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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.

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.
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“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.
Confusing Capitalism with Fractional-Reserve Banking – Article by Frank Hollenbeck

Confusing Capitalism with Fractional-Reserve Banking – Article by Frank Hollenbeck

The New Renaissance Hat
Frank Hollenbeck
August 10, 2014
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Today, capitalism is blamed for our current disastrous economic and financial situation and a history of incessant booms and busts. Support for capitalism is eroding worldwide. In a recent global poll, 25 percent (up 2 percent from 2009) of respondents viewed free enterprise as “fatally flawed and needs to be replaced.” The number of Spaniards who hold this view increased from 29 percent in 2009 to 42 percent, the highest amongst those polled. In Indonesia, the percentage went from 17 percent to 32 percent.

Most, if not all, booms and busts originate with excess credit creation from the financial sector. These respondents, incorrectly, assume that this financial system structured on fractural reserve banking is an integral part of capitalism. It isn’t. It is fraud and a violation of property rights, and should be treated as such.

In the past, we had deposit banks and loan banks. If you put your money in a deposit bank, the money was there to pay your rent and food expenses. It was safe. Loan banking was risky. You provided money to a loan bank knowing funds would be tied up for a period of time and that you were taking a risk of never seeing this money again. For this, you received interest to compensate for the risk taken and the value of time preference. Back then, bankers who took a deposit and turned it into a loan took the risk of shortly hanging from the town’s large oak tree.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, the deposit function and loan function were merged into a new entity called a commercial bank. Of course, very quickly these new commercial banks realized they could dip into deposits, essentially committing fraud, as a source of funding for loans. Governments soon realized that such fraudulent activity was a great way to finance government expenditures, and passed laws making this fraud legal. A key interpretation of law in the United Kingdom, Foley v. Hill, set precedence in the financial world for banking laws to follow:

Foley v. Hill and Others, 1848:

Money, when paid into a bank, ceases altogether to be the money of the principal; it is then the money of the banker, who is bound to an equivalent by paying a similar sum to that deposited with him when he is asked for it. … The money placed in the custody of a banker is, to all intents and purposes, the money of the banker, to do with it as he pleases; he is guilty of no breach of trust in employing it; he is not answerable to the principal if he puts it into jeopardy, if he engages in a hazardous speculation; he is not bound to keep it or deal with it as the property of his principal; but he is, of course, answerable for the amount, because he has contracted, having received that money, to repay to the principal, when demanded, a sum equivalent to that paid into his hands. [1]

In other words, when you put your money in a bank it is no longer your money. The bank can do anything it wants with it. It can go to the casino and play roulette. It is not fraud legally, and the only requirement for the bank is to run a Ponzi scheme, giving you the money deposited by someone else if they lost your money and you happen to come back asking for your money. This legalization of fraud is essentially one of the main reasons no one went to jail after the debacle of 2008.

The primary cause of the financial panics during the nineteenth century was this fraudulent nature of fractional reserve banking. It allowed banks to create excessive credit growth which led to boom and bust cycles. If credit, instead, grew as fast as slow moving savings, booms and bust cycles would be a thing of the past.

Critics of the gold standard, (namely, Krugman, et al.), usually point to these cycles as proof that it failed as a monetary system. They are confusing causation with association. The gold standard did not cause these financial panics. The real cause was fractional reserve banking that was grafted onto the gold standard. The gold standard, on the contrary, actually greatly limited the severity of these crises, by limiting the size of the money multiplier.

This is why in the early days of banking in the US, some wildcat bankers would establish themselves in the most inaccessible locations. This was to ensure that few would actually come and convert claims for gold into actual gold since banks had created claims that far exceeded the actual gold in their vaults. And, if by chance a depositor tried to convert his claims into gold, they would be treated as thieves, as though they were stealing the bank’s property by asking for their gold back.

The Federal Reserve System was created following the panics of 1903 and 1907 to counterbalance the negative impact of fractional reserve banking. One hundred years after its creation, the Fed can only be given a failing grade. Money is no longer a store of value, and the world has experienced two of its worst financial crises. Instead of a counterbalance, the central bank has fed and expanded the size of the beast. This was to be expected.

That global poll on capitalism also found that almost half (48 percent) of respondents felt that the problems of capitalism could be resolved with added regulations and reform. Janet Yellen also holds this view, and that regulation, not interest rates, should be the main tool to avoid another costly boom and bust in global finance. This is extremely naïve. We already have more compliance officers in banks than loan officers. Recent banking legislation, Dodd-Frank, and the Vickers and Liikanen reports will probably make the situation even worse. Banks will always be able to use new technologies and new financial instruments to stay one step ahead of the regulators. We continue to put bandages on a system that is rotten to the core. Banking in its current form is not capitalism. It is fraud and crony capitalism, kept afloat by ever-more desperate government interventions. It should be dismantled. Under a system of 100 percent reserves, loan banks (100 percent equity-financed investment trusts) would be like any other business and would not need any more regulation than that of the makers of potato chips.

