Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rights vs Results

Reply to: I Agree with Milton Friedman! by James Kwak


This is kinda a strawman. A “rights” based argument for property ownership is an extremely flimsy argument. Is it even an argument? The bible says, “thou shall not steal”. That’s not an argument… it’s a divine decree.

From the economic perspective… the issue really isn’t “rights”… it’s “results” (aka abundance).

Bob calls himself a “maker”. Should Bob keep his money? From the economic perspective… the answer depends on whether taking his money increases or decreases abundance.

If you want to argue that Bob has skills… then taking his money will decrease abundance. If you want to argue that Bob doesn’t have skills and just got lucky… then why are you also arguing that we should take his money? Perhaps you’re actually arguing that Bob is always lucky?

If you want to argue that Bob is always lucky… then your redistribution argument would have some logical basis. But it sure wouldn’t have any economic basis. Taking money from Lucky Bob would decrease abundance. This is because Lucky Bob consistently manages to invest in beneficial ventures. For example, he invested in Uber from the get go. Did you? I sure didn’t.

Getting back to the bible… the most relevant story is the parable of the talents. Taking gold from the most skilled and giving it to the least skilled would certainly decrease abundance.

In terms of fighting poverty… decreasing poverty depends on increasing opportunity. And increasing opportunity depends on increasing abundance. Abundance is a function of how society’s limited resources are used.

Moreover, what is a resource today may cease to be one tomorrow, while what is a valueless object today may become valuable tomorrow. The resource status of material objects is therefore always problematical and depends to some extent on foresight. An object constitutes wealth only if it is a source of an income stream. The value of the object to the owner, actual or potential, reflects at any moment its expected income-yielding capacity. This, in its turn, will depend on the uses to which the object can be turned. The mere ownership of objects, therefore, does not necessarily confer wealth; it is their successful use which confers it. Not ownership but use of resources is the source of income and wealth. — Ludwig Lachmann, The Market Economy and the Distribution of Wealth


Taxes upon transfer, besides the mischief of pressing upon capital, are a clog to the circulation of property. But, has the public any interest in its free circulation? So long as the object is in existence, is it not as well placed in one hand as in another? Certainly not. The public has a perpetual interest in the utmost possible freedom of its circulation; because by that means it is most likely to get into the hands of those, that can make the most of it. Why does one man sell his land? But because he thinks he can lay out the value to more advantage in some channel of productive industry. And why does another buy it? But because he wishes to invest a capital, that is lying idle, or less productively vested; or because he thinks it capable of improvement. The transfer tends to augment the national income, because it tends to augment the income of the two contracting parties. If they be deterred by the expenses of the transfer, those expenses will have prevented this probable increase of the national income. — J.B. Say, A Treatise on Political Economy

Markets work because it’s up to consumers to decide how well producers are using society’s limited resources. Consumers, with their infinite variety, preferences and circumstances, are the ultimate judges. Aka “consumer sovereignty”. It’s up to consumers to decide, for themselves, whether Bob has adequately earned their money.

Let’s review…

If Bob is skilled, and you take money from him, then you’re subverting the true will of the people. You’re also decreasing abundance which decreases opportunity which increases poverty. If, on the other hand, Bob just got lucky… then there’s no point in taking money from him. Chances are just as good that his money will circulate soon enough on its own.

So I’m against taxes because I’m for abundance. Actually, I’m not against taxes per se… I’m against the absurdity of allowing congresspeople to allocate them. If 500 government planners were better than an entire nation of people at allocating for abundance