Resources

How Prices Promote Peace

By Matthew McCaffrey

Donald Trump’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan makes it necessary to once again stress the value of peace and the importance of rejecting US militarism and imperialism. Yet it also provides an opportunity to think about the foundations of a truly peaceful society, and to reaffirm a basic social truth: no institutions more effectively promote peace than the institutions of the market economy.

Cooperating not Expropriating

Peace begins at home, or rather, it begins wherever you and I decide it does: at any time and place we realize that the best way to improve our lives is to cooperate rather than to brutalize each other.

Trade allows us to benefit from our different values, while hurting no one.

As economists like Ludwig von Mises point out, this realization is actually the foundation of human social relations. It also explains why we establish social bonds through trade: we recognize, first, that we each possess resources and skills that are less valuable to us than others that we hope to acquire, and second, that other people value things in just the opposite way. Trade then allows us to benefit from our different values, while hurting no one. It is an act of peace, one reason why it’s no surprise that Mises refers to the moment after exchange as a “state of rest” – including an absence of conflict.

Voluntary exchange is thus a rebuke to violence and war-making: it reveals to each of us, in a personal way, that increasing our own welfare means cooperating, not expropriating.

Prices are a social recognition of this deeper fact. They tacitly acknowledge that many individuals have foregone violence and realized the benefits of cooperation and trade, so much so that they can establish between them an objective estimate of the social worth of the things we hold dear: a price.

Eventually, a vast network of individual exchanges creates the price system, a gigantic engine for improving the welfare of all members of society. This engine works 24 hours a day to overcome the greatest cause of conflict among human beings: scarcity.

The Struggle over Scarce Resources

Property, exchange, and the price system enable us to put aside our conflicts.

Scarcity presents seemingly intractable problems: how can we thrive in a world where human wants outstrip the resources available to satisfy them? How can we ensure that the goods and services we produce will get to the people who need them most?

Prices are the answer, and the price system works from moment to moment to appraise and allocate countless scarce resources over which we no longer have to fight.

Property, exchange, and the price system enable us to put aside our conflicts. In fact, when prices can’t be established because property rights are unclear – as in the tragedy of the commons – the result is a desperate conflict over scarce resources as each person tries to exploit a “free” good.

Similarly, price controls prohibit buyers and sellers from agreeing on a way to mutually benefit. Inevitably, someone leaves the market unsatisfied. In fact, price floors and ceilings cause conflict by eliminating exchange and replacing it with rationing. Without prices, producers and consumers arbitrarily discriminate, thereby creating special privileges for certain individuals and groups.

For example, landlords of rent-controlled apartments might choose tenants based on their racial characteristics rather than those who need housing the most. Similarly, faced with increasing minimum wage rates, fast food restaurants hire college students instead of workers from less wealthy or educated backgrounds who more urgently need a job. Inevitably, the non-privileged groups start to resent the beneficiaries of discrimination, and social conflict is the result.

Non-Market Goods

The lack of prices for such “goods” reveals that they’re nothing of the sort.

Importantly, this effect works across borders as well, as domestic producers and unions reap the benefits of trade barriers and immigration controls at the expense of foreign workers. This kind of exploitation sows the seeds of economic and, eventually, military conflict. Allowing prices to exist for foreign goods and labor is, therefore, a vital step toward achieving global peace.

For that reason, we should also be deeply skeptical about the production of any weapons or military technologies that have no market applications – and no prices – in a free economy. The reason is simple: the lack of prices for such “goods” reveals that they’re nothing of the sort. Their purpose is to destroy life, not improve it.

Seeing prices emerge and change in the marketplace should be a cause for celebration just as much as the sight of a soldier laying down his weapons. Both are victories for humanity, but prices especially reflect a deep commitment on the part of many people to choose cooperation over conflict. In that sense, it’s not much of an exaggeration to declare: Blessed are the price-makers.

Republished from FEE.org

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Money Is the Real Social Contract

By Baudoin Collard

Despite major inconsistencies, the social contract theory remains one of the most prominent founding myths of our societies. Is it possible to revisit this dogma to correct its deficiencies?

The social contract theory finds its origins during the Enlightenment era in the 18th century. In the context of challenging royal institutions, philosophers like Rousseau and Hobbes sought to answer the following questions: How are societies born? Why do humans decide to live together? Where do governments derive their legitimacy?

According to Rousseau, an implicit contract binds men together to form a society. Through this contract, men relinquish some of their freedom to the state. In return, the state provides justice and security. This way, the general welfare is protected from special interests through the legislature, elected by the people.

The social contract theory has had a major influence on Western philosophy. As attractive as it is, the theory suffers from fundamental flaws.

First, no one has ever signed such a contract. One can argue that elections represent a tacit renewal of the contract. But in this case, abstention should be considered. And what about countries like Belgium where voting is compulsory?

Second, history teaches us that human societies emerged well before the institutions that govern them. It is the society that begets the institutions and not the reverse. Moreover,  these institutions have been set up in bloody wars and revolutions.

Lastly, according to Rousseau, since the parliament represents the people, the minority must accept any decisions taken by the majority in the name of a nebulous “general interest.” In the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville had already mentioned the risk associated with this belief. Such a system drifts into a tyranny of the majority.

If we looked closer, we would see an institution inseparable from the human society that could perfectly fulfill this role of the social contract: money.