Notes

[1] Quoted in Murray Rothbard’s, The Mystery of Banking (Auburn, AL: Mises Institute, 2008), p. 92.

Frank Hollenbeck teaches finance and economics at the International University of Geneva. He has previously held positions as a Senior Economist at the State Department, Chief Economist at Caterpillar Overseas, and as an Associate Director of a Swiss private bank. See Frank Hollenbeck’s article archives.

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.

The Victory of Truth is Never Assured! (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Victory of Truth is Never Assured! (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published February 4, 2009
as Part of Issue CLXXXVI of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 22, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CLXXXVI of The Rational Argumentator on February 4, 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 22, 2014
***

Many advocates of free markets, reason, and liberty are content to just sit back and let things take their course, thinking that the right ideas will win out, by virtue of being true and therefore in accord with the objective reality. Sooner or later, these people think, the contradictions entailed in false ideas – contradictions obvious to the free-market advocates – will become obvious to everybody. Moreover, false ideas will result in bad consequences that people will rebel against and begin to apply true ideas. While this view is tempting – and I wish it reflected reality – I am afraid that it misrepresents the course that policies and intellectual trends take, as well as the motivations of most human beings.

Why does the truth not always – indeed, virtually never, up until the very recent past – win out in human societies among the majority of people? Indeed, why can one confidently say that most people are wrong about most intellectual matters and matters of policy most of the time? A few reasons will be explored here.

First, the vast majority of people are short-sighted and unaware of secondary effects of their actions. For instance, they see the direct effects of government redistribution of wealth – especially if they are on the receiving end – as positive. They get nice stuff, after all. But the indirect secondary effects – the reduced incentives of the expropriated to produce additional wealth – are not nearly so evident. They require active contemplation, which most people are too busy to engage in at that sophisticated a level.

The second reason why truth rarely wins in human societies – at least in the short-to-intermediate term – is that people’s lifespans are (thus far in our history) finite. While many people do learn from their experiences and from abstract theory and recognize more of the truth as they get older, those people also tend to die at alarming rates and be replaced by newer generations that more often than not make the same mistakes and commit the same fallacies. The prevalence of age-old superstitions – including beliefs in ghosts, faith healing, and socialism – can be explained by the fact that the same tempting fallacies tend to afflict most unprepared minds, and it takes a great deal of time and intellectual training for most people to extricate themselves from them – unless they happened to have particularly enlightened and devoted parents. If all people lived forever, one could expect them to learn from their mistakes and fallacies eventually and for the prevalence of those errors to asymptotically approach zero over time.

The third reason for the difficulty true ideas have in winning is the information problem. No one person has access to all or even a remote fraction of the truth, and certainly no one person can claim to be in possession of all the true ideas required to prevent or even optimally minimize all human folly, aggression, and self-destruction. Moreover, just because a true idea exists somewhere and someone knows it does not mean that many people will be actively seeking it out. Improving information dispersal through such technologies as the Internet certainly helps inform many more people than would have been informed otherwise, but this still requires a fundamental willingness to seek out truth on the part of people. Some have this willingness; others could not care less.

The fourth reason why the truth rarely wins out is that the proponents of false ideas are often persistent, clever, and well organized. They promote their ideas – which they may well believe to be the truth – just as assiduously, if not more so, than the proponents of truth promote their ideas. In fact, how true an idea is might matter when it comes to the long-term viability of the culture and society whose participants adopt it; but it matters little with regard to how persuasive people find the idea. After all, if truth were all that persuaded people, then bizarre beer ads that imply that by drinking beer one will have fancy cars and lots of beautiful women would not persuade anyone. The persistence of advertising that focuses on anything but the actual merits and qualities of the goods and services advertised shows that truth and persuasiveness are two entirely different qualities.

The fifth reason why the truth has a difficult time winning over public opinion is rather unfortunate and may be remedied in time. But many people are, to be polite, intellectually not prepared to understand it. Free-market economics and politics are not easy subjects for everybody to grasp. If a significant fraction of the population in economically advanced countries has trouble remembering basic historical facts or doing basic algebra, how hard must economic and political theory be for such people! I do not believe that any person is incapable of learning these ideas, or any ideas at all. But to teach them takes time that they personally are often unwilling to devote to the task. As economic and technological growth renders more leisure time available to more people, this might change, but for the time being the un-intellectual state of the majority of people is a tremendous obstacle to the spread of true ideas.

