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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Case Against Well Regulated Economies...

...can be summed up in one chart:

Credit: Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing

Not a whole lot of socialism was happening when the world exploded from universal poverty two centuries ago.  Note that the most free market during the period also had the most growth.

This post is stimulated due to the comments on this post.

99 comments:

Harry Eagar said...

The explosion was due to technique. The leader, Britain, notoriously (to those few who study economic history) started declining relative to semi-socialist Germany, in 1870, though that was the height of its commitment to free trade.

(Whether the trade was really free is an issue too complex to handle here, but you should know that free trade with England did not work out so well in Latin America or India.)

Harry Eagar said...

I guess I should mention -- this will, I suppose, surprise you -- that the stellar performer in that graph was protected by punishing discriminatory tariffs.

erp said...

Harry, discrimatory tariffs only work for a short while ... until they put everyone else out of business, then with no more competition, prices soar*.

*or someone figures out a substitute for the product or the industry leaves the building.

The reason free trade is such a complicated issue for you is that is works for the benefit of all and that goes against your most cherished delusions of a well-regulated economy and evil bosses in top hats whipping workers, preferably small children, to death.

India benefited from their English experience and most Indians are educated and speak English. I look to India to take the lead in Asia and very soon. They're savvy enough to learn from the mistakes of their fellow Asians.

Indians also weren't corrupted by Jesuit socialists who swarmed all over South America setting the stage for a meek and compliant population and supporting the strong man of the moment as long as he doesn't interfere with them -- sorta like the deal the church made with Hitler, Mussolini ... .

Howard said...

Of course if we wish to take the free trade/protectionism analysis more than a micron deep:

"Second, Chang misrepresents the place of free trade in the overall package of institutions and policies supported by free market economics. The classical liberal case has never been that international trade is the engine of development per se but that free trade offers an extension of the benefits provided by domestic market oriented policies – such as improvements in the security of property rights, largely private ownership of industry and a broad reliance on competition rather than central planning. Free trade can extend the benefits of these policies and may be especially important for smaller countries that have very limited scope for internal trade. Recognising this perspective is crucial when separating correlation from causation in understanding development outcomes. The fact that Britain and especially the USA had protection in place during industrialisation does not imply that it was the protection that caused the growth. Rather, the negative effect of protection may have been more than offset by other policies – such as improved security of property rights, low taxes, low government spending, and strong internal competition. Thus, though it pursued an external policy that was often highly protectionist, nineteenth century America also benefited from the creation of an enormous internal free trade zone where the free movement of goods, labour and capital enabled gains from trade across a massive territorial area.

Significantly, Chang fails to acquaint his readers with any of the empirical literature that has sought to decipher the causal role of protection in development relative to other factors. Douglas Irwin and Stephen Broadberry, in particular, have questioned the role of tariffs by showing convincingly that the sectors of the US economy that were supposed to benefit most from ‘infant industry’ protection did not in fact experience strong growth. Thus, at the time the US overtook Britain in the nineteenth century it did so largely by increasing labour productivity in the service sector – and not through gains in protected sectors of manufacturing industry. Similarly, high growth in Argentina and Canada in the late nineteenth century was largely due to growth outside the specific industries which were supposed to benefit from import tariffs. Protection in Britain meanwhile – notably the Corn Laws, actually slowed the industrialisation process by preventing the transfer of resources out of agriculture and into industry. *"

see here

Harry Eagar said...

Howard, do you understand that in the 19th c.,the US governments spent massive amounts on internal improvements?

If the external tariffs did not benefit selected industries, they surely harmed consumers in ag, which was over half the population.

And we could look at Germany, which with government backing'picked winners' in chemicals and electric industries, although the innoative breakthroughs came in England.

The usual explanation is that England failed to invest ineducation while Germany socialized education and health.

In thelong run, England nearly starved because it destroyed its farmers.

I am amused that erp thinks most Indians speak English.

Howard said...

...,the US governments spent massive amounts on internal improvements?

Yep, indeed, plenty of it crony style. Even more was funded privately from domestic and foreign sources, especially England.

erp said...

Most Indians who are educated speak English. Do you disagree?

Annoying Old Guy said...

What was the percent of GDP with which the 19th Century US government "spent massive amounts"? How does that compare to percent of GDP spent now? Which era had higher growth?

Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "The explosion was due to technique."

Yes.

The question is why then?

The answer certainly has nothing to do with socialism since it wasn't yet invented.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "...do you understand that in the 19th c.,the US governments spent massive amounts on internal improvements?"

The total government spending in the United States at all levels in constant 2005 dollars was about $200 per person in 1800 and about $20,000 per person 200 years later in 2000.

Since we spend 100 times as much per person now as we did then and have almost 100 times as many people, any investment was minuscule compared to what came later. Even in 1900, spending was only around $600 per person.

So no, "massive" internal improvements doesn't explain it.

Howard said...

I don't spend much time on rhetoric, but the term "technique" strikes me as a rather bloodless term, one used by the bureaucrat or central planner rather than an entrepreneur.

As to the big question, why such a huge intensive and extensive improvement in growth starting then (1700/1800) and why mostly in northern Europe and the Anglo-sphere? There had been earlier episodes of economic flourishing elsewhere on the planet that failed to maintain "escape velocity."
(see the post linked to by Bret and scroll down...)

erp said...

Harsh climate abetted a Protestant work ethic was a happy marriage that produced amazing results?

Bret said...

erp,

Except that the climate started warming right about then (we were coming out of the so-called little ice age). Perhaps the bounty from the better climate did help fuel the growth.

erp said...

The church's lessening grip on people's lives in northern Europe had to have led to people starting to think for themselves in all areas of their lives including how to make life easier and more comfortable.

Temperatures warming up may have been the catalyst they needed to really step up activity.

erp said...

The church's lessening grip on people's lives in northern Europe had to have led to people starting to think for themselves in all areas of their lives including how to make life easier and more comfortable.

Temperatures warming up may have been the catalyst they needed to really step up activity.

Howard said...

erp,

I think Bret wants to focus on the ideas of Deirdre McCloskey and she is exceptionally good. Given where you wish to go, you'll find this video a real treat. North is a very good historian. He eventually talks about McCloskey and goes even further into the root of the matter.

(The video has a crude caption style transcript for those who don't do video)

Harry Eagar said...

$600 in $1900 was about an average family's income, so yes, if spending is massive now, it was massive then.

If your graph were more detailed, the biggest, sharpest rise would be socialist Sweden.

