that the explanation lies not within man’s brain but outside: innovation is a collective phenomenon. The way man’s collective brain grows, he says cheekily, is by “ideas having sex”.




His own theory is, in a way, the glorious offspring that would result if Charles Darwin’s ideas were mated with those of Adam Smith. Trade, Mr Ridley insists, is the spark that lit the fire of human imagination, as it made possible not only the exchange of goods, but also the exchange of ideas. Trade also encouraged specialisation, since it rewarded individuals and communities who focus on areas of comparative advantage. Such specialists, in contrast with their generalist rivals or ancestors, had the time and the incentive to develop better methods and technologies to do their tasks.




It is this culture of continuous improvement, which was only accelerated by the industrial revolution, that explains the astonishing improvements in the human condition over time. Through most of history, most people lived lives of quiet desperation, humiliating servitude and grinding poverty. And yet, despite the pessimistic proclamations of Mr Ehrlich and many other pundits, economic growth and technological progress have come to the rescue over and over again.




The visible hand 看得见的手


As Mr Simon did in his classic work, “It’s Getting Better all the Time” (2000), Mr Ridley provides ample statistical evidence here to show that life has indeed got better for most people in most places on most measures. Whether one counts air and water pollution in California or vaccination rates in Bangladesh or life expectancy in Japan, his conclusion is indisputable. It does, however, highlight one of the book’s minor flaws: an over-anxious cramming in of too many obscure statistics and calculations that should have been relegated to footnotes or an annex.




Another is the author’s slightly unfair attitude towards government. Mr Ridley makes it abundantly clear that he is a free marketeer, and he provides ample evidence from history that governments are often incompetent and anti-innovation: “The list of innovations achieved by the pharaohs is as thin as the list of innovations achieved by British Rail or the US Postal Service.” He is particularly suspicious of strong governments, which he equates with monopolies—and those, he insists, “always grow complacent, stagnant and self-serving.”




He is right that the leaden hand of the state has often suppressed individual freedom and creativity. However, he does not fully acknowledge that some problems do, in fact, require government intervention—especially because markets themselves can sometimes fail spectacularly. Mr Ridley surely knows this, as he was forced to resign as non-executive chairman of Northern Rock, the first British bank to be rescued by the government during the financial crisis. Yet the most he will say about that affair is that he is now mistrustful of markets in capital and assets, but unflinchingly in favour of markets in goods and services.




Mr Ridley is also generally sceptical about global warming, and worries that government policies advocated by greens today will be like treating a nosebleed by putting a tourniquet around one’s neck. He argues that the problem, if it exists, will be solved by bottom-up innovation in energy technologies. But to accomplish that, he wants governments to “enact a heavy carbon tax, and cut payroll taxes.”


里氏对全球变暖大体上也持怀疑态度,他担心绿色组织今天所倡导的政府政策有朝一日会因噎废食,好比为治疗流鼻血而将止血带缠在人的脖子上。里氏认为, 假如全球变暖确是存在,也应由能源技术领域里自下而上(bottom-up)的科技创新来解决。不过,讽刺的是,要实现这个目标,他又不免希望政府“对碳排放课以重税,并削减工资税。”


That is a sensible prescription (often advocated by this newspaper), but surely a “heavy” tax suggests there is a role for government in fixing market failures? He glosses too over the vital role that air-quality regulations played in cleaning up smog in California, choosing to focus instead on the inventions—like the catalytic converter and low-sulphur fuel—that arose as a result of those technology-forcing measures.


此药方固然堪称妥当(《经济学人》亦深表赞同),但作者明确建言征缴“重”税的主张是否就暗示了在矫正市场失灵方面政府理应有所作为呢?很大程度上,他亦掩盖或弱化了空气质量管制条例在治理加州烟尘问题上所发挥的关键作用。书中表述有些避重就轻,对于像催化转换器和低含硫燃料这样的新发明,里氏不免着墨甚多,而究其源头,这些发明的涌现无一不是强制性技术升级措施(technology-forcing measures)所带来的结果。


Still, he is on the mark with the big things. “The bottom-up world is to be the great theme of this century,” declares Mr Ridley in the closing pages of this sunny book. He is surely right. Thanks to the liberating forces of globalisation and Googlisation, innovation is no longer the preserve of technocratic elites in ivory towers. It is increasingly an open, networked and democratic endeavour.