It is bad enough that many people are un-intellectual and thus unable to grasp true ideas without a great deal of effort they do not wish to expend. That problem can be remedied with enough material and cultural progress. The greater problem, and the sixth reason why the truth has difficulty taking hold, is that a sizable fraction of the population is also anti-intellectual. They not only cannot or try not to think and learn; they actively despise those who do. Anti-intellectualism is a product of pure envy and malice, much like bullying in the public schools. It led to the genocides of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, Communist China under Mao, and Communist Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. In Western schools today, it leads to many of the best and brightest students – who know more of the truth than virtually anyone else – being relentlessly teased, mocked, suppressed, ostracized, and even physically attacked by their jealous and lazy peers as well as by some egalitarian-minded teachers.

But enough about why most people are unreceptive to true ideas. Even those who are receptive have substantial problems that need to be overcome – and most often are not overcome – in order for the truth to win. The seventh reason why the truth rarely wins is that most of the people who do understand it are content to merely contemplate it instead of actively promoting it. They might think that they are powerless to affect the actual course of affairs, and their sole recourse is simply the satisfaction of knowing that they are right while the world keeps senselessly punishing itself – or the satisfaction that at least they are not an active or enthusiastic part of “the system” that leads to bad outcomes. This, I regret to say, is not enough. Knowing that one is right without doing anything about it leads to the field of ideas and actions being wholly open to and dominated by the people who are wrong and whose ideas have dangerous consequences.

Everyone who knows even a shred of the truth wants to be a theorist and expound grand systems about what is or is not right. I know that I certainly do. I also know that theoretical work and continual refinement of theories are essential to any thriving movement for cultural and intellectual change. But while theory is necessary, it is not sufficient. Someone needs to do the often monotonous, often frustrating, often exhausting grunt work of implementing the theories in whatever manner his or her abilities and societal position allow. The free-market movement needs government officials who are willing to engage in pro-liberty reforms. But it also needs ordinary citizens who are willing to write, speak, and attempt to reach out to other people in innovative ways that might just be effective at persuading someone. To promote the truth effectively, a tremendously high premium needs to put on the people who actually apply the true ideas, as opposed to simply contemplating them.

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

“Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Allen Mendenhall Interviews Edward W. Younkins

“Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Allen Mendenhall Interviews Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance Hat
Allen Mendenhall and Edward W. Younkins
February 16, 2014
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This interview is reprinted with permission from Allen Mendenhall’s blog.

Read Mr. Stolyarov’s review of Dr. Younkins’s book, Exploring Capitalist Fiction.

***

AM:       Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.  I’d like to start by asking why you chose to write Exploring Capitalist Fiction.  Was there a void you were seeking to fill?

EY:          The origins of this book go back to the Spring of 1992 when I began teaching a course called Business Through Literature in Wheeling Jesuit University’s MBA program.  Exploring Capitalist Fiction is heavily based on my lectures and notes on the novels, plays, and films used in this popular course over the years and on what I have learned from my students in class discussions and in their papers.

The idea to write this book originated a few years ago when one of Wheeling Jesuit University’s MBA graduates, who had taken and enjoyed the Business Through Literature course, proposed that I write a book based on the novels, plays, and films covered in that course.  I agreed as I concluded that the subject matter was important and bookworthy and that the book would be fun for me to write and for others to read.  I went on to select twenty-five works to include in the book out of the more than eighty different ones that had been used in my course over the years.  I have endeavored to select the ones that have been the most influential, are the most relevant, and are the most interesting.  In a few instances, I have chosen works that I believe to be undervalued treasures.

I was not intentionally trying to fill a void as there are a number of similar books by fine authors such as Joseph A. Badaracco, Robert A. Brawer, Robert Coles, Emily Stipes Watts, and Oliver F. Williams, among others.  Of course, I did see my evenhanded study of business and capitalism in literature as a nice complement and supplement to these works.

AM:       I assume that you’ll use this book to teach your own courses, and I suspect other teachers will also use the book in their courses.  Anyone who reads the book will quickly understand the reason you believe that imaginative literature and film have pedagogical value in business courses, but would you mind stating some of those reasons for the benefit of those who haven’t read the book yet?

EY:          The underpinning premise of this book and of my course is that fiction, including novels, plays, and films, can be a powerful force to educate students and employees in ways that lectures, textbooks, articles, case studies, and other traditional teaching approaches cannot.  Works of fiction can address a range of issues and topics, provide detailed real-life descriptions of the organizational contexts in which workers find themselves, and tell interesting, engaging, and memorable stories that are richer and more likely to stay with the reader or viewer longer than lectures and other teaching approaches.  Imaginative literature can enrich business teaching materials and provide an excellent supplement to the theories, concepts, and issues that students experience in their business courses.  Reading novels and plays and watching films are excellent ways to develop critical thinking, to learn about character, and to instill moral values.  It is likely that people who read business novels and plays and watch movies about business will continue to search for more of them as sources of entertainment, inspiration, and education.