And that's what I mean by technique. Sweden required everybody to read and write, which turned out to be just what was needed to achieve takeoff.

It wasn't that Sweden generated a lot of innovation. Like Japan, it's public investment proved very remunerative.

erp said...

Howard, I am familiar with McCloskey and will look forward to watching the video later, but my intent here is to make glib observations about the obvious and I didn't even mention the Magna Carta which gave the common man, so beloved of those on the left, his first taste of what it would be like to be free to make his own way in the world.

It just baffles me that lefties can't see how hopelessly confused their ideas are. Less restriction equals more freedom and prosperity with the reverse, obviously, bringing the opposite.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "$600 in $1900 was about an average family's income"

GDP per capita in 1900 in 2005 dollars (which is what all the rest of the number are in) was a bit under $5,000. So $600 represented about 12% of GDP instead of the nearly 1/2 of GDP we have now. So no, spending wasn't "massive" then. Investment is an absolute number, not a relative one.

Harry wrote: "If your graph were more detailed, the biggest, sharpest rise would be socialist Sweden."

No it wouldn't. It would show that when Sweden was less socialist, it did better relative to everyone else than it does now.

Peter said...

Sweden required everybody to read and write, which turned out to be just what was needed to achieve takeoff.

Meanwhile, everybody in America was walking around signing their names with an "X". Boy, Harry, nobody can cherrypick like you. Some say Sweden's success might have had something to do with the fact that it profited mightily from feeding the German war machine and emerged from the War with its entire infrastructure intact while the rest of the continent was smoldering in rubble, but personlly I think Sweden achieved take-off because they developed healthier, more progressive attitudes to public nudity and sexual openness. There's nothing like the prospect of a little variety in end-of-the-day nookie to fire up the workers and get those production numbers higher.

You are obviously right that American economic success had something to do with resource riches and unlimited cheap land. The trouble with that is that free-markets have worked pretty well for states with neither too. I'd stick with the importance of investing in quality public education if I were you. It's your strong suit, but it hardly amounts to socialism or a "well-regulated economy".

Harry Eagar said...

I wish you guys knew more history. Sweden was the poorest country in Europe in 1840, richest by around 1960. You cannot do better than worst to first.

I don't think that selling iron ore to Germany in 1939-45 accounts for all that.

I think you misunderestimate government support for business in the 1835-1930 period. All that land, all those chemists and maps.

They didn't cost much in dollars but were important.

Takeoff is about more than access to technique. Technique is fundamental, but I can show you examples where technique did not lead to takeoff. Let's try one where the local economic sentiment is pretty much indistinguishable from erp's: the old Confederacy.

In 1892, C.W. Marsh, the inventor of the one-man reaper (which I suppose is an example of the alleged increase in US service industry productivity, although I wouldn't have called farming a 'service industry'), made an historical survey of US patents for agricultural implements.

He reviewed thousands and selected a few score as significant. He noted where each inventor lived. Out of a few hundred one -- count 'em, 1 -- lived in a Southern state.

This although the South was overwhelmingly agricultural and -- necessity not being the mother of invention in this case -- was in a crisis of declining productivity; and enjoyed whatever social/legal advantages of residents in the other states.

It's true, of course, that the South's investment in public education was perhaps 10% of the rest of the country's.

In any case, the backwardness of the South seems hard to explain if free economy is the magic bullet.

erp, you ought to re-read Magna Carta, assuming you ever did read it, which I doubt. It wasn't about the common man. It had implications for him, but did nothing for him in the 13th c.

I also think you ought to read up on India. You said everyone in India speaks English. Then you subtly changed that to everybody is educated and the educated speak English.

Still wrong. Not everybody in India receives even basic education. There is a big difference between the uneducated north and the more educated south.

In northern India, girls, especially Muslim girls, are likely not to have any education.

You really should read the MSM.

erp said...

Harry,

a. We were talking about the 17th C. and the Magna Carta had already had great effect on society by then.

b. I subtly changed nothing about educated Indians speaking English and by Indians, I mean Hindu's. Remember how Gandhi courageously separated India into three countries, so Moslems wouldn't be oppressed by savage [s/on] Hindu's.

Few Moslems of any gender are educated no matter where they live (other than the west), so the idea they speak English is ludicrous.

c. You may read and read copiously, but unfortunately everything is filtered through your hatred of the place of your birth.

Sorry about that. The south may have been more backward technologically than the north, but isn't that the exact thing we’re talking about in this string? Northern Europe led the world in innovation and a lot of those folks emigrated to the U.S. Most of them settled in the north and then the most daring and adventurous moved west rather than south.

Lastly, why not refute my arguments rather making what you must think are insulting statements. Please be aware that I care not a flying fig whether you think I ever read the Magna Carta or, in fact, what you (or anyone else) thinks about me, so save yourself the trouble of behaving like a spoiled child.

Annoying Old Guy said...

"Sweden was the poorest country in Europe in 1840, richest by around 1960" and after that, became socialist, its prosperity having been achieved under far more free market circumstances. I wish Eagar knew more history.

Peter said...

I wish you guys knew more history.

Back at ya'. The Social Democrats didn't take power in Sweden until 1932. The reforms of the 19th and early 20th century were more 19th century liberal, including breaking up old guilds, tariff liberalization, etc. Sweden was neutral in both wars and grew rich supplying resources and arms to the belligerents, especially Germany. Even today, on a per capita basis, it's the world's largest arms exporter after Israel. It was indeed the richest country in Europe until the 60's, which is about the time the rest of Europe completed postwar reconsruction and achieved take-off of their own. Furthermore, their socialism was not as dirigiste as in other European countries and avoided nationalizations and the consequent disasters that befell others like Britain. Their high taxation rates and excessive social welfare are legendary, but they didn't go much for central planning or public management of enterprise, which is why I keep asking what you mean by a "well-regulated economy".

If you are going to argue with conservatives, you would be better to make the argument that the postwar social security net that Europe and North America instituted was important in defeating political extremism and saving democracy at a time when even businessmen were musing about democracy's limits and when the horrific consequences of anti-democratic ideologies were still fresh in everyone's minds. You'll have to deal with the counter-arguments that they've become excessive, demographically dated and unsustainable, but it's not a bad argument.

erp said...

Peter, Social security as it was originally conceived as insurance paid for by recipients might have been a good idea if it were voluntary, not mandatory, but as currently constituted it has become a catch-all for every cockamamie give-away that congress can't get through if were voted upon on its own.

Harry Eagar said...

Saving democracy? Really? How much democracy do you think there was in Europe before 1945?

