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Why Robots Won’t Cause Mass Unemployment – Article by Jonathan Newman

Why Robots Won’t Cause Mass Unemployment – Article by Jonathan Newman

The New Renaissance Hat
Jonathan Newman
August 5, 2017

I made a small note in a previous article about how we shouldn’t worry about technology that displaces human workers:

The lamenters don’t seem to understand that increased productivity in one industry frees up resources and laborers for other industries, and, since increased productivity means increased real wages, demand for goods and services will increase as well. They seem to have a nonsensical apocalyptic view of a fully automated future with piles and piles of valuable goods everywhere, but nobody can enjoy them because nobody has a job. I invite the worriers to check out simple supply and demand analysis and Say’s Law.

Say’s Law of markets is a particularly potent antidote to worries about automation, displaced workers, and the so-called “economic singularity.” Jean-Baptiste Say explained how over-production is never a problem for a market economy. This is because all acts of production result in the producer having an increased ability to purchase other goods. In other words, supplying goods on the market allows you to demand goods on the market.

Say’s Law, Rightly Understood

J.B. Say’s Law is often inappropriately summarized as “supply creates its own demand,” a product of Keynes having “badly vulgarized and distorted the law.”

Professor Bylund has recently set the record straight regarding the various summaries and interpretations of Say’s Law.

Bylund lists the proper definitions:

Say’s Law:

  • Production precedes consumption.
  • Demand is constituted by supply.
  • One’s demand for products in the market is limited by one’s supply.
  • Production is undertaken to facilitate consumption.
  • Your supply to satisfy the wants of others makes up your demand for for others’ production.
  • There can be no general over-production (glut) in the market.

NOT Say’s Law:

  • Production creates its own demand.
  • Aggregate supply is (always) equal to aggregate demand.
  • The economy is always at full employment.
  • Production cannot exceed consumption for any good.

Say’s Law should allay the fears of robots taking everybody’s jobs. Producers will only employ more automated (read: capital-intensive) production techniques if such an arrangement is more productive and profitable than a more labor-intensive technique. As revealed by Say’s Law, this means that the more productive producers have an increased ability to purchase more goods on the market. There will never be “piles and piles of valuable goods” laying around with no one to enjoy them.

Will All the Income Slide to the Top?

The robophobic are also worried about income inequality — all the greedy capitalists will take advantage of the increased productivity of the automated techniques and fire all of their employees. Unemployment will rise as we run out of jobs for humans to do, they say.

This fear is unreasonable for three reasons. First of all, how could these greedy capitalists make all their money without a large mass of consumers to purchase their products? If the majority of people are without incomes because of automation, then the majority of people won’t be able to help line the pockets of the greedy capitalists.

Second, there will always be jobs because there will always be scarcity. Human wants are unlimited, diverse, and ever-changing, yet the resources we need to satisfy our desires are limited. The production of any good requires labor and entrepreneurship, so humans will never become unnecessary.

Finally, Say’s Law implies that the profitability of producing all other goods will increase after a technological advancement in the production of one good. Real wages can increase because the greedy robot-using capitalists now have increased demands for all other goods. I hope the following scenario makes this clear.

The Case of the Robot Fairy

This simple scenario shows why the increased productivity of a new, more capital-intensive technique makes everybody better off in the end.

Consider an island of three people: Joe, Mark, and Patrick. The three of them produce coconuts and berries. They prefer a varied diet, but they have their own comparative advantages and preferences over the two goods.

Patrick prefers a stable supply of coconuts and berries every week, and so he worked out a deal with Joe such that Joe would pay him a certain wage in coconuts and berries every week in exchange for Patrick helping Joe gather coconuts. If they have a productive week, Joe gets to keep the extra coconuts and perhaps trade some of the extra coconuts for berries with Mark. If they have a less than productive week, then Patrick still receives his certain wage and Joe has to suffer.