AM:       Who are the intended audiences for your new book?

EY:          My target audiences include college students, business teachers, general readers, and people employed in the business world.  My summaries and analyses of twenty-five works are intended to create the feel of what it is like to work in business.  The premise of the book is that fiction can provide a powerful teaching tool to sensitize business students without business experiences and to educate and train managers in real businesses.  Studying fictions of business can provide insights to often inexperienced business students and new employees with respect to real-life situations.

In each of my 25 chapters I provide a sequential summary of the fictional work, interspersed with some commentary that highlights the managerial, economic, and philosophical implications of the ideas found in the work.  My emphasis is on the business applications of the lessons of particular novels, plays, and films.  This book highlights the lessons that an individual can take from each work and apply to his or her own life.  It is not literary analysis for its own sake.

I do not delve deeply into these novels, plays, and films in order to identify previously-covered and previously-uncovered themes in existing scholarship.  My book is essentially a study guide for people interested in becoming familiar with the major relevant themes in significant works of literature and film.  The book can also serve as a guide for professors who desire to expand their teaching approaches beyond the traditional ones employed in schools of business.

Of course, literary scholars can use my book as a starting point, catalyst, or reference work for their own in-depth scholarly studies of these and other works.  For example, I can envision a number of scholars, from a variety of viewpoints, contributing essays to book collections devoted to different literary works.  One possible collection that readily comes to mind would be devoted to David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.  Other candidates for potential collections might include Howell’s The Rise of Silas Lapham, Norris’s The Octopus, Dreiser’s The Financer, Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky, Lewis’s Babbitt, Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Hawley’s Executive Suite, Lodge’s Nice Work, Sterner’s Other People’s Money, among others.  It would be great if some of the contributing literary scholars to these volumes would come from pro-business, pro-capitalist thinkers such as Paul Cantor, Stephen Cox, Ryan McMaken, Sarah Skwire, Amy Willis, Michelle Vachris, and yourself.  As you know most literary critics are from the left.  Those mentioned above celebrate individualism and freedom in place of collectivism and determinism.

AM:       What can be learned from business fiction?

EY:          Fiction can be used to teach, explicate, and illustrate a wide range of business issues and concepts.  Many fictional works address human problems in business such as managing interpersonal conflict and office politics; using different styles of management; the potential loss of one’s individuality as a person tends to become an “organization man”; the stultifying effect of routine in business; the difficulty in balancing work life and home life; hiring and keeping virtuous employees; maintaining one’s personal integrity while satisfying the company’s demands for loyalty, conformity and adaptation to the firm’s culture; communication problems a business may experience; fundamental moral dilemmas; depersonalization and mechanization of human relationships; and so on.  Fictional works tend to describe human behavior and motivations more eloquently, powerfully, and engagingly than texts, articles, or cases typically do.  Literary authors and filmmakers are likely to develop and present ideas through individual characters.  They depict human insights and interests from the perspective of individuals within an organizational setting.  Reading imaginative literature and watching films are excellent ways to develop critical thinking and to learn about values and character.

Many novels, plays, and films are concerned with the actual operation of the business system.  Some deal directly with business problems such as government regulation, cost control, new product development, labor relations, environmental pollution, health and safety, plant openings and closings, tactics used and selection of takeover targets, structuring financial transactions, succession planning, strategic planning, the creation of mission statements, the company’s role in the community, social responsibility, etc.  Assessing fictional situations makes a person more thoughtful, better prepared for situations, and better able to predict the consequences of alternative actions.  Fiction can address both matters of morality and practical issues.  There are many fine selections in literature and film which prompt readers to wrestle with business situations.

Older novels, plays, and films can supply information on the history of a subject or topic.  They can act as historical references for actual past instances and can help students to understand the reasons for successes and failures of the past.  Older literature can provide a good history lesson and can help people to understand the development of our various businesses and industries.  These stories can be inspiring and motivational and can demonstrate how various organizations and managers were able to overcome obstacles, adapt, and survive.  Fictional works are cultural artifacts from different time periods that can be valuable when discussing the history of business.  Many fictional works present history in a form that is more interesting than when one just reads history books.

Imaginative literature reflects a variety of cultural, social, ethical, political, economic, and philosophical perspectives that have been found in American society.  Various images of businessmen have appeared in fictional works.  These include the businessman as Scrooge-like miser, confidence man, robber baron, hero, superman, technocrat, organization man, small businessman, buffoon, rugged individualist, corporate capitalist, financial capitalist, man of integrity, etc.

