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What Marx Could Teach Obama and Trump about Trade – Article by Jairaj Devadiga

What Marx Could Teach Obama and Trump about Trade – Article by Jairaj Devadiga

The New Renaissance HatJairaj Devadiga
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Karl Marx was hardly known for championing economic freedom. Yet, even he understood the evils of protectionism. Marx, as quoted by his sidekick Frederick Engels, gave probably my favorite definition of protectionism:

“The system of protection was an artificial means of manufacturing manufacturers, of expropriating independent laborers, of capitalizing the national means of production and subsistence, and of forcibly abbreviating the transition from the medieval to the modern mode of production.”

Wow. So much wisdom packed into one sentence, and from Marx of all people. Let’s go through the sentence piece by piece to understand its meaning.

“Artificially manufacturing manufacturers”

This is an obvious one. We need only look at Donald Trump and the way he seeks to create jobs in the United States. By imposing tariffs on imported goods, Trump wants to encourage their production in America by making it relatively cheaper. This is what Marx meant by “manufacturing manufacturers”.

“Expropriating independent laborers”

Protectionism, as Marx observed, hurts the working class. Apart from the corporations who are protected against foreign competition, and their employees, everybody loses. For example, when Obama increased tariffs on tire imports, it increased the incomes of workers in that industry by less than $48 million. But it forced everyone else to spend $1.1 billion more on tires.

Just imagine the impact of Trump imposing across the board tariffs on all products. The cost of living for the average working class American would shoot up by an order of magnitude. And that is not even considering the impact of retaliatory tariffs.

“Capitalizing the… means of production” and  “forcibly abbreviating the transition… to the modern mode of production.”

Marx knew that when you make it expensive to employ people by way of minimum wage and other labor regulations, you make it relatively more profitable to use machines. Economist Narendra Jadhav tracks how manufacturing in India has become more capital-intensive over the years. Tariffs on imported goods did not help create jobs in the manufacturing sector. Even though India has armies of young, unemployed people it is cheaper to use machines rather than comply with the nearly 250 different labor laws (central and state combined).

Just because Trump imposes a tariff on Chinese goods does not mean that jobs will “come back” to the US. Even if there were no minimum wage, wages in the US are naturally higher than wages in less-developed countries, meaning it would still be cheaper to use robots.

“Emancipation of the Proletarians”

Apart from more and better quality goods that would be available more cheaply, as economist Donald Boudreaux points out ever so often, there is another thing to be gained from free trade. Marx said it would lead to the “emancipation of the proletarians.” I turn once again to India as an example. Where earlier the rigid caste system forced so-called “untouchables” into demeaning jobs (such as cleaning sewers), in the past 25 years some of them have become millionaires as a result of India being opened up to trade.

It is a shame, that even when virtually all intellectuals, from F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman to Karl Marx and Keynes, have agreed that free trade is the best, there are those who would still defend protectionism.

Jairaj Devadiga is an economist who illustrates the importance of property rights and freedom through some interesting real-world cases.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Taking the Low Road on Free Trade – Article by Chris Baecker

Taking the Low Road on Free Trade – Article by Chris Baecker

The New Renaissance HatChris Baecker
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During the holidays, I took my daughters to my aunt and uncle’s house in Rogers, TX. Over the last few years, when not working their day jobs at Scott and White hospital in Temple, they have grown a large garden of marketable produce, devoting more than 4 acres to the operation. I sent some photos to a friend of mine who has his own backyard garden. His enthusiasm was palpable. This is a guy who once told me, “everyone should have a garden.”

Fast forward to this spring. I finally got around to buying a bookshelf. As I set about putting it together, I started thinking, “I could put together a nicer, sturdier one than this. All I’d need is some wood, sandpaper, stain/paint, braces … never mind. This one will do for now.”

I don’t have all the tools at my disposal to carry out that sort of a project, any more than I do for gardening. My interests lie elsewhere. In a free society like ours, each person is allowed to pursue their own preferred interests. Eventually, however, we do require other goods for sustenance, and leisure, so we trade with each other.

In what has been the most unpredictable and surprising election season of my lifetime, one issue that has come under unusually widespread attack is free trade.

The Opposition

Resistance to free trade has typically been found in the Democratic Party. Its union supporters fret about their jobs being “shipped overseas,” and environmentalists express concerns about trading with countries that lack “adequate” protections thereof. A few decades ago, that bloc was countered by the relatively more market-friendly Democratic Leadership Council, whose influence peaked with the election of Bill Clinton as president.

Remaining democratic opposition was joined by a couple of protesters from the center-right, H. Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan. Mr. Perot famously claimed during a 1992 presidential debate that we would hear “a giant sucking sound” of manufacturing going south to Mexico. Four years later, while seeking the Republican Party nomination for President, Mr. Buchanan campaigned on a fear of losing nationality as goods and labor move more seamlessly across borders.

Nowadays, the DLC is defunct (2011) while the spirit of Messrs. Perot and Buchanan has morphed into this election season’s wild card, Donald Trump. The similarities amongst the three are many: businessmen (Perot and Trump), populist streaks, insurgent outsiders, meticulously crafted coifs, etc. They also share a skepticism of free trade.

A few Trump talking points have jumped out at me: “we don’t make things anymore,” we’re in “imbalance (deficit) with” other countries and threatening a 45% tariff on Chinese goods.

Trade protectionism has been around for ages. Our Founding Fathers supported tariffs, which used to be a prominent source of government revenue. Alexander Hamilton even coined the “infant industry” argument, whereby the government shields from international competition new and developing industries deemed important to self-sufficiency and independence.

Trade and Trump

In trade debates of modern times, Republicans have typically argued for “free” trade, whereas “fair trade” was sought by Democrats. Mr. Trump has picked up the mantle of the latter, saying the 45% tariff is merely a threat to achieve such fairness.

I’m reminded of the interrogation scene in the movie “Starsky and Hutch” where
Ben Stiller tries to coerce some information out of a suspect … by pointing the gun at his own head. Why threaten the American consumer with price hikes? Why not, for example, allow domestic steel-input consumers to benefit from rock-bottom prices that result from Chinese overproduction? How does it make sense to protect the American steel industry with a tariff of more than 500% if employment in, and value produced by, those input consumers is greater?

The answer also happens to explain why we’re lagging behind the rest of the world in the sugar trade: concentrated benefits (domestic industry) vs. dispersed costs (artificially inflated prices for consumers). Such beneficiaries typically have more clout with policymakers than consumers do. It’s this kind of rent-seeking that prevents us from being able to take advantage of the shortcomings of a centrally-planned (though certainly less so than a couple generations ago) economy like China’s, or the fact that some countries just flat out produce something more efficiently than we do.

Ironically enough, if Mr. Trump is so concerned with illegal immigration from our south, perhaps he should first take a look at the agricultural and dairy subsidies Uncle Sam doles out that put Mexican farmers out of business and drive them north to get a piece of our artificially- inflated industry.

Moreover, when he asks “(w)ho the hell cares if there’s a trade war?” someone should remind him of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of June 1930. In an effort to protect domestic agricultural and industrial interests, President Herbert Hoover signed it into law over a petition signed by a thousand economists. Other nations retaliated and the world headed toward depression. And that was when trade was a smaller part of the global economy.

Lesson learned, after the war, the world moved toward freer trade. In that time, our real exports of goods and services rose steadily, accelerating in the mid-1980s, belying the claim that “we don’t make” stuff.

fred_graph1

As Harvard professor and former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Greg Mankiw recently pointed out in The New York Times, manufacturing is currently at an all-time high. The problem, as it were, is that we’re doing it with less manpower.