Is Money a Social Contract?

Money is proper to man. Historically, no society could develop without the support of some form of money. Conversely, the concept of money is meaningless when taken out of its social context. It is from its acceptance by users that money derives its legitimacy and value. Men voluntarily adopt money because they benefit from it.

By facilitating exchanges, money allows specialization — the source of new technological developments. As a store of value, it allows users to save, which is the source of investment and protection against the hazards of life. Investment and technological progress both generate growth. This is the fundamental reason why men unite: in order to draw greater benefit from each other’s labor.

Currency Manipulation

If money is the cement that binds society together, what happens when this cement disintegrates? The German hyperinflationbetween 1921 and 1924 is certainly one of the most tragic examples of monetary collapse, but it is far from an isolated case.

Given its critical role, it may be tempting for a minority to manipulate the currency to its advantage. If the phenomenon is not new, it has also become more complex over time.

An early example occurred with the use of minted coins.

Originally, coins ensured the weight and quality of the currency. But gradually, the right to mint coins has become a state monopoly. This has allowed governments to control currency and extract a rent (seigniorage and sometimes debasement).

The invention of the banknote was a major technological evolution. Originally introduced to facilitate increased trade, banknotes have gradually become a monopoly of the power in place. As a striking example, Napoleon Bonaparte gave the monopoly of printing bank notes to the Bank of France, of which he was a major shareholder.

The creation of central banks is the logical continuation of the state’s growing influence over money. Under the pretext of stabilizing money issuance and protect depositors from banking crises, the creation of central banks actually greatly facilitated state indebtednesswar funding, and ultimately inflation.

Speaking of inflation, here is precisely what Keynes said about it:

By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some.”

From Social Contract to Social Control

But inflation is not the only stab to the social contract of money. From the moment the money is imposed by the government rather than freely chosen by citizens, it loses its legitimacy. Initially acting as a social contract, money in state hands becomes a tool of social control. It allows a minority to exploit their privileged position for profit and power.

The states impose the use of their currency in more or less subtle ways. In the most authoritarian countries like China, the currency is subject to strict controls.

Exchange rates are set by the government and capital movements are tightly monitored. In the so-called democratic countries, the currency is imposed through legislation and numerous regulations. For example, the official currency is the only one allowed for the payment of fines and taxes. Banking and insurance regulations require individuals to invest a proportion of assets in state bonds, to inform the government of all transactions above a certain amount, etc.

In terms of social control by the currency, governments can be very creative. One example is the introduction of price and wage controls. Another example is the introduction (and increasingly pervasive use) of the food stamp program.

A more pernicious threat now hangs over the money with the disappearance of cash so desired by our governments. The abandonment of cash threatens to increase our dependence on the banking system. It also increases the stranglehold of states over their citizenry by facilitating the establishment of taxation on savings accounts or even an outright confiscation of bank accounts, as was the case in Cyprus.

Freeing the Money

All monies do not fulfill their social contract equally. Among fiat currencies, large differences exist, depending on the objectives of central banks and economic policies. So if we compare the consumer price index (a proxy for inflation), we observe that the US Dollar has lost about 54 percent of its purchasing power over the last 30 years.

The Swiss Franc saw a decline in purchasing power when it was limited to 31 percent and then 14 percent for the Japanese Yen. At the same time, the currency’s purchasing power fell by more than 99 percent in Mexico, Turkey, and in many countries of the former Soviet Union.

Gold and precious metals enjoy a lasting credibility because these commodities are difficult to manipulate. Precious metals have also provided an effective hedge against inflation and other monetary turpitudes throughout history. Gold is still a reserve currency of choice for central banks.

Finally, a new form of currency has recently emerged: the cryptographic currencies among which Bitcoin is undoubtedly the most famous. Bitcoin appeared in 2009, at the height of the subprime crisis and bank bailouts by the taxpayers. If they have often aroused disbelief in their infancy, these cryptocurrencies now enjoy a combined capitalization largely exceeding $100 billion.

More fundamentally, cryptocurrencies are the perfect illustration of the competitive bidding of private currencies. This is similar to what was proposed by Friedrich Hayek in his book “The Denationalization of Money.” 

Since the use of these currencies is free, their value fluctuates according to the interest they generate and the resulting demand. Their course is closely linked to the services they can provide, as a means of payment, and their credibility, as a store of value. The proliferation of these cryptographic currencies is a full-scale laboratory experiment for the future of money.

Money Guarantees a Free Society

Money, even more so than democracy, embodies the essence of the social contract. Its legitimacy comes from its acceptance, freely chosen by all users. 

The fundamental role of money in exchange explains its catalytic action in the seeding of the development of human societies, long before the emergence of democratic institutions. Finally, currency manipulation inevitably causes the decline of a society,as democratic as it may be.

Nothing better sums up money that Ayn Rand’s quote:

“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue.”

Money is a tremendous source of emancipation for the society. It promotes cooperation and peaceful exchanges between humans, no matter their views, gender, origin or preferences. It is the conductor that imperceptibly regulates the human action.

Conversely, anyone who aims to suppress money should be prepared to substitute it by a planned economy with cohorts of bureaucrats who impose by force. Anyone who denounces the dictatorship of money should recall that the worst tyrannies are those where citizens were deprived of their currency. And if money is regularly accused of being the root of all evil, it is all too often the victim of those who control it. Rather than blaming the money, let’s blame those who corrupt it.

