You can bet on this fact: that occasionally there will be natural disasters like floods, fires, and earthquakes. You can also bet on a follow-on fact: that in those places, prices of essential goods and services will go up. And finally you can bet your life on this: that popular accusations of price gouging by greedy corporations and windfall profits will motivate politicians and bureaucrats to impose price controls.
Of all the harm that a natural disaster brings in its wake, one of the most harmful and the most avoidable is the deliberate, the imposition of price controls. It’s entirely human-caused. There is no justification. The move to control prices is based on ignorance of reality, a desire to do good, to signal a virtuous concern for the plight of the poor. It is wrongheaded and outright evil in its consequences. Continue reading
When Nobel laureate physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871 – 1937) claimed that “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting” he was perhaps displaying the arrogance that comes with the territory of knowing certain fundamental truths that are denied to non-physicists.
Economists too can be arrogant for similar reasons. They know something about human society that others are generally not aware of — and what’s more — are unaware of their ignorance.
It’s not a sin to be arrogant but displaying it is definitely impolite and predictably makes a person unpopular. I speak from experience. What am I going on about, you may ask. I was reading Deirdre McCloskey today. Continue reading
Robert Heilbroner (1919 – 2005) defined socialism as “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.”
Why is Heilbroner worth quoting on this matter? Because he knew what he was talking about. He was a committed socialist all his life. He was a best-selling author. His book The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (1953) sold over 4 million copies. Clearly he was not stupid. And when he could not deny the evidence, late in his life he came to recognize that socialism had failed and was honest enough to admit that he had been wrong. Continue reading
“At the heart of economics is a scientific mystery: How is it that the pricing system accomplishes the world’s work without anyone being in charge? Like language, no one invented it. None of us could have invented it, and its operation depends in no way on anyone’s comprehension or understanding of it. … The pricing system–How is order produced from freedom of choice?–is a scientific mystery as deep, fundamental and inspiring as that of the expanding universe or the forces that bind matter.”
That’s Vernon Smith, who was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Continue reading
There are fundamental facts about the nature of the world we live in which are unalterable by human desire or action. Conservation laws are an example of this. You cannot get something for nothing, on the aggregate. Certainly, A can get something for nothing but only if someone else, B, gets nothing for something.
When the government gives something to some identifiable group, it cannot do so without taking (usually by force) from some other person or group. On the aggregate, the government does not produce the goodies it distributes. It merely takes through taxation what it intends to distribute, keeps part of it for its own consumption and distributes the remaining (often a very small part of what it takes) to certain groups to buy their allegiance. Continue reading
Death and Taxes
In 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
I beg to differ. Unlike the certainty of death which is imposed by nature, taxes are entirely man-made and therefore avoidable. But most people accept taxes with the same resignation as they do the inevitability of death, and by this uncritical passive acceptance of taxes they acquiesce in the persistence of a system that is positively harmful to personal well-being and social welfare. What’s worse, they consider taxes to be a social good.
The existence and persistence of bad institutions and norms can only be attributed to wrong ways of thinking and acting. An inverted view of reality that considers what’s harmful as beneficial causes untold avoidable harm. Continue reading
A reasonable way to think about any subject — science, engineering, technology, economics, etc etc — is to base the analysis on fundamental principles. It’s like using maths, starting with axioms and logically deriving theorems that can then be said to be true within that axiomatic system. If you know the underlying bits, you can work out the rest yourself — or rely on the work of others who have worked out the maths.
We know that there are fundamental principles, whether we know them or not. Some people do know, and they use that knowledge to make stuff that we find useful. I know precious little fluid dynamics but I know that those who design airplanes understand fluid mechanics, and I fly around in airplanes that are the result of various people’s understanding of various different scientific principles or truths.
Economics also has discovered certain “truths”. These relate to property, division of labor, exchange and subjective theory of value. These ideas are not generally known by people, and understandably so. They don’t need to. They get by very well without knowing them, thank you very much.