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Down is Not Up

Posted By Don Boudreaux On July 6, 2011 @ 6:42 am In Growth,Myths and Fallacies,Standard of Living,Technology,The Economy,Work | Comments Disabled

Here’s Mark Perry’s take [1] on David Brooks’s belief [2] that, to quote Brooks, it’s among America’s “problems” that “[m]anufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises.”  (We might cite also Pres. Obama’s concern that technologies such as ATMs ‘destroy’ jobs [3].)

And here’s more on this very topic from Frederic Bastiat [4] (1801-1850) – chapter 3 [5] (“Effort and Result”) of his Economic Sophisms [6].  Paragraphs 24 and 25 of this essay are especially relevant (original emphasis):

I have also cited the opinion of another Minister of Commerce, M. d’Argout. It deserves our attention for a moment. In an effort to strike a blow at the sugar-beet industry, he said:

    Doubtless the cultivation of the sugar beet is useful, but its usefulness is limited. Its potentialities fall far short of the gigantic developments that people are fond of predicting for it. To be convinced of this, one need only note that its cultivation will of necessity be confined to the limits set by the demands of the consumers. Double, triple if you will, the present consumption of sugar in France; you will still find that a very small portion of the land will be enough to satisfy the needs of the consumers. [Now, there's a remarkable complaint!] Do you desire proof of this? How many hectares were planted in sugar beets in 1828? A total of 3,130, or 1/10,540 of the arable land. How many are there today, when native sugar supplies one third of our consumption? A total of 16,700 hectares, or 1/1,978 of the arable land, or forty-five centiares per commune.22* [7] Even if we assume that native sugar were to supply the whole of our consumption, we should still have only 48,000 hectares cultivated in sugar beets, or 1/689 of the arable land.23* [8]
There are two elements to be noted in this quotation: the facts and the doctrine. The facts tend to establish that it takes little land, capital, and manual labor to produce a great deal of sugar, and that every commune in France would provide itself with an abundant supply by devoting one hectare of its area to cultivating the sugar beet. The doctrine consists in regarding this circumstance as harmful, and in seeing in the very efficiency and productiveness of the new industry a limit to its usefulness.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
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[1] Here’s Mark Perry’s take: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2011/07/bastiats-one-hand-solution-to-job.html

[2] David Brooks’s belief: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/opinion/05brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

[3] Pres. Obama’s concern that technologies such as ATMs ‘destroy’ jobs: http://cafehayek.com/2011/06/open-letter-to-barack-obama.html

[4] Frederic Bastiat: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Bastiat.html

[5] chapter 3: http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basSoph1.html#S.1,%20Ch.3,%20Effort%20and%20Result

[6] Economic Sophisms: http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basSoph.html

[7] 22*: http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basSoph1.html#n22

[8] 23*: http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basSoph1.html#n23

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