On average, Joe and Patrick produce 50 coconuts/week. In exchange for his labor, Patrick gets 10 coconuts and 5 quarts of berries every week from Joe.

Mark produces the berries on his own. He produces about 30 quarts of berries every week. Joe and Mark usually trade 20 coconuts for 15 quarts of berries. Joe needs some of those berries to pay Patrick, but some are for himself because he also likes to consume berries.

In sum, and for an average week, Joe and Patrick produce 50 coconuts and Mark produces 30 quarts of berries. Joe ends up with 20 coconuts and 10 quarts of berries, Patrick ends up with 10 coconuts and 5 quarts of berries, and Mark ends up with 20 coconuts and 15 quarts of berries.

Production Trade Consumption
Joe 50 Coconuts (C) Give 20C for 15B 20C + 10B
Patrick n/a 10C + 5B (wage)
Mark 30 qts. Berries (B) Give 15B for 20C 20C + 15B

The Robot Fairy Visits

One night, the robot fairy visits the island and endows Joe with a Patrick 9000, a robot that totally displaces Patrick from his job, plus some. With the robot, Joe can now produce 100 coconuts per week without the human Patrick.

What is Patrick to do? Well, he considers two options: (1) Now that the island has plenty of coconuts, he could go work for Mark and pick berries under a similar arrangement he had with Joe; or (2) Patrick could head to the beach and start catching some fish, hoping that Joe and Mark will trade with him.

While these options weren’t Patrick’s top choices before the robot fairy visited, now they are great options precisely because Joe’s productivity has increased. Joe’s increased productivity doesn’t just mean that he is richer in terms of coconuts, but his demands for berries and new goods like fish increase as well (Say’s Law), meaning the profitability of producing all other goods that Joe likes also increases!

Option 1

If Patrick chooses option 1 and goes to work for Mark, then both berry and coconut production totals will increase. Assuming berry production doesn’t increase as much as coconut production, the price of a coconut in terms of berries will decrease (Joe’s marginal utility for coconuts will also be very low), meaning Mark can purchase many more coconuts than before.

Suppose Patrick adds 15 quarts of berries per week to Mark’s production. Joe and Mark could agree to trade 40 coconuts for 20 quarts of berries, so Joe ends up with 60 coconuts and 20 quarts of berries. Mark can pay Patrick up to 19 coconuts and 9 quarts of berries and still be better off compared to before Joe got his Patrick 9000 (though Patrick’s marginal productivity would warrant something like 12 coconuts and 9 quarts of berries or 18 coconuts and 6 quarts of berries or some combination between those — no matter what, everybody is better off).

Production Trade Consumption
Joe 100C Give 40C for 20B 60C + 20B
Patrick 45B n/a 16C + 7B (wage)
Mark Give 20B for 40C 24C + 18B

Option 2

If Mark decides to reject Patrick’s offer to work for him, then Patrick can choose option 2, catching fish. It involves more uncertainty than what Patrick is used to, but he anticipates that the extra food will be worth it.

Suppose that Patrick can produce just 5 fish per week. Joe, who is practically swimming in coconuts pays Patrick 20 coconuts for 1 fish. Mark, who is excited about more diversity in his diet and even prefers fish to his own berries, pays Patrick 10 quarts of berries for 2 fish. Joe and Mark also trade some coconuts and berries.

In the end, Patrick gets 20 coconuts, 10 quarts of berries, and 2 fish per week. Joe gets 50 coconuts, 15 quarts of berries, and 1 fish per week. Mark gets 30 coconuts, 5 quarts of berries, and 2 fish per week. Everybody prefers their new diet.