Perfect currencies do not exist. As the brainchild of fallible humans, monies are bound to constantly face primal temptations. Failing to find such an illusory ideal, the freedom to choose currencies is the best guarantee of having sound money in a free society.

 

Republished from FEE.org

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Millennials Are in a Love Triangle with Capitalism and Socialism

By Andrew Taylor

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Millennials – the generation born between roughly 1980 and 2000 – think about economics. Much of it was sparked by the fanatical support for self-described “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders from young people in the Democratic primary for president last year.

Gallup found in April 2016 that, whereas Hillary Clinton had a net favorability rating of -23 among 18-24 year-olds, Sanders’s score was +39.

Harvard University poll administered at about the same time revealed how this has been translated into policy views. The survey reported that only 42% of Millennials supported capitalism. According to a contemporaneous Gallup poll, that was about 10 percentage points lower than the general population. The Harvard survey showed 33% of Millennials wanted socialism.

So Millennials have economic attitudes that are different from older Americans. But is their economic behavior different? Do they walk the socialist walk?

Here, the evidence is decidedly mixed.

Health Care

Socialists tend to embrace public goods because all citizens can consume them. Millennials certainly like them. A Pew Research Center poll from June revealed 45% of 18–29-year-olds favored a single-payer health care system. This was 14 percentage points higher than any other single age group.

Census data show Millennials adopted health insurance more rapidly than any other age cohort when Obamacare began in 2014-15. I’m not entirely sure what kind of political philosophy this behavior illustrates, but it does seem to suggest Millennials embraced the Affordable Care Act, legislation most people believe moved health care in this country solidly to the left.

Recycling and Personal Consumption

Socialism, unlike capitalism, makes a virtue of constrained personal consumption. A major reason for this, of course, is that it is less suited to production. But the connection has helped fuse ecology to socialism in the platforms of left-wing parties across the globe.

You may have heard the argument that Millennials are more environmentally conscious than the rest of us – they don’t use plastic shopping bags or flush the toilet, etc. A survey commissioned by Rubbermaid reported earlier this year that two-thirds of Millennials would give up social media for a week if everyone at their company recycled.

Interestingly, however, the data on behavior do not bear this out. A 2014 Harris poll conducted for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) revealed that whereas roughly a half of respondents over thirty said they “always” recycled, only a third of the younger group did.

Millennials talk about saving the planet for humanity, behavior a socialist mindset deems heroic, but they do not seem to be doing more than anyone else to secure our world’s survival.

Transportation

Millennials also use public transportation much more than other groups. Over one-fifth ride a bus or train on a daily or almost-daily basis according to a Pew survey from late 2015. This was nearly double the proportion of any other age group.

Indeed, younger people seem to have much less love than their elders for that ultimate of American private goods, one’s own car. The number of licensed drivers in both the 24-29-year-old and 30-34-year-old cohorts decreased by about 10% between 1983 and 2014 according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. The drop for 18-year-olds was a fifth. At the same time, everyone over 45 continues their love affair with the automobile.

This seems consistent with the socialist rejection of material goods, but whether this is correlation or causation is unclear.

Sharing Economy

Moreover, Millennials have almost single-handedly nurtured the “sharing” economy – a marketplace in which peer-to-peer transactions are facilitated by a software platform that permits participants to divide consumption, as exemplified by Uber and Airbnb. According to Vugo, 57% of all ridesharing customers are aged 25 to 34.

The sharing economy may sound quite socialist because it seems to eschew private ownership. But as Duke professor Mike Munger has pointed out, people, in general, wish to consume the services that tangible goods provide, not the goods themselves. The sharing economy, in fact, provides access to the services of more material goods than the user would otherwise have – whether that’s a five-minute ride in a car or a two-day stay in a house. Its fundamental principles, therefore, are capitalist.

Entrepreneurialism

A 2014 Bentley University survey of Millennials reported that two-thirds of respondents expressed a desire to start their own business. But Millennial behavior is different. An analysis by the Wall Street Journal last year found that the proportion of Americans under 30 who own a business has dropped by 65% since the 1980s. Millennials might say they want to be Mark Zuckerberg, but they’re not particularly entrepreneurial.

There does exist therefore a disconnect between Millennial economic attitudes and behavior. What explains it? The generation is intrigued by the idea of socialism. It embraces many of its values and the public policies that would bring it about. But Millennials’ behavior is ambiguous. Entrepreneurship in private enterprise is not a particularly appealing career path to them in practice.

Additionally, Millennials’ reduced consumption is probably as much a function of economic necessity as it is a sacrifice of their personal wants to some grand social plan. The Great Recession has left them playing financial catch-up. A Pew analysis of census data reveals 15% of 25-to-35-year-olds still live with their parents. Traditionally that fraction has been around one tenth. A 2016 study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that Millennials make less than Gen Xers did in their early 30s. They only earn about the same as Boomers, who are 30 years older and 50% less likely to have graduated from college.

So perhaps there’s another explanation: When they appear to be rejecting capitalism, it’s often because Millennials are simply adjusting America’s core economic principles to new technologies and economic realities.

Reprinted from Learn Liberty.

