Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Jay Richards: eight common myths about wealth, poverty and the free market

Have you read Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed and God?” Because if you haven’t, he’s written a series of articles that summarize the main points of the book.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

On this view, what you really need to fear as a consumer is government intervention that restricts your choices in the marketplace.

Free trade in the real world

This is not a theoretical problem, either. Millions of people in the Ukraine are protesting against Vladimir Putin and his restrictive Russian policies in order to get more economic freedom by signing a free trade deal with the European Union.

Rick Pearcey posted about it on the Pearcey Report: (H/T Nancy Pearcey)

France24.com reports:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters swarmed Ukraine’s capital Kiev on Sunday, where the country’s opposition leaders urged them to continue heaping pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich to sack his government and abandon plans for closer ties with Russia.

Many of the demonstrators who gathered at the city’s central Independence Square are furious with the government over its decision to back out of a historic agreement with the European Union in favour of a possible trade deal with Russia, Ukraine’s Soviet-era ruler.

The protest . . . is just the latest sign of mounting tensions in Ukraine over the past two weeks, raising fears over the country’s political and economic stability.

That’s a real crisis: freedom-loving people fighting for their right to be prosperous by adopting the economic policies that produce wealth.

If you care about poverty, it’s often tempting to think that it can only be solved one way – by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. But that is a very mistaken view, as any economist will tell you. The right way to create prosperity is by creating laws and policies that unleash individual creativity. Letting individuals create innovative products and services, letting them keep what they earn, making sure that the law doesn’t punish entrepreneurs – that incentivizes wealth creation. Fixing poverty does not mean transferring wealth, it means giving people more freedom to create wealth on their own. Free trade between nations is an important way that we encourage people to create better products and services that what they have available in their own countries.

Economists agree on the benefits of free trade

Who could possibly disagree with free trade? Well, many people on the left do. They favor imposing restrictions on free trade. For example, people on the left favor making those who import goods pay tariffs, which makes it harder to trade with other nations. People on the left want to pass rent control laws to block landlords and tenants from trading more freely. People on the left want to pass minimum wage laws that block employers and workers from trading wages for labor more freely. But economists generally don’t agree with any of restrictions on free trade. In fact, even across the ideological spectrum, the majority of economists view free trade as a wealth creating policy, and restrictions on free trade as a wealth destroying policy.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw explains what most professional economists agree on.

Excerpt:

Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

Now when you are talking to a Democrat, you are talking to someone who disagrees with most or all of those common sense economic policies. For example, Obama’s backers in the labor movement inevitably endorse higher import tariffs, which discourage free trade between countries. No economist supports these tariffs on imports, because history has shown (e.g. – Smoot-Hawley Act) that tariffs destroy economic growth and reduce wealth creation. And that’s what I mean when I talk about economic illiteracy – I mean ignoring what we know from economics and our own experience with bad policies when we make policy.

Democrat economic policies don’t work because they are making policies that are based on economic myths. We know that these myths are myths because of economics is a mathematical science, and because we have tried good and bad policies in different times and places. We have calculations and we have experience to know what works and what doesn’t work. If you want to help the poor, you have to respect what economists know about how wealth is created. The solution is not to “spread the wealth around”, it’s to encourage people to create more wealth by inventing things that people freely choose to buy.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

American Spectator praises Australia’s bold new conservative leader

Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia

Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia

Well, I think we can get some encouragement from this article from the American Spectator.

Let’s take a look at his policies and appointments:

On economic policy, his government has moved in the opposite direction of those who favor Dodd-Frank-like behemoth approaches to the financial industry. Instead it’s opted to simplify regulation. As the minister responsible for the reform bluntly pointed out, “no amount of legislation will ever be a guarantee against another Storm Financial.” Indeed it’s often excessive regulation that creates opportunities for financial shenanigans by industry insiders.

Regarding the welfare state, Abbott’s minister for Social Security, Kevin Andrews (another conservative politician-thinker), has announced a major overhaul of a welfare system that was starting to drift in a distinctly European-direction. Predictably the left are up in arms. But so too are those rent-seeking Australian businesses who now find themselves dealing with a government uninterested in subsidizing them. That’s nothing, however, to the fury that greeted Abbott’s disbanding of the climate-change bureaucracy established by the preceding Labor government.

[...]The first sign of Abbott’s seriousness about obstructing the left’s long march through the institutions was his government’s appointment of the policy-director of the center-right Institute of Public Affairs to the nation’s Human Rights Commission. This was widely seen as the beginning of an effort to re-balance an organization long criticized as monolithically left-wing. Since then Abbott has indicated that major changes are coming to the ABC: Australia’s government-funded institutional — and ideological — equivalent of the BBC.