Production Trade Consumption
Joe 100C Give 50C for 15B + 1F 50C + 15B + 1F
Patrick 5 fish (F) Give 2F for 20C + 10B 20C + 10B + 2F
Mark 30B Give 25B for 30C + 1F 30C + 5B + 2F


The new technology forced Patrick to find a new way to sustain himself. These new jobs were necessarily second-best (at most) to working for Joe in the pre-robot days, or else Patrick would have pursued them earlier. But just because they were suboptimal pre-robot does not mean that they are suboptimal post-robot. The island’s economy was dramatically changed by the robot, such that total production (and therefore consumption) could increase for everybody. Joe’s increased productivity translated into better deals for everybody.

Of course, one extremely unrealistic aspect of this robot fairy story is the robot fairy. Robot fairies do not exist, unfortunately. New technologies must be wrangled into existence by human labor and natural resources, with the help of capital goods, which also must be produced using labor and natural resources. Also, new machines have to be maintained, replaced, refueled, and rejiggered, all of which require human labor. Thus, we have made this scenario difficult for ourselves by assuming away all of the labor that would be required to produce and maintain the Patrick 9000. Even so, we see that the whole economy, including the human Patrick, benefits as a result of the new robot.

This scenario highlights three important points:

(1) Production must precede consumption, even for goods you don’t produce (Say’s Law). For Mark to consume coconuts or fish, he has to supply berries on the market. For Joe to consume berries or fish, he has to supply coconuts on the market. Patrick produced fish so that he could also enjoy coconuts and berries.

(2) Isolation wasn’t an option for Patrick. Because of the Law of Association (a topic not discussed here, but important nonetheless), there is always a way for Patrick to participate in a division of labor and benefit as a result, even after being displaced by the robot.

(3) Jobs will never run out because human wants will never run out. Even if our three island inhabitants had all of the coconuts and berries they could eat before the robot fairy visited, Patrick was able to supply additional want satisfaction with a brand new good, the fish. In the real world, new technologies often pave the way for brand new, totally unrelated goods to emerge and for whole economies to flourish. Hans Rosling famously made the case that the advent of the washing machine allowed women and their families to emerge from poverty:

And what’s the magic with them? My mother explained the magic with this machine the very, very first day. She said, “Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now we can go to the library.” Because this is the magic: you load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machines, children’s books. And mother got time to read for me. She loved this. I got the “ABC’s” — this is where I started my career as a professor, when my mother had time to read for me. And she also got books for herself. She managed to study English and learn that as a foreign language. And she read so many novels, so many different novels here. And we really, we really loved this machine.

And what we said, my mother and me, “Thank you industrialization. Thank you steel mill. Thank you power station. And thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

Similarly, the Patrick 9000, a coconut-producing robot, made fish production profitable. Indeed, when we look at the industrial revolution and the computer revolution, we do not just see an increase in the production of existing goods. We see existing goods increasing in quantity and quality; we see brand new consumption goods and totally new industries emerging, providing huge opportunities for employment and future advances in everybody’s standard of living.

Jonathan Newman is Assistant Professor of Economics and Finance at Bryan College. He earned his PhD at Auburn University and is a Mises Institute Fellow. He can be contacted here.

Economic Theory Really Is Pro-Immigration – Article by Luis Pablo de la Horra

Economic Theory Really Is Pro-Immigration – Article by Luis Pablo de la Horra

The New Renaissance HatLuis Pablo de la Horra

In his now-classic work The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan identifies four systematic biases about economics held by the average citizen: make-work bias (an inclination to overestimate the disadvantages of temporary job destruction due to productivity increases), anti-market bias (a tendency to overlook the benefits of the market as a coordination mechanism), pessimistic bias (an inclination to underestimate the present and future performance of the economy), and anti-foreign bias (a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction with foreigners).

Widespread biases on economics are far from being harmless. Wrong ideas held by voters usually lead to catastrophic policies due to the inherent nature of the democratic process. In other words, in most cases, politicians undertake those policies that they deem popular among voters in order to get reelected. If those policies beget pernicious consequences for the economy, harmless beliefs turn into lower living standards for all.