If man really can find a way of harnessing the innovative capacity of 9 billion bright sparks, then the audacious prediction about feeding the much hungrier world of 2110 using less land than today may very well be proven right too. After all, man’s greatest asset is his ability to harness that one natural resource that remains infinite in quantity: human ingenuity.




New American fiction



Give or give up

依然故我 抑或作别往昔


The biography of a loser



Mar 25th 2010 | From The Economist print edition




The Ask. By Sam Lipsyte. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 296 pages; $25. Buy from Amazon.com



NARRATORS of comic novels tend to fall into two categories. Either they are jaded insiders in a world they see is a sham, or they are hapless outsiders who long to be insiders, even though they sense it is all a sham. Outsiders are harder to pull off. It takes some convincing to empathise with a true loser.




Sam Lipsyte made his name with “Home Land” (2005), a darkly funny book written as letters to an alumni newsletter. The hero was a washout—loveless, nearly friendless and all but jobless (“It’s time you knew the cold soft facts of me. I did not pan out.”). But he was also hilarious, with the incisive cruelty of a true underdog. Like “Portnoy’s Complaint”, Philip Roth’s 1969 novel, “Home Land” was less a story than a voice, vital, irrepressible and sexually perverted, just without the exploits.




“The Ask”, Mr Lipsyte’s new novel, is more ambitious. Again the narrator, Milo Burke, is a sad, cynical sack. Raised in the New Jersey suburbs and trained as a painter, he once believed that his artistic genius would make him famous. Now in his 40s, with the slovenly build of a “half-melted block of Muenster cheese”, he is embittered,  occasionally mawkish and complacent; a “man with many privileges and zero skills. What used to be called an American.”




But Milo makes do. He bumbles through his job fund-raising for an art school, and spends his nights watching television with his wife and son. His life is as reassuringly bland as his daily turkey-wrap lunch. But then he is sacked from his job and exiled to the unemployed wilds of doughnut shops and internet porn. His luck seems to change when a rich old college buddy involves him in an important potential donation to the school. Milo’s challenge is to secure the funding (the titular “ask”) without getting tied up in all the strings attached.




Like “Home Land”, this is a brutally witty novel told from the perspective of a pitiable misfit. “For heaven’s sake,” Milo’s mother marvels, “the system’s rigged for white men and you still can’t tap in.” Though he fails to make sense of his own life, Milo’s observations of the world around him (academia, semi-suburbia, his marriage, his son, his own hands—like “lovingly shaved gerbils”) glisten with insight and humour.




Despite its class-clown antics, “The Ask” is darker and more humane than the author’s earlier work. Milo may be a disaster, but he is drawn with tenderness. Mr Lipsyte has written a surprisingly meaningful book about the freshly minted grown-ups of his own generation (he was born in 1968), raised on dreams and sitcoms, who now find themselves in cubicles, growing chubby, having children, and wondering what life is meant to feel like




Bedside table



The best books on language



The Economist's international correspondent on books about language



May 4th 2010 | From The Economist online





Robert Lane Greene is an international correspondent for The Economist, currently covering American politics and foreign policy online. His book on the politics of language around the world, “You Are What You Speak”, will be published by Bantam (Random House) in the spring of 2011.





Monitors of language-usage are often seen as either scolds or geeks. Which book do you recommend to convey what is fascinating about language?




After years of reading about language for pleasure and then researching for my own book, I'd still refer anyone who asks back to the book that lit a fire for me a decade or so ago: Steven Pinker's “The Language Instinct” (written about by The Economist here). You can take or leave Mr Pinker's case that all human languages share a few common features, and that those features are wired into our grey matter (rather than, say, an extension of our general intelligence). But whatever your views on this subject, it's hard to read the book and then happily go back to seeing language as a set of iron-bound rules that are constantly being broken by the morons around you. Instead, you start seeing this human behaviour as something to be enjoyed in its fascinating variability.




Linguists study the way language works in the brain, and tend to leave condemnations of usage to grammarians. But is there a single English-language rulebook that you would prescribe?




