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If I Could Draw…

… I’d draw a picture meant to convey the inconceivable complexity, dynamism, and vastness of the modern economy.

As I imagine it, my picture would give the viewer the impression of looking, from the perspective of eye-level, at the surface of an ocean, with that which is above the surface presumably visible to anyone who looks and that which is below the surface invisible to all but the privileged viewer of the picture.

Above the surface is a cornucopia of goods and services – goods and services the existence of which is made possible by what is beneath the surface. The goods and services above the surface, available for people to consume, are all connected in intricate ways to the materials, machines, efforts, and processes that churn beneath the surface. Although the quantity of goods and services above the surface is immense, it is minuscule compared to the gargantuan amount of economic inputs and activities beneath the surface – inputs and activities, including creative entrepreneurship and risk-taking and on-the-spot problem-solving – connected to each other and to the goods and services above the surface in a web so complex as to be inconceivable to the human mind.
It’s easy to see that which in reality is, so to speak, above the economy’s surface: the huge amounts food, drink, and other household goods that are always available in every supermarket throughout the modern world – the automobiles whizzing up and down boulevards and autobahns – the seemingly endless menu of choices at Amazon.com – the army of oncologists, cardiologists, neurologists, podiatrists, obstetricians, pediatricians, and other medical specialists – the blogs, books, movies, streaming music, movies-on-demand, guided tours, and sports-league television networks to entertain or challenge your mind – the jetliners to carry you home for holidays or away from home on job assignments – the high and rising life-expectancy, the infants not dying (nor their mothers), the parents not grieving – the artificially cooled indoor air during the summer and artificially heated indoor air during the winter – the new app for smartphones – smartphones! – goods and services galore, from the gaudy to the glorious and each and every one the fruit of an inconceivably complex and spontaneously ordered web of economic relationships and processes, a mix of peaceful competition and cooperation, that works so silently and invisibly that almost no one knows of its existence.

It’s not at all easy to see the productive processes that make this cornucopia a reality. Indeed, it’s easy to deny, or to trivialize, its existence despite its enormousness.


The portion of an iceberg looming silently beneath the surface of the water is nothing as compared to the portion of the market economy that is beneath the economy’s ‘surface’ – the supply chains, the financial flows, the incredible specialization, the engineering talent, the marketing skills, the management genius, the gumption and drive and determination of ordinary men and women. And the complexity of the iceberg is non-existent compared to the complexity of the modern economy.

People such as Trump, Sanders, Rubio, and Warren – or Gabriel Zucman, Oren Cass, George Monbiot, and Tucker Carlson – and those who are enchanted by the sorts of things that such people say and write, are utterly ignorant of what percolates and hums so productively beneath what the eyes of such myopic people perceive.

I wish, oh how I wish!, that I had artistic talent enough to paint such a picture!


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