 

Andrew J. Taylor

Andrew J. Taylor is professor of Political Science in the School of Public and International Affairs at NC State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut and teaches courses in American politics, including Introduction to American Government, the Presidency and Congress, the Legislative Process, Public Choice and Political Institutions, and the Classical Liberal Tradition.

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The Regulatory State Is the Enemy of Economic Mobility

By David Boaz

Why are Americans less likely to move to better opportunities than they used to be? The Wall Street Journal reports:

When opportunity dwindles, a natural response—the traditional American instinct—is to strike out for greener pastures. Migrations of the young, ambitious and able-bodied prompted the Dust Bowl exodus to California in the 1930s and the reverse migration of blacks from Northern cities to the South starting in the 1980s.

Yet the overall mobility of the U.S. population is at its lowest level since measurements were first taken at the end of World War II, falling by almost half since its most recent peak in 1985.

In rural America, which is coping with the onset of socioeconomic problems that were once reserved for inner cities, the rate of people who moved across a county line in 2015 was just 4.1%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That’s down from 7.7% in the late 1970s.

One particular problem with today’s immobility is that people find themselves in areas where jobs are dwindling and pay tends to be lower. Why don’t they move to where the jobs are? This comprehensive article for the Journal by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg points to a few factors:

For many rural residents across the country with low incomes, government aid programs such as Medicaid, which has benefits that vary by state, can provide a disincentive to leave. One in 10 West Branch [Mich.] residents lives in low-income housing, which was virtually nonexistent a generation ago.

And then there are regulations that discourage mobility:

While small-town home prices have only modestly recovered from the housing market meltdown, years of restrictive land-use regulations have driven up prices in metropolitan areas to the point where it is difficult for all but the most highly educated professionals to move….

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

Brink Lindsey wrote about both land-use regulations and occupational licensing as examples of “regressive regulation”—regulatory barriers to entry and competition that work to redistribute income and wealth up the socioeconomic scale—in his Cato White Paper, “Low-Hanging Fruit Guarded by Dragons: Reforming Regressive Regulation to Boost U.S. Economic Growth.”

The Journal notes that:

The lack of mobility has become a drag on the entire U.S. economy.

“We’re locking people out from the most productive cities,” says Peter Ganong, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago who studies migration. “This is a force that widens the urban-rural divide.”

Ganong made similar points in a Cato Research Brief, “Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?

Declining mobility hurts U.S. innovation and economic growth and widens the rural-income culture gap. Government regulation plays a major role in declining mobility. But as Lindsey noted, those regulations are “guarded by dragons”—”the powerful interest groups that benefit from the status quo, all of which can be counted upon to defend their privileges tenaciously.” Despite the potential for agreement by right, left, and libertarian policy analysts on the problems with regressive regulation, all those wonks together may be no match for organized dentists, barbers, massage therapists, and homeowners who perceive that they benefit from keeping others out.

 

Reprinted from FEE.

David Boaz

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedomand the editor of The Libertarian Reader.

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A Liberty Reading List to Finish Up Your Summer

Summer is the perfect time to settle into a slower pace of life and savor a great book, whether it’s an old favorite that you continue to enjoy or an unfamiliar one with new ideas to ponder. And so before the summer ends, I have a challenge for you: I’m going to share five of my favorite books and essays with you, and I’m hoping you’ll read at least one before the beginning of the semester.

Not only are these fun summer reads, they are classic works that were foundational to my intellectual journey as an economist. They will shape the way you think about society while helping you articulate your beliefs about how to effect human prosperity and liberty across the world.

  1. “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read. This essay changed not only my views about the economy but my classroom teaching as well. It is timeless and action-packed. This short essay is written from the perspective of a pencil about how it came into being. There is so much economic thinking in this little story. It turns out that the ordinary pencil, which we take for granted and is seemingly so simple, is actually quite sophisticated: so much so that no one person, not even the CEO of the pencil company, knows how to make it. It is a story of the coordination of millions of strangers who come together to serve each other. If you haven’t read this essay, put it at the top of your list, and if you have, it’s a great one to read again!
  2. We the Living by Ayn Rand. Can you imagine the atrocities of living under Communist rule? This book takes us there, and it’s a great introduction to Rand if you are new to her work. We the Living remains my favorite Rand novel. It’s not a book about economics per say, but about economic systems and how they are so critical to whether we thrive or perish — both personally and socially.
  3. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I love this short, pithy book written in 1946 by American journalist Henry Hazlitt because of how easy it is to understand — it’s both accessible and timeless. Hazlitt begins by encouraging us to think like economists by seeing the unseen and forcing us to take the long-term perspective so that we fully account for the costs of our actions. I come back to this book every year and am reminded of the power of the economic way of thinking.
  4. Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. This book does not disappoint and is loaded with stories and evidence to help elucidate the economic way of thinking. Economist and author Thomas Sowell takes us through the market system of prices, property rights, profits and losses, and the mechanisms for increasing human productivity and prosperity. Using stories and evidence throughout, he helps us see the follies of policies that don’t properly incorporate the fundamental economic realities of the world in which we live. I not only love reading this book time and again, but it makes a great holiday gift as well!
  5. “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat. What if the law becomes a method of theft and plunder instead of an instrument of protection? In this compelling essay, Bastiat helps us see the importance of the rule of law as the foundation of a productive society. He tears down the old notions of political theorists who thought that elected officials could disavow themselves of their self-interest and greed and put on the cloak of the people to serve the common good. Bastiat shows us that the law is a force for good only when political leaders must also submit to it. Otherwise, it is a source of plunder. Originally published in 1850, Bastiat foreshadows the rent-seeking culture and special interests who distort lawmaking today.