Absolutely. It's a bit of a myth that linguists don't believe in rules (although “condemnation”, it's true, isn't really their style). But they believe in rules that are obeyed by the vast majority of speakers, writing or speaking naturally, not those invented by random rulebook writers in the 1700s. The best usage book in this spirit is Merriam-Webster's “Dictionary of English Usage”. This book is not merely an array of editorial hunches, but an empirical study of a wide range of common (and even a few uncommon) usage questions. Where there is a controversy the book is at its best, as it talks readers through the history of these rules. One learns, for example, that John Dryden used Latin as a guide when he condemned ending sentences with prepositions. But often these rules don't bear up under scrutiny; Merriam-Webster tends to cite great writers who break this or that “rule”. When ignoring the bans outlined by some cranky grammarians, it can be reassuring to be in the company of Shakespeare, the King James and George Bernard Shaw.




For a more traditional guide, try H.W. Fowler's “Dictionary of Modern English Usage”. Fowler was convincing and entertaining rather than authoritarian and angry, and a lifetime's lonely erudition (he was painfully shy) shows through on every page. Modern editions are more useful, having had some particularly grey-bearded entries removed and some additions made by subsequent editors. But older editions are fun; they show what raised the hackles a hundred years ago. For example Fowler condemned as “clichés” many phrases I'd never heard: “a curate's egg”, “neither fish, flesh nor good red herring”, and so on. I like to imagine a world in which “neither fish, flesh nor good red herring” was irritatingly common.


如果你想要寻求更传统的指导,不妨去试试 H.W.福勒的《现代英语用法词典》。福勒不像有些人一脸的权威和愠怒,写起书来循循善诱,引人入胜,字里行间所流露出的都是一个孤独了一辈子的人的博学(他腼腆得可怕)。这本书的现代版本更有用,在他之后的编辑删除了一些老人特别挑选的词条,并做了一些自己的添加。但老的版本更有趣,你可以从中目睹到那些一百年前触怒了老人家的东西。比如说福勒拿来批评“循词”的许多短语我听都没听说过:“一只牧师助理的鸡蛋”,“非鱼,非肉,也不是标致的红鲱鱼”,诸如此类。我喜欢来想象这个“非鱼,非肉,也不是标致的红鲱鱼”多到让人上火的世界。


Half of today’s languages may be gone in a century. Is there a book that explains why we should care?




Unfortunately, I've tried and failed to find a utilitarian argument for preserving tiny languages. Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine failed to convince me with “Vanishing Voices”, which tied biodiversity to the preservation of endangered languages. They're right in that small groups that speak threatened languages often know things about plant and animal species that are lost when their lands are “developed” and they are absorbed into the larger community. But that knowledge isn't lost because the language is lost. It's lost because the way of life is lost. If a modest tribe moved to the city and took urban jobs, their knowledge of rare plants and so on would disappear even if they kept their language. By contrast, if their traditional way of life were preserved, they could start speaking the bigger metropolitan language and keep their knowledge. (Contrary to a common belief, most things are perfectly translatable.)




So the reason to keep languages alive is really just because they are an irreplaceable part of our common human heritage. Mark Abley's “Spoken Here” takes the reader on an enjoyable tour of threatened languages. It's a bit wide-eyed at times, but it's written by someone who just loves that there are so many ways to say things. The thought of a planet a thousand years from now where everyone speaks just a few languages, or just one, depresses me. It would be like replacing Angkor Wat with some new condos.




What’s next on your reading list?




I've just begun Nicholas Ostler's “Empires of the Word”. It's an omnivorous history of language and the rise and fall of civilisations. Rather than the traditional tour from Sumerian cuneiform to the Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks to the Romans to modern French and so on, it's filled with the detours and great languages of the past, now barely remembered. It reminds us that Aramaic was once the official language of the Persian empire; that Spain was once Celtic; that Cleopatra was really a Greek (though she also learned Egyptian, which was unusual), and so on. The Goths and Vandals make a mess of the Roman Empire next, but the last laugh is on them—most of them will become Romanized, eventually speaking Spanish, Italian and so on. As with any well-written history, I almost wish I didn't know how it turns out.





Information theory



A quantum calculation




Apr 22nd 2010 | From The Economist print edition


Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information. By Vlatko Vedral. Oxford University Press; 256 pages; $29.95 and ?16.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk


《解译真实:量子信息的世界》Vlatko Vedral著,牛津大学出版社,全书共256页,售价:$29.95 或 ?16.99,购书网站:Amazon.com,Amazon.co.uk。


ONE of the most elusive goals in modern physics has turned out to be the creation of a grand unified theory combining general relativity and quantum mechanics, the two pillars of 20th-century physics. General relativity deals with gravity and time and space; quantum mechanics with the microscopic workings of matter. Both are incredibly successful in their own domains, but they are inconsistent with one another.