The Effectiveness of Efficiency

That very transformation is currently underway in the energy industry. Even after the price of oil started tanking, and rigs were idled, and jobs were being eliminated, production still increased. We became more efficient. It won’t take the same quantity of capital and labor to respond to $50 oil the next time it rises to that level. The displaced resources can be redeployed to other areas of the economy.

There are undoubtedly industry shakeups in freer markets. Labor, capital, and entrepreneurs are reshuffled. But our society encourages innovation by safeguarding intellectual and property rights. That allows us to find new and better ways of doing things.

This is just the latest example of our capacity to achieve the self-sufficiency that was the goal of our first Treasury Secretary (Mr. Hamilton) when he submitted to the second Congress suggestions of “encouragement” and “protection of government” in his “Reports on Manufactures.” All the “protection” we need for the aforementioned “encouragement” is between our ears. The human capital that we’ve built up over the years doesn’t go away, but rather accumulates.

Without free trade, there might be an erosion of two of its most important exports: peace and freedom. The world has to cooperate and get along if we all want to prosper. And the freer the people, the greater the likelihood of greater prosperity. Besides, should that peace unfortunately break down again someday, the Second Amendment and our bread basket give us time to dust off and tap that know-how to rev up the necessary industries.

Counterbalancing Deficits

Nevertheless, more trade liberalization is afoot. My industry has a new market: the rest of the world, thanks to the repeal of the oil export ban last December. That’ll surely alleviate something else nearly all our leaders are prone to complain about: our trade deficit.
fred_graph2

It’s a curious thing that you rarely hear that it’s actually only half of an equation, but it is.

The balance of payments (BoP) is basically an accounting of our international transactions. The current account (trade) is the one we always hear about when it’s in deficit. Interestingly enough, it tends to trend back toward break-even only when we’re heading toward recession. It makes sense that imports rise in good times. “We’re Americans,” I tell my students, “we like to buy stuff. We like to buy stuff so much, we rent storage facilities in which to put all our extra stuff!” Regardless, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a trade deficit.

The counterbalance is the capital account. We have a big example of that in our backyard: the Toyota plant in south San Antonio. This is foreign direct investment. That plant is in the heart of truck country. It gives Toyota direct access to that market here. And, they employ highly-skilled Texans. That seems like a win-win, a sign of strength perhaps, when a foreign company wants to locate operations here.
fred_graph3

You actually contribute to the capital account when you crack open a Bud Light after feeding Purina to Scooby, who was hungry because you forgot to feed him while you were eating a Smithfield ham steak (that had been stored in a GE freezer) for dinner before going to see “X-Men: Apocalypse” at the AMC Rivercenter 11. All those companies are foreign-owned. The profit portion of the prices paid for those goods is exported to another country. Foreign entities saw value in the brand recognition of items Americans know and love. And they were able to buy those companies in part because they do more of something that we don’t: save.

When the consumer expenditure portion of the Gross Domestic Product [GDP] started climbing in the 1980s from 60% to almost 70% today, it was arguably fueled by the concurrent proliferation of the all-purpose credit card. Perhaps it goes without saying, but when you’re spending, you’re not saving. And when you’re borrowing, you are dissaving. Much of the consumer savings derived from more efficient global production of goods could go to more savings. Instead, it seems to go toward buying more stuff.
fred_graph4

When you think about it though, our incentive to save has slid right alongside available interest rates.

fred_graph5

A couple years after they were pushed way up to break the inflation of the 1970s, interest rates have been on a steady march downward: ~7-8% in 1980s, ~5% in the 1990s, half that in the 2000s, and now near 0%. Monetary policy that could be enticing us to invest in learning new skills, opening a new business, guarding against unforeseen events, etc., instead has nudged us toward $1,000,000,000,000 in both credit card and automobile debt this year. What was the current trade deficit again?

If bringing down the trade deficit is the goal, increasing domestic savings and investment is preferable to erecting trade barriers. And if curbing interest-bearing consumer indebtedness happens as well, all the better.

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems like little more than a 21st century version of the pandering, “meaningless platitude-spouting” Kevin Fogerty from a classic episode of “Cheers,” Senator Bernie Sanders and Mr. Trump have been more consistent in their views toward free trade. But the aggressive tone they sometimes take toward it and our trading partners reminds me of when my four daughters (average age, 9) bicker with one another. Only it’s more understandable that my girls have to be taught to take the high road.

As for me, one of these days I could take up woodworking, or gardening, or some other hobby/trade that produces tangible output. Right now though, my spare time is best served educating. It’s what I like to do. It’s where I feel most productive. And given this season’s crop of presidential aspirants, there seems to be a need for it.


Chris Baecker

Christopher E. Baecker manages fixed assets for Pioneer Energy Services and is an adjunct lecturer of economics at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio.  He can be reached via www.chrisbaecker.com, @chrisbaecker71 & LinkedIn.com

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

 

Yes, We Still Make Stuff, and It Wouldn’t Matter if We Didn’t – Article by Steven Horwitz

Yes, We Still Make Stuff, and It Wouldn’t Matter if We Didn’t – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz
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One of the perennial complaints about the US economy is that we don’t “make stuff” anymore. You hear this from candidates from both major parties, but especially from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The argument seems to be that our manufacturing sector has collapsed and that all US workers do is to provide services, rather than manufacturing tangible goods.

It turns out that this perception is wrong, as the US manufacturing sector continues to grow and in 2014 manufacturing output was higher than at any point in US history. But even if the perception were correct, it does not matter. The measure of an economy’s health isn’t the quantity of physical stuff it produces, but rather the value that it produces. And value comes in a variety of forms.

Manufacturing is Up

The path to economic growth is not to freeze into place the US economy of the 1950s. Let’s deal with the myth of manufacturing decline first. The one piece of evidence in favor of that perception is that there are fewer manufacturing jobs today than in the past. Total manufacturing employment peaked at around 19 million jobs in the late 1970s. Today, there are about 12.5 million manufacturing jobs in the US.

However, manufacturing output has never been higher. The real value of US manufacturing output in 2014 was over $2 trillion. The real story of the US manufacturing sector is that we have become so much more efficient, that we can produce more and more manufactured goods with less and less labor. These efficiency gains are largely the result of computer technology and automation, especially in the last fifteen years.

The labor that we no longer need in order to produce an ever-increasing amount of stuff is now available to produce a whole variety of other things we value, from phone apps to entertainment to the expanded number and variety of grocery stores and restaurants, to the data analyses that makes all of this growth possible.

Just as the workers in those factories we are so nostalgic for were labor freed from growing food thanks to the growth in agricultural productivity, so are today’s web designers, chefs at the newest hipster café, and digital editors in Hollywood the labor that has been freed from producing “stuff” thanks to greater technological productivity.

Or, put differently: those agricultural, industrial, and computer revolutions collectively have enabled us to have more food, more stuff, and more entertainment, apps, services, and cage-free chicken salads served with kale. The list of human wants is endless, and the less labor we use to satisfy some of them, the more we have to start working on other ones.

But notice something: all of the things that we produce have something in common. Whether it’s food or footwear, or automobiles or apps, or manicures or massages, the point of production is to rearrange capital and labor in ways that better satisfy wants. In the language of economics, the point of production (and exchange) is to increase utility.

When we produce more cars that people wish to buy, it increases utility. When we open a new Asian fusion street food taco stand, it increases utility. When Uber more effectively uses the existing stock of cars, it increases utility. When we exchange dollars for manicures, it increases utility.

Adam Smith helped us to understand that the wealth of nations is not measured by how much gold a country possesses. Modern economics helps us understand that such wealth is not measured by how much physical stuff we manufacture. Increases in wealth happen because we arrange the physical world in ways that people value more.