Summer is a great time to catch up on the classics – and to reread your favorites with a new perspective. These readings will help you get a jump on the school year and engage in articulate discussion about these issues with your professors and peers.

I hope you find this list to be a helpful starting place in understanding economics and liberty. Which books and essays would make your top 5 list? And if you’ve already read the ones I’ve listed here, why do you think others should read them?

Reprinted from Learn Liberty.

 

Anne Rathbone Bradley

Dr. Bradley is Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.

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Lawrence Reed: Thoughts on a Free Market

On Tuesday, March 28, Dr. Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), was invited by Young Americans for Liberty to speak about free trade and protectionism at the Miller Learning Center. Reed began his talk by explaining some fundamental definitions concerning economics and followed by making arguments in favor of free trade over protectionism, tariffs, and quotas.

In the past year, the question of how the United States should approach international trade has become an increasingly divisive topic, especially among conservatives. Many in the Trump camp favor his retreat from trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his push to renegotiate the North American Free-Trade-Agreement (NAFTA). Concurrently, Dr. Reed and many other conservatives believe that Trump’s approach is ultimately regressive.

In his talk on the University of Georgia campus, Dr. Reed puts forth the question that was asked centuries ago by famous author and economist Adam Smith: “What makes a nation wealthy?” Reed’s answer is goods and services. He asserts that more and better choices in the market, not full employment, make a nation truly wealthy. “This is the general argument against protectionism,” says Reed. “Tariffs and quotas do not necessarily improve goods and services.”

Dr. Reed presents three arguments in favor of freer markets, confidently noting that he would say the same to a Detroit auto workers union.


THE LIBERTY ARGUMENT

He refers to his first argument as the “liberty argument.” This one is more principled than pragmatic. It declares that all potential traders have the right to voluntary exchange and that tariffs and quotas handed down by the government obstruct this right. This line of thinking is consistent with many libertarian and conservative positions dealing with individual and property rights.


THE PEACE ARGUMENT

The second argument is dubbed the “peace argument.” Here, Reed references French economist Frédéric Bastiat:

“If goods don’t cross borders, armies will.”

Many wars and conflicts in history have been catalyzed by trade disagreements, and Reed contends that diplomacy is a much preferable and more effective alternative. This argument has a basis among other free market thinkers, as well as national security theorists. Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises touted a similar theory to debunk the Marxist-Leninist contention that capitalism was a catalyst for war. Where Lenin saw the spread of worldwide capitalism as the internationalization of the eternal conflict between labor and capital, Mises posited that the interconnectedness of international trade established strong, mutually-beneficial commercial networks between countries that often served as a countervailing force against calls for martial conflict among trading nations. Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, a World Socialist website seemed to confirm Mises’ point back in 1999 when it noted: “The pledge to restart the talks [with China] came after a barrage of lobbying pressure by U.S. companies alarmed over the prospect of losing the billions of dollars in trade and investment opportunities.”


THE ULTIMATE ARGUMENT

Dr. Reed appropriately calls his final argument the “ultimate argument,” in which he takes a more economic look at the effects of protectionism. This argument claims that tariffs and quotas harm consumers by giving them inferior products, fewer options, and higher prices. Other trading parties also have the ability to retaliate to protectionist action. Dr. Reed closes this argument by saying, “You cannot close the door to imports without closing the door on exports.” Dr. Reed’s economic point has historical basis in our hemisphere, where “import substitution,” a much more drastic variant of protectionism, took Argentina from one of the top ten wealthiest countries at the dawn of the 20th century to an economic also-ran today. Chile, on the other hand, drastically reduced tariffs and opened its economy to the world, and has become the model economy for the region.


Dr. Reed is clearly wary of President Trump’s rhetorical tendency towards isolationism, and with good reason. It is imperative to maintain a free market for the nation’s continued prosperity. However, various conservatives believe that some countries have taken advantage of the U.S. due to its recent trade policy and that certain tariffs would put a stop to that. Our unwavering commitment to free trade is little solace to an entrepreneur whose intellectual property has been stolen by a state-owned Chinese manufacturer. To combat this, Joanne Butler, a former staffer of the House Means and Ways Committee, offers some enforcement tools that, she believes, can curb the violation of American property and intellectual rights. Butler references a law nicknamed “Special 301” as a means to punish countries that regularly engage in piracy of software, technology, high-end designer goods and other products by imposing tariffs on imported goods.

Former House Foreign Affairs Committee member Dan Burton claims that Trump was absolutely right to pull the U.S. from the TPP and renegotiate NAFTA. Burton opposes massive multilateral trade agreements that, he argues, “ceded our constitutional authority and economic autonomy to international organizations such as the World Trade Organization.” Burton goes on to stress the danger of the shift in manufacturing from domestic to globalized production has made the nation more vulnerable to international crises.