Creating democracy would be more like it.

And now I learn that there are good socialisms and not just the bad ones like requiring employers to provide safe workplaces. The Internet is too educational.

Peter, I think your remarks about European recovery pretty much endorse my view that technique, not government organization, is the main predictor of economic expansion.

At any rate, it would be hard to find a place that gave greater respect to Smithian economics than the South, but it didn't do the South any good economically, did it?

Howard said...

Adam Smith, primarily a moral philosopher, was against slavery on both moral and economic grounds. Harry, that you could make such a statement leaves me truly dumbfounded.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Howard;

More than the "no democracy in Europe before 1945" implication?

Howard said...

AOG,

I had not yet clarified in my mind the magnitude of the "no democracy" error before the final sentence floored me.

Bret said...

The following is repeat of a comment I made at Restating the Obvious:

"It's often been said that the winners write history and I suppose that would include economic history. What our discussions with Harry have taught me, is that each person creates their own economic history. The history that Harry has created for himself has very limited overlap with the history of the world that I inhabit."

Both Harry's history of Adam Smith and European democracy are good examples.

Nonetheless, I value Harry's perspective on history because it provides insights into why the Left pushes for the policies that it does.

Howard said...

Just as one needs to be careful not grant undue significance to spurious correlations in statistical work, it's important to not remain stuck on "just so" stories when doing historical analysis.

erp said...

Bret, what is your insight into the left's insistence that their policies are beneficial when all evidence is to the contrary. Do you believe they are naive or are they deliberately trying to destroy our freedoms.

Bret said...

erp,

I think that Harry's collection of historical facts includes an large overabundance of examples of extreme maliciousness and horrible treatment of people by those in the private sector and a large overabundance of examples of government action doing good and government inaction in the face of catastrophe where government action would probably have helped.

Harry has not made these facts up. They are real. There are and have been lots of bad actors in the world and some number of those have been in the private sector working well outside the rule of law, sometimes with government collusion, sometimes not. They have caused a great deal of misery and damage.

To Harry, that's a damning indictment of the entire free market and a clear indication of the need for complete government regulation of all markets.

To me, those historical incidents, while unfortunate, do not significantly reflect on the free market primarily because in nearly all of those cases, some or most of the participants weren't free and/or the incident was well outside the rule of law. Example are some company towns in the 19th and early 20th centuries, populations facing starvation throughout history, collusion of government and business to oppress blacks prior to the civil rights era, etc. To me, the solution is straightforward, yet admittedly imperfect: keep government small and out of the business of oppressing people and have it focus on enforcing the rule of law as objectively as humanly possible.

I'm willing to accept imperfection specifically because of the graph that is the focus of this post. The explosion of wealth and the overall well-being of humans across the globe was, in my opinion, facilitated by economic freedom and free markets and I think it would be foolish to severely constrain the trillions of free interactions between people each year in order to avoid a relatively small number of abuses.

Harry obviously disagrees with almost all of what I believe and I find it interesting to understand why.

With that background, to answer your question, Harry is not "naive", but rather has a weighting of historical (and contemporary) facts that leads him to rationally believe that "deliberately" destroying our economic freedoms will be beneficial overall.

erp said...

A rational belief with no evidence to back it up? Far more people have been oppressed by despots and tyrants than free marketeers.

Scoundrels in free markets are usually ousted without bloody revolutions while the same can't be said for repressive ones.

Enforcing the law would go far in solving this problem in a free society while safe guarding the freedom of those of us who are law abiding.

Harry Eagar said...

'Adam Smith, primarily a moral philosopher, was against slavery on both moral and economic grounds. Harry, that you could make such a statement leaves me truly dumbfounded.'

Since I specifically referred to the South in the period of its agricultural collapse, which was post-13th Amendment, I don't see your point. (You could question the long-term prospects of Southern agriculture before 1860, but you could hardly claim kt was in the state of collapse it was by 1890.)

'To Harry, that's a damning indictment of the entire free market and a clear indication of the need for complete government regulation of all markets.'

That has never been my position. I have always said the proper approach is the New Deal's mixed economy.

"More than the 'no democracy in Europe before 1945' implication?

Again, not what I said. What I asked was, how much democracy do you think there was in Europe before 1945? My answer is, not much. What's yours.

My objection to laissez faire theories is not that they do not have something going for them, but to the claim that no possible alternative could be better.

Since laisser faire tends to strongly correlate with people who like to say communism was bad because it killed 100 million, the fact that laisser faire killed many more than that seems to suggest that it is not the best possible approach.

A form of organization that kills fewer would be better.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "That has never been my position..."

Maybe I exaggerated your position somewhat, but since I think that we are wildly over-regulated at the moment and you want even more regulation, as far as I'm concerned it's essentially complete government regulation and control that you're after.

Harry wrote: "...the fact that laisser faire killed many more..."

Just in case it's not obvious, I completely disagree with that statement. This post's graph shows relatively free markets causing an explosion of wealth cratering of poverty with the associated increase in nutrition, health, and life-expectancy that comes with wealth. My analysis of economics and economic history clearly show me that billions more have lived and the vast majority of the rest have lived longer and healthier lives. Your analysis shows something different for the reasons mentioned in my previous comment.

Bret said...

erp wrote: A rational belief with no evidence to back it up?"

There is evidence, I find it underwhelming, Harry finds it conclusive.

erp said...

What is the evidence?

Bret said...

erp,

As I wrote above, evidence of private bad actors (sometimes with public help) include: "some company towns in the 19th and early 20th centuries, populations facing starvation throughout history, collusion of government and business to oppress blacks prior to the civil rights era, etc."

There are, of course, many more.

erp said...

None of which could have happened without the collusion of government/kings, so how can letting government control everything solve the problem when private citizen have little or no power to obiviate the conditions.

Harry Eagar said...

As usual, erp is wrong. When I say -- and am mocked for saying it -- that if markets think you are worth more dead than alive, they will arrange to have you killed, that is not just a snappy saying. It's -- dare I say it -- history.

Let's take one of the most important drivers in the much-appreciated "take-off" of modern economic performance (see Bret's graph): the Atlantic slave trade.

When the Middle Passage was unregulated (all the time), slavers overbought in Africa and skimped on provisions. Anywhere up to 100%, and an average of at least 10% (probably more) of the slaves died and were pitched overboard. (Sharks followed slave ships all the way across the ocean; who says there's no free lunch?)

