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Get Real

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One benefit of bad economics let loose on the public is that it inspires the creation and sharing of good economics.

This new essay by Kevin Williamson [2] is stunningly superb both in content and in style.  (Note that this essay is different from this other excellent Williamson essay that I linked to recently [3].)   (HT my dear friend Lyle Albaugh)  Some slices:

The physical economy — the world of actual goods and services — looks radically different from the symbolic economy [that is, the economy reckoned in monetary values such as prices, incomes, and GDP]. Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.


For example, The Nation yesterday published a hilariously illiterate essay by Raúl Carrillo [4], who is a graduate student at Columbia, a Harvard graduate, and an organizer of something called the Modern Money Network, “an interdisciplinary educational initiative for understanding money, finance, law, and the economy.” All three of those institutions should be embarrassed. Mr. Carrillo is the sort of man who thinks that 40 pieces of candy can be divided and recombined in such a way as to arrive at a number greater than 40. His essay, “Your Government Owes You a Job,” argues that the federal government should create a guaranteed-job program, “becoming our employer of last resort.” Mr. Carrillo’s middle-school-quality prose must be read to be appreciated — “Would jobs for all skyrocket wages and prices, spurring inflation? Such unfounded belief holds the jobless hostage to hysteria” — but his thinking is positively elementary. It does, however, almost perfectly sum up the symbolism-over-literal-substance progressive worldview: “You need dollars to eat,” he writes, “and unless you steal the dollars, you generally have to earn them.”

But you do not need dollars to eat. You need food to eat.


Politics is parasitic. Even at its best, it produces no goods of its own; it has only that which it takes from what others produce. For about 200,000 years, human beings produced almost nothing — the per capita economic-output curve is nearly flat from the appearance of the first homo sap. until the appearance of Jethro Tull and Eli Whitney. We’ve had politicians since before Hammurabi, but we didn’t escape the shadow of famine until a few thousand years later when somebody discovered that the wars fought over dividing up the harvest could be prevented by making that harvest bigger — and then figuring out how to get that done. Politics is a footnote — the inventory in your local Walmart is the headline.

(This EconLog post by Scott Sumner makes a similar point [5].)