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天生富贵恐非福

2008-07-24
天生富贵恐非福
CAN'T BUY ME LOVE
作者:英国《金融时报》约翰·奥瑟兹(John Authers)
2008年7月23日 星期三
难道有人天生就是含着金钥匙出生的吗?在佩得上和佩不上成为富翁的人之间存在明显差别吗?这已远远超出了从前有关平均主义或社会主义的范畴。即使对那些乐于接受资本主义的人来说,即便其中有些人注定比其他人更加富有,人们仍然隐约感觉到其中的部分财富或许与其身份不符。

主题又绕回到了去年我写的关于墨西哥电信巨头卡洛斯?斯利姆(Carlos Slim)的一篇专栏,它的格调总体还算正面。斯利姆是个伟大的投资者,刚刚被提名为世界上最富有的人。尽管如此,他获得巨额财富的秘诀却在很大程度上归功于墨西哥政府向他出售国内电信行业的垄断权,至少最初阶段是没有任何竞争的。随后,他通过征收电话帐单来享用自己的垄断地位,很多人都认为他做得太过份了,特别是考虑到墨西哥尚且是饱受贫困侵袭的发展中国家。

一封评论我所提出观点的电子邮件断言:“每个人都想当然地认为自己理应成为富翁”。

虽说新兴市场中涌现出了许多糟糕的私有化进程,但其中任何一位受益人得到的好处恐怕都难以企及斯利姆。当然,有关他的故事还远不止这些,不过对于为何世人认定他不配成为富翁,我们已是心中有数。

这将引出一个更深奥的问题:其他任何人是否也配得上富翁的称号呢?本月早些时候,《福布斯(Forbes)》杂志出版了有关世界最富裕人群的年度列表,结果显示,截至去年年底,投资者沃伦?巴菲特(Warren Buffett)以微弱优势超越斯利姆(巴菲特拥有620亿美元财富,而斯利姆只有600亿美元)。微软(Microsoft)的创始人之一比尔?盖茨(Bill Gates)在先前10多年时间内都是世界上最富有的人,现在他的排名降到了第3位。

在排名前25位的富翁当中,有4位印度人和7位俄罗斯人。难道其中的任何一名男子(或女子)除了遵循资本主义的游戏规则外,还采取了其他措施吗?假如你想积聚金钱,那么你的目标就是消灭竞争,将自己置于价格制定者的地位。

巴菲特将这类优势标榜为“宽阔的经济堑壕”:他始终在寻找拥有类似强劲竞争优势的企业,唯有如此,企业才能击败竞争对手,维持利润空间。世界上最富有的人多多少少都拥有这类使他们近乎无懈可击的经济堑壕。诚然,这并无助于提升他们的受欢迎程度。

在某些情况下,堑壕甚至是由他人所帮助修筑的。盖茨就是如此,他的经济堑壕是由IBM一手打造的。斯利姆亦不例外,墨西哥政府为他建造了这条无法逾越的堑壕。俄罗斯很多寡头政治家的情况也不外乎如此。

从前的许多“世界首富”头衔持有者似乎不再“配得上”这顶王冠。以约翰?洛克菲勒(John D. Rockefeller)为例,由于他在石油行业的地位极具垄断性,或多或少迫使美国创立出了反垄断理念和(鼓励)竞争政策。他的(所作所为)显示出,竞争逻辑的终极目标就是,(市场中)不再有竞争存在。

甚至连“自我造就”的垄断者也在尽量尝试握住控制权,以致其个人不再受公众追捧。沃尔玛(Wal-Mart)创始人山姆?沃尔顿(Sam Walton)就是例证,他一度攀上了世界首富的顶峰。目前排名第7位的宜家(Ikea)创始人英瓦尔?坎普拉德(Ingvar Kamprad)也是如此。上述两人都创建了极出色的商业模式,其企业的垄断程度也如此之高,以致很少有人会喜欢他们的企业,连那些使用他们服务的人也不例外。

即便在巴菲特的例子中,在仔细审视之下也会变得复杂起来。他并未受到任何单一垄断地位的羁绊,620亿美元的惊人财富只是源于非凡技巧。但他首次介入投资则是通过有限合伙关系,按现在的说法,或许应称之为“对冲基金”。他依然沉迷于这类交易,不过当它们与对冲基金融合时却会引起人们的嫌恶。例如:去年他就曾投资1亿美元,压注巴西雷亚尔(Brazilian real)兑美元汇率提升。

巴菲特的大笔长期投资却都集中于拥有宽阔“经济堑壕”的企业,正如我们先前所述,这类企业很少受到追捧,有时甚至遭遇人们的深深厌恶。

斯利姆列举了他用以创建América Móvil垄断地位的“吉列(Gillette)计划”。他们以非常低廉的价格出售手机,随后既然顾客已别无选择,只能购买公共长途(Ladatel)预付费电话卡。这样,该公司就得到了相应的补偿。吉列的销售方式与此雷同,也是销售相对廉价的剃须刀,然后从更换剃须刀片的业务上收获回报。