Rather late in this process, the English government tried what might be called negative regulation. Instead of requiring -- quel horreur! -- that the slavers not murder their slaves, the governemnt offered a bounty for each voyage on which no slaves died.

Death rates quickly dropped to near 0. That's zero, nil, nada.

I have elsewhere called the behavior of thre slavers the 'FIREPROOF HOTEL' effect.

It may probably explain the Rana Plaza. I haven't seen the books, but it would not surprise me if we learn that Rana made more money, and recovered all his capital and then some, before the collapse, than if he had spent more to build a building that would stand up.

Under the assumptions of laisser faire, that was not merely rational but admirable planning.

I don't get your claim, Bret, that wealth begets long life. Technique does so. Lives are much longer even in socialist hellholes. Labor productivity is up greatly in the Guinea Worm Belt even though no country in that area would get a pass from the classical liberal economists, becasue when people stop being disabled by guinea worm, they work.

Now, you may wish to argue that the reason the worm is almost vanquished by do-gooder volunteers from Norway is that Norway is a rich country that can afford to send its surplus non-productive citizens to hideous places like Iraq and teach them how to filter water, but Norway is not a rich country because of laisser faire.

It is rich because god put oil under it.

erp said...

Harry, this is so amusing. I was wondering when you’d get around to the slave trade, you know the family business of dear-leader-in-chief of our collectivist demise.

Bazinga!

Annoying Old Guy said...

Bret;

What really can you learn from some one who doesn't know the difference between free markets and slavery?

Harry Eagar said...

Willing buyers, willing sellers.

OK, tell me where the market disappears.

Annoying Old Guy said...

I suppose you'll once again claim I don't know enough history, but I seem to recall that most slaves were not willing sellers.

Peter said...

I have enjoyed Harry's eclectic historical analyses for a decade now and I wonder why he doesn't pen one of those pop historical books with a title like "How the Guinea Worm Changed the World". Harry's no fool, which is why I assume he steadfastly refuses to tell us what he means by a well-regulated economy. Health and safety regulation and the outlawing of slavery is not socialism. As to Sweden and the postbellum South, what he seems to be saying is that, regardless of taxes or the size of government, economic take-off will be delayed if an occupying army has just swept through and destroyed all your industrial base and infrastructure.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Peter;

I think this is what Mr. Eagar means by "well regulated" or at least, a start.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "I don't get your claim, Bret, that wealth begets long life."

There's an overwhelmingly strong correlation between GDP per capita in a country and life expectancy in that country (google "wealth versus life expectancy by country"). You're the first person I've seen suggesting that there isn't also a causal link. I suggest considering the following: will someone who can barely afford food spend as much on healthcare and things like sanitation as someone who has plenty of disposable income? In the socialist case, will a socialist country that can barely feed and house their citizens spend as much on healthcare as a rich country?

Yes, your "technique" helps provide the disposable income that enables spending on health care, but when that "technique" is stifled or otherwise non-accessible and wealth is reduced in a country, their life-expectancy goes down.

Harry wrote: "When I say -- and am mocked for saying it -- that if markets think you are worth more dead than alive, they will arrange to have you killed..."

You're mocked for it because a free market by definition does not have a brain, does not think, does not act, and therefore does not kill anyone. The free market is no more tangible than the color blue and it's just as odd to me to hear someone say that markets kill people as to hear someone say that blue kills people.

Bret said...

aog wrote: "What really can you learn from some one who doesn't know the difference between free markets and slavery?"

I can learn why he can't tell the difference.

Harry's perspective is a little unusual due to the specific set of history books he's read, but fundamentally, his views echo those of many progressives, so I think it's important to try to understand why he thinks what he does.

Note that Harry never ever will write the word "free" in front of the word "market". That's our first hint to understanding his thinking.

Harry Eagar said...

Huh? RtO refers to free-marketeers all the time. Without even scare quotes.

Slaves are not selling their labor. They are the commodity. By your reasoning, there could never be a free market in bacon because the pig's interest is not consulted.

Now, when the slaves are freed, then they operate in a market. Not a free market, often, and especially in the South after 1865.

As recently as March 10, RtO reviewed "The Cotton Plantation South," which is a profound study of what black labor did.

It is not a pretty picture.

Anyhow, the slave trade operated like a market, didn't it? Didn't the traders respond to market forces by murdering their merchandise, until regulation (involuntary wealth transfer, as you would think it) made it worth their while not to.

Bret, since the biggest component of better life expectancy is inexpensive public health measures, you get a big jump with a little increase in wealth, then much less as wealth further expands.

But there are plenty of outliers. The longest-lived labor group in the US was Hawaii sugar workers, who, before the triumph of the union movement, were among the least wealthy Americans.

Peter said...

Harry, I can't be the only one here amused that the North in the civil war, which stood for free markets and classical 19th century individual initiative and enterprise against Southern class-based semi-feudalism, fought to abolish slavery, as did Britain, the other epitome of laissez-faire economics. I guess I missed that line in the Gettysburg Address where Lincoln called for a well-regulated economy.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Mr. Eagar;

Either the slaves are people, in which it is not a free market, or they're not, in which case they can't be murdered.

erp said...

Peter, also note that those who led the abolitionist movements in both the U.S. and England were devout Christians. The very same folks currently depicted as the embodiment of the devil in lefty covens.

Harry, people can't be commodities unless they're under contract to literary or theatrical agents and then it's voluntary. ;-}

erp said...

Hey Guys, a bit off topic, but I need the help of the resident geniuses on this string: Please tell me what's an alternative to Google Reader which is going south on July 1st? Thanks. Their explanation doesn't help.

Peter said...

erp:

I've been down that route before with Harry. Stand by for him to tell you the Northern Congregationalists and British Non-Conformists who sang The Battle Hymm of the Republic and manned the junior officer ranks of the British Navy and went to their deaths to defeat slavery and the slave trade played but a peripheral role. Slavery was a Christian invention that was defeated by salon French intellectuals discussing the Rights of Man with their brandies after dinner.

I do have to say, though, that both the left and a lot of modern conservatives/libertarians tend to understate the religious underpinnings of self-reliance, frugality and individual enterprise.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry: The leader, Britain, notoriously (to those few who study economic history) started declining relative to semi-socialist Germany, in 1870, though that was the height of its commitment to free trade.

I suspect there is a great deal hiding behind "declining relative to".

The US has been declining relative to Europe since the end of WWII, and China since the end of its well regulated economy.

What you have provided us is what Taranto refers to as a "Fox Butterfield" fallacy.

I am amused that erp thinks most Indians speak English.