Neither producing cars nor providing manicures changes the number of atoms in the universe. Both activities just rearrange existing matter in ways that people value more. That is what economic growth is about.

Misplaced Nostalgia

We’re richer because we have allowed markets to produce with fewer workers. When we are fooled into believing that “growth” is synonymous with “stuff,” we are likely to make two serious errors. First, we ignore the fact that the production of services is value-creating and therefore adds to wealth.

Second, we can easily believe that we need to “protect” manufacturing jobs. We don’t. And if we try to do so, we will not only stifle economic growth and thereby impoverish the citizenry, we will be engaging in precisely the sort of special-interest politics that those who buy the myth of manufacturing often rightly complain about in other sectors.

The path to economic growth is not to freeze into place the US economy of the 1950s. We are far richer today than we were back then, and that’s due to the remaining dynamism of an economy that can still shed jobs it no longer needs and create new ones to meet the ever-changing wants of the consumer.

The US still makes plenty of stuff, but we’re richer precisely because we have allowed markets to do so with fewer workers, freeing those people to provide us a whole cornucopia of new things to improve our lives in endless ways. We can only hope that the forces of misplaced nostalgia do not win out over the forces of progress.

Steven_Horwitz

Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

When Peace Breaks Out With Iran… – Article by Ron Paul

When Peace Breaks Out With Iran… – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
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This has been the most dramatic week in US/Iranian relations since 1979.

Last weekend ten US Navy personnel were caught in Iranian waters, as the Pentagon kept changing its story on how they got there. It could have been a disaster for President Obama’s big gamble on diplomacy over conflict with Iran. But after several rounds of telephone diplomacy between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, the Iranian leadership – which we are told by the neocons is too irrational to even talk to – did a most rational thing: weighing the costs and benefits they decided it made more sense not to belabor the question of what an armed US Naval vessel was doing just miles from an Iranian military base. Instead of escalating, the Iranian government fed the sailors and sent them back to their base in Bahrain.

Then on Saturday, the Iranians released four Iranian-Americans from prison, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. On the US side, seven Iranians held in US prisons, including six who were dual citizens, were granted clemency. The seven were in prison for seeking to trade with Iran in violation of the decades-old US economic sanctions.

This mutual release came just hours before the United Nations certified that Iran had met its obligations under the nuclear treaty signed last summer and that, accordingly, US and international sanctions would be lifted against the country.

How did the “irrational” Iranians celebrate being allowed back into the international community? They immediately announced a massive purchase of more than 100 passenger planes from the European Airbus company, and that they would also purchase spare parts from Seattle-based Boeing. Additionally, US oil executives have been in Tehran negotiating trade deals to be finalized as soon as it is legal to do so. The jobs created by this peaceful trade will be beneficial to all parties concerned. The only jobs that should be lost are those of the Washington advocates of re-introducing sanctions on Iran.

Events this week have dealt a harsh blow to Washington’s neocons, who for decades have been warning against any engagement with Iran. These true isolationists were determined that only regime change and a puppet government in Tehran could produce peaceful relations between the US and Iran. Instead, engagement has worked to the benefit of the US and Iran.

Even though they are proven wrong, however, we should not expect the neocons to apologize or even pause to reflect on their failed ideology. Instead, they will continue to call for new sanctions on any pretext. They even found a way to complain about the release of the US sailors – they should have never been confronted in the first place even if they were in Iranian waters. And they even found a way to complain about the return of the four Iranian-Americans to their families and loved ones – the US should have never negotiated with the Iranians to coordinate the release of prisoners, they grumbled. It was a show of weakness to negotiate! Tell that to the families on both sides who can now enjoy the company of their loved ones once again!

I have often said that the neocons’ greatest fear is for peace to break out. Their well-paid jobs are dependent on conflict, sanctions, and pre-emptive war. They grow wealthy on conflict, which only drains our economy. Let’s hope that this new opening with Iran will allow many other productive Americans to grow wealthy through trade and business ties. Let’s hope many new productive jobs will be created on both sides. Peace is prosperous!

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Ex-Im Bank is Welfare for the One Percent – Article by Ron Paul

Ex-Im Bank is Welfare for the One Percent – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
June 1, 2015
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This month Congress will consider whether to renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank). Ex-Im Bank is a New Deal-era federal program that uses taxpayer funds to subsidize the exports of American businesses. Foreign businesses, including state-owned corporations, also benefit from Ex-Im Bank. One country that has benefited from $1.5 billion of Ex-Im Bank loans is Russia. Venezuela, Pakistan, and China have also benefited from Ex-Im Bank loans.With Ex-Im Bank’s track record of supporting countries that supposedly represent a threat to the US, one might expect neoconservatives, hawkish liberals, and other supporters of foreign intervention to be leading the effort to kill Ex-Im Bank. Yet, in an act of hypocrisy remarkable even by DC standards, many hawkish politicians, journalists, and foreign policy experts oppose ending Ex-Im Bank.

This seeming contradiction may be explained by the fact that Ex-Im Bank’s primary beneficiaries include some of America’s biggest and most politically powerful corporations. Many of Ex-Im Bank’s beneficiaries are also part of the industrial half of the military-industrial complex. These corporations are also major funders of think tanks and publications promoting an interventionist foreign policy.

Ex-Im Bank apologists claim that the bank primarily benefits small business. A look at the facts tells a different story. For example, in fiscal year 2014, 70 percent of the loans guaranteed by Ex-Im Bank’s largest program went to Caterpillar, which is hardly a small business.

Boeing, which is also no one’s idea of a small business, is the leading recipient of Ex-Im Bank aid. In fiscal year 2014 alone, Ex-Im Bank devoted 40 percent of its budget — $8.1 billion — to projects aiding Boeing. No wonder Ex-Im Bank is often called “Boeing’s bank.”

Taking money from working Americans, small businesses, and entrepreneurs to subsidize the exports of large corporations is the most indefensible form of redistribution. Yet many who criticize welfare for the poor on moral and constitutional grounds do not raise any objections to welfare for the rich.

Ex-Im Bank’s supporters claim that ending Ex-Im Bank would deprive Americans of all the jobs and economic growth created by the recipients of Ex-Im Bank aid. This claim is a version of the economic fallacy of that which is not seen. The products exported and the people employed by businesses benefiting from Ex-Im Bank are visible to all. But what is not seen are the products that would have been manufactured, the businesses that would have been started, and the jobs that would have been created had the funds given to Ex-Im Bank been left in the hands of consumers.

Another flawed justification for Ex-Im Bank is that it funds projects that could not attract private sector funding. This is true, but it is actually an argument for shutting down Ex-Im Bank. By funding projects that cannot obtain funding from private investors, Ex-Im Bank causes an inefficient allocation of scarce resources. These inefficiencies distort the market and reduce the average American’s standard of living.

Some Ex-Im Bank supporters claim that Ex-Im Bank promotes free trade. Like all other defenses of Ex-Im Bank, this claim is rooted in economic fallacy. True free trade involves the peaceful, voluntary exchange of goods across borders — not forcing taxpayers to subsidize the exports of politically powerful companies.