Of those four biases, the most potentially harmful is the anti-foreign bias. This inclination to underestimate the benefits of economic cooperation with foreigners manifests itself politically in two main ways: protectionism and anti-immigration policies. Despite the recent surge of protectionism in some developed countries, free trade is now the rule rather than the exception in most parts of the world. However, when it comes to immigration, only a few steps have been taken worldwide over the last few decades in a direction of liberalization (even though the consensus about the benefits of more open borders in the economics profession is probably as strong as the consensus around free trade).

As I will show in this series of two articles [see the second article here], anti-immigration policies reduce the well-being of both potential immigrants and host societies, as shown by economic theory and empirical evidence. Or, to put it differently: even a partial liberalization of immigration restrictions would, in the long-term, contribute to improving the standards of living globally.

Economic Theory Supports Immigration-Friendly Policies

The economic case against less restrictive immigration policies rests on shaky pillars. The most common anti-immigration arguments are related to the supposedly negative effects that immigration has on the host country’s labor market, and, more specifically, its impact on employment and wages. According to advocates of immigration restrictions, immigrants do not only take natives’ jobs, but also have a depressive effect on wages.

However, economic theory does not support these assertions. First, the economy is not a zero-sum game: the numbers of jobs available is not finite. As pointed out by Alex Tabarrok (here and here), immigrants are not only producers but also consumers, which implies that an increase in demand triggered by the expansion of the immigrant population goes hand in hand with an increase in total employment. Also – and contrary to conventional wisdom – not only highly-qualified immigrants create positive externalities on host economies. Low-skilled immigrants tend to take lower-productivity jobs (as they often either lack higher education or do not speak the language), allowing the native-born to access higher-productivity jobs (assuming free trade and a flexible labor market).

All said above can be also applied to wages. All else equal, the law of supply and demand says that an increase in the supply of labor would inevitably cause lower wages. However, more immigrants also mean a higher demand for goods and services, which in turn results in a higher demand for labor, preventing a generalized decrease in salaries. Even in those cases when wages in a particular sector are temporarily pushed down, lower wages lead to lower costs for companies, which usually results in lower prices for consumers due to the process of competition.

Immigration-friendly policies can also help tackle the demographic problem that many developed countries have been experiencing over the last years. For instance, the progressive demographic ageing of the American population is already having an impact on the US Social Security system. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of Americans over 65 years old will have moved from 15% in 2014 to 24% of the population by 2060. As a result,  the worker-to-beneficiary ratio will decrease by 32%, from 3.4 in 1990 to 2.3 in 2030. This problem could be mitigated by adopting a more flexible immigration policy that increases the working population, reversing the trend that will otherwise end up with significant spending cuts in Social Security benefits.

Benefits for the Sending Countries and Immigrants

The discussion so far has focused on the benefits of immigration for receptor countries. How do the sending countries and immigrants benefit from the migratory phenomenon? Immigrants usually transfer part of their income to their countries of origin with the aim of economically supporting their families and friends. These so-called remittances are flows of capital from developed to developing countries which assist in the economic development of sending countries.

The main beneficiaries of eliminating barriers to labor mobility would be, no doubt, immigrants themselves. This is due to the concept of Place Premium. This concept, first introduced by Michael Clemens, Claudio E. Montenegro, and Lant Pritchettin in a 2008 paper, refers to the automatic increase in earnings (PPP adjusted) that a worker experiences by moving from a low-productivity country to a high-productivity country, without increasing the worker’s human capital. The factors behind this phenomenon are multiple: differences in capital accumulation, quality of infrastructures, technology, proximity to high-productive workers, different legal frameworks, etc. The empirical evidence (which will be dealt with in the second and final article of this series) shows that wage differences among countries due to Place Premium are immense. The corollary is simple: more open borders would bring about a substantial reduction in poverty levels across the world.