You did know that English is India's official secondary language, right?

[Bret:] To Harry, [bad actors are a] damning indictment of the entire free market and a clear indication of the need for complete government regulation of all markets.

To be fair to Harry, I believe his point is that a completely free market (i.e., one without any laws of any kind), more than being just amoral, commodifies everything, which will inevitably lead to immoral results.

His point, so far as it goes, is valid, and difficult to argue.

However, where it goes, it doesn't go far enough. Most critically, it makes a flying pigs error: it posits something which can't possibly exist (which is good, or we'd all be carrying steel umbrellas). There is no such thing as a market without property rights, and property rights do not exist in the absence of a central government and laws.

Hey Skipper said...

He then says:

My objection to laissez faire theories is not that they do not have something going for them, but to the claim that no possible alternative could be better.

Here is where he goes off the rails, because he attributes to "laissez-faire" only those things that are convenient to him, while eliding that which isn't. This elision is particularly prominent in his frequent reliance upon chattel slavery as supporting his argument.

Everything he says about the slave trade is both objectively true, yet completely irrelevant to laissez faire. Why? Because necessary precondition of laissez faire is that laws and regulations are sufficient to protect property rights. As we enlightened moderns know, Africans are, in fact, fully fledged human beings who are just as entitled as the rest of us to the property right of themselves.

Unfortunately, our benighted forbears didn't see it that way. So, the consequence that Africans were treated purely as commodities, without possessing any property right over themselves, is not attributable to laissez-faire, but rather to the laws and regulations of the time that were based on the nearly universal notion that Africans were subhuman.

Equally, asserting that the recent disaster in Bangladesh is due to laissez-faire is an empty cudgel, because Bangladesh is so corrupt that it does lacks the same universal application of property rights that characterized chattel-slavery.

Interestingly, collectivists and progressives (but I repeat myself) are completely silent when it comes to a well regulated economy and Kermit Gosnell.

[Harry: ] the fact that laisser faire killed many more than [communism's 100 million death toll] seems to suggest that it is not the best possible approach.

This is a trope unique to collectivists. I'm calling shenanigans. So far as I can tell, the only source for the claim is the claim itself. Moreover, I'll bet that if I could actually find some sort of accounting, it would demonstrate a particularly nasty combination of innumeracy and blinkered axe grinding.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret: ]The free market is no more tangible than the color blue and it's just as odd to me to hear someone say that markets kill people as to hear someone say that blue kills people.

No matter how odd it is to say "markets kill people", it seems the case that markets save people.

Stephen Pinker, in Better Angles of our Nature, notes that violent death has been on a downward trend over the last couple hundred years.

He documents the case well, then attempts to find reasons why.

Notably, he attributes a significant proportion of the precipitous fall over the last forty or so years to … wait for it … free markets. Why this is so should be obvious.

Just as obviously, this explanation put collectivists in a froth. Typical is this review from the socialist/collectivist academic (but I repeat myself) academic website, Crooked Timber:

The Guardian has an interview with Steven Pinker about his new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes . It presents me with a problem. In order to evaluate its claims properly, I’d actually have to read the book, but everything tells me that doing so would be an immense waste of valuable time, so I probably won’t. I can, however, comment snippily on the material that surfaces in interviews and reviews … so here goes.

But then that's what religionists do when their shibboleths get skewered.

(Unlike Prof Bertram, and most of the 200 or so commenters on the thread, I took the effort to read the book.)

erp said...

Skipper, re:
Unfortunately, our benighted forbears didn't see it that way.

Politics is the art of the possible and our founding fathers knowing this, did what they had to do to get what was possible at the time. If they hadn't compromised with the southern states, there would have been no Constitution and no U.S. of A., so my problem isn't so much them as it is with the gutless wonders who followed and allowed slavery not only to continue, but to flourish, until 1863. If memory serves, it was called the Missouri Compromise.

Peter, my bad, but Harry is such an easy target. He probably also thinks Gorbachev ended the cold war with his winning smile.

These lefties are such easy targets, it's baffling to me that anyone with a functioning brain could fall for their line of malarkey.

Annoying Old Guy said...

erp;

I am trying out netvibes.com. Meh, but better than nothing.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "...it's baffling to me that anyone with a functioning brain could fall for their line of malarkey."

We all have our narratives, you have yours, Harry has his. We pick our narratives because we like them - they feel good to us. The narratives don't have to be true, they only have to be true enough not to kill or significantly damage those that follow them on an individual basis. Harry's narratives clearly work well enough for him. My very different narratives seem to work well enough for me. What I find interesting is figuring out other people's narratives and why they like them.

On an individual basis, in this very wealthy society we have the fortune to live in, a narrative can be pretty crazy before it damages the individual. Slightly crazy is no problem at all.

The danger is that too many individuals subscribe to narratives that can cause damage to society when widespread. The left sees that danger in the narratives of the right and the right sees that danger in the narratives of the left.

Annoying Old Guy said...

A well regulated economy, it's a whole New Deal on biscuits.

Hey Skipper said...

erp:

Politics is the art of the possible and our founding fathers knowing this, did what they had to do to get what was possible at the time.

When I used the term "benighted forebears", I was referring to the consensus of the time, not those who wrote the constitution; obviously, they were captive to the consensus.

Bret:

We all have our narratives, you have yours, Harry has his. We pick our narratives because we like them - they feel good to us.

Yes, but perhaps some narratives stand up better to careful examination than others.

There are certain problem spaces within which collectivism works better; outside them, it is worse.

Unfortunately, the disease that afflicts progressives far more than anyone else is the reflexive conflation of their preferences with reality.

Harry Eagar said...

I see all of you ducking the original point, which is that market motives sled the slaves to destory teir own property. Armwaving about Christians doesn't address the question.

Besides, the leading slavers were notably sanctimonious Christians. Christianity has a looong history of being totally cool with slavery. It is a historical fact that antislavery arose alng with and not before the Enlightenment.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Mr. Eagar;

You are the one ducking the point of how your question makes no sense because its internal logic is inconsistent.

What led the slavers to be careless with their own product was government subsidized production in Africa. Government there created slaves as part of other political activities and sold them as surplus, thereby setting a value that made such wastage economically feasible. As is usually the case when you find a situation like this, it is a government acting and free markets simply reacting. Fix the government and the problem is fixed, as happened here as well.

erp said...

Harry, the arm waving is only to turn your attention for a moment from your tunnel vision.