AM:       How will your teaching approach change in your Business Through Literature course now that you have published your own book on the subject?

EY:          In the past students in this course have read, analyzed, and discussed novels, plays, and films.  Each student prepared a minimum of 6 short papers (2000 words each) on the assigned works.  Grades were based on these papers and class discussions.

I am experimenting this semester using my book in the class for the first time.  I am requiring each student to take notes on each chapter of the book to help them in bringing up topics for class discussion and in participating in class discussions.  Each student is also required to prepare and turn in three essay questions on each chapter.  These are turned in before each relevant class.  Grades for the class are based on class participation and two essay tests.

AM:       Isn’t the reverse also true that literature students ought to study economics or at least gain an understanding of business from something besides imaginative literature and film, which tend not to portray capitalists in a favorable light?

EY:          It would definitely be beneficial for literature students to study classes in business areas such as management, marketing, accounting, and finance.  It would help them somewhat if they took a course or two in economics.  Unfortunately, almost all college-level economics courses are based on Keynesian economics.  I would encourage anyone who takes such courses to read and study Austrian economics in order to gain a more realistic perspective.

AM:       You’ve written a great deal about Ayn Rand, and the chapter on Atlas Shrugged is the longest one in your book.  Rand can be a divisive figure, even, perhaps especially, among what you might call “libertarians” or “free marketers” or “capitalists” and the like.  But even the people in those categories who reject Objectivism tend to praise Rand’s novels.  What do you make of that, and do you think there’s a lesson there about the novel as a medium for transmitting philosophy?

EY:          I suspect that there are a lot of people like me who value “novels of ideas.”  There have been many good philosophical novels but none have been as brilliantly integrated and unified as Atlas Shrugged.  Rand characterizes grand themes and presents an entire and integrated view of how a man should live his life.  Rand’s great power comes from her ability to unify everything in the novel to form an integrated whole.  The theme and the plot are inextricably integrated.  Rand is a superb practitioner of synthesis and unity whose literary style and subject are organically linked and fused to the content of her philosophy.  She unifies the many aspects of Atlas Shrugged according to the principles of reality.  People from the various schools of “free-market” thought are in accord in promoting an appropriate reality-based social system in which each person is free to strive for his personal flourishing and happiness.

AM:       I want to ask about Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back, the subject of chapter twelve of your book.  Why do you think this book has not received much attention?  It has been, I’d venture to say, all but forgotten or overlooked by even the most ardent fans of Hazlitt.  Is the book lacking something, or are there other factors at play here?

EY:          Hazlitt’s novel may not be “literary” enough for many people.  However, in my opinion, the author does skillfully use fiction to illustrate his teachings on economics.  I think that the book also has a good story line.  Economics professors tend to shy away from using it in their classes.  Some may be so quantitatively oriented that they cannot envision using a novel to teach economics.  Others may perceive the Austrian economics principles found in Time Will Run Back to not fit in with the Keynesian economics principles found in most textbooks (and of course they are right).

AM:       Thank you again for doing this interview.  All the best in 2014.

Exploring_Capitalist_Fiction Edward W. Younkins. Exploring Capitalist Fiction:  Business Through Literature and Film. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014.

***

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at www.quebecoislibre.org. You can contact Dr. Younkins at younkins@wju.edu.

***

Allen Mendenhall is a writer, attorney, editor, speaker, and literary critic.  As of January 2013, he is a staff attorney for Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama.  He holds a B.A. in English from Furman University, M.A. in English from West Virginia University, J.D. from West Virginia University College of Law, and LL.M. in transnational law from Temple University Beasley School of Law.  He is a Ph.D. candidate at Auburn University, where he received a Graduate Dean Fellowship. He is managing editor of the Southern Literary Review and has been an adjunct legal associate at the Cato Institute as well as a Humane Studies Fellow with the Institute for Humane Studies in Arlington, Virginia.  He is a member of The Philadelphia Society and an associate of The Abbeville Institute and soon will serve as an ambassador for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

He has studied at the University of London (Birkbeck College), the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, Centro Universitario Vila Velha, Fundacao Getulio Vargas (Direito Rio), and the Tokyo campus of Temple University Beasley School of Law.

He is the author of over 100 publications in such outlets as law reviews, peer-reviewed journals, magazines, newspapers, literary journals and periodicals, and encyclopedias.  He lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife, Giuliana, and son, Noah, and blogs at The Literary Lawyer, The Literary Table, Austrian Economics and Literature, and TheMendenhall.