The key word in most conservative arguments for increased protectionism seems to be “fairness.” Dan Burton is not anti-trade, but he emphasizes the fact that trade only benefits the U.S. if it is free and fair. Finding a compromise in this discussion can be tricky, especially when dealing with a new president whose capacity for compromise is, at the very least, unproven. The United States has the world’s largest economy, and should not subject itself to unfair and harmful deals. However, those who argue for and orchestrate this pullback must not forget the principles of the free market and the benefits of free trade that allowed America to become great in the first place.

Republished from Archconuga.com

— J. Thomas Perdue is a sophomore studying journalism. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative

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Why is the number of poor people in Africa increasing when Africa’s economies are growing?

By Laurence Chandy

2015 marks the 20th year since sub-Saharan Africa started on a path of faster economic growth. During that period, growth has averaged 5.2 percent per year. Meanwhile, the number of people on the continent reportedly living under $1.25 a day has continued to creep upwards from 358 million in 1996 to 415 million in 2011—the most recent year for which official estimates exist.

What can explain these divergent trends? 

The most obvious explanation would be if all the benefits of growth were captured by the rich, resulting in ever-increasing inequality within each country. But the data don’t show much evidence of that, thankfully. Distribution trends within African countries are a wash: The distribution is widening in about as many countries as it is narrowing. And in most countries the distribution isn’t changing much at all. It might be that the very richest people—the top 1 percent—are enjoying more than their share of the spoils of growth but that this is missing from the data, as this rarified class tends not to participate in household surveys from which distributions are derived. Yet, in the absence of supplementary data to back this theory up, such as the tax records used to measure top incomes in rich countries, this is mere speculation. Moreover, there is certainly evidence of rising average incomes for the people who do participate in surveys. 

Instead, there are five factors that can account for sub-Saharan Africa’s disappointing poverty numbers.

The first is the region’s rapid population growth of 2.6 percent a year. While African economies are generating more income, that income has to be shared among an ever-increasing number of people. Since the region’s income is growing faster than its population, average incomes are rising and the share of Africans living in extreme poverty is falling—from 60 percent in 1996 to 47 percent in 2011. But the rate at which poverty is falling is less than the rate at which the population is rising, so the number of people living in poverty continues to grow. More generally, sub-Saharan Africa’s record on economic growth looks much less impressive in per capita terms. The World Bank has just released a revised growth forecast for the region in 2015 of 4.0 percent. When you lop off 2.6 for population growth, you’re left with per capita income growth of only 1.4 percent. Compare that with the world average where projected economic growth of 2.9 percent combined with population growth of 1.1 percent results in per capita income growth of 1.8 percent in 2015. So, in per capita terms, Africa’s growth this year is expected to be below the global average.

The second factor is the depth of Africa’s poverty compared to poverty elsewhere. In other words, poor people in Africa start further behind the poverty line. So even if their income is growing, it is rarely enough to push them over the $1.25 threshold. In 2011, the average person living in extreme poverty in Africa lived on 74 cents a day, whereas for the rest of the developing world, it was 98 cents. I’ve written before about the implications of this trend for poverty reduction in Africa here.

The third factor is that even though inequality isn’t rising in most African countries, inequality is already at unusually high levels. Where initial inequality is high, it is to be expected that economic growth delivers less poverty reduction, since the absolute increases in income associated with rising average incomes will be that much smaller for the have-nots versus the haves. Moreover, the degree of inequality that exists on the continent is worse than it looks. The fact that Africa is divided into so many countries masks big differences in income between them. If Africa were a single country, its inequality would look much worse—worse even than Latin America. Since incomes across African people vary so widely, only a fraction of people are likely to cross the poverty line at any one time. That contrasts with India where a concentration of people immediately below the $1.25 mark means that even a small increase in incomes can result in a sudden flood of people moving above the poverty line.

The above three factors explain why you would expect relatively little poverty reduction for a given amount of growth in Africa compared to elsewhere (in technical terms, a lower poverty elasticity). But they can’t explain why the number of poor people in Africa has actually increased since the start of the century. For this we need the two final factors.

The fourth factor is that there is a degree of mismatch between where growth is occurring and where the poor are on the continent. To be sure, the region’s growth acceleration has benefited some of its poorest countries, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Rwanda. Yet others such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar have recorded little or no growth over the past 20 years, and the number of poor people in these countries has risen accordingly. So long as a handful of the region’s fragile states struggle to build and sustain economic momentum, the number of poor people in Africa need not fall. 

The fifth and final factor concerns data quality. Poverty estimates are drawn from household surveys which in most African countries are conducted infrequently. Those that do take place often suffer from operational glitches that affect the credibility of the results. Take Nigeria, which accounts for a quarter of the people on the continent living in poverty. There are some well-documented flaws with its most recent national survey of living standards (not to be confused with the issues concerning the country’s national accounts, which were recently rebased). When new data become available, be prepared to discover that Nigeria’s poverty rate is considerably lower and has been falling at a faster pace than previously thought. As a general rule, aggregate poverty numbers for Africa should be handled with care, and small increases or decreases should not be taken too seriously.

The dissonance between Africa’s growth performance and its poverty numbers is a striking phenomenon that demands an explanation. While intuition may lead us to call into question the region’s growth—it only benefits the rich, the quality of growth is deficient, the growth numbers are exaggerated—the above five factors suggest that the answer can instead be found by analyzing Africa’s poverty data more closely.  