For decades physicists have tried to put the two together. At the heart of the quest lies the question, of what is the universe made? Is it atoms of matter, as most people learned in school? Or some sort of energy? String theory, currently a popular idea, holds that the universe is made up of tiny vibrating strings. Other equally esoteric candidates abound. Indeed, cynics claim that there are as many grand unified theories as there are theoretical physicists attempting unification.




Now Vlatko Vedral, an Oxford physicist, examines the claim that bits of information are the universe’s basic units, and the universe as a whole is a giant quantum computer. He argues that all of reality can be explained if readers accept that information is at the root of everything.


近期,牛津大学物理学家Vlatko Vedral审慎地论证了认为信息是组成宇宙的最基本单位,而宇宙本身就是个巨大的量子计算器的理论。他认为,如果读者们能够接受信息是万物根本的理论,那么所有实际存在的事物都能找到解释。


So what is information? Mr Vedral’s notion of information is not the somewhat fuzzy concept most people have of it, but a precise mathematical definition that owes itself to Claude Shannon, an American mathematician considered to be the father of “information theory”. Shannon worked at Bell Labs, at the time the research arm of AT&T, a telephone giant, and in the 1940s became interested in how much information could be sent over a noisy telephone connection. This led him to calculate that the information content of any event was proportional to the logarithm of its inverse probability of occurrence. (Unlike many popular-science books that eschew equations, Mr Vedral includes a couple and tries his best to explain them to the reader.) What does the equation mean? As Mr Vedral points out, it says that an unexpected, infrequent event contains much more information than a more regular happening.


那么,什么是信息呢?Vedral先生提出的信息的概念不是大多数人心中的那种模糊的概念,而是一个严谨精确的数学定义。而这又得归功于美国数学家、“信息学之父”Claude Shannon。Shannon曾就职于贝尔实验室,那时候,贝尔实验室是电信巨头AT&T(美国电话电报公司)的重要科研机构。1940年,他对通过一条繁杂的电话线能传输多大的信息量产生了兴趣。这使他提出了这样的推论:事件的信息容量与事件发生逆概率的对数成正比。(不像其它科普读物回避等式,Vedral的书中包括了一些等式并且Vedral还尽力向读者说明这些等式。)这个关系式有什么意义呢?Vedral指出,这表示意外稀有事件包含这比一般事件更多的信息。


Once he has defined information, Mr Vedral proceeds to show how information theory can be applied to biology, physics, economics, sociology and philosophy. These are the most interesting parts of the book. Of particular note is the chapter on placing bets. Mr Vedral gives a good description of how Shannon’s information theory can be applied to winning at blackjack or in buying shares (Shannon and his friends made fortunes in Las Vegas as well as on the stockmarket). And his exposition of climate change and how to outwit the CIA make entertaining reading. One quibble: Mr Vedral often digresses from the point at hand, so the overall effect tends to be a bit meandering.




Mr Vedral’s professional interests lie in quantum computing and quantum information science, which use the laws of quantum mechanics respectively to build powerful computers and render codes unbreakable. There is a lot of discussion of both, which is very welcome because there are not many popular science books that cover these relatively young fields. Quantum computers, as Mr Vedral points out, “are not a distant dream”. Though still rudimentary, “they can solve some important problems for us that conventional computers cannot.”




Unusually for a physicist, Mr Vedral spends a fair bit of time talking about religious views, such as how God created the universe. He asks whether something can come out of nothing. Throughout the ages philosophers and theologians have debated this question with respect to Judeo-Christian faiths, in which dogma holds that the world was created from the void, creation ex nihilo. Others side with King Lear who tells Cordelia that “Nothing can come of nothing.” Mr Vedral makes a persuasive argument for a third option: information can be created out of nothing.




