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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Unemployment rates are lower and wages are higher in right-to-work states

Map of right-to-work states: Michigan is #24

Map of right-to-work states: Michigan is #24

Previously, we saw that unemployment rates in right-to-work states were MUCH lower than in states that force workers to join unions and pay union dues in order to work.

Curtis sent me this article from Investors Business Daily, which looks at whether wages are lower in states that have right-to-work laws.

Excerpt:

The president says right-to-work laws mean “the right to work for less money.” So how does he explain the fact that incomes are up in RTW states while forced unionism is a proven job killer?

Campaigning Monday in Michigan as it stood poised to become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state, President Obama spoke the exact opposite of the truth to union workers at a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in the birthplace of organized labor.

Is Obama telling the truth?

Let’s see:

According to Michigan’s Mackinac Center, using data taken from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labor Statistics, private-sector, inflation-adjusted employee compensation in right-to-work states increased by 12% between 2001 and 2011 compared with just 3% over the same period in forced-unionization states.

These good wages came from good jobs. Employment in right-to-work states expanded 2.4% over the same stretch vs. a 3.4% decline in non-right-to-work states. Ironically, Obama is taking credit for jobs created in RTW states.

According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, right-to-work states (excluding Indiana, which passed a RTW law in early 2012) “were responsible for 72% of all net household job growth across the U.S. from June 2009 through September 2012.”

This is why people vote with their feet and move to these states. RTW states experienced large population gains of 15.3% from 2000 to 2010, compared to 5.9% in non-RTW states.

Obama did get one thing right, though, when he said the bills that passed both houses of the Michigan legislature “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics.”

The president who fought Boeing’s expansion in RTW South Carolina knows it’s all about his keeping union dues flowing into Democratic coffers and maintaining the plush lifestyles of the union leaders who support him.

The right thing for Republicans to do when they get elected is to cut off all sources of funding for the Democrat Party. Right-to-work laws and school choice promote freedom and diminish the amount of power that left-wing, pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage labor unions can exert. They will have less money, and with less money, they will have less influence on elections. Let the people decide, not the powerful, corrupt labor unions.

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Michigan governor Rick Snyder signs right-to-work bill into law

Map of right-to-work states: Michigan is #24

Map of right-to-work states: Michigan is #24

It’s official – Michigan has enacted a new right-to-work law that will create more jobs and free workers from having to violate their consciences by forcibly supporting pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage policies via their mandatory union dues.

Here’s an interesting article by Byron York in the Washington Examiner, discussing the political significance of this development.

Excerpt:

Republicans say the move would not only give current workers the freedom to choose whether to join a union and pay dues but would, more importantly, bring many, many new jobs to Michigan. Rep. Gov. Rick Snyder, who supports the bill, points out that Indiana enacted (after a long and bitter fight) the same kind of law earlier this year. “We’ve carefully watched what’s gone on in Indiana since they passed similar legislation back in February,” Snyder told Fox News’ Greta van Susteren last week, “and they’ve seen a significant increase in the number of companies talking about [bringing] thousands of jobs to their state.”

Of course, the move is not just economic. It’s political, too. Democrats depend on millions — actually, billions — of dollars in support from the forced dues of union members. If that money supply were to dry up, or even just decrease, the Democratic Party would be in serious trouble.

De-funding the unions is the first step to education reform. And Michigan students need education reform very badly. Even 40% of the union workers – who are much more sensible and patriotic than the union bosses – agree with the new law:

Regardless of news reports, the people of Michigan are behind this. A recent poll showed that 51 percent of Michigan voters support right-to-work. Only 41 percent are opposed. In fact, 40 percent of union households supported it. In November, Michigan voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the state constitution to prevent the legislature from passing a right-to-work law and elevated union contracts above state law. The New York Times called it “a test case on enshrining the rights of unions,” and unions spent more than $23 million campaigning for the initiative. It lost by 15 points.

[...][M]aking union dues voluntary makes union organizers less aggressive—they get less financial benefit from organizing new firms, because they cannot force workers to pay them. Union organizing attempts drop 40 percent to 50 percent after states pass a right-to-work law. That in turn attracts business investment. Employers want to know unions will leave them alone if they treat their workers well. As a result, right-to-work states have lower unemployment rates—and more manufacturing jobs.