Ex-Im Bank distorts the market and reduces the average American’s standard of living in order to increase the power of the federal government and enrich politically powerful corporations. Congress should resist pressure from the crony capitalist lobby and allow Ex-Im Bank’s charter to expire at the end of the month. Shutting down Ex-Im Bank would improve our economy and benefit most Americans. It is time to kick Boeing and all other corporate welfare queens off the dole.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

How Embargoes Destroy Freedom – Article by Ryan W. McMaken

How Embargoes Destroy Freedom – Article by Ryan W. McMaken

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan W. McMaken
February 12, 2015
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In the wake of the Obama administration’s partial normalization of relations with Cuba, proponents of the embargo condemned the move, with National Review publishing an unsigned editorial claiming that allowing Americans to trade freely with the island nation amounts to giving comfort to murderous dictators. NR’s editors concluded with:

The Cuban government is not legitimate, and never has been. It is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag, an archipelago of prisons into which democrats and dissidents are thrown. We hope that the new American policy — Obama’s policy — does not benefit the Cuban dictatorship and harm Cuban democrats. We fear that yesterday was a good day for the Castros and a bad day for the Cuban people, and for American foreign policy.

This is all very interesting from an international relations perspective, and there is no doubt that the Cuban regime is a brutal regime. On the other hand, why does the brutality of the Cuban regime make it alright for the US regime to jail and persecute private American citizens who attempt to trade with people in Cuba?

That is, after all, the position of those who favor the embargo. Embargoes are not something where a magic fairy waves her wand and Cuba suddenly becomes invisible to Americans.

No, supporting an embargo means supporting the government when it fines, prosecutes, and jails peaceful citizens who attempt to engage in truly free trade. Support for an embargo also requires support for a customs bureaucracy that spies on merchants and consumers, and the whole panoply of enforcement programs necessary to punish those who run afoul of the government’s arbitrary pronouncements on what kind of trade is acceptable, and what kind is verboten. Naturally, this is all paid for by the taxpayers.

How the American Federal Government Punishes Trade

To get a taste of the reality of embargoes, one need only consult the Treasury Department’s summary of the Cuban embargo as administered by the “Office of Foreign Assets Control.”

For those who think the embargo has something to do with freedom, they might wish to consult the section on punishments for trading with people in Cuba:

Criminal penalties for violating the Regulations range up to 10 years in prison, $1,000,000 in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be imposed. The Regulations require those dealing with Cuba (including traveling to Cuba) to maintain records for five years and, upon request from OFAC, to furnish information regarding such dealings.

Nothing says “freedom” like $250,000 fines and mandatory presentation of five years of private records upon demand from the federal government.

Private companies, of course, regard such potentially draconian sanctions as no joke, and companies must spend time and resources training employees and business associates to be sure that they do not find themselves in violation of federal law. This manual from Snap-on Tools is one example of how private companies must stay up to date on details such as this:

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) maintains strict embargoes banning, and lesser sanctions limiting U.S companies and their foreign subsidiaries from entering into commercial transactions with specified foreign countries, persons and business entities. Congress recently quintupled the maximum civil fines per violation of many of these sanctions from $11,000 to $50,000 (each unlawful shipment constitutes a violation), and doubled maximum potential criminal penalties assessed willful violations from 10 years to 20 years in prison. Moreover, enforcement is being given a much higher priority…

It’s easy to see why those who favor greater government intervention in the economy would have no problem with such a program, but it’s alleged defenders of free markets like the editors at National Review who appear to be most insistent that the US government keep all its agents armed and ready, and a prison cell open for anyone who violates their federal programs of choice.

Embargoes as Mercantilist Prohibition

At their heart, embargoes are nothing but a specific type of prohibition. Sometimes, the government imposes prohibitions on transactions involving certain goods, such as cannabis. Other times, the prohibition extends to all transactions with people in a certain place. The fundamentals are the same, however, in that they prohibit peaceful exchange, with heavy penalties for violators.

Moreover, embargoes are a throwback to the mercantilism of the days of yore when economic policy was viewed as a tool of international affairs, and should be designed, at least in part, to benefit the regime of the home country.

Historically, the mercantilist regimes of old tightly controlled trade opportunities which were debated as part of armistice agreements, such as the Peace of Utrech (1713) when the British were able to force the Spanish to allow exactly one ship of merchandise annually into Spanish colonies. At home, during the same era, the British state forbade its own citizens with valuable engineering knowledge from leaving the country, lest they emigrate to a foreign land and share their knowledge with foreigners. The economic needs of the state superceded those of the individual.

This is the type of economic policy that precipitated the American Revolution, when Americans in the colonies were allowed to trade with only specified nation-states and territories in such a way that was seen as advantageous to the British Crown. The freedom fighters in that conflict engaged in rampant smuggling throughout eastern North America to avoid taxes and to trade with the French and the Spanish who were hardly paragons of democratic liberalism.

Unfortunately, the Americans did not learn their lesson in the revolution, and got to work erecting their own trade restrictions by the late eighteenth century. The greatest crime of the era, however, was Thomas Jefferson’s embargo against the British which crippled the shipping and shipbuilding industries in the United States. Naturally, it was pointed out at the time that the Constitution did not permit any such action on the part of the federal government. No such quaint considerations restrain the American state or its pro-embargo allies today.

Cuba is not the only country subject to embargoes handed out by the American state, and North Korea, Iran, and Syria are in similar positions. The question is often asked as to whether or not these sanctions work. I would certainly claim that they do not work in accomplishing their stated purposes, but whether or not they work is really beside the point. Those who advocate for such embargoes need to back up a step and first prove that it is moral and legitimate for nation-states to dictate to the people who pay the bills (i.e., the taxpayers) with whom they are allowed to trade. A society that actually respects private property rights, of course, will accept no such proposition and will respect the right of private citizens to dispose of their property as they see fit. On the other hand, those who believe that it’s the prerogative of governments to micromanage private property and throw violators in prison are encouraged to move somewhere that the government can take a robust and active role in such things. Cuba, for instance.

Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Free Market. He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre. 
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This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.
Contrasting the Roles of World-Transforming Business Enterprises in the Novels of Hazlitt, Heinlein, and Istvan – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Contrasting the Roles of World-Transforming Business Enterprises in the Novels of Hazlitt, Heinlein, and Istvan – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 17, 2014
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Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back, Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children, and Zoltan Istvan’s The Transhumanist Wager each portray a different path by which business enterprises can dramatically improve the human condition, catalyzing paradigm shifts in the societies around them. (Follow the hyperlinks above to read my detailed analyses of each novel.) Far from being concerned solely with immediate profits or meeting quarterly earnings goals, the entrepreneurs depicted in these novels endeavor to thrive despite political persecution and manage to escape and overcome outright dystopias.

Among these three novels, Methuselah’s Children shows the tamest business-based route to reform. For centuries the Howard Foundation aims not to transform the broader society, but rather to protect its own beneficiaries and encourage incrementally greater longevity with each subsequent selectively bred generation. The Howard Families adapt to existing legal and cultural climates and prefer keeping a low profile to instigating a revolution. But even their mild outreach to the general public – motivated by the hope for acceptance and the desire to share their knowledge with the world – brings upon them the full force of the supposedly enlightened and rights-respecting society of The Covenant. Rather than fight, the Howard Families choose to escape and pursue their vision of the good life apart from the rest of humanity. Yet the very existence of this remarkable group and its members’ extraordinary lifespans fuels major changes for humanity during the 75 years of the Howard Families’ voyage. By remaining steadfast to its purpose of protecting its members, the Howard Foundation shows humankind that radical life extension is possible, and Ira Howard’s goal is attained for the remainder of humanity, whose pursuit of extended longevity cannot be stopped once society is confronted with its reality.