The death penalty



Theirs but to do and die

唯尽人事,死以为期Apr 29th 2010 | From The Economist print edition


The Autobiography of an Execution. By David Dow. Twelve; 271 pages; $24.99. Buy fromAmazon.com


《一场死刑的前前后后》 大卫·道 著;Twelve出版社; 271页; $24.99。点击购买Amazon.com


Last Words of the Executed. By Robert Elder. University of Chicago Press; 304 pages; $22.50 and ?14.50. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk


《临刑遗言》 罗伯特·埃尔德 著; 芝加哥大学出版社; 304页; $22.50/?14.50。点击购买Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk


AMERICA’S fondness for the death penalty is disconcerting—and to no one more than David Dow, whose job is to defend death-row inmates in the most kill-happy state, Texas. Mr Dow’s frank account, “The Autobiography of an Execution”, weaves tales from his often-futile efforts—in which stalling, rather than stopping, his clients’ execution is frequently the only feasible goal—with scenes from his own family life. “We planned the execution around our vacations,” he writes of one of his clients, Henry Quaker.




Quaker’s grim case forms the core of the book. The beneficiary of a life-insurance policy on his family, the jurors are told, he was arrested for shooting his wife, from whom he had recently separated, and two children. Mr Dow is unable to save Quaker, largely because the case was badly mishandled by his initial lawyer, a common predicament for death-row inmates. Mr Dow attends the execution. Of the roughly 100 people on death row he has represented over his career, Mr Dow believes seven were innocent. (To protect his clients’ confidentiality, Mr Dow not only altered names but mixed up the circumstances of many cases that he has worked on. So Quaker’s tale, along with everything else in the book, is a composite of true circumstances, he explains.)




Mr Dow is angry. “I used to support the death penalty. I changed my mind when I learned how lawless the system is,” he writes. His world is full of public defenders who fail to perform even the most basic duties in court, indifferent judges, cowardly public officials, and an absurdly rigid system which honours the letter of the rules over actual justice.




Mr Dow does not actually like many of his clients. And he points out some sorry truths of the American justice system. As in the Quaker case, Mr Dow generally gets to his clients too late, because the federal courts are loth to go back over the problematic trials of the state courts. His work is gruelling and awful—and then the client dies and the process starts all over again with somebody new.




Knowing something of the deficiencies of the American justice system is useful for leafing through “Last Words of the Executed”, the final statements of hundreds of Americans who have been condemned through the centuries. Robert Elder has organised his book according to the manner of death. There are chapters on hanging; the firing-squad (Utah is due to execute a prisoner in June this way—America’s first such execution since 1996); the gas chamber; the electric chair; and lethal injection (the most common method used, though it once took so long to find a beefy Ohio inmate’s vein that he was granted a break to go to the toilet).




The last words are remarkable for their remorse, humour, hatred, resignation, fear and bravado. “I wish you’d hurry up. I want to get to hell in time for dinner,” a 19th-century Wyoming murderer told his hangman. Some rambled; others were concise. Several blamed the drink; others reasserted innocence, or (especially in recent years) railed against the death penalty. Some accepted their fate. “If I was y’all, I would have killed me. You know?” said a Texan, who had murdered his son’s former girlfriend and her sister, as he readied himself for lethal injection. America’s diverse heritage is stamped even onto its killers’ final moments.




The Lake District



The heart with pleasure fills



Mar 31st 2010 | From The Economist print edition


The English Lakes: A History. By Ian Thompson. Bloomsbury; 343 pages; ?25. Buy from Amazon.co.uk

《英国湖》伊恩?汤普森  布卢姆茨伯里出版,343页,Amazon.co.uk售价25英镑


ENGLAND’S Lake District was “discovered” in the 18th and 19th centuries by a succession of brilliantly manic visionaries. Since then its blameless fells and lakes have served as a backdrop on which English sensibilities have been fervidly projected. Native idiosyncrasies such as Picturesque and Romantic ideals, the National Trust and National Parks are organically bound to the area. Ian Thompson gently deconstructs the myth that William Wordsworth invented this repository of the English soul, but he attempts only half a debunking: the Lakes still begin and end with the poet.




Mr Thompson’s approach deals summarily with geology, Herdwick sheep, mining and the Celts and Norse-Irish who bequeathed many of the place names to the eight valleys that, according to Wordsworth’s description, radiate “from the nave of a wheel”, a nub of rock formed by volcanoes as powerful as Vesuvius.