Putting Randomness in Its Place – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Putting Randomness in Its Place – Video by G. Stolyarov II

A widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “randomness” often results in false generalizations made regarding reality. In particular, the view of randomness as metaphysical, rather than epistemological, is responsible for numerous commonplace fallacies.

Reference
– “Putting Randomness in Its Place” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

Dead Models vs. Living Economics – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Dead Models vs. Living Economics – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
November 23, 2013
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Since 2008, straw-man versions of free-market economics have popped up whenever someone needs an easy villain. Keynes roared back to prominence, and it looks like this reaction might be gaining steam.

According to an article in The Guardian, students at a few British universities, prompted by “a leading academic,” are demanding that economics professors stop teaching what they refer to as “neoclassical free-market theories.”

Michael Joffe, an economics professor at Imperial College, said, “The aim should be to provide students with analysis based on the way the world works, not the way theories argue it ought to work.”

Joffe is right on that point. But his target is wrong: It’s not free-market economics that’s the problem, it’s the model of perfect competition that often gets conflated with free-market economics. A commenter on my recent columns addressing falsehoods about the free market (here and here) suggested I discuss this conflation.

I was thinking of putting it into a third “falsehoods” column. But the Guardian story makes me think the issue deserves more attention. Here’s the key passage:

The profession has been criticised for its adherence to models of a free market that claim to show demand and supply continually rebalancing over relatively short periods of time—in contrast to the decade-long mismatches that came ahead of the banking crash in key markets such as housing and exotic derivatives, where asset bubbles ballooned [emphasis added].

Why Do You Support the Free Market?

“Free-market economists,” on the other hand, typically have confidence in free markets owing to our understanding of economics, although we often (notoriously) disagree on exactly what the correct economics is. A number of free-market economists base their confidence on what is known as the model of “perfect competition.” Briefly, that model shows how in the long run the price of a good in a competitive market will equal the additional cost of producing a unit of that good (i.e., its marginal cost), and it shows that no one has the power to set prices on her own. How do you get those results? By making something like the following assumptions:

  1. Free entry: While buyers and sellers may incur costs to consume and to produce, there are no additional costs to enter or leave a market.
  2. Product homogeneity: From the point of view of any buyer in the market, the output of one seller is a perfect substitute for the output of any other seller.
  3. Many buyers and sellers: No single buyer or seller is large enough to independently raise or lower the market price.
  4. Perfect knowledge: All buyers and sellers have so much information that they will never regret any action they take.

From these assumptions you can derive not only marginal-cost pricing but also nice efficiency properties as well: There is no waste and costs are minimized. Which is why people like the model.

Moreover, for some important questions the analysis of supply and demand under perfect competition is quite useful. Push the legal minimum wage too high and you’ll generate unemployment; push the maximum rent-control rate too low and you’ll get housing shortages. Also, financial markets sometimes—though as we have seen, not always—conform to the predictions of perfect competition. It’s a robust theory in many ways, but if you base your support for the free market on the model of perfect competition, you’re on shaky ground. The evidence against it is pretty devastating.

Free Entry, Not Perfect Knowledge

In fact, it doesn’t even take the Panic of 2008 to shake up the model; any comparison of the model with everyday reality would do the job. Assumptions two and three about product homogeneity and many buyers and sellers are pretty unrealistic, but it’s the last assumption about perfect knowledge that’s the killer. (I’m aware of Milton Friedman’s “twist” (PDF), which argues that this is irrelevant and only predictions matter, but it’s a methodology I don’t agree with.) Markets are rarely if ever at or near equilibrium, and people with imperfect knowledge make disequilibrating mistakes, even without the kind of government intervention that caused the Panic of 2008.

When the institutions are right, however, people learn from the mistakes that they or others make, and there’s a theory of markets—certainly neither Keynesian nor Marxist—that fits the bill better than perfect competition.

It’s Austrian theory. Its practitioners argue competition is an entrepreneurial-competitive process (PDF). This theory not only says that competition exists in the presence of ignorance, error, and disequilibrium, it explains how profit-seeking entrepreneurs in a free market positively thrive in this environment. The principal assumption that the theory rests on, besides the existence of private property, is No. 1: free entry.

As long as there are no legal barriers to entry, if Jack wants to sell an apple for $1 and Jill is asking $2 for that same quality apple—that is, there is a disequilibrium here in which either Jack or Jill (or both) is making an error—you can profit by buying low from Jack and selling high to Jill’s customer, Lucy. If another entrepreneur, Linus, spots what you’re doing, he can bid up the price you’re giving Jack and bid down the price at which you’re selling to Lucy. Bottom line: A process of entrepreneurial competition tends to remove errors. There is no need to assume perfect knowledge to get a competitive outcome; instead, competition itself improves the level of knowledge.