CNS News reports that only 7% of Detroit public school 8th graders can read at proficiency level.

Excerpt:

In the public schools in Detroit, Mich., according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 7 percent of the eighth graders are grade-level proficient or better in reading.

Some public school teachers in the City of Detroit and around the state of Michigan are reportedly taking a vacation or a sick day today to protest right-to-work legislation likely to be approved by the state legislature. Under current law, Michigan public school teachers must pay dues to the teachers’ union. If the right-to-work law is enacted, Michigan public-school teachers will be free to join the union and pay dues to it if they wish, but they will also be free not to join the union and not to pay it dues.

Detroit public-school eighth graders do even worse in math than they do in reading, according to the Department of Education. While only 7 percent scored highly enough on the department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress test in 2011 to be rated “proficient” or better in reading, only 4 percent scored highly enough to be rated “proficient” or better in math.

Statewide in Michigan, only 32 percent of public-school eighth graders scored grade-level proficient or better in reading, and only 31 percent scored grade-level proficient or better in math.

According to this report, over 26,000 students missed school because of the “sick day” protest by the teachers.

Here’s a video of what happens at the protests:

The actual unemployment rate of right-to-work states is 6.7%. Compare that with the 8.7% unemployment rate of forced-unionism states. Jobs are the number one priority right now, and right-to-work means more jobs.

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Michigan approves right-to-work law for private sector unions

Map of right-to-work states: Michigan is #24

Map of right-to-work states: Michigan is #24

Dad sent me this article from Fox News, which reports on how Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state.

Excerpt:

Republicans rushed right-to-work legislation through the Michigan Legislature Thursday, drawing raucous protests from hundreds of union supporters, some of whom were pepper-sprayed by police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.

With six-vote margins in both chambers, the House and Senate approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees. The Senate was debating a similar bill, with Democrats denouncing it as an attack on worker rights and the GOP sponsor insisting it would boost the economy and jobs. Separate legislation dealing with public-sector unions was expected to come later.

Because of rules requiring a five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment appears unlikely until next week. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously had said repeatedly that right-to-work was “not on my agenda,” told reporters Thursday he would sign the measures.

[...]In an interview with The Associated Press, Snyder said he had kept the issue at arm’s length while pursuing other programs to bolster the state economy. But he said circumstances had pushed the matter to the forefront.

“It is a divisive issue,” he acknowledged. “But it was already being divisive over the past few weeks, so let’s get this resolved. Let’s reach a conclusion that’s in the best interests of all.”

Also influencing his decision, he said, were reports that some 90 companies had decided to locate in Indiana since that state adopted right-to-work legislation. “That’s thousands of jobs, and we want to have that kind of success in Michigan,” he said.

Do right-to-work states create more jobs than forced-union-dues states, like the Republican governor says?

The radically left-wing Washington Post takes a look at it:

The Facts

We searched the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site to find data on each state’s non-farm, seasonally adjusted employment during the past 10 years. Just as Romney said, right-to-work states have better employment numbers on the whole.

Romney’s camp relied on numbers from the BLS household survey. The data, which his team compiled in July, show that right-to-work states experienced a net gain of 3.6 million jobs during the past decade, while “union states” saw a net loss of 900,000 jobs over the same time span.

The updated BLS numbers are right here.

Unions are a Democrat constituency, and that means that unions support abortion and gay marriage. It is wrong that unions are able to force socially conservative workers to pay dues that are used to elect pro-abortion and anti-marriage leftists. Right-to-work laws protect workers from being forced to support causes that violate their consciences. They can pay the dues if they want to, but they don’t have to. You shouldn’t have to support abortion and gay marriage just so you can work.

Now ask yourself another question. Why would Democrats want to prevent job creation? Could it be that they want more people to be dependent on government for their daily bread, so that they can control them and coerce them into voting for bigger government?

Democrats are the party of dependence, debt and unemployment. They hate jobs, they hate business. That’s why we have seen an explosion of debt, unemployment, taxes and regulations over the last four years, with more to come in the next four. You can’t argue with these numbers, and no amount of spirited teleprompter-reading will change what actually works. And what actually doesn’t work.

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