Those slavers professing to be Christians were obvious frauds. I don't pretend to be a Christian, but I do know a bit about Christian beliefs and nowhere have I seen evidence that Jesus classified those of enhanced melanin as being less than human.

Those Christians who risked everything by openly working to free the slaves were following the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps it was the great minds of *THE ENLIGHTENMENT* who took their cues from these simple folk who asked neither for gilt nor glory unlike themselves, I might add, and not the other way around.

As a frequent victim of typos myself, I am not trying to be difficult, but I don't understand what you are saying here" ... is that market motives sled the slaves to destory teir own property.

Do you mean that when slavers (which ones, Luo tribesmen, Arabs, English, southern, other slave marketeers) couldn't dispose (sell for profit) of their merchandise (African slaves), they deliberately destroyed (killed) them to cut their losses?

Why are you surprised? Dumping unwanted cargo is a time-tested method of doing business.

Skipper, sorry for doubting your meaning. I should have known better, but latter day pundits criticizing one of the truly great men of the age, Thomas Jefferson, for owning slaves irks me no end.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "I see all of you ducking the original point, which is that market motives led the slavers to destroy their own property." (I fixed the typos in the sentence to make it decipherable).

I have no interest in discussing an institution that is illegal and overwhelmingly immoral, should've been illegal then, and has nothing to do with free markets. If that's your only argument against the free market, in my opinion it's utterly irrelevant and see no point in debating it. I'm more than willing to engage on relevant points.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry @ 9:38 AM on one darn day or another:] Anyhow, the slave trade operated like a market, didn't it? Didn't the traders respond to market forces by murdering their merchandise, until regulation (involuntary wealth transfer, as you would think it) made it worth their while not to.



[Harry @ 10:45 PM:] I see all of you ducking the original point, which is that market motives sled the [slavers to destroy their] own property. Armwaving about Christians doesn't address the question.


Me, where those ellipses are:

Everything [Harry] says about the slave trade is both objectively true, yet completely irrelevant to laissez faire. Why? Because necessary precondition of laissez faire is that laws and regulations are sufficient to protect property rights. As we enlightened moderns know, Africans are, in fact, fully fledged human beings who are just as entitled as the rest of us to the property right of themselves.

Unfortunately, our benighted forbears didn't see it that way. So, the consequence that Africans were treated purely as commodities, without possessing any property right over themselves, is not attributable to laissez-faire, but rather to the laws and regulations of the time that were based on the nearly universal notion that Africans were subhuman.


To put your point more accurately, and reiterate mine, Africans had no property rights of any kind — they were commodified. Consequently, slavers picked a point on the yield curve that maximized their return on investment. So you are right, in that a problem inherent in free markets is commodification: markets, like colors, have no morality.

Just as obviously, when the British gov't offered a bounty, that bounty changed the RoI, hence the slavers calculation of the best point on the yield curve.

Here is you go off the rails: you blame this on free markets, while all the while completely ignoring the most sine qua non of free markets: property rights. If the slaves had property rights over themselves, the slave trade would never have happened, because the commodity market in slaves would never have existed in the first place.

(This disregard of property rights as an essential component of free markets is habitual among progressives. Perhaps that is indicative of a deeper problem: for progressives, there is no such thing; the whole concept is no more sensible to them than logarithms are to my dog.)

So, you are right that the slave trade operated as a commodity market, but completely misunderstand that the zeitgeist was the problem, not markets themselves.

In case that isn't clear enough, do a simple thought experiment: all laws prohibiting slavery disappear today. Is a slave trade going to reappear? If not — and not is the correct answer — why not?

[Harry: ] the fact that laisser faire killed many more than [communism's 100 million death toll] seems to suggest that it is not the best possible approach.

I'm still curious about the source for that "fact".

Hey Skipper said...

Here, clearly, is an excellent example of the well regulated economy in action.

Reminds me of Mark Twain's The Gilded Age.

Hey Skipper said...

Yet another example of a well regulated economy. (Go to the 8 min mark.)

Bret said...

Penn & Teller are pretty funny. It is sort of unbelievable the scene where the guy has successfully kept Walmart from opening, yet the whole downtown is a ghost town anyway. Brilliant.

erp said...

Skipper, slavery still exists and the same players are still buying and selling them in the same old location in Africa and Asia. Just read something in the last week or so about some women escaping from a ME embassy, maybe Saudi, in DC! Only place it doesn't still exist is in the pesky western democracies. Odd that.

Hey Skipper said...

Skipper, slavery still exists and the same players are still buying and selling them in the same old location in Africa and Asia.

Yes, it does.

And its continued existence refutes Harry's criticism of markets.

erp said...

Yes.

erp said...

Yes.

erp said...

Yes.

Harry Eagar said...

See Mike Davis, 'Late Victorian Holocausts.'

If the laws against slavery were ended, slavery would reappear within weeks. After all, antislavery as a common component of public opinion has existed only around the shores of the North Atlantic and only for a short while.

erp, as usual, forgets even this history she lived through. Most of the slaves in her life were white.

While the remarks about the older African governments are correct, once the governments were coerced into stopping collecting slaves, the slavers took over on a private enterprise basis. The most famous was Tippu Tib, who died only a little over 100 years ago.

erp said...

Harry, our fellow commenters may not make the connection, but I know that you mean the white slaves were prostitutes enslaved by first their fathers and then their husbands.

N'est ce pas?

African tribesmen are among the most law abiding on the planet, so all that slavery needed to come to a complete halt, was a little coercion.

Thanks Harry for a good Mother's Dayn laugh.

Harry Eagar said...

erp, you really need to get a GED. You lived through the period when millions of whites, men and women, were enslaved in Germany. How can you not know about that?

erp said...

Harry, I don't consider Nazism or Communism slavery, but only the inevitable end result of central planning.

Harry Eagar said...

I see. Naziism isn't slavery and a free market in black (or white, for that matter) slaves is not free.

I cannot argue with that. It's too crazy to argue with.

Bret said...

Harry,

We are all bound to the society we live in and "bound" and "bondage" or slavery are closely related both semantically and in reality.

There's also degrees of being bound. Living under a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao is clearly being much more bound and enslaved than in a republic like the United States.

I have no problem with your definition of slavery including the inhabitants of Nazi Germany. It certainly qualifies under the 2nd definition of slave: "a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person".

On the other hand, it really doesn't fit under the first definition: "a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant." Such property can be bought and sold; Hitler couldn't really sell his whole population or any part of it.