The thrust of the narrative, aided with illustrations including Mr Thompson’s pleasant photographs, hangs on a series of introductory and diverting potted histories of the Lake poets, writers, artists, climbers and charlatans who gave a remarkable profile to this relatively low-lying group of mountains in England’s north-west.




From the 18th century onwards outsiders, or “off-comers”, were harbingers of revolutions in taste who shaped the area with their competing views of it as either an Arcadia, a playground or a source of commerce. In 1724 Daniel Defoe recorded only “horrid mountains” in the district. But the chance combination of Georgian England’s fascination with the Alps, a passion fed by paintings by Nicolas Poussin and sightings on the Grand Tour, and the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, which curtailed Englishmen’s travels to the Continent, spawned a national obsession with the “English Alps”.


      从18世纪起,外来人影响了这片土地的特质,使它有了不同的特点,它既是世外桃源,又是一个运动场,同时还是商业地带。1724年丹尼尔?笛福只记录了这里 “骇人的山头”,受尼古拉斯?普桑绘画和遍游欧洲大陆的风气影响,乔治亚时代的英国人迷恋阿尔卑斯,拿破仑战争的爆发使得英国人减少了往欧洲大陆的旅行,迷恋的方向转回到 “英国阿尔卑斯”。


In 1769 the first of the timorous poets, Thomas Gray, was on the scene shuddering pleasurably at the mountains’ “dreadful bulk”. A Jesuit priest wrote the first guidebook in 1778. And another cleric, William Gilpin, the father of the Picturesque movement, drew up a list of pedantic instructions on how to view the landscape. He quickly became the subject of satire.




But it is the legacy of Wordsworth, who became a tourist attraction himself, as Romantic, ecologist, guidebook writer, landscape gardener (of particular appeal to Mr Thompson, a landscape architect) and arbiter of taste that continues to inspire and provoke controversy.




Wordsworth’s Arcadia stood on the doorstep of a billowing menace—industrial Manchester. The poet was opposed to hordes of the city’s factory workers arriving at the Lakes by rail. His writings inspired other figures, such as John Ruskin and Beatrix Potter, to take up the role of defender and to protest against reservoirs, afforestation and, more recently, wind farms.




Mr Thompson treads an already crowded field. But he has raked up much engaging historic detail that runs from the mutton suet applied to Samuel Coleridge’s leather walking-boots to descriptions of mock sea-battles staged on the lakes. Moreover, in unstuffy if occasionally plodding style, he conjures the pungent cultural atmosphere with which the English, from elitists to the “proto-socialist” ramblers, have cosseted their most beloved scrap of wilderness.





Central bankers



Lords of finance



The central bankers of the Great Depression were obsessed with a single idea, rather like their successors today



Jan 8th 2009 | From The Economist print edition




《Lords of Finance》;作者:艾哈迈德(Liaquat Ahamed);企鹅出版社(Penguin Press);564页。


CENTRAL bankers were compelling figures in the 1920s, not least because they preferred to operate in secret. The cloak was peculiarly attractive to Sir Montagu Norman, governor of the Bank of England (pictured above, right), who adopted a false identity when he travelled, though this sometimes attracted attention rather than deflecting it. Asked for his reasons for promoting a policy, Norman replied: “I don’t have reasons. I have instincts.” Benjamin Strong, Norman’s principal collaborator, ran the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which was responsible for America’s international financial relationships. In the mid-1920s, Strong decided the American economy was sufficiently prosperous that he could widen his brief to promote economic stability. Liaquat Ahamed suggests that Strong more than anyone else “invented the modern central banker”.


央行总裁在20年代是让人敬畏的人物,不只是因为他们偏好黑箱作业。英国银行总裁,蒙塔古˙诺曼爵士(Sir Montagu Norman) (上方照片右侧),似乎有着遮掩的特殊癖好。他旅行时喜欢用假名,不过不但未能避开眼线,却反而因之招惹嫌疑。问他因何鼓吹某项政策,诺曼会答以,”我没有理由,只有直觉”。班杰明˙史强(Benjamin Strong),是纽约联储银行的总裁,负责美国对外的金融关系,也是诺曼的主要合作伙伴。在20年代中期,史强认为美国已有足够的经济实力,因而决定要扩展其影响力来促进经济稳定。艾哈迈德(Liaquat Ahamed)认为,史强在”确立现代央行总裁的职权”上,比任何其他人都更有贡献。


Norman and Strong were wedded to the gold standard. Emile Moreau, the less clubable governor of the Banque de France, was an obsessive hoarder of gold and tended to do his nation’s own thing. The arrogant Hjalmar Schacht (above left), a spiky German nationalist who headed the Reichsbank, had, by a remarkable sleight of hand, ended Germany’s hyperinflation in 1923, but he was unable to persuade his fellow central bankers to forget reparations, even though they all appreciated that heavy post-war payments were “bleeding Germany white”.