The path of incremental and experimental – but principled – reform through the use of business is illustrated in Time Will Run Back. Even though Peter Uldanov does not intend to embark on a capitalist world revolution, he nonetheless achieves this outcome over the course of eight years due to his intellectual honesty, lack of indoctrination, and willingness to consistently follow valid insights to their logical conclusions. Peter discovers the universality of the human drive to start small and, later, large enterprises and produce goods and services that sustain and enhance human well-being. Once Peter begins to undo Wonworld’s climate of perpetual terror and micro-regimentation, his citizens use every iota of freedom to engage in mutually beneficial commerce that allows scarce resources to be devoted to their most highly valued uses. Peter, too, must escape political persecution at the hands of Bolshekov, but, unlike the Howard Families, he does not have the luxury of completely distancing himself from his nemesis. Instead, he must form a competing bulwark against Wonworld’s tyranny and, through the superiority in production that free enterprise makes possible, overthrow the socialist dystopia completely. Where Wonworld experienced a century of technological stagnation, Peter’s Freeworld is able to quickly regain lost ground and experience an acceleration of advancement similar to the one that occurred in the Post-World War II period during which Hazlitt wrote Time Will Run Back. Because human creativity and initiative were liberated through free-market reforms, the novel ends with a promise of open-ended progress and a future of ever-expanding human flourishing.

The most explicitly revolutionary use of business as a transformative tool is found in The Transhumanist Wager. Jethro Knights conceives Transhumania specifically as a haven for technological innovation that would lead to the attainment of indefinite lifespans and rapid, unprecedented progress in every field of science and technology. Transhumania is an incubator for Jethro’s vision of a united transhumanist Earth, ruled by a meritocratic elite and completely guided by the philosophy of Teleological Egocentric Functionalism. Like Lazarus Long and the Howard Families, Jethro finds it necessary to escape wider human society because of political persecution, and, like them, he plans an eventual return. He returns, however, without the intent to re-integrate into human society and pursue what Lazarus Long considers to be a universal human striving for ceaseless improvement. Rather, Jethro considers unaltered humanity to be essentially lost to the reactionary influences of Neo-Luddism, religious fundamentalism, and entrenched political and cronyist special interests. Jethro’s goal in returning to the broader world is a swift occupation and transformation of both the Earth and humankind in Jethro’s image.

Jethro’s path is, in many respects, the opposite of Peter Uldanov’s. Peter begins as an inadvertent world dictator and sequentially relinquishes political power in a well-intentioned, pragmatic desire to foster his subjects’ prosperity. Along the way, Peter discovers the moral principles of the free market and becomes a consistent, rights-respecting minarchist libertarian – a transformation that impels him to relinquish absolute power and seek validation through a free and fair election. Jethro, on the other hand, begins as a private citizen and brilliant entrepreneurial businessman who deliberately implements many free-market incentives but, all along, strives to become the omnipotender – and ends up in the role of world dictator where Peter began. The two men are at polar opposites when it comes to militancy. Peter hesitates even to wage defensive war against Bolshekov and questions the propriety of bringing about the deaths of even those who carry out repeated, failed assassination attempts against him and Adams. Jethro does not hesitate to sweep aside his opposition using massive force – as he does when he obliterates the world’s religious and political monuments in an effort to erase the lingering influence of traditional mindsets and compel all humankind to enter the transhumanist age. Jethro’s war against the world is intended to “shock and awe” governments and populations into unconditional and largely bloodless surrender – but this approach cannot avoid some innocent casualties. Jethro will probably not create Wonworld, because he still understands the role of economic incentives and individual initiative in enabling radical technological progress to come about. However, the benefits of the progress Jethro seeks to cultivate will still be disseminated in a controlled fashion – only to those whom Jethro considers useful to his overall goal of becoming as powerful and advanced as possible. Therefore, Jethro’s global Transhumania will not be Freeworld, either.

All three novels raise important questions for us, as human society in the early 21st century stands on the cusp of major advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, space travel, and hopefully radical life extension. However, reactionary political and cultural forces continue to inflict massive suffering worldwide through brutal warfare, sweeping surveillance and humiliation of innocent people, policies that instill terror in the name of fighting terror, and labyrinthine obstacles to progress established by protectionist lobbying on behalf of politically connected special interests. Indeed, our status quo resembles the long, tense stagnation against which Jethro revolts to a greater extent than either the largely rights-respecting society of The Covenant or the totalitarian regimentation of Wonworld. But can the way toward a brighter future – paved by the next generation of life-improving technologies – be devised through an approach that does not exhibit Jethro’s militancy or precipitate massive conflict? Time will tell whether humankind will successfully pursue such a peaceful, principled path of radical but universally benevolent advancement. But whatever this path might entail, it is doubtless that the trailblazers on it will be the innovative businessmen and entrepreneurs of the future, without whom the development, preservation, and dissemination of new technologies would not be possible.

References

Hazlitt, Henry. [1966.] 2007. Time Will Run Back. New York: Arlington House. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Available at http://library.freecapitalists.org/books/Henry%20Hazlitt/Time%20Will%20Run%20Back.pdf. Accessed December 13, 2014.

Heinlein, Robert A. [1958] 2005. Revolt in 2100 & Methuselah’s Children. New York: Baen.

Istvan, Zoltan. 2013. The Transhumanist Wager. San Bernardino: Futurity Imagine Media LLC.

Henry Hazlitt’s “Time Will Run Back”: Unleashing Business to Improve the Human Condition – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Henry Hazlitt’s “Time Will Run Back”: Unleashing Business to Improve the Human Condition – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 13, 2014
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The free-market economist, journalist, and editor Henry Hazlitt wrote his novel The Great Idea in 1951; the book was re-released under the title Time Will Run Back in 1966 in order to emphasize the rediscovery of the lost ideas of free-market capitalism by the novel’s protagonists. In addition to being the most rigorous work of fiction available for the teaching of economic ideas, Time Will Run Back highlights the role of business in taking a society from a condition of destitution, misery, and brutality to one of widespread prosperity, progress, and personal fulfillment.

The novel’s hero, Peter Uldanov, is the son of Stalenin, the dictator of Wonworld – a socialist dystopia that, in the year 2100 (282 A.M. – After Marx) spans the entire globe. Peter, raised away from politics by his mother, has not been indoctrinated into Wonworld’s ideology of totalitarian central planning of all aspects of its citizens’ lives. While completely new to politics, Peter is highly intelligent and an accomplished pianist and mathematician. Stalenin is dying and, out of paternal affection, seeks to engineer Peter’s succession. Peter is intellectually honest and is perplexed at the widespread poverty, famines, and shortages of Wonworld, as well as the constant climate of terror in which its subjects live – even though the regime claims to have “liberated” them from oppression by the capitalists of old. Peter attempts to introduce a series of reforms to allow criticism of the government and free elections, but his goal of achieving human liberation fails to take hold so long as the economy remains completely centrally planned. Peter’s nemesis is Stalenin’s second-in-command Bolshekov, who zealously defends the system of command and control while he is the main agent of torture, execution, and mismanagement within it. Peter enlists the assistance of Thomas Jefferson Adams – the third-highest official in Wonworld. Adams is disillusioned with the socialist system and gropes for alternatives but, like Peter, does not have the benefit of the lessons of history – since any works of literature, economics, philosophy, and political theory that disagreed with Marxism-Leninism were purged after Wonworld’s establishment a century earlier. Adams has become cynical by observing decades of attempted “reforms” within Wonworld, which tinkered with specific policies and plans but never challenged the overarching fact of total central planning. Peter, as an outsider with a fresh perspective, is more willing to overhaul the system’s most fundamental features. In the genuine search for greater prosperity and more humane treatment for Wonworld’s population, he begins to dismantle the socialist system piece by piece, at first without even recognizing that this is the effect of his actions.