 

Laurence Chandy is a former fellow in the Global Economy and Development program and the Development Assistance and Governance Initiative. His research focused on poverty, fragile states, aid effectiveness, and globalization.

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Voltaire Philosophical Letters: On Commerce

Voltaire (real name François-Marie Arouet) (1694 – 1778) was a Frenchphilosopher and writer of the Age of Enlightenment. His intelligence, wit and style made him one of France’s greatest writers and philosophers, despite the controversy he attracted.

He was an outspoken supporter of social reform (including the des, freedom of religion and free trade), despite the strict censorship lawsand harsh penalties of the period, and made use of his satirical works to criticize Catholic dogma and the French institutions of his day. Along with John LockeThomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his works and ideas influenced important thinkers of both the American and French Revolutions.

Commerce, which has brought wealth to the citizenry of England, has helped to make them free, and freedom has developed commerce in its turn. By means of it the nation has grown great; it is commerce that little by little has strengthened the naval forces that make the English the masters of the seas. At present they have nearly two hundred warships.%3have nearly two hundred warships.

 Posterity may learn with some surprise that a little island with nothing of its own but a bit of lead, tin, fuller’s earth, and coarse wool, became, by means of its commerce, powerful enough by 1723 to send three fleets at one time to three different ends of the earth – one to guard Gibraltar, conquered and kept by its arms; another to Portobello to dispossess the King of Spain of the treasures of the Indies; and the third to the Baltic Sea to prevent the Northern Powers from fighting.   

When Louis XIV was shaking Italy, and his armies, already in possession of Savoy and Piedmont, were ready to capture Turin, it was up to Prince Eugene to march from the depths of Germany to aid the duke of Savoy. He had no money at all, a thing without which towns are neither taken nor defended. He appealed to some English merchants. In half an hour he had a loan of fifty million; whereupon he delivered Turin, beat the French, and wrote this little note to those who had loaned him that sum: “Gentlemen, I have received your money, and I flatter myself that I have employed it to your satisfaction.”  

All this makes an English merchant justly proud, and allows him boldly to compare himself, not without some reason, to a Roman citizen; moreover, the younger brother of a peer of the realm does not scorn to enter into trade. Lord Townshend, Minister of State, has a brother who is content to be a merchant in the City. When Lord Oxford was governing England, his younger brother was a factor at Aleppo; he did not want to return home, and died there. 

This custom, which unfortunately is beginning to go out of fashion, appears monstrous to Germans infatuated with their quarterings. They are unable to imagine how the son of a peer of England could be only a rich and powerful bourgeois, whereas Germany is all Prince: there have been at one time as many as thirty Highnesses of the same name, with nothing to show for it but their pride and a coat of arms.   

In France anybody who wants to can be a marquis; and whoever arrives in Paris from the remotest part of some province with money to spend and an ac or an ille at the end of his name, may indulge in such phrases as “a man of my sort,” “a man of my rank and quality,” and with sovereign eye look down upon a wholesaler. The merchant himself so often hears his profession spoken of disdainfully that he is fool enough to blush.

Yet I don’t know which is the more useful to a state, a wellpowdered lord who knows precisely what time the king gets up in the morning and what time he goes to bed, and who gives himself airs of grandeur while playing the role of slave in a minister’s antechamber, or a great merchant who enriches his country, send order from his office to Surat and to Cairo, and contributes to the wellbeing of the world.  

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Friedrich Hayek: The Use of Knowledge in Society (II)

It will at once be evident that on this point the position will be different with respect to different kinds of knowledge; and the answer to our question will therefore largely turn on the relative importance of the different kinds of knowledge; those more likely to be at the disposal of particular individuals and those which we should with greater confidence expect to find in the possession of an authority made up of suitably chosen experts.

 If it is today so widely assumed that the latter will be in a better position, this is because one kind of knowledge, namely, scientific knowledge, occupies now so prominent a place in public imagination that we tend to forget that it is not the only kind that is relevant. It may be admitted that, as far as scientific knowledge is concerned, a body of suitably chosen experts may be in the best position to command all the best knowledge available—though this is of course merely shifting the difficulty to the problem of selecting the experts. What I wish to point out is that, even assuming that this problem can be readily solved, it is only a small part of the wider problem.

Today it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge. But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation.

We need to remember only how much we have to learn in any occupation after we have completed our theoretical training, how big a part of our working life we spend learning particular jobs, and how valuable an asset in all walks of life is knowledge of people, of local conditions, and of special circumstances. To know of and put to use a machine not fully employed, or somebody’s skill which could be better utilized, or to be aware of a surplus stock which can be drawn upon during an interruption of supplies, is socially quite as useful as the knowledge of better alternative techniques.

And the shipper who earns his living from using otherwise empty or half-filled journeys of tramp-steamers, or the estate agent whose whole knowledge is almost exclusively one of temporary opportunities, or the arbitrageur who gains from local differences of commodity prices, are all performing eminently useful functions based on special knowledge of circumstances of the fleeting moment not known to others.

It is a curious fact that this sort of knowledge should today be generally regarded with a kind of contempt and that anyone who by such knowledge gains an advantage over somebody better equipped with theoretical or technical knowledge is thought to have acted almost disreputably. To gain an advantage from better knowledge of facilities of communication or transport is sometimes regarded as almost dishonest, although it is quite as important that society make use of the best opportunities in this respect as in using the latest scientific discoveries.