Potential Gains from Reducing Global Migration Barriers

What would happen if migration barriers were partially or totally eliminated on a global scale? In his paper Economics and Immigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk, Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, reviews the academic literature on the topic. If all barriers to labor mobility were to be removed, world GDP would increase in the range of 50% to 150%.

Even partial liberalizations would bring about considerable gains. For instance, a reform that allowed 7% of the population to emigrate to higher-productivity countries would result in an efficiency gain of 10% of world GDP. To put this into perspective, if all remaining trade barriers were eliminated, world GDP would grow by just 2% or 3%. As shown, the impact of relaxing migration barriers on the world economy would be extremely positive, especially for the poorest segments of population.

The theoretical analysis above clearly supports the adoption of more immigration-friendly policies as a way of increasing economic growth and improving the welfare of millions and millions of people, including those in receptor countries. However, economic theory needs to be supported by facts. In my next article, I will provide empirical evidence in support of eliminating barriers to immigration.

Luis Pablo de la Horra is a Spanish finance graduate from Vlerick Business School.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Capitalism Promotes Equality – Article by Barry Brownstein

Capitalism Promotes Equality – Article by Barry Brownstein

The New Renaissance HatBarry Brownstein

Equality in Consumption Is Now the Norm

Highway traffic began to slow outside of Boston as we made our way to the airport. My wife was driving, so I took out my $100 Android phone and opened Google Maps. Google Traffic instantly showed me, in real time, the best route to avoid delays and estimated the number of minutes we’d save by altering our route. Thanks to Google, there was no threat of missing our flight.

It was not too long ago that we relied on traffic reporters in helicopters, and their advice was often useless by the time we heard their updates.

Have you wondered how Google Traffic does it? The answer is crowdsourcing. If you are among the two-thirds of American adults who own a smartphone, and if the GPS locator on your phone is enabled, you are generating real-time traffic information. Google Traffic measures how fast cars are moving compared to normal speeds and generates location-specific reports.

Rich or poor, most of the drivers on the highway that day had access to the same miraculous traffic report and the same opportunity to make better driving decisions. This is just one example of how the marketplace generates equality in consumption.

The cars we drive are another indicator of consumption equality. We were driving an inexpensive Subaru Outback. There are more expensive, comfortable, and bigger cars on the market, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that there are none safer than the Outback.

Would a rich individual, on this same drive to the airport, have any noticeable advantages over me? He or she could hire a driver and use the drive time for something more productive, but even that advantage will dwindle as driverless cars become the norm.

In his Wall Street Journal commentary “The Rise of Consumption Equality,” former hedge fund manager Andy Kessler writes:

Just about every product or service that makes our lives better requires a mass market or it’s not economic to bother offering. Those who invent and produce for the mass market get rich. And the more these innovators better the rest of our lives, the richer they get but the less they can differentiate themselves from the masses whose wants they serve.

“What does Google founder Larry Page have that you don’t have?” Kessler asks pointedly.

Page’s income is unimaginably larger than most of ours. But in terms of consumption, the differences are negligible — which is remarkable, given how much Page and Google have improved our lives.

All-time football great Tom Brady earns roughly $10 million a year. His diet made the news recently. Does Brady enjoy health advantages not available to Americans with a fraction of his income? Brady hires a cook. Our family doesn’t do that, but we eat much like Brady — organic vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and fish make up the bulk of our diet. From May to October, a local organic farmer provides an abundance of vegetables that are picked fresh for us based on an order we place the day before. In the summertime, our produce may be fresher than Brady’s. Compared to any of us, what real dietary advantage does Tom Brady’s income afford him? It is his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, not his income, that makes the difference.

In 1900, Americans spent approximately 50 percent of their household income on food and clothing; today, we spend closer to 20 percent. Today, fresh produce from all over the world, not even available to a king a century ago, awaits common consumers when they enter the supermarket.