Much of the novel depicts Peter and Adams groping toward a system of incrementally freer markets and greater individual liberty as they discuss possible reforms and attempt to understand both their direct and secondary, unintended consequences. As a result of their stepwise sequence of liberalizations, Peter and Adams inadvertently rediscover the old system of capitalism that Wonworld sought to stamp out. Adams often acts as a foil to Peter, proposing modified central plans or mixed-economy systems and attempting to posit the arguments made by inflationists and protectionists that emerge as milder obstacles to liberalization once private property, money, and decentralized economic planning by individuals are restored. Peter, however, is sufficiently wise to be able to perceive the secondary consequences of these proposals and to consistently espouse and act in favor of unhampered individual economic liberty.

Peter’s first successful reform is to permit people to exchange ration coupons which they were allocated for various specific commodities. Previously, each citizen of Wonworld received ration coupons that were limited to his personal use, and there was no way to realize any value from coupons for goods that the individual did not wish to personally consume. Initially, the citizens of Wonworld – terrorized for generations – are reluctant to exchange coupons for fear of being tricked into showing disloyalty, but after a few months of encouragement by Peter’s government, exchanges begin to occur:

At first individuals or families merely exchanged ration tickets with other persons or families living in the same room with them. Then in the same house. Then in the same neighborhood or factory. The rates at which the ration tickets exchanged was a matter of special bargaining in each case. They at first revealed no describable pattern whatever. In one tenement or barracks someone would be exchanging, say, one shirt coupon for five bread coupons; next door one shirt coupon might exchange for fifteen bread coupons.

But gradually a distinct pattern began to take form. The man who had exchanged his shirt coupon for five bread coupons would learn that he could have got fifteen bread coupons from someone else; the man who had given up fifteen bread coupons for one shirt coupon would learn that he might have got a shirt coupon for only five bread coupons. So people began to “shop around,” as they called it, each trying to get the highest bid for what he had to offer, each trying to get the greatest number of the coupons he desired for the coupons with which he was willing to part. The result, after a surprisingly short time, was that a uniform rate of exchange prevailed at any given moment between one type of coupon and another. (Hazlitt 1966, 103)

This reform inaugurates a price system, which facilitates rational planning by individuals and the effective allocation of goods to their most highly valued uses. It also leads to the emergence of markets where large volumes of exchanges can take place:

Then another striking thing happened. People had at first shopped around from house to house and street to street, trying to get the best rate in the kind of coupons they valued most for the kind of coupons they valued least. But soon people anxious to trade their coupons took to meeting regularly at certain places where they had previously discovered that they found the most other traders and bidders and could get the best rates in the quickest time. These meeting points, which people took to calling coupon “markets,” tended to become fewer and larger.

Two principal “markets” gradually established themselves in Moscow, one in Engels Square and the other at the foot of Death-to-Trotsky Street. Here large crowds, composed in turn of smaller groups, gathered on the sidewalk and spread into the street. They were made up of shouting and gesticulating persons, each holding up a coupon or sheet of coupons, each asking how much he was bid, say, in beer coupons for his shirt coupon, or offering his shirt coupon for, say, twelve beer coupons, and asking whether he had any takers. (Hazlitt 1966, 103-104)

As markets take hold, professional brokers emerge to handle large numbers of transactions for ordinary people in exchange for a percentage of ration coupons. The brokers quickly become adept at spotting and eliminating discrepancies among exchange rates between any two types of coupons:

Their competitive bids and offers continued until the relationships were ironed out, so that no further profit was possible for anybody as a result of a discrepancy. For the same reason, Peter found, the ratios of exchange in the market at Engels Square were never far out of line for more than a very short period with the ratios of exchange on Death-to-Trotsky Street; for a set of brokers were always running back and forth between the two markets, or sending messengers, and trying to profit from the least discrepancy that arose between the markets in the exchanges or quotations.

A special name—”arbitrage business”—sprang up for this sort of transaction. Its effect was to unify, or to universalize, price relationships among markets between which this freedom of arbitrage existed. (Hazlitt 1966, 105)

By allowing free exchange and permitting private entrepreneurs to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities, Peter enables a solution to emerge for Wonworld’s previously intractable problem of how to make the best use of scarce resources to fulfill as many human needs as possible. Peter recognizes that, even though the adjustments to prices that guide this process of rational resource allocation may appear automatic, they are in fact the effect of the actions of businesspeople seeking to earn a profit:

They took place solely because there was an alert group of people ready to seize upon the slightest discrepancy to make a transaction profitable to themselves. It was precisely the constant alertness and the constant initiative of these specialists that prevented any but the most minute and short-lived discrepancies from occurring. (Hazlitt 1966, 105)

Allowing free exchange of ration tickets leads to the spontaneous emergence of a monetary system as exchange rates begin to be quoted in terms of only a few leading types of coupons and eventually only in terms of cigarette coupons. These are superseded by packages of cigarettes themselves, which are in turn eventually replaced by gold.

The power struggle between Peter and Bolshekov escalates until Bolshekov engineers Stalenin’s assassination and seizes power in Wonworld. Peter and Adams flee to North America, assisted by their loyal Air Force, and establish their own country – Freeworld – where Peter’s economic reforms continue. Private ownership of land and capital goods is introduced, and large factories are privatized through the issuance of transferable shares to their workers, entitling them to receive a percentage of the profits from the enterprise. This greatly raises the incentives for production, responsibility, and prudent management of resources, as the newly empowered citizens inform Peter:

When he asked one of these new peasant-proprietors about his changed attitude, his explanation was simple: “The more work I and my family put into the farm, the better off we are. Our work is no longer offset by the laziness and carelessness of others. On the other hand, we can no longer sit back and hope that others will make up for what we fail to do. Everything depends on ourselves.”

Another farmer-owner put it this way: “The greater the crop we raise this year, the better off my family will be. But we also have to think of next year and the year after that, so we can’t take any risk of exhausting the soil. Every improvement I put into the farm, whether into the soil or into the buildings, is mine; I reap the fruits of it. But there is something that to me is more important still. I am building this for my family; I am increasing the security of my family; I will have something fine to turn over to my children after I am gone. I don’t know how I can explain it to you, Your Highness, but since my family has owned this land for itself, and feels secure in its right and title to stay here undisturbed, we feel not only that the farm belongs to us but that we belong to the farm. It is a part of us, and we are a part of it. It works for us, and we work for it. It produces for us, and we produce for it. You may think it is just a thing, but it seems as alive as any of us, and we love it and care for it as if it were a part of ourselves.” (Hazlitt 1966, 131)

The ability of individuals to own and run their business and earn a profit turns Freeworld into an economic powerhouse. Whereas Wonworld had, for a century, remained at the level of technological advancement approximately resembling that of 1918-1938, Freeworld becomes a haven for invention, the benefits of which disseminate rapidly to the population. Freeworld’s development appears to rapidly catch up to the condition of Hazlitt’s 1950s and 1960s America:

Constant and bewildering improvements were being made in household conveniences, in fluorescent lighting, in radiant heating, in air-conditioning, in vacuum cleaners, in clothes-washing machines, in dishwashing machines, in a thousand new structural and decorative materials. Great forward leaps were now taken in radio. There was talk of the development, in the laboratories, of the wireless transmission, not merely of music and voices, but of the living and moving image of objects and people.

Hundreds of new improvements, individually sometimes slight but cumulatively enormous, were being made in all sorts of transportation—in automobiles and railroads, in ships and airplanes. Inventors even talked of a new device to be called “jet-propulsion,” which would not only eliminate propellers but bring speeds rivaling that of sound itself.