I'm quite familiar with the history surrounding Nazi Germany, no doubt with quite a bias as everyone with jewish ancestry is, but I had no idea what you were talking about either when you wrote "were enslaved in Germany". I rather think about the entire Nazi debacle as being an evil well beyond slavery. In other words, being enslaved, if that's what they were, was the least of their worries. Being cannon fodder, starving (towards and just beyond the end of the war), being gassed, being bombed, being part of a society gone insane under insane leadership, etc. seem to me to be issues that eclipses the general domination problem. As a result, I have to admit, that slavery isn't really the first concept that comes to mind when I think of Nazi Germany.

It still isn't and I think you should cut us some slack on this one.

erp said...

Q. If Nazism is slavery, why isn't Communism slavery as well?

A. Harry and friends are okay with Communism.

Harry Eagar said...

Bret, I did not say Germans were slaves; they were the masters. I said 'slaves in Germany.'

I later added French and Ukrainians. How you think I was talking of Germans is beyond me.

And they were slaves under anybody's definition, inasmuch as they were bought and sold.

The number enslaved in those 6 years comes near the number of Africans enslaved by non-Africans in 500 years, so this is not some trivial event.

I, at least, distinguish living under a tyrannical government from being a slave. Around here, 'slave' appears to be a movable concept, adaptable to whatever political point someone is making.

The laborers on the White Sea canal were worked to death and were not free men but they hardly come under any definition of slavery. Or if they do, you are going to have to call the prisoners in US prisons slaves.

David Brion Davis tried to define slavery just in western societies. It took him 2 volumes of 700 pages each to do it, so innovative and pervasive was -- and I say, is -- it in western civ.



erp said...

Guys, you need to field this one. It's too crazy for my ancient brain to decode.

Annoying Old Guy said...

erp;

I can't figure it out either.

Mr. Eagar;

"I said 'slaves in Germany.'"

You also wrote

"I see. Naziism isn't slavery and a free market in black (or white, for that matter) slaves is not free.

I cannot argue with that. It's too crazy to argue with."

in response to erp's claim that she didn't see those government systems as slavery per se. This is why we thought you were talking about Germans.

Harry Eagar said...

Don't be obtuse.

In fact, she said the opposite of how you read it.

The Nuremburg tribunal considers the slaves were slaves. erp's weird views to the contrary are insignificant.

My post, after 'I see,' was obviously a paraphrase of erp's several antthistorical statements.

Bret said...

Harry,

Just to be clear (because I'm still not). The slavery you were and are referring to is the forced labor from conquered territories as (for example) described by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labor_in_Germany_during_World_War_II ?

erp said...

Harry,

My prose is written in simple declarative sentences and needs no inprepretation.

BTW -- I still have no idea to what anti-historical statements you are referring because you still haven't provided a sampling of any.

BTW 2 -- Nixon and Nazis are socialists, not right wingers.

BTW 3 -- The conventional definition of slaves doesn't include those in prison for breaking the law and who do labor for the their keep.

BTW 4 -- Those imprisoned for political or religious reasons, unless sold for their labor, aren't strictly slaves in the main stream definition either.

Let me know if I can clear up anything else. Always happy to clarify things for those whose heads are full of leftwing cant.

erp said...

Bret, note the Alinsky strategy of misdirection. Harry switched the discussion of black slavery in the U.S. south from its origins in Africa where tribes like that of the president captured their fellows and sold them to Arab slave traders who took them to the slave markets round the world to a discussion of Nazism which in his mind is right wing, so can be condemned for doing the same thing as Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro ... the list is endless, but can't be blamed on reactionaries.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Since laisser faire tends to strongly correlate with people who like to say communism was bad because it killed 100 million, the fact that laisser faire killed many more than that seems to suggest that it is not the best possible approach.

Come clean — is there a basis for that, or is it just complete bollocks?

If the laws against slavery were ended, slavery would reappear within weeks. After all, antislavery as a common component of public opinion has existed only around the shores of the North Atlantic and only for a short while.

Speaking of complete bollocks.

If the laws against slavery ended, who would lose the property rights to themselves? In what economy could slave labor possibly outperform wage labor? And, to cap it off, you are abusing the phrase "for a short while", which encompasses everyone alive today. Functionally, your "short while" equals forever.

That you keep banging markets over the head with slavery must mean you take the position that without "free" markets (but with what instead you never say) slavery wouldn't have existed. That is exactly like blaming highways for drunk driving.

[erp:] [Note Harry's] Alinsky strategy of misdirection. Harry switched the discussion of black slavery in the U.S. south …

And, oddly enough, gut shot his anti-free market argument. Or, at least that what it seems when you use slavery as an argument against free markets, then use (only) one of the two least free societies to make your point.

[Harry:] The laborers on the White Sea canal were worked to death and were not free men but they hardly come under any definition of slavery. Or if they do, you are going to have to call the prisoners in US prisons slaves.

In what way did the White Sea laborers (or the guests of the Gulag) not come under any definition of slavery?

And since your premise is so questionable, it is no surprise your conclusion is, either. First, the requirements to stay out of US prisons are very clear and easy to follow. Second, SFAIK, US prisoners do not do anything like labor in that sense. Working in the prison laundry, or picking up litter along the highway really just isn't the same.

Harry Eagar said...

Yes, Bret, of course I meant the millions of slaves kept by the Germans, and they fit the definition of slavery because they were bought and sold. The prisoners on the White Sea canal, to take an example, were not a market item.

So, Skipper's claim that no on living has been proslavery is wrong. There are plenty of people over 68 years of age still living.

Skipper, I have given you the reference for the total killed by laisser faire, Davis, 'Late Victorian Holocausts.'

That is concerned only with the victims of the gold bugs. So far as I know, no one has summted the grand total, but buy me a couple of beers and I can rattle off dozens at least of incidents -- most of which you will not have heard of -- that were big as Katyn Forest and bigger.

I have from time to time mentioned one or the other on these posts.

Then there are those that were not strictly done in the name of laisser faire but of the structural underpinnings of the so-called democracies.

We have heard much lately of the 70,000 or killed in the Syrian civil war. I have not seen any mention of the 300,000 killed in Syria-Lebanon by the French Republic.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] So, Skipper's claim that no on living has been proslavery is wrong. There are plenty of people over 68 years of age still living.

If you are going to make claims about what I am claiming, how about sidestepping misdirection and cite my claim directly, which is:

In case that isn't clear enough, do a simple thought experiment: all laws prohibiting slavery disappear today. Is a slave trade going to reappear? If not — and not is the correct answer — why not?