So Joffe and the critics are wrong about the theory. You don’t knock out the theoretical legs from under the free market by “debunking” the model of perfect competition. He is also wrong about the history. As I’ve referenced many times, economists Steve Horwitz and Pete Boettke have documented how a government-led, interventionist dynamic, and not the free market, led to the Panic of 2008.

Joffe, the Imperial College professor, “called for economics courses to embrace the teachings of Marx and Keynes to undermine the dominance of neoclassical free-market theories.” He also complains that “there is a lot that is taught on [sic] economics courses that bears little relation to the way things work in the real world.” I agree. But that complaint would apply at least as much to the Keynesian and Marxian economics he hypes as to the static, equilibrium-based models of competition he slams.

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.
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This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.
Review of Edward W. Younkins’s “Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Review of Edward W. Younkins’s “Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 12, 2013
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Exploring Capitalist Fiction, a new volume of literary analysis by Dr. Edward W. Younkins, offers perceptive, relevant, and engaging commentaries on 25 works of fiction which portray the business world and its relationship to all areas of human life. The novels, plays, and films featured in the book span 125 years of literary culture – from The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) by William Dean Howells to the 2010 Oliver Stone film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. This volume offers thorough coverage of both works that portray heroic entrepreneurs and economic liberty in a positive light – such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Garet Garrett’s The Driver, and Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back – as well as works that are more critical of the business world – including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Frank Norris’s The Octopus, and the Wall Street films. In each of his essays, Younkins provides a sequential summary of the fictional work, interspersed with commentary that highlights the philosophical and economic implications of major elements and integrates them with the historical context of the time period in which the work takes place.

Younkins is to be commended for emphasizing the value of fiction as a teaching tool for both students of business and individuals immersed in the business world. A thorough reading of the book’s Conclusion is highly recommended for attaining an understanding of the unique ability of fiction to communicate memorable lessons rooted in specific, richly detailed situations which render the conflicts, dilemmas, and options faced by individuals in the business world more palpable and engaging than would a sole reliance on lectures, case studies, and outlines of business and economic concepts. In addition, the Conclusion offers a fast-paced chronological overview of many more fictional works which address business themes and which have made their mark on the world of artistic culture.

As with his previous volumes, where Dr. Younkins provided integrated presentations of the thoughts of great philosophers and economists throughout the centuries, this book provides a refreshing focus on human flourishing and the application of the lessons of particular novels, plays, and films toward the improvement of both one’s own condition and the degree of prosperity found in the broader economy. This is not literary analysis for its own sake, but rather a book that highlights the lessons an individual can take from each great work and apply to his or her own life.

Younkins combines his support for free markets, entrepreneurial innovation, individualism, reason, and moral responsibility with an ability to point out the many valuable insights in those works which criticize capitalism as conventionally understood. He utilizes the insights of Austrian economics and his extensive knowledge of economic history to show how the bleak portrayals of businessmen and the business world in these books stem from the consequences of situations where the principles of honest free commerce and individual rights were violated. When critics of capitalism express their objections through fiction, they inevitably portray situations where fraud, corruption, morally questionable manipulation, corporatist special privileges, thoughtless conformity, and zero-sum thinking are involved. All of these are indeed negative attributes from the standpoints of free markets and rational philosophy as well, and Younkins’s analysis shows that the works of the critics do make valid points – provided that one understands that the system they are criticizing is the one that has actually prevailed in the Western world over the past century. This is the system which mixes aspects of capitalist free enterprise with significant aspects of corporatist cronyism as well as central planning. It is a system quite different from the free-market capitalism advocated by Henry Hazlitt, Garet Garrett, and Ayn Rand. Indeed, in Atlas Shrugged, the protagonists go on strike precisely against this sort of cronyist system, though one that is farther-gone than our own. In Tucker: The Man and His Dream, an excellent movie to which Younkins devotes  a chapter, this is also the system which attempts to suppress a genuine forward-thinking capitalist innovator, Preston Tucker, through the use of political force, motivated by the lobbying of the staid Big Three automobile companies.

For readers of all persuasions, Exploring Capitalist Fiction is an excellent means to appreciate the richness and variety of fictional portrayals of business, especially since the Second Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. The book offers a concise introduction to many works and endeavors to motivate readers to seek out and experience the original novels, plays, and films. Hopefully, it will inspire many people to explore these great works of fiction, as it has already inspired me on multiple occasions.

Disclosure: The author received a free copy of the book in advance of publication.

Bookstore Wars: Creativity versus Scale – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Bookstore Wars: Creativity versus Scale – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
August 22, 2013
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Independent bookstores appear to be making a comeback after several years of decline. As reported by MSNBC, the number of independent bookstores has risen significantly.