诺曼和史强当年彻底服膺金本位的货币制度。较不擅长社交的法国银行总裁艾米˙蒙若(Emile Moreau),也坚持囤积黄金,不过倾向于自行其道。德国国立银行的总裁耶马尔˙沙赫特(Hjalmar Schacht)(上方照片左侧),是一个傲慢、尖锐的国家主义者,他在1923年时曾经施展高超的技巧弥平德国失控的通胀危机。不过尽管其他央行总裁能理解第一次大战后的赔款”正吸干德国的血”,他却无法说服他们解除这个负担。


The quartet, united by a belief that they knew best, had persuaded the great powers to leave the fate of their economies to the antique workings of the gold standard—“a barbarous relic” in the view of John Maynard Keynes. They had the power, in a legendary phrase, to “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”, and they did so. The problem was that there was not enough gold to finance world trade. Stocks were concentrated in America and France, and countries like Britain, where it was scarce, had to borrow heavily, and to adjust interest rates and government spending at the expense of employment in order to replenish gold reserves.


这四个因自以为是而联合的人,说服了当时四个强权将其国家的经济命脉交在一个古董级,被凯因斯(John Maynard Keynes)称为”野蛮时代残余”,的金本位制度上。在凯因斯著名的句中说,他们有这个权力,可以”将人类钉到黄金的十字架上”,而他们也的确这么做了。问题出在没有足够的黄金可提供世界贸易所需的资金。黄金库存主要集中在美国和法国。像英国这样缺少黄金的国家就得大量的借入黄金。不只如此,为了回补黄金准备,只好调高利率和减少政府开支而牺牲就业人口。


A loan organised by Strong enabled Norman to get Britain back onto the gold standard in 1926 (it had slipped off during the first world war). Norman’s advice helped persuade Strong to lower interest rates in 1927, which only increased irrational exuberance on Wall Street.




These early central bankers were an odd lot. Norman, who dabbled with spiritualism, apparently informed a colleague that he could walk through walls. He suffered regular nervous breakdowns, and was actually on sick leave when Britain left the gold standard again in 1931. Strong suffered from permanent ill health and was often affected by the generous use of morphine to control pain. He died in October 1928 before the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, but Mr Ahamed does not appear to believe that things would have turned out any differently had he lived: in a crushing conclusion, he writes that the Great Depression was “the direct result of a series of misjudgments by economic policymakers…by any measure the most dramatic series of collective blunders ever made by financial officials.” Looking back in 1948, Norman’s judgment was no less harsh. “We achieved absolutely nothing,” he said, “except that we collected a lot of money from a lot of poor devils and gave it to the four winds.”


这些早期的央行总裁是一群怪异的人。诺曼有涉猎通灵论,据传他向同事说他可以穿越墙壁。他经常精神崩溃。当1931年英镑再次与黄金脱钩时,他事实上是病假在外的。史强有长期的健康问题,因使用太多吗啡来减轻疼痛而神智经常受到影响。他在1928年10月去世,那时华尔街崩盘和大萧条还未发生。不过艾哈迈德先生似乎不认为,如果那时史强还活着,事情会有所不同: 在他有力的结论中,他写道,经济大萧条是”经济政策拟定者一连串错误判断的直接结果...不论如何看都是金融官员有史以来最严重的一系列集体失策”。在1948年时,诺曼的自我回顾也一样严厉,”我们完全没有成就任何事情”,”我们只从一些可怜的家伙那里收了很多钱,然后任由金融风暴将之卷走”。


Politicians were left to clear up the mess they left. One of them was Hitler, who readily instigated a series of measures to combat German unemployment which were similar to those Gordon Brown is adopting today. (Schacht later joined the anti-Hitler resistance.) Britain’s prospects brightened as soon as the gold standard was dropped. The French, less troubled, remained loyal to gold until 1936.



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