Could the pandemic leave markets more concentrated?
The growth of remote working is the latest iteration of a decades-long technology shock. It began in the 1990s when personal computers took over offices, continued with the development of the smartphone and social media in the 2000s, and in the 2010s led to cloud computing and artificial intelligence. It has contributed to two features of the world economy: the dominance of “superstar firms” that have amassed valuable know-how, data and intellectual property which is hard to replicate; and an associated decline in the share of gdp accruing to workers in wages (a trend that is most evident in America).
Will covid-19 accelerate these trends? It has been a good year for technology giants, whose shares fuelled a bull run in America’s stockmarkets. In a recent essay, Nancy Rose of mit argues that covid-19 is shifting the business landscape in a way that portends further market concentration. Greater dependence on technology is not the only mechanism at play. Another is the possibility that the downturn kills off small firms unable to weather the shock, whereas large, listed giants benefit from the liquidity backstops governments have placed behind capital markets.
新冠是否会加剧这种趋势？对于科技巨头来说，今年是一个好年头，它们的股票推动了美国股市的牛市。在最近的一篇文章中，麻省理工学院的 Nancy Rose 认为新冠正在以一种促使市场进一步集中的方式，改变着商业格局。更多的依赖技术，并非表象所示的唯一途径。另外一种可能是经济衰退使得无法承受这次打击的小公司倒闭了，而上市的大型公司可以从政府为资本市场提供的流动性支持中获益。
The data do not yet bear out the bankruptcy concern. In April a quarter of American small businesses shut, but by July only 6% were still closed, according to Goldman Sachs, a bank. It is large companies that have suffered from a surge in bankruptcies, possibly because of their indebtedness. Many small-business failures have been staved off by emergency government support. This year America has distributed 5.2m “paycheck protection programme” loans, worth an average of $101,000 each (for comparison, there are 6m firms with fewer than 500 employees in the whole country). A working paper by Alexander Bartik of the University of Illinois and five co-authors finds that getting such a loan raised a firm’s chances of survival to April 25th by 14-30 percentage points. Even if a wave of small-firm failures follows the end of government support, the businesses most at risk are restaurants, hotels and other service providers not known for market power
数据还没有证实破产的担忧。根据高盛银行的统计，四月份有四分之一的美国小公司倒闭，但是到7月份，仍然倒闭的只有7% 。可能因为负债问题，破产数量激增的反而是大公司。许多小公司得益于政府的紧急援助而幸免遇难。今年，美国已经发放了520万份”工资保障计划“贷款，平均每笔价值 10.1 万美元（相比之下，全国有600万家员工少于500人的公司）。伊利诺斯大学的 Alexander 和其他5位合作者在一份工作报告中发现，获得这样的贷款，能够让一家公司存活到4.20日的概率增加 14-30 个百分点。即便是在政府支持停止后，出现了一波小公司的倒闭浪潮，但面临最大风险的是餐饮业、酒店行业以及其没有市场影响力的服务行业。
The impact of accelerated technological change is a bigger worry. Christy Johnson of Artemis Connection, a consultancy that is itself remote and advises clients on remote work, says firms vary in their ability to adapt. Bigger firms on average invest a higher share of their sales in it. A working paper by Ufuk Akcigit of the University of Chicago and Sina Ates of the Federal Reserve argues that it is getting more difficult for firms to ape the practices of those at the frontier of their industries, and that the result is falling business dynamism and less competitive pressure on the winners. John Van Reenen of mit says that he expects the rising importance of technology to boost winner-takes-all effects in the economy, and to increase the value of large technology investments that small firms find harder to make.
技术的加速变革带来的影响是一个更大的担忧。远程咨询公司 Artemis Connection （远程为客户提供远程和咨询支持）的 Christy Johnson 说，公司的适应能力不尽相同。大公司在IT 方面的平均投入占销售额的比例更高。芝加哥大学的 Ufuk Akcigit 和 美联储的 Sina Ates 合作的论文中认为，对于公司而言，模仿产业前沿将会变得越来越难，这将会导致胜利者的企业活力和竞争力的下降。麻省理工的 John Van Reenen 说，他预计随着技术的重要性与日俱增，在商业领域会导致赢者通吃的局面，并且会增加重大科技投资的价值，这让小公司几乎难以做到。
This has not just been a good year for big technology firms. It has been good for technology in general, as it becomes more sophisticated and more crucial to success. And it is a good rule of thumb that the more digitised a market, the more likely it is to become concentrated.