[...]Along the same lines, Abbott’s education minister, Christopher Pyne, has initiated a review of the national curriculum implemented by the previous government. A moment’s glance at the curriculum’s treatment of history soon illustrates the extent to which it seeks to downplay Australia’s indisputably Western heritage. In the words of Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell, “Europe, Britain and the United States are mentioned 76 times, while Asia is referred to on more than 200 occasions.” This disparity is odd because although Australia is certainly in Asia, no objective observer could say that Australia is “of” Asia. Moreover, while Australian students learn about “Gaia” and other deep-green fantasies in grade 9, many Australian universities find they need to put the same students through remedial English classes once they begin college.

Then there are Abbott’s initial steps on the international stage. Take, for instance, his recent remarks at Davos. Much of the address was devoted to pushing a strong free trade agenda and insisting that governments should let business do what it does best: promote lasting economic growth. “After all,” Abbott said, “government doesn’t create wealth; people do, when they run profitable businesses.”

In the same speech, however, Abbott made the conservative point that economic prosperity and freedom can’t be sustained in a value-neutral world. Nor did Abbott shy away from relentlessly pressing one of the most important moral arguments for free trade articulated long ago by Adam Smith: that economic freedom, combined with the right institutions, radically reduces poverty faster than any other approach. “No country,” Abbott added, “has ever taxed or subsidized its way to prosperity.”

All in all, the address added up to a solid integration of sound economics with conservative principles. That’s what makes Abbott different from, say, Canada’s Stephen Harper or Spain’s Mariano Rajoy. Abbott happily engages in the indispensable task of moral suasion in favor of conservative positions. What’s more, he’s quite good at it. With his rare combination of plain-speaking and intellectual substance, Abbott makes conservative ideas sound, well, reasonable to the average voter.

Now, I personally thought that prime minister Stephen Harper of Canada was the best leader of any nation out there, but I had not been following Australian politics as much as I should be, and now I think I’ll give the crown to Abbott. He seems to have a good fusionist view that integrates economic policy and social policy, and that makes him better than Harper, in my view. I would like to see Abbott flex his muscles on foreign policy, as well. Something to look forward to.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jay Richards: eight common myths about wealth, poverty and free enterprise

Have you read Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed and God?” Because if you haven’t, he’s written a series of articles that summarize the main points of the book.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

On this view, what you really need to fear as a consumer is government intervention that restricts your choices in the marketplace.

Free trade in the real world

This is not a theoretical problem, either. Millions of people in the Ukraine are protesting against Vladimir Putin and his restrictive Russian policies in order to get more economic freedom by signing a free trade deal with the European Union.

Rick Pearcey posted about it on the Pearcey Report: (H/T Nancy Pearcey)

France24.com reports:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters swarmed Ukraine’s capital Kiev on Sunday, where the country’s opposition leaders urged them to continue heaping pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich to sack his government and abandon plans for closer ties with Russia.

Many of the demonstrators who gathered at the city’s central Independence Square are furious with the government over its decision to back out of a historic agreement with the European Union in favour of a possible trade deal with Russia, Ukraine’s Soviet-era ruler.

The protest . . . is just the latest sign of mounting tensions in Ukraine over the past two weeks, raising fears over the country’s political and economic stability.

That’s a real crisis: freedom-loving people fighting for their right to be prosperous by adopting the economic policies that produce wealth.

If you care about poverty, it’s often tempting to think that it can only be solved one way – by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. But that is a very mistaken view, as any economist will tell you. The right way to create prosperity is by creating laws and policies that unleash individual creativity. Letting individuals create innovative products and services, letting them keep what they earn, making sure that the law doesn’t punish entrepreneurs – that incentivizes wealth creation. Fixing poverty does not mean transferring wealth, it means giving people more freedom to create wealth on their own. Free trade between nations is an important way that we encourage people to create better products and services that what they have available in their own countries.

Economists agree on the benefits of free trade

Who could possibly disagree with free trade? Well, many people on the left do. They favor imposing restrictions on free trade. For example, people on the left favor making those who import goods pay tariffs, which makes it harder to trade with other nations. People on the left want to pass rent control laws to block landlords and tenants from trading more freely. People on the left want to pass minimum wage laws that block employers and workers from trading wages for labor more freely. But economists generally don’t agree with any of restrictions on free trade. In fact, even across the ideological spectrum, the majority of economists view free trade as a wealth creating policy, and restrictions on free trade as a wealth destroying policy.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw explains what most professional economists agree on.

Excerpt:

Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

Now when you are talking to a Democrat, you are talking to someone who disagrees with most or all of those common sense economic policies. For example, Obama’s backers in the labor movement inevitably endorse higher import tariffs, which discourage free trade between countries. No economist supports these tariffs on imports, because history has shown (e.g. – Smoot-Hawley Act) that tariffs destroy economic growth and reduce wealth creation. And that’s what I mean when I talk about economic illiteracy – I mean ignoring what we know from economics and our own experience with bad policies when we make policy.