In medicine, marvelous new anesthetics and new lifesaving drugs were constantly being discovered …

“In our new economic system, Adams,” said Peter, “we seem to have developed hundreds of thousands of individual centers of initiative which spontaneously co-operate with each other. We have made more material progress in the last four years, more industrial and scientific progress, than Wonworld made in a century.” (Hazlitt 1966, 153)

Instead of dreading work and needing to be terrorized into toil, the people begin to welcome and yearn for productive innovation:

Peter was struck by the startling change that had come over the whole spirit of the people. They worked with an energy and zeal infinitely greater than anything they had shown before. Peter now found people everywhere who regarded their work as a pleasure, a hobby, an exciting adventure. They were constantly thinking of improvements, devising new gadgets, dreaming of new processes that would cut costs of production, or new inventions and new products that consumers might want. (Hazlitt 1966, 139)

Peter explains to Adams that this “is precisely what economic liberty does. It releases human energy” (Hazlitt 1966, 139). Whereas, previously, only the Central Planning Board could decide how to direct resources,

Now everybody can plan. Now everybody is a center of planning. The worker can plan to shift to another employer or another line of production where the rewards are higher. He can plan to train himself in a new skill that pays better. And anybody who can save or borrow capital, or who can get the co-operation of other workers or offer them more attractive terms of employment than before, can start a new enterprise, make a new product, fill a new need. And this puts a quality of adventure and excitement into most people’s lives that was never there before. In Wonworld, in effect, only the Dictator himself could originate or initiate: everybody else simply carried out his orders. But in Freeworld anybody can originate or initiate. And because he can, he does. (Hazlitt 1966, 139)

Hazlitt frequently emphasizes the connection between the economic empowerment that freedom in business offers and the resulting surge in the quality of life and daily experience – a sense of responsibility, opportunity, self-direction, and the ability to chart one’s own future that permeates an economy where individuals are their own economic masters. While under central planning, no progress occurs unless initiated by the exceptionally rare enlightened rulers at the top, in a free market every businessman and worker can be an agent of human progress. Peter observes that a free-market system is meritocratic and tends to reward contributions to human well-being: “Everyone tends to be rewarded by the consumers to the extent that he has contributed to the needs of the consumers. In other words, free competition tends to give to labor what labor creates, to the owners of money and capital goods what their capital creates, and to enterprisers what their co-ordinating function creates” (Hazlitt 1966, 139). Adams responds that, to the extent a free-market system is able to achieve this, “no group would have the right to complain. You would have achieved an economic paradise” (Hazlitt 1966, 139). In a later discussion, Peter notes that the profits realized by businesspeople in a free-market system cannot be maintained on the whole except in a growing economy where consumers are increasingly better off; a free-market system cannot be called a profit system “in a declining or even in a stationary economy. It is, of course, a profit-seeking system” (Hazlitt 1966, 150), but the search for profit in a free economy will only succeed if human needs are fulfilled by the entrepreneur in the process.

Cultural and esthetic progress, too, are facilitated by the actions of Freeworld’s entrepreneurs. Hazlitt points out that “it was not merely in material progress that Freeworld achieved such amazing triumphs. No less striking were the new dignity and breadth that individual freedom brought about in the whole cultural and spiritual life of the Western Hemisphere” (Hazlitt 1966, 155). By contrast with Wonworld’s regime-monopolized “art” designed to praise the ruling ideology, the outpouring of creativity and variety in Freeworld “showed itself in novels and plays, in criticism and poetry, in painting, sculpture and architecture, in political and economic thinking, in most sciences, in philosophy and religion” (Hazlitt 1966, 155). Even though freedom in artistic production results in catering “to the presumed tastes of a mass public; and the bulk of what was produced was vulgar and cheap” (Hazlitt 1966, 155), there also emerges the opportunity for some artists to pursue lasting greatness:

What counted, as Peter quickly saw, was that each writer and each artist was now liberated from abject subservience to the state, to the political ruling clique. He was now free to select his own public. He did not need to cater to a nebulous “mass demand.” He could, if he wished, write, build, think, compose or paint for a definite cultivated group, or for his fellow specialists, or for a few kindred spirits wherever they could be found. And plays did have a way of finding their own special audience, and periodicals and books of finding their own special readers.

In contrast with the drabness, monotony and dreariness of Wonworld, the cultural and spiritual life of Freeworld was full of infinite variety, flavor, and adventure. (Hazlitt 1966, 155)

The intellectual honesty of Peter Uldanov enables him to transform the role of inadvertent world dictator to that of guardian of individual freedom. Freeworld overcomes Bolshekov’s Wonworld in a largely bloodless military campaign, due to Freeworld’s overwhelming superiority in production and the eagerness of Wonworld’s citizens to throw off Bolshekov’s totalitarian rule. At the novel’s end, Peter decides to hold free elections and subject his own position to the people’s approval. Running against the mixed-economy “Third Way” advocate Wang Ching-li, Peter narrowly wins the election and becomes the first President of Freeworld, even though his preference would be to devote his time to playing Mozart. Peter has the wisdom to unleash the productive forces of free enterprise and then to step aside, except in maintaining a system that punishes aggression, protects private property, and provides a reliable rule of law. The ending of Time Will Run Back is a happy one, but it is made possible by one key tremendously fortunate and unlikely circumstance – the ability of a fundamentally decent person to find himself in a position of vast political power, whose use he deliberately restrains and channels toward liberalization instead of perpetuating the abuses of the old system. Peter is, in effect, a “philosopher-king” who reasons his way toward free-market capitalism, unleashing private business to bring about massive human progress. Without such an individual, Wonworld could have lingered in misery, stagnation, and even decline for centuries. In our world, however, where the vestiges of free enterprise and the history of economic thought are much stronger, we do not need to rediscover sound economic principles from whole cloth, so perhaps existing societies could eventually muddle through toward freer economies, even though no philosopher-kings are to be found. Hazlitt gave us Peter Uldanov’s story to enable us to understand which reforms and institutions can improve the human condition, and which can only degrade it.

Reference

Hazlitt, Henry. [1966.] 2007. Time Will Run Back. New York: Arlington House. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Available at http://library.freecapitalists.org/books/Henry%20Hazlitt/Time%20Will%20Run%20Back.pdf. Accessed December 13, 2014.

My Tiny Cosmopolitan Apartment – Article by Joseph S. Diedrich

My Tiny Cosmopolitan Apartment – Article by Joseph S. Diedrich

The New Renaissance Hat
Joseph S. Diedrich
October 25, 2014
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Global trade made my little flat a place of international treasures.

***

I live in a studio apartment, so my kitchen is my living room is my bedroom. The other day, I was staring out my sole window when something startled me. (And it wasn’t the subwoofer two floors up.)

It was my coffee. While sipping from my mug, I glanced at the bag of beans. It read, “Origin: Ethiopia.” Next, I read the text on the bottom of my laptop: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” I looked down at my necktie: “Bruno Piatelli. Roma.”

This little exercise became a game. From what other far-off places did my stuff come? I sleep on bed sheets from Egypt. I drink bottles of Shiraz from Australia. I pour Canadian maple syrup on my pancakes. Some things weren’t technically “foreign,” but they still came a long way: books printed in New York, apples grown in Washington orchards, and beer brewed in St. Louis.

Within the narrow confines of my apartment was an expansive world market — a veritable microcosm of the global economy.

What startled me most wasn’t that so much had traveled so far. Rather, it was that I found nothing from my own city. While I had purchased some items in Madison, they didn’t originate here.

What about the “buy local” bandwagon? If I were to follow the consumer movement du jour to its fullest extent, I’d be much poorer. Because of a much more constrained division of labor, I’d spend more money on lower quality goods. I probably wouldn’t even have coffee, and I certainly wouldn’t own an Italian necktie.

