… is from page 3 of Armen Alchian’s and William Allen’s Universal Economics (2018; Jerry L. Jordan, ed.); this volume is an updated version of Alchian’s and Allen’s magnificent and pioneering earlier textbook, University Economics:
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 helpful and efficiently but often hurtfully and wastefully, by the social ground rules and institutions we adopt and have had imposed on us.
DBx: The propensity of people to believe that, through government, people can escape the binds of scarcity remains distressingly vast. Of course, no one admits to believing the bald claim that government can work the miracle of causing scarcity to disappear or to become irrelevant. But survey any successful candidate’s campaign promises – promises that spark cheering crowds and feet flocking to polling places – and you will find among these many assertions that imply either the absence of scarcity or a childish failure to take the reality of scarcity seriously. This same belief in miracles is found in much public commentary on economic matters.
Protectionists promise increased riches from policies that intentionally decrease people’s access to riches. Profligate spenders promise increased riches from the mere printing of money or from the mere mailing of government checks. Popular pundits and reporters promise riches from the devastation left by hurricanes and other natural disasters. Nearly everyone outside of the relatively small group of people who understand that F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman were not henchmen working for sadistic oligarchs is certain that using minimum wages to raise employers’ costs of employing workers does nothing to dissuade employers from employing workers. These same people are convinced also that using government-imposed price ceilings to reduce suppliers’ gains from supplying goods and services – and to reduce consumers’ incentives to economize on the use of goods and services – does nothing to diminish the availability of goods and services.
And so it goes. At the level of popular and political discourse, the belief that government is a godlike creature capable of working wondrous miracles (if in the right hands) – or of working dastardly miracles (if in the wrong hands) – comes with little in the way of even attempted intellectual justification. The supernatural powers are simply taken for granted.
At more elite levels – on college campuses, in think tanks, and in some of the more ‘intellectual’ publications – the reality of miracles is believed to be proven scientifically if some clever associate professor or Senior Fellow can articulate a set of conditions that, were these conditions to be found in reality, splendid outcomes would materialize. And in the eyes of these associate professors, Senior Fellows, and those many persons who thrill to their demonstrations of the possibility of splendid outcomes engineered by the state, it is simply out-of-bounds, scientifically, for anyone to point out that these secular priests are as detached from reality as was any 19th-century voodoo queen peddling her mysticism in the French Quarter.