"If Only People Had Half a Clue as to Why this is Happening!"

by Don Boudreaux on May 15, 2008

in The Economy

My and Karol’s dear friend Betsy Albaugh — founder and owner of Betsy Fisher, the wonderful womens’-clothing store near Dupont Circle — sent this site to me yesterday.  In her e-mail, Betsy said "If only people had half a clue as to why this is happening…."  Indeed.  The market — humans’ "propensity to truck and barter," property rights, reason, a worldwide division of labor and trade — is why so many of us can sit in our living rooms, press a few buttons, and, by spending only a tiny fraction of our incomes, acquire marvelous goods from around the world.

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vidyohs May 15, 2008 at 11:13 am

45 year old John Sikspak has a good job in making cassette recording tapes. His salary has enabled him to acheive a confortable lifestyle which includes a nice late model SUV, upscale clothing for himself and family, season tickets to the Houston Texans football games, meals out at good ethnic restaurants 2 and 3 times a week, a wide screen HDTV, a wide variety of fruits and veggies in his supermarket every day of the year (no longer seasonal), etc. He appreciates what he has and he knows why he has it; but.

Then the market for cassette recording tapes begins to fade over the course of 15 or so years until there just is no longer a demand to justify keeping his plant open. Joe Sikspak, is laid off with no hope of ever going back. He has his lifestyle and his bills, now he is also bitter.

Now he sees the same things he did before but he resents them. Why? Because he can no longer afford them. And, if he can't afford them, you shouldn't have them either.

Go back to the recent posted blog about Adam Smith and his "moral sentiments".

Joe Sikspak is selfish, and he sees no noble purpose or reason for his not having what he had before. He doesn't care that his lack is most likely someone else's gain. In the midst of growing up in our socialist state Joe never was required to develop real character. Furthermore I am cynic enough to say I believe that, uneducated to reality, he would gladly use legislative force or/and military force to bring back his old job regardless of others it may harm.

I have seen the scenario played out at the individual, local, and regional level too many times in my lifetime not to have that degree of cynicism.

In essence I am saying that I believe most people know where and how the variety of things they enjoy come from, that they have them is selfish reason enough for them to resist losing them because of a mere thing like real world market forces.

Gil May 15, 2008 at 12:10 pm

Isn't it more to with production and realising the benefit science & technology? How many people live like the Amish? – They're low tech and their economy is small and circular yet free as they choose to live that way. On the other hand, why can't a society be coercive, productive and hi-tech? A hi-tech could attack a low-tech people force them off their land, enslave them into operating machinery in a way that makes they are more productive when they were free and the farmland is now growing far more food than by hand and animal labour. 'Tis nice that technology and freedom are going roughly hand-in-hand but do they always follow one another as high technology has also been used to build greater weapons of war and make totalitarianism more realisable? Perhaps one modern artifact that half/half is the Internet. It was supposed to be anonymous free flow of information but instead is made of ISPs and people can identified through data mining.

Gil May 15, 2008 at 12:15 pm

P.S. John 6pak makes money from cassettes? Sounds 80s-ish. Had a wonderful HDTV? Weren't they around only in the last few years?

Martin Brock May 15, 2008 at 1:58 pm

In the midst of growing up in our socialist state Joe never was required to develop real character.

You don't describe Joe growing up in any socialist state. You describe him growing up in a dynamic capitalist state and his response to the creative destruction of his livelihood. You also grossly underestimate him. He has a CD player himself, or an mp3 player, and he saw the decline of tape coming, so the job loss didn't surprise him.

The actual socialist is a state employee bemoaning the loss of his pension, but you don't tell this story, because it hasn't happened.

Matt May 15, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Imagine life without the crazy story of Chinese economic development. That story, its history, the cities, the culture is told to us by their trade; and we tell them about us in our trade. The more we trade the more we learn about the other party.

vidyohs May 15, 2008 at 6:58 pm


Can I ask a real world cynical question? Why yes, thank you. I will.

The USA is approaching 300 million in population, so let's use that number for the question.

Of the 300,000,000 people in the USA, how many of them do you suppose are learning, want to learn, or even give a shit about learning anything of real actual value about China because of our trade with China?

Matt, do you understand what serious interference learning is to keeping up with one's TV programs?

Now, before you answer, remember we are talking about people who have lived in the USA probably all their lives and don't know shit about the USA through the trade they do within the USA. We are talking about 300 million people who live 99% of lives running on enculturation and zero thought, and the 1% that isn't enculturation is conventional wisdom. Just listen to Billary, McCain, or Obama for awhile and deny me my truth.

vidyohs May 15, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Gilduck & Martinduck,

I am God to John Sikspak, I created him. He does what I want, when I want, and for as long as I want. He loves me for it.

Right now John Sikspak has returned from a day of looking for a new job, and he is sitting in his recliner at the picture window of the trailer home he had to move into after I crashed his world. He is sipping cheap beer and gulping cheetos; and he is bitter and he is flipping the bird to idiots like Gilduck and Martinduck.

It is good to be God.

It sucks to be John or any form of humanduck such as we hear from from time to time at this cafe.

vidyohs May 15, 2008 at 7:31 pm

BTW Don,

I read your post on the "Adam Smith on the China tragedy" thread and I agree with your distiction between selfish and self centered and the definitions of both.

So, as God to John Sikspak, I have to revise his attitude. His lack of concern for his fellow man vis-a-vis losing his job and his life style is self centered and he is perfectly comfortable with using legislation or military force to regain what he thinks he should have.

kebko May 16, 2008 at 11:47 am

People who lose their jobs to obsolescence never ever ever get new jobs. They live the remainder of their lives bitter & alone. To suggest otherwise is to be heartless.
That guy who used to deliver ice to my parents' childhood farms had to give up his lifestyle that included a two-lid outhouse & twice-a-week baths for the entire family when his customers bought electric freezers. He had to move into a smaller house with a one-lid outhouse & only once-a-week baths, and he hasn't found work since – thanks to that capitalist system you all love so well. What do you have to say to him?!

Martin Brock May 16, 2008 at 5:26 pm

People who lose their jobs to obsolescence never ever ever get new jobs. They live the remainder of their lives bitter & alone. To suggest otherwise is to be heartless.

Any IT guy who has been in the business more than a decade can only smile at this statement. The skills I employed in my first job, 25 years ago, are laughably obsolete today. Who even remembers what an MV-8000 was anymore?

vidyohs May 16, 2008 at 6:57 pm


What do I have to say to the iceman?

You're asking a man who has put eyes on entire families living in cardboard/tin one room shacks built with a open sewer running through the middle. No kitchen, no bathroom, no shitter at all except the open sewer which they use, no running water for washing excep[t the open sewer which they used, sleeping quarters to either side of the open sewer.

An extreme? Not really, saw equal and worse in other places.

Your iceman is blessed with having a small house with a one seat shitter.

I do believe though that your question was one of "tongue in cheek".

Your iceman is blessed to have a smaller home with

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