Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 22, 2019

in Complexity & Emergence, Economics

… is from page 3 – the opening paragraphs – of Armen Alchian’s and William Allen’s Universal Economics (2018; Jerry Jordan, ed.); this volume is an updated version of Alchian’s and Allen’s magnificent earlier textbook, University Economics (original emphasis):

Since the discouraging fiasco in the Garden of Eden, all the world has been a place conspicuous in its scarcity of resources, contributing heavily to an abundance of various sorrows and sins. People have had to adjust and adapt to limitations of what is available to satisfy unlimited desires. Some individuals and societies have been much more successful than others in thus making do.

The study of economics deals with this yoke of scarcity and the modes of behavior intended to minimize the pains and maximize the gains of getting along—behavior which is restricted and channeled, sometimes helpfully and efficiently but often hurtfully and wastefully, by the social ground rules and institutions we adopt and have had imposed upon us.

To survive (much less to prosper a bit) in this vale of tears has required enormous, unrelenting effort. The vast variety of economic activity—bidding and offering in the market, producing and consuming currently, and saving and investing for the future—typically entails coordinated decision making and labor. But even seemingly simple operations of production and distribution can require contributions by many people, most of whom never meet or directly communicate with each other and are located in scattered corners of the world.

Consider this book. Thousands of people—in addition to the authors—contributed to placing this book in your hands. Some made paper; some made ink and glue; some edited the manuscript; some printed, warehoused, promoted, and distributed the product. No single person completely planned and supervised all that, and no one was a specialist in performing each of the myriad tasks. Yet, you have the book.

DBx: If you carefully study and absorb this 692-page book, your instincts and skills at using the economic way of thinking to understand and explain reality will be keener and more complete than those of 75 to 80 percent of people who currently boast PhDs in the subject. With your mind, you will ‘see’ features of reality that almost everyone else overlooks, and you will be in constant awe of the unplanned order of our tremendously complex society.

But be warned of the downside: for the rest of your life, and daily, you will experience sharp pains when you encounter economic commentary. The pain will be caused by this commentary’s unremitting shallowness and superficiality.


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