In 1900, only 25 percent of households had running water; fewer still had flush toilets. It would be decades before such wonders as electricity, automobiles, and indoor plumbing were ubiquitous. The faucets in the famed Hearst Castle in California may have been gold plated, but was the water any better than what the average household received? The water running in my home comes from an artesian well over 400 feet deep. More evidence of consumption equality: my water is every bit as good, if not better, than a billionaire’s in a big city penthouse.

Wealth is not a good predictor of a rich life. Psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky found that only 10 percent of the variance in Americans’ happiness is due to income and other circumstances. “Happiness more than anything,” she writes in her book The How of Happiness, ”is a state-of-mind, a way of perceiving and approaching ourselves and the world in which we reside.”

And what of the elements of emotional intelligence that make life richer? In the book Big Magic, best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert observes:

If money were the only thing people needed to live rich creative lives, then the mega-rich would be the most imaginative, generative, and original thinkers among us, and they simply are not. The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust — and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.

The same universally accessible elements are essential ingredients for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs persist, driven by their vision and by the equality of opportunity that capitalism affords. The entrepreneur’s choice to be persistent and courageous is the not-so-secret engine that drives success.

The essential consumption goods we couldn’t even imagine a hundred years ago are almost universally available in the United States today. The marketplace, aided by many creative, pioneering entrepreneurs and every person who strives to put in a good day’s work, is generating consumption equality.

Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics and leadership at the University of Baltimore. He is the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership. He blogs at, Giving up Control, and America’s Highest Purpose.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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

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

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

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Wealth (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Wealth (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 16, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXVIII of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXVIII of The Rational Argumentator on November 16, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014


Many of the economic and personal fallacies of our time arise from the mistaken belief that wealth and money are identical. In fact, while money is in many cases an important gateway to wealth, it does not even approach describing what wealth truly is.

In our time, money may be equated to wealth even less justifiably than it could have been in times past – when most money was identified with precious metals, such as gold and silver, which had uses other than as media of exchange. Currently, money in virtually all countries consists of pieces of paper which are decreed to be money by government fiat. Legal tender laws force individuals to accept these special pieces of paper as payment for products, services, or debts. The supply of these pieces of paper is controlled by the government’s printing press – typically located at either the central bank or the treasury department.

Why do people seek and hold this money? They do so because they expect to be able to purchase with it actual goods and services – either now or in the future. This means that the money is not seen as valuable in itself; it is seen as valuable because of the other things it can obtain. However, the supply of these other things is not dependent on the number of pieces of paper in circulation. Rather, it is dependent on real factors that affect individuals’ and businesses’ abilities to produce actual goods and services. Thus, having more pieces of paper does not automatically make one wealthier. If the government simply chooses to print more of them, while no external factors affect the production of goods and services, then there will simply be more pieces of paper for the same amount of real goods and services. We would therefore get inflation: prices in terms of the pieces of paper will increase in proportion to the volume of new pieces of paper introduced. Of course, inflation has disastrous impacts on individuals’ existing savings, incentives for frugality, and transaction costs. It also constitutes an unjustified redistribution of wealth from the producers who earn it to the politically connected elites who get priority access to the new pieces of paper. Creating more “money” can often destroy actual wealth and productivity.

But there is another respect in which money is not equivalent to wealth. Consider the fact that, even without inflation, the same amount of money will not purchase the same goods and services in every area. Indeed, a tiny, cramped apartment in the center of a major city may often cost more money than a spacious house in a small town. An individual earning the same amount of money in each area would be able to have a much higher standard of living in the small town. It is quite possible that the individual’s opportunities to earn more money in a big city will be greater, but the prices of goods will not increase in a one-to-one ratio with that individual’s relative salary increase. Rather, the prices are most likely to be higher in a ratio that is greater or smaller than the individual’s ratio of salaries – thereby making life in the city either less or more attractive to the individual. How much money one makes is not an indicator of the rate at which one accumulates wealth; a better indicator is what one can buy for one’s money.