This prejudice has in a considerable measure affected the attitude toward commerce in general compared with that toward production. Even economists who regard themselves as definitely immune to the crude materialist fallacies of the past constantly commit the same mistake where activities directed toward the acquisition of such practical knowledge are concerned—apparently because in their scheme of things all such knowledge is supposed to be “given.” The common idea now seems to be that all such knowledge should as a matter of course be readily at the command of everybody, and the reproach of irrationality leveled against the existing economic order is frequently based on the fact that it is not so available. This view disregards the fact that the method by which such knowledge can be made as widely available as possible is precisely the problem to which we have to find an answer.

If it is fashionable today to minimize the importance of the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place, this is closely connected with the smaller importance which is now attached to change as such. Indeed, there are few points on which the assumptions made (usually only implicitly) by the “planners” differ from those of their opponents as much as with regard to the significance and frequency of changes which will make substantial alterations of production plans necessary. Of course, if detailed economic plans could be laid down for fairly long periods in advance and then closely adhered to, so that no further economic decisions of importance would be required, the task of drawing up a comprehensive plan governing all economic activity would be much less formidable.

It is, perhaps, worth stressing that economic problems arise always and only in consequence of change. So long as things continue as before, or at least as they were expected to, there arise no new problems requiring a decision, no need to form a new plan. The belief that changes, or at least day-to-day adjustments, have become less important in modern times implies the contention that economic problems also have become less important. This belief in the decreasing importance of change is, for that reason, usually held by the same people who argue that the importance of economic considerations has been driven into the background by the growing importance of technological knowledge.

Is it true that, with the elaborate apparatus of modern production, economic decisions are required only at long intervals, as when a new factory is to be erected or a new process to be introduced? Is it true that, once a plant has been built, the rest is all more or less mechanical, determined by the character of the plant, and leaving little to be changed in adapting to the ever-changing circumstances of the moment?

The fairly widespread belief in the affirmative is not, as far as I can ascertain, borne out by the practical experience of the businessman. In a competitive industry at any rate—and such an industry alone can serve as a test—the task of keeping cost from rising requires constant struggle, absorbing a great part of the energy of the manager. How easy it is for an inefficient manager to dissipate the differentials on which profitability rests, and that it is possible, with the same technical facilities, to produce with a great variety of costs, are among the commonplaces of business experience which do not seem to be equally familiar in the study of the economist. The very strength of the desire, constantly voiced by producers and engineers, to be allowed to proceed untrammeled by considerations of money costs, is eloquent testimony to the extent to which these factors enter into their daily work.

One reason why economists are increasingly apt to forget about the constant small changes which make up the whole economic picture is probably their growing preoccupation with statistical aggregates, which show a very much greater stability than the movements of the detail. The comparative stability of the aggregates cannot, however, be accounted for—as the statisticians occasionally seem to be inclined to do—by the “law of large numbers” or the mutual compensation of random changes. The number of elements with which we have to deal is not large enough for such accidental forces to produce stability.

The continuous flow of goods and services is maintained by constant deliberate adjustments, by new dispositions made every day in the light of circumstances not known the day before, by B stepping in at once when A fails to deliver. Even the large and highly mechanized plant keeps going largely because of an environment upon which it can draw for all sorts of unexpected needs; tiles for its roof, stationery for its forms, and all the thousand and one kinds of equipment in which it cannot be self-contained and which the plans for the operation of the plant require to be readily available in the market.

This is, perhaps, also the point where I should briefly mention the fact that the sort of knowledge with which I have been concerned is knowledge of the kind which by its nature cannot enter into statistics and therefore cannot be conveyed to any central authority in statistical form. The statistics which such a central authority would have to use would have to be arrived at precisely by abstracting from minor differences between the things, by lumping together, as resources of one kind, items which differ as regards location, quality, and other particulars, in a way which may be very significant for the specific decision. It follows from this that central planning based on statistical information by its nature cannot take direct account of these circumstances of time and place and that the central planner will have to find some way or other in which the decisions depending on them can be left to the “man on the spot.”

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John Locke (1824): Two Treatises of Government (1)

John Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher who is considered to be one of the first philosophers of the Enlightenment and the father of classical liberalism. In his major work Two Treatises of Government Locke rejects the idea of the divine right of kings, supports the idea of natural rights (especially of property), and argues for a limited constitutional government which would protect individual rights.

Though the earth, and all inferiour creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. Nobody can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up? and it is plain, if the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could. That labour put a distinction between them and common: that added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right. And will any one say he had no right to those acorns or apples he thus appropriated, because he had not the consent of all mankind to make them his? was it a robbery thus to assume to himself what belonged to all in common? If such a consent as that was necessary, man had starved, notwithstanding the plenty God had given him.

We see in  commons, which remain so by compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use. And the taking of this or that part does not depend on the express consent of all the commoners. Thus the grass my horse has bit; the turfs my servant has cut; and the ore I have digged in any place, where I have a right to them in common with others; become my property, without the assignation or consent of any body. The labour that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my property in them.

But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in, and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right, to say every body else has an equal title to it, and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot enclose, without the consent of all his fellow commoners, all mankind. God, when he gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i. e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that, in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled, and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.

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