It will never reappear in a laissez faire economic system, for two reasons. First, no one is going give away their property rights to themselves. And, second, slave economies can't hold a candle to laissez faire economies.

Skipper, I have given you the reference for the total killed by laissez faire, Davis, 'Late Victorian Holocausts.'

So far as I can remember, you haven't. But no matter. I read some reviews of the book (this seems a pretty good one). And, just as I suspected, the attribution of all those to laissez faire economics is, to put it charitably, tendentious.

It is a perfectly arguable proposition that free market economies can sometimes act in such a way as to make some situations worse. And you, interestingly, omit perhaps the most significant malefactor, which is completely antithetical to free markets: colonialism.

However, laissez faire cannot be held in any way responsible for the conditions that created crop failures. This stands in stark contrast to collectivist famines. As well, you should consider the amount of starvation in India during its socialist phase, then compare with the last 25 years.

For that matter, you need to explain why a global economic system, which has become far more laissez faire than it was back then, is hardly wracked by famine today (excluding North Korea). That alone should go some way to excluding laissez faire of any particular blame.

Harry Eagar said...

I do not see how colonialism can be antithetical to laisser faire, since the most laisser faire government ever was also the biggest colonial power.

Apparently we are to believe that some economic system that has never existed -- perhaps cannot exist in a real world -- is to be held up as the most splendid possible.

And incremental moves toward laisser faire, which you are advocating in your latest statement, have not, historically, worked out as you believe they have.

In particular, the Zollverein did not lead to less colonialism, less oppression, or less aggression. More of each, in fact.

If we are to blame bolshevism for its failures, and I have always done so, why shouldn't we blame free marketeers for theirs?

Your claim that slavery would not reappear is contradicted two ways: 1) it did reappear, in all sorts of places; and 2) you have set up a non-existent hurdle, that people would not give up property rights in themselves.

History says different, and you don't even have to know history. You can read yesterday's paper for an example right now.

Harry Eagar said...

The global decline (not lack, there are famines going on right now with death tolls in six figures, but nobody in America is paying attention) is due, in this as in other respects of the overall rise in living standards, to technique, largely independent of political organization.

The reason farmers have more food to eat or sell is that they grow more food.

Not too hard to understand.

The role of markets is far more equivocal, though. Sen writes:

'when food is moved out of the famished area, pulled by the greater purchasing power of more prosperous regions,' he echoes my remark, made more than once on these forums, that if a market thinks you are more valuable to it dead than alive, it will see you are dead.

Sen cites Ireland. I have also cited Russia, which exported grain from starving regions in order to acquire hard currency in the west.

We could carry that rule back, to Venice which imported grain in the 13th c. from starving regions of Poland; and forward, to Indochina in the 20th c., where grain was exported from hungry regions to Europe.

Not to mention the invisible hand imperative, in rising markets, for those with assets to hoard grain.

There are, however, ways to intervene. One of the bigger famines that occurred in a socialist country was alleviated, to a considerable degree, by just handing out grain. That was what got Hoover elected president.

But the underlying problem in that area -- the cities in Russia were economically moribund and could not pay farmers for grain, while the farmers would not give it away -- was not a result of socialist policies, although it was (under New Economic Policy) partly alleviated by market reforms.

The problem was structural, predating Bolshevism, and never solved by Bolshevism.

Markets are fine as long as they operate in a favorable environment. But such enivornments seldom exist.

At the time Adam Smith was bloviating about how the greed of the butcher, baker and brewer supplied him -- an unproductive drone -- with his breakfast, the greed of landowners was depriving Scotch families (who were producers) of breakfast, lunch and dinner hardly an hour's walk from his ivory tower writing desk.

Now, if you were to couple your appeal for laisser faire methods with a plea for effective land reform, we might be able to agree on something.

But you don't, and opening modern free markets in traditional property regimes is, as Davis, showed, murderous.

erp said...

Effective land reform? You mean like 40 acres and mule? Been there, done that.

Annoying Old Guy said...

"If we are to blame bolshevism for its failures, and I have always done so, why shouldn't we blame free marketeers for theirs?"

First, I have yet to see you blame Bolshevism for its failures (e.g. in just the next comment, blaming the Ukrainian famines on pre-existing conditions). Second, what we object to is you blaming free marketers for government failures, e.g. Tsarist Russia exporting grain. That is, if a government makes something legal, and a market is created because of that, the fault is always the market, never the government that created the basis for it (e.g., your views on slavery expressed here).

Hey Skipper said...

The global decline (not lack, there are famines going on right now with death tolls in six figures, but nobody in America is paying attention) …

Since you didn't provide any links, here is some perspective.

… in this as in other respects of the overall rise in living standards, to technique, largely independent of political organization.

Oh, I see, "technique" is manna from heaven. Kind of like government spending.

Bollocks.

Some forms of economic & political organization (property rights, free markets, multi-party democracy) seem to get a lot more of that manna than, say, all the others. Just luck, I suppose.

The role of markets is far more equivocal, though. Sen writes:

'when food is moved out of the famished area …


For those of you at home in the blog viewing audience keeping score, that is the same Sen who, in the link I provided above, rubbished the notion that capitalism was responsible for those famine deaths.

On the face of it, though, that does seem a possible outcome of free markets. After all, there is no reason for a farmer not to sell to the highest bidder. I'm perfectly willing to believe that it has happened.

However the technique-manna that preferentially rains upon market economies has produced so much surplus that now quite the opposite happens. Except where conflict intervenes, collectivist agencies are quick to distribute free grain from areas of plenty.

Tough problems don't have easy solutions, but why don't you take some time and investigate the concept of unintended consequences. What happens to farmers when the price for their product goes to zero?

… he echoes my remark, made more than once on these forums, if a market thinks you are more valuable to it dead than alive, it will see you are dead. it will see you are dead.

And it isn't getting any more true with repetition.

This is your problem in a nutshell: you presume without further inspection what you say is true; no, not only true, but axiomatic.

Unfortunately, as an axiom, it is completely senseless. Markets cannot sell to dead people. As a corollary, people won't buy from those who have pissed on them. In a market economy, people are a resource; over time, as there is more technique-manna, the ability to avoid wasting any resource improves.

Surely, you can't possibly think that those 1100 workers in Bangladesh were worth more to the market dead than alive.

Harry Eagar said...

Certainly the owner of the building calculated that he would maximize his profits by sacrificing the safety of the workers.

He was, obviously, responding to the free marketeers mantra that what maximized his well-being maximized the well-being of all.

Feel free, though, to demonstrate how the rest of the market took steps to forestall him.