These thoughts should give pause to both advocates of the government’s power of the printing press and to indiscriminate salary chasers. Both may be devoting their time and energy to the pursuit of numerical illusions rather than substantive benefits. A much more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of wealth is needed in order to truly thrive and lead a good life.

To achieve an understanding of wealth, we need to ask ourselves why we seek money in the first place. Ultimately, every unit of money – even one saved or invested for many years – goes to fund some human consumption. Money can pay for either goods – material objects – or services – human behaviors performed for the benefit of the payer. It is actual goods and services that constitute wealth, not the money. Moreover, the money price of these goods and services is irrelevant from the standpoint of the wealth of the person who owns them. If I have a table, I am no less wealthy if I cannot sell the table at all – nor am I any wealthier just because I have the potential to sell it for five million dollars. I still have the same table, and its physical qualities are unchanged. If I actually do sell it, I might become wealthier, but only insofar as my five million dollars would enable me to purchase more tables, better tables, or other goods and services I value. The important principle to recognize is that one either has potential wealth in the form of money or actual wealth in the form of the goods and services one has purchased. One does not have both at the same time in the same object. Fiat money is wealth only insofar as it can reasonably be expected to procure actual goods and services. Goods and services constitute wealth in themselves while they last. Capital goods that can produce other goods can also be described as potential wealth – but it is also true that they are not money while one owns them as goods.

A further distinction should be made. Not all material objects are goods, and not all human behaviors are services. Some material objects – such as clouds of poison gas in one’s living room – are active bads. Likewise, some human behaviors – such as people raping or murdering one another – are active disservices. The only way to comprehensively define wealth is with regard to a standard by which goods and services can be identified. The most fundamental standard from both a moral and a practical standpoint is the principle that the life of every innocent individual is the greatest and most basic good – where an innocent individual is one who has not violated this principle through actions such as murder or the attempt at murder. Thus, any object that promotes any individual’s life is a good; any behavior that promotes any individual’s life is a service. The more life-promoting objects one has – and the more life-promoting behaviors one either is able to elicit from others or is able to initiate oneself – the wealthier one is.

Everything else is a matter of means and context. How one gets wealth – whether it be through money, barter, gifts, or one’s own work and transformation of raw materials – has no bearing on the nature of that wealth; all of us who are not self-destructive pursue a wide variety of means that fundamentally aim at the goal of improving our lives. Ethically, the means ought to be non-coercive; we must not intrude on other people’s prerogatives to control their lives just like they must not intrude on ours. Wealth is still wealth, even if acquired through dishonest or evil means – but immoral means of wealth acquisition will destroy other wealth on net, through damage to property and human beings and their incentives to produce.

Moreover, it is possible for the same object to be beneficial in some circumstances and harmful in others. For instance, a piece of rope used to tie a knot may be extremely useful, while the same piece of rope strung across the floor of a room might be a tripping hazard. However, the same item or behavior in the exact same context should produce the same results; actual situations are never precisely repeatable, but we can at least estimate an object’s usefulness or lack thereof by analyzing situations where it has been applied in similar ways.

This view has practical implications beyond the scope of one’s views on economics or politics. Most items in our lives should be viewed not in terms of how we might be able to resell them to others, but rather in terms of what use they are to us personally. There is nothing wrong with resale as such, but it is not a behavior that can be imposed on all objects – and, indeed, economic bubbles are created when the expectation of resale for continually rising prices is applied by enough people to too many commodities. Those of us who acquire an item for our own use – which includes our purchases of art, furniture, automobiles, and yes, even houses – are not in the same position as businessmen who produce or acquire items for the specific purpose of reselling them at a profit. Businessmen see their inventories as potential money generators – an indirect route to greater wealth; consumers ought to see their property as useful in itself and any resale as incidental or fortuitous – a kind of loss mitigation once one is no longer able or willing to make good use of the property. We have adjusted quite well to the idea that the resale value of an automobile or a computer is virtually always much lower than its purchase price. In the role of consumers, we should adopt the same default expectation for houses – and for everything else. But the silly notion that one is entitled to resell any property at a higher price than one purchased it must be discarded, as it results in the foolish pursuit of higher-priced items in the vain hope of their further appreciation in price – without any expert knowledge of how markets in these items actually work. This turns many a layman into a speculator, while enticing him to take out loans with his fanciful expectations as collateral – as happened all too often during the housing bubble. Moreover, it engenders the disastrous attitude that price decreases – which make goods such as houses more affordable for people – are in some manner harmful. But one cannot destroy wealth by making goods easier to earn through honest work – nor can one create wealth by piggybacking off of others’ expectations of price increases.