以上所有财富都是依法赚取。因此,假如大家接受了资本主义的原则,那么就很难质疑其中有人不配享用大笔财富。

其实财富的获取方式并不重要,重要的是如何对其进行使用,正是使用方式使得他们看起来配不上富翁的头衔。安德鲁?卡耐基(Andrew Carnegie)就是首批最伟大的资本家之一,他在100多年之前就曾说过,“死时还是百万富翁是件丢脸的事(the man who dies rich dies disgraced)”。换言之,冷酷地遵照私利原则来迅速致富并没有什么错,但你最好去世前把财富糟蹋个精光。

以平民主义者著称的巴菲特就曾乐不可支地在希拉里?克林顿(Hillary Clinton)的竞选集会上表示,自己所承担的“税率过低”。他甚至建议国会不应废止房产税,理由是“朝代财富(dynastic wealth),作为精英统治的障碍”其数量正在增长。

《福布斯》的报道称,巴菲特同样有勇气质问最富有的400位美国人,让他们承认,如果按收入比例计算,实际支付的税率比他们的秘书还低。他还宣称,如果这些人肯捐款,自己也会捐出100万美元(对于坐拥620亿美元财富的首富而言,这并非太大的数目)给慈善事业。

这么说,朝代财富已然过时了。那些继承财富的人根本就不佩享有它。

实际上,我们似乎更希望那些真正富有的人能仗义疏财。这就是为什么那些一度被视作是“强盗大亨”的人,最终却转型为伟大慈善事业的创立者,例如卡耐基或洛克菲勒。

对我们余下的这些(普通)人来说,规则将会有所区别。在美国,人们热衷于讨论所谓的“死亡税”。在英国,保守党也因承诺提高遗产税支付门槛而遭遇了严重的政治打击。

值得探讨的是,斯利姆看来简直就是来自巴菲特所提出质疑的反面教材。去年,斯利姆在接受英国《金融时报》记者亚当?汤姆森(Adam Thomson)采访时说:“听着,无论在排行榜上名列第1位或是第1000位,我都要把所有财富带到坟墓里。就我自己而言,我不会索取任何东西。现在,我在不停的创造、投资、创造有价值的企业、创造价值,这与你名列第1位、第4位或第5位没有任何关联。这是工作本身,也是职责和承诺所在。”

斯利姆已将他的精力日益转向工作方面,这将有助墨西哥和拉丁美洲其他地区的发展,随着故乡墨西哥城的复兴,斯利姆正享受着成功的巨大喜悦。他并未将其描述为慈善壮举,反而将其称作是“社会投资”,他将从自己在当地的巨额房产投资中收获丰厚回报。

与盖茨或巴菲特不同,斯利姆雇佣自己的子女来运营业务。他也没有任何歉意:“有人问道(这人可能是个记者),我是否会将财产留给子女。当你将企业留给他们时,实际也将责任和承诺转交到他们手中。因为企业的本质就是工作、责任加承诺。”

我将留给我们读者来判断卡洛斯?斯利姆是否配得上成为富翁。除了他之外,世界对非常富有的人所给出的复杂妥协(至少在现在)是,变得非常富有没什么过错。对于玩弄资本主义的游戏,即使有时并不十分让人愉悦,他们也不应感到丝毫羞耻。积聚大笔财富同样会带来了如何将它们挥霍一空的沉重责任,千万不要将它们留给继承人。

这意味着要在管理庞大财富上投入空前关注,实现慈善事业的逐渐专业化。对财富管理行业而言,既然它将从上述两大趋势中获益良多,那么业内人士也衷心期望达成上述妥协。

译者/管自力

阅读本文章英文,请点击 CAN'T BUY ME LOVE
CAN'T BUY ME LOVE
By John Authers
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Does anyone deserve to be rich? There is a widespread belief in a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving rich. And it goes far beyond the ancient debate over egalitarianism or socialism. Even for those who are happy to accept capitalism, and the idea that some will be richer than others, there is still a sense that some of the wealthy do not deserve their status.

This was rammed home to me after a generally positive column I wrote last year about the Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, who had just been named the world's richest man. He is a great investor. However, he owes his wealth in large part to the decision by the Mexican government to sell him the national telecoms monopoly without, at first, creating any competition. He went on to exploit that by levying phone bills that many regarded as excessive, particularly in a poverty-stricken developing nation.

One e-mail asserted that, given the way I had written it, "anyone would think he actually deserved to be rich".

There have been many botched privatisations in emerging markets, but none have enriched their beneficiaries as much as Slim. There is more to him than that, but it is easy to see why people consider him undeserving.

This leads to a more profound problem: does anyone else deserve to be rich? Earlier this month, Forbes published its annual list of the world's wealthiest people, and it showed that by the end of last year the investor Warren Buffett had narrowly overtaken Slim (Buffett has bn to Slim's bn,

according to the magazine). Bill Gates, the co-founder of

Microsoft and the world's richest man for more than a decade, had dropped to third.