Some 1,000 independent bookstores went out of business between 2000 and 2007, according to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), as consumers turned to online buying, downloading e-books, or flocking to Barnes & Noble and (now defunct) Borders. But the ABA said that since 2009, the number of independent bookstores has risen 19 percent, to 1,971.

If my arithmetic is right, that still means the industry hasn’t rebounded to where it was in 2000 (about 2,600 stores), but it’s not bad. Meanwhile e-book sales, which had been rising at triple-digit rates, have evidently lost a bit of steam, last year growing at about 5 percent overall.

These facts perhaps illustrate two important lessons:  First, the scale of a business’s operations is not the same thing as its competitiveness; and second, the kind of competition that counts in free markets has much less to do with efficiency than with creativity.  Selling books and digital media in massive volume seems to make firms sluggish in addressing customer preferences for more personalized service and responsiveness.

Efficiency and Scale Are Important

Free-market economists are typically painted by friends and foes alike as cheerleaders for efficiency. Indeed, many economists do tout efficiency as the prime virtue of the free market, keeping prices low and employment high. In standard economics, efficiency refers to using the lowest-cost means to reach a given end.

If Jack is in New York and wants to be in Philadelphia, then among the alternative means available to him—walking, boating, flying, driving, or taking the train—efficiency implies that Jack chooses the one that minimizes the cost to him of getting to Philadelphia. In manufacturing, the production process that, other things equal, produces a given rate of output at the lowest cost is the efficient one.

(Note:  Cost, like benefit, always refers to the cost to someone of doing something.  Sometimes the chooser experiences the costs, sometimes someone else does, but neither costs nor benefits are ever disembodied.)

One form of efficiency is economies of scale. Economies of scale occur when using more of all inputs (scaling up) increases output so much that the cost per unit of output falls. (In econ-speak that’s when the long-run average-cost curve slopes downward.) Critics pick up on this and argue that the free market therefore necessarily favors big businesses over small businesses because the bigger a firm is, the more efficient in terms of unit costs it tend to be, and that allows it to charge lower prices and drive smaller firms out of the market.

But Not as Important as Competition

That story, however, only looks at the relative efficiencies of existing firms and markets. If the fundamental goal is to improve the well-being of people as they see it, then you have to pay more attention to competition, particularly entrepreneurial competition. In that sense, competition trumps efficiency (as Israel M. Kirzner has explained).

That’s because, again, efficiency means choosing from among given alternatives the one that achieves a given goal at the lowest cost. Where the standard economic concept of efficiency falls short is that in the real world neither ends nor means are simply given to anyone. Ends and means, outputs and inputs, have at some point to be discovered by someone. Yes, efficiency is a good thing, like having a clean and orderly workplace, but it’s entrepreneurship in the competitive process that does the heavy lifting of finding the work to be done and putting you in a position to do it.

The resurgence of independent bookshops in the face of book megastores, I think, is an example of how creative competition overcomes the scale efficiency of providing a particular product. There’s nothing inherently wrong or uncompetitive about megastores or inherently virtuous about small businesses. Big and small businesses have their niches, whether online or in brick-and-mortar shops. But central to the competitive process is the ability, whatever your size, to be aware of changing circumstances and to adjust appropriately to them. The MSNBC article quotes an independent bookseller as saying, “We learned how to get books that people couldn’t find online, and to cater as much as we could to the customer. When a customer walks in, we try to make them feel wanted and at home.”

Scale economies in both the online and brick-and-mortar parts of the industry do little to win over customers who prefer personalized service or the intangibles of local businesses. Independent bookstores are more flexible, for example, at staging readings of local authors and other neighborhood events. The giant bookseller Borders Books, one of the pioneers of book retailing, apparently didn’t do a good job adjusting and closed a couple of years ago (I wrote about it here). Today Barnes & Noble scrambles to cope with competition from the e-book, Amazon.com, and, it seems, local bookshops.

While the diminished growth of e-book sales is hardly a harbinger of decline—5 percent is nothing to sneeze at—it does suggest that sometimes the demand side of the market doesn’t change quite as fast as the supply side—that is, a lot of innovation is just discovering better ways to satisfy fairly stable tastes. Still, it’s competition—for new markets, new techniques, new resources, and yes, new tastes—and not efficiency that drives, and is driven by, the creative discovery of ends and of means.

The Lesson Applied

The other day a friend told me that, when she told her fiancé she couldn’t understand why a mildly alcoholic beverage called “Chu-hi,” which is very popular in Japan, isn’t sold in stores here, his response was something like, “If there were a demand for it, it would be.” Knowing that I write this column she then said to me, “That’s the free market, right?”

Okay, class, what do you say?

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.
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This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.