Leave the house-flipping to the experts, and buy a house that you would want to live in, just as you buy clothes you want to wear and computers you want to use. That house would constitute real wealth for you, irrespective of its market price, and it will be there irrespective of financial market or currency value fluctuations – if you actually own the house or have a fixed-rate mortgage. To maximize your wealth, you should act in such a manner as to improve your access to actual goods and services that you value. Pieces of paper and expectations can only get you so far. And remember that your own ability to do useful work – including work that does not bring immediate monetary returns – is one of your most reliable gateways to wealth.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXVIII.

At the Fed, the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same – Article by Ron Paul

At the Fed, the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
February 16, 2014
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen testified before Congress for the first time since replacing Ben Bernanke at the beginning of the month. Her testimony confirmed what many of us suspected, that interventionist Keynesian policies at the Federal Reserve are well-entrenched and far from over. Mrs. Yellen practically bent over backwards to reassure Wall Street that the Fed would continue its accommodative monetary policy well into any new economic recovery. The same monetary policy that got us into this mess will remain in place until the next crisis hits.

Isn’t it amazing that the same people who failed to see the real estate bubble developing, the same people who were so confident about economic recovery that they were talking about “green shoots” five years ago, the same people who have presided over the continued destruction of the dollar’s purchasing power never suffer any repercussions for the failures they have caused? They treat the people of the United States as though we were pawns in a giant chess game, one in which they always win and we the people always lose. No matter how badly they fail, they always get a blank check to do more of the same.

It is about time that the power brokers in Washington paid attention to what the Austrian economists have been saying for decades. Our economic crises are caused by central-bank infusions of easy money into the banking system. This easy money distorts the structure of production and results in malinvested resources, an allocation of resources into economic bubbles and away from sectors that actually serve consumers’ needs. The only true solution to these burst bubbles is to allow the malinvested resources to be liquidated and put to use in other areas. Yet the Federal Reserve’s solution has always been to pump more money and credit into the financial system in order to keep the boom period going, and Mrs. Yellen’s proposals are no exception.

Every time the Fed engages in this loose monetary policy, it just sows the seeds for the next crisis, making the next crash even worse. Look at charts of the federal funds rate to see how the Fed has had to lower interest rates further and longer with each successive crisis. From six percent, to three percent, to one percent, and now the Fed is at zero. Some Keynesian economists have even urged central banks to drop interest rates below zero, which would mean charging people to keep money in bank accounts.

Chairman Yellen understands how ludicrous negative interest rates are, and she said as much in her question and answer period last week. But that zero lower rate means the Fed has had to resort to unusual and extraordinary measures: quantitative easing. As a result, the Fed now sits on a balance sheet equivalent to nearly 25 percent of US GDP, and is committing to continuing to purchase tens of billions more dollars of assets each month.

When will this madness stop? Sound economic growth is based on savings and investment, deferring consumption today in order to consume more in the future. Everything the Fed is doing is exactly the opposite, engaging in short-sighted policies in an attempt to spur consumption today, which will lead to a depletion of capital, a crippling of the economy, and the impoverishment of future generations. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our children and our grandchildren, to rein in the Federal Reserve and end once and for all its misguided and destructive monetary policy.

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.