Yet I don’t intentionally avoid local goods. Every Saturday morning, like a ritual, I visit the county farmers market. I buy delicious seasonal fruits, vegetables, and cheeses from nearby farmers — not because they’re local, but because they’re the best. Produce tends to be tastier if it hasn’t spent a week on a flatbed.

Adam Smith once wrote, “In every country it always is and must be the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest.” The less trade is restricted between individuals and across borders, the more “the body of people” can “buy whatever they want” the “cheapest.” As society becomes more and more integrated, we can better take advantage of the division of labor, leading to lower prices, greater prosperity, and a higher standard of living for everyone.

When I buy a preferable foreign product instead of its domestic counterpart, I obviously benefit myself. I receive a better product at a better price. I also clearly help the foreign producer.

I benefit the domestic economy, too. By purchasing cheaper foreign goods, I reserve more of my money to spend elsewhere, including in domestic exchange. More importantly, I send a signal to domestic producers: don’t waste your time making that thing! By doing so, I incentivize domestic producers to reallocate their resources to more highly valued endeavors.

It’s true that free trade and globalization make the rich richer. But they also make the poor richer. Trade provides cell phones to people in developing countries. It increases wages. It fosters international peace. And it makes denizens of tiny dwellings feel like the freest, richest people in the world.

Four hundred fifty square feet doesn’t sound like much. Yet somehow I’ve managed to fit states, countries, and even continents inside. The most remarkable thing of all? I didn’t intend for this to happen. I didn’t decide one day to start purchasing only “foreign” goods. I never consciously attempted to avail myself of “exotic” treasures.

Nobody ever intends for this to happen. Every day, we make countless, often subconscious cost-benefit analyses. When it comes to purchasing actual goods, we weigh all the factors we care about — price, quality, size, shape, taste, and so on. We search for the highest quality consumer goods within our respective price ranges. Just by buying what we like, we unwittingly amass personal bazaars.

We are capable of planning only for our individual selves. Despite the ubiquity of cosmopolitan collections of consumer goods, nobody could ever plan for such a thing. We simply lack the capacity to organize an entire economy to fit our specific needs.

This was the keen insight of economist F.A. Hayek, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his Nobel Prize. While he admitted that “all economic activity” involves planning, not all planning is the same. Because there’s “no dispute about whether planning is to be done or not,” what matters is “whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.”

My apartment has only one window, but I feel like I can see the whole world. Every treasure I own is a window to a place I’ve never been and to people I’ve never met.

Joseph S. Diedrich is a Young Voices Advocate, a law student at the University of Wisconsin, and assistant editor at Liberty.me.

***
This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

The Great Fact: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity” – Article by Bradley Doucet

The Great Fact: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity” – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
September 20, 2014
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We live in astonishing times. We take it for granted, of course, which is good in a way because, well, we have to get on with the business of living and can’t spend every waking moment going, “Oh my God! This is amazing!” But it’s a good idea to stop and take stock from time to time in order to appreciate just how far we’ve come in the past 200 years or so—to show gratitude for just how much richer the average person is today thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
***

“In 1800, the average human consumed and expected her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go on consuming a mere $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two,” writes economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey in her excellent 2010 book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. That’s in modern-day, US prices, corrected for cost of living. Apart from a comparatively few wealthier lords, bishops, and the odd rich merchant, people were dirt poor, barely subsisting, unable to afford luxuries like elementary education for their kids—who had a 50% chance at birth of not making it past the age of 30. That’s the way it was, the way it had always been, and as far as anyone could tell, the way it always would be.

More Than 16 Times Richer

But thankfully, things turned out a little differently. There are seven times as many of us on the planet today, but we’re many times richer on average, despite pockets of enduring dire poverty here and there. According to McCloskey, “Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least.” And this is a very conservative estimate of material improvement, not taking into account such novelties as jet travel, penicillin, and smartphones.

This radical, positive change brought about by the Industrial Revolution is the “Great Fact” about the modern world. “No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact,” writes McCloskey. But it does require explanation, and here there are many theories. What caused it? Why did it happen where and when it happened—starting in northern Europe around 1800—instead of in some other place, at some other time? And although modern economic growth has at least begun to reach most of the world, including now China and India, if we had a better understanding of its causes, perhaps we could do a better job of encouraging it to spread to the relatively few remaining holdouts.

What changed, argues McCloskey, is the way people thought about markets and innovation and the people who were engaged in the business of making new things and buying and selling them. “More or less suddenly the Dutch and British and then the Americans and the French began talking about the middle class, high or low—the “bourgeoisie”—as though it were dignified and free. The result was modern economic growth.” In other words, the material, economic fact has a non-material, rhetorical cause, which is why economics can’t explain the modern world. Our ideas changed, and we started innovating like never before, and an explosion of innovation drove the rapid economic growth of the past 200 years.

What Didn’t Cause the Industrial Revolution

Bourgeois Dignity is the second book of a trilogy. The first book, The Bourgeois Virtues (2006), which I have not read but now plan to, argued for the positive ethical status of a bourgeois life. The third book, Bourgeois Equality, due out in 2015, will present the positive case for the claim that it is a change in ideas and rhetoric that made the modern world—and that ideas and rhetoric could unmake it, too. As for this second book in the series, it presents the negative case by examining the materialist explanations for the Great Fact offered up by economists and historians from both the left and the right, and finding them all to be lacking.

Imperialism, for instance, did not bring about the modern world. The average European did not become spectacularly wealthy by historical standards simply by taking Africa’s and America’s wealth. Imperialism did happen, and it did make a few people rich and hurt a lot of people, especially in places like the Belgian Congo. But it did not raise the standard of living of average Europeans, who would have been better off if their leaders had allowed trade to flourish instead of supporting the subjugation of people in foreign lands. Besides which, empires had existed in other times and places without bringing about an Industrial Revolution. A unique effect cannot be the result of a routine cause. And it cannot either simply be the case that wealth was moved from one place to another, because there is much more wealth per person today than ever before, despite there being many more of us around.

International trade did not do it either, according to McCloskey. Trade is a good thing, as imperialism is a bad thing, but its effects are relatively small. And extensive trade, too, existed long before the 1800s, in places other than Europe and the United States, without launching the rapid material betterment of all. And for similar reasons, it wasn’t the case that people began saving more, or finally accumulated enough, or got greedier all of a sudden, or discovered a Protestant work ethic, or finally built extensive transportation infrastructure, or formed unions, or suddenly started respecting private property, or any of dozens of other explanations presented by economists and historians over the years.

Respect for Innovation and Making Money

Only innovation has the power to make people radically better off by radically increasing the output produced from given inputs, and only innovation was a truly novel cause, to the extent that it was taking place on an unprecedented scale two hundred years ago in northern Europe. And the reason that it began happening there and then like never before was a change in rhetoric—a newfound liberty, yes, but also a newfound dignity previously reserved for clergy and warriors. For the first time, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became respectable, even honourable, to figure out new ways of doing things and to make money selling those innovations to other people, and so innovation and business were encouraged, and much of humanity was lifted out of dire poverty for the first time in history starting in the 19th century.

Ideas matter. Supported by bourgeois dignity, and despite the betrayal of a portion of the intellectual elite as of around 1848, we have continued to innovate and make money and lift more and more people out of poverty. There have been significant setbacks due to communism and fascism and two world wars, but almost everyone is much better off today than anyone dreamed was possible just a few short centuries ago. In order to continue spreading the wealth, and the opportunities for human flourishing that go with it, we need to defend the idea that business and innovation deserve to be free and respected, as Deirdre McCloskey herself has so admirably done in this fine volume.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.