2012年3月26日 星期一

( transaction costs )Charity begins… in the back office

Charity begins… in the back office

You’re a generous person, I can tell. But how much do you think about the effectiveness of your charitable donations? One handy way to size up a charity is to pay attention to how much money it spends on overheads such as administration and fundraising, rather than frontline do-gooding. There’s only one small problem: this ready reckoner is enormously misleading.
For people who think about the effectiveness of charities, this insight is not news. Givewell, a charity that evaluates the effectiveness of other charities, complained five years ago about the “pervasive attitude that nonprofits need to get all their money right to the needy, and do all their administration on the cheap”. Dean Karlan, an economics professor and co-author of More Than Good Intentions, analysed Givewell’s recommendations and found that outstanding charities tended to spend more money, not less, on administration and fundraising.
对于研究慈善机构效率的人而言,这种见解并不新鲜。研究其他慈善机构效率的公益组织 Givewell五年前就曾抱怨过,“一种普遍的看法是,非盈利组织应该把所有的钱都直接交给需要帮助的人,它们所有的行政工作都应当尽量少花钱。”《有 好意还不够》(More Than Good Intentions)一书的合著者、经济学教授迪安•卡兰(Dean Karlan)对Givewell的建议做过分析,他发现出色的慈善机构在行政管理和筹资方面的开支往往更多,而不是更少。
Caroline Fiennes, author of a new book, It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It, explains that fundraising costs tend to be determined by donors – who can generous or stingy, ignorant of the cause or conscious of it. Meanwhile, administration costs could include efficient logistics, accounting or purchasing systems – plus paying for rigorous evaluation.
新书《重点不是你给了什么,重点是你给的方式》(It Ain't What You Give, It's The Way That You Give It)的作者卡罗琳•法因斯(Caroline Fiennes)解释道,筹资成本通常是由捐助者决定的——他们可能慷慨也可能吝啬,可能不了解筹款用途也可能了解。同时,行政成本中可能包括高效的物 流、会计或采购系统,此外还要花钱进行严格的评估。
It isn’t just in the world of charitable giving that we pay too much attention to administrative costs. Government ministers of all stripes love to claim that they will cut bureaucracy, sacking administrators and managers and investing the savings in “teachers and nurses”. If your child’s school is closed for a day or so because the heating fails, or your operation is cancelled due to lack of surgical supplies, then you can at least console yourself that those pesky administrative costs are being thoroughly squeezed.
我们其实不只是在慈善捐助领域过于关注行政成本。各种政治立场的政府官员们都喜欢宣称自己会精 简机构,裁减行政人员和管理人员,将省下来的经费投入到“教师和护士”身上。如果您的孩子的学校因为供暖故障而停课一两天,或者您的手术因为缺少手术用具 而取消,那么您至少还可以安慰自己:毕竟那些讨厌的行政成本已经被完全消除了。
The truth is that in the modern world, a surprising amount of money is spent on what one might call transaction costs. One definition of a transaction cost is any cost that Robinson Crusoe could never conceivably have faced. Costs of processing trades, searching for bargains, standing in line and suing for breach of contract are all transaction costs. So, arguably, are the costs of maintaining accounts and filing (or avoiding) taxes.
事实上,在现代世界,花在所谓“交易成本”中的钱,多得令人惊讶。交易成本有一个这样的定义: 它是鲁宾逊•克鲁索(Robinson Crusoe)无论如何都不可能遇到的成本。进行贸易、寻找廉价商品、排队、起诉对方违约的花销,都属于交易成本。按理说,做账、报税(或避税)的成本也 属于交易成本。
John J. Wallis and Douglass North, in a book chapter published in 1986, tried to estimate the importance of transaction costs in the US economy between 1870 and 1970. For simplicity, Wallis and North tried to define whole job categories devoted to supporting transactions (these include managers, sales assistants, lawyers, police and accountants) and also sections of the economy, such as retail, which were almost entirely devoted to supporting transactions.
约翰•沃利斯(John Wallis)和道格拉斯•诺斯(Douglass North)在1986年出版的一本书中的一个章节里,试着估算了1870年至1970年之间交易成本在美国经济中的重要性。为了简单起见,沃利斯和诺斯 尝试对所有专门提供交易服务的工作种类(包括经理、销售助理、律师、警察和会计师)、以及几乎完全专门提供交易服务的行业(如零售业)进行了定义。
Wallis and North reckoned that the production of the economy devoted to transaction services had more than doubled over the century, from 26 per cent of gross national product in 1870 to 55 per cent of GNP in 1970. Public sector transaction spending had grown especially rapidly, but from a low base, and the lion’s share of transaction costs remained in the private sector: a total of over 40 per cent of GNP – an awful lot of administrators. All waste? Surely, the story is a continuation of what Adam Smith identified back in 1776: increasing productive power thanks to specialisation and the division of labour. A subsistence farmer may have overheads, but he needs few transaction services. A modern city-dweller, who continually does business with strangers, lives and breathes them.
沃利斯和诺斯估算到,整体经济中专门提供交易服务的那些部分的产出占国民生产总值(GNP)的 比例,从1870年的26%提高到了1970年的55%。公共部门交易支出的增长尤其迅猛,但由于起点较低,交易成本的大头仍然在私人部门:总额与GNP 之比超过40%——行政人员多得不像话。这些成本是不是都属于一种浪费?可以肯定的是,这个问题与亚当•斯密(Adam Smith)早在1776年就发现的问题是一脉相承的:专业化和劳动分工促进了生产力的提高。自给自足的农民可能也有经营成本,但他需要的交易服务很少。 一个现代的城市人,需要不断地与陌生人打交道,交易服务就变得必不可少。
Spare a thought, then, for the humble back office. Not only are administrators, accountants, lawyers and managers necessary to make a charity work efficiently – such people make the modern world possible.
Tim Harford’s book ‘Adapt’ has just been published in paperback (Little, Brown).
蒂姆•哈福德著作《适者生存:为何失败是成功之母》(Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure)平装本刚刚由利特尔-布朗出版社(Little, Brown)出版