The top 25 included four Indians and seven Russians. Did any of these men (and one woman) do anything more

than follow the logic of capitalism? If you want to amass money, your aim is to extinguish the competition, putting yourself in a position where you can set the price.

Buffett labels this the "wide economic moat": he looks for companies that have such strong competitive advantages that they can repulse challengers and maintain their margins. All the world's richest people have economic moats that make them almost impregnable. This does not make them popular.

In some cases, the moat has even been built by someone else. This is the case for Gates, whose moat was built for him by IBM. It is obviously the case for Slim, whose moat was dug for him by the Mexican government. And it is also the case for many Russian oligarchs.

Former holders of the "world's richest" title do not seem much more "deserving". John D. Rockefeller, for example, became so dominant over the oil industry that he more or less forced the US to invent the concepts of antitrust and competition policy. He showed that the logic of competition is to try to reach a point where there is no competition.

Even "self-made" monopolists tend to become so dominant that they are unpopular. This is true of Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and once the world's richest man, and Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea and currently ranked seventh. Both came up with great business models that produced companies that are so dominant that few people appear to love them - even though they use their services.

Even the case of Buffett gets more complicated on close examination. He did not stumble into one single monopoly position, and his bn fortune was only amassed with remarkable skill. But his first forays into investment were through limited partnerships, which would now probably be called "hedge funds". He still indulges in the kind of trades that elicit distaste when they are perpetrated by hedge funds - for example, last year he made 0m by betting that the Brazilian real would appreciate against the dollar.

And his big long-term investments are in companies with wide "economic moats" which, as we have already established, are rarely loved, and sometimes deeply unpopular.

Slim named a key strategy he used to establish América Móvil's dominance the "Gillette plan". They would sell phones cheap and then recoup their investment because customers now had no choice but to buy the company's Ladatel pay-as-you-go phone cards. This was

modelled on Gillette's practice of selling relatively cheap shavers, and then making its money on the replacement razor blades.

All these fortunes have been made in accordance with the law. So it becomes difficult for anyone who accepts capitalism to say any of these people do not deserve their wealth.

Rather than the way in which it was gained, it is in the way the wealthy use

their money that, it appears, we can hold them undeserving. Andrew Carnegie, one of the first great capitalists, said more than a century ago that "the man who dies rich dies disgraced". In other words, there is nothing wrong with coldly applying the logic of self-interest to make yourself rich, but you have to give it away before you die.

Buffett, a populist who once cheerfully told a rally for Hillary Clinton that he was "very undertaxed", seems to fit neatly into the Carnegie tradition. He has even told Congress that it should not repeal the estate tax because "dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise."

He also, according to Forbes, dared the 400 richest Americans to admit they paid less tax, as a percentage of income, than their secretaries. He promised to give m (not a huge sum for a man with bn) to charity if they did.

So, dynastic wealth is out. Those who inherit wealth do not deserve it.

Instead we seem to expect the truly rich to give their money away. That is how names once tagged as "robber barons" transform themselves into the founders of great philanthropies, such as Carnegie or Rockefeller.

There appear to be different rules for the rest of us. In the US, it is popular to argue against the "death tax". In the UK, the Conservative party has scored a palpable political hit by promising to raise the threshold at which inheritance tax becomes payable.

And Slim, intriguingly, seems to be on the other side of the question from Buffett. Speaking to the FT's Adam Thomson last year, he said: "Listen, regardless of whether I am first or 1,000th, I am not going to take anything with me to the grave. As far as I know, I am not going to take anything. Now, creating, investing, creating companies with value, creating value, that is separate from whether you are first, fourth, fifth. That is work, it is your responsibility and your commitment."

Slim has turned his attention increasingly towards work that will aid the development of Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and has enjoyed a huge success with the revival of his native district in Mexico City. But he does not describe this as a philanthropic endeavour. Instead, he calls it a "social investment", and he may well profit from the big real estate investments he has made there.

Slim, unlike Gates or Buffett, employs his children in the running of his businesses. And he does not apologise: "Somebody asked me, I think it was a journalist, whether I was going to leave money for my children. When you leave a company to them you leave them responsibility and commitment. That's what a company is. It is work, responsibility and commitment."

I will leave it to readers to decide whether Carlos Slim deserves to be rich. Beyond him, the complicated accommodation that the world seems to have made with the very wealthy, for now, is that it is all right to be very rich. They need not be ashamed of playing the game of capitalism, even if this is sometimes a little unpleasant. But amassing great wealth does bring with it the obligation to give it away, without passing it on to heirs.

That implies ever greater attention to the management of huge fortunes, and the gradual professionalisation of philanthropy. And for the wealth management industry, which has much to gain from both trends, this is an accommodation devoutly to be wished.
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