Democrat economic policies don’t work because they are making policies that are based on economic myths. We know that these myths are myths because of economics is a mathematical science, and because we have tried good and bad policies in different times and places. We have calculations and we have experience to know what works and what doesn’t work. If you want to help the poor, you have to respect what economists know about how wealth is created. The solution is not to “spread the wealth around”, it’s to encourage people to create more wealth by inventing things that people freely choose to buy.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse lectures on basic economics

Here is a podcast on basic economics from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse.

About the speaker:

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the founder and President of the Ruth Institute — a project of the National Organization for Marriage — which seeks to promote life-long married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage.

She is also the Senior Research Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

She is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, (2005) and Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (2001), recently reissued in paperback, as Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village.

Dr. Morse served as a Research Fellow for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution from 1997-2005. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Rochester in 1980 and spent a postdoctoral year at the University of Chicago during 1979-80. She taught economics at Yale University and George Mason University for 15 years.

The MP3 file is here.

Topics:

  • The study of economics is anti-postmodern – there is objective truth independent of what people think
  • The study of economics believes in fixed principles of human nature
  • Economics studies the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses
  • Economics studies how people exchange resources
  • How both people who engage in a voluntary trade always believe that they will be better off
  • How both people who engage in a voluntary trade both benefit from the exchange
  • How incentives motivate people to act
  • Understanding supply and demand
  • Understanding how “free” government services are rationed
  • Understanding opportunity costs
  • How prices signal producers to produce more or less, and consumers to buy or not buy
  • Market-driven prices versus price controls
  • The role of substitution
  • The necessity of allowing failure in a free market

The requirements of economic growth:

  • private property
  • contracts
  • the profit motive
  • competition
  • free trade
  • entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation
  • the rule of law

If you want to learn more about basic economics, I recommend picking up a book or two by Thomas Sowell – the first book I usually give away is “Intellectuals and Society”, and then next “Basic Economics”.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Conservative Christian Tony Abbott wins majority in Australia

Tony Abbott, future Prime Minister of Australia

Tony Abbott, future Prime Minister of Australia

Timothy Stanley of the UK Telegraph reports that Australia has elected a Stephen Harper of their own.

Excerpt:

Tony Abbott has won the Australian election – a blow not only to the Australian Labor Party but to Left-wingers everywhere who presumed that he was too “Neanderthal” to win. Well, us Neanderthals will be having a barbie tonight and sculling some beers to celebrate. “Good on yer, mate!”

Abbott won for two reasons. First, the Australian Labor Party is going through a long-term identity crisis. The ALP was once the party of the working man (and Sheila) but in recent years it’s succumbed to the worst aspects of factional politics, becoming a magnet for liberal pressure groups desperate for their slice of the taxpayers’ pie. The party contained plenty of factions in the past but it always managed to steer a sensible middle course between them – so while it was the ALP in the 1970s that established Australia as an outward-looking, Pacific power it was also the ALP in the 1980s that recognised the need for economic reform and rejected protectionism. It’s the party of both Gough Whitlam and Les Patterson.

However, in recent years the Left gained an ascendance over the Right that undid that delicate balance. Under Gillard and Rudd, the ALP “bought” off Australia’s metropolitan elites by embracing issues like gay marriage and the green agenda – the latter threatening the livelihoods of ordinary Australians trying to drill, mine and log their way through the global recession. It invested in silly, expensive projects that turned into giveaways to client companies and unions. And it displayed all of its internal bickering in public, reducing national politics to student union shenanigans. The ALP is now severed from the base that it once represented so well, leaving the ordinary blokes and blokesses looking around for something new.

[...]On the quiet, Abbott has picked up some of the politics that the ALP abandoned. He is said to be a devotee of BA Santamaria, the Catholic thinker who tried to build a Christian Democratic movement that combined social justice and social conservatism. Abbott’s conservatism is plain to see: he rejects doctrinaire environmentalism and favours a far freer and competitive market than the ALP’s clients would ever tolerate. But he also has Santamaria’s concern for social justice: Abbott wants to introduce a scheme that would pay for parental leave to encourage mothers and fathers not only to spend more time with their children but to have more of them, too. Dig beneath that hard man image and you’ll find a politician who is considerably softer and complex. Whereas some Western conservatives seem to be entirely motivated by the desire to win (Romney, Cameron), Abbott has a philosophy and – almost unique in our materialist age – a theology.

This puts him in the George W Bush, Stephen Harper compassionate conservative tradition – the tradition that tends to attract the most votes. For while British Tories might look at Abbott’s politics and language and sneer, they would do well to remember this important distinction. Tony Abbott wins elections; David Cameron has yet to do even that.

Congratulations, Conservative Coalition!

My previous post on Tony Abbott is here, if you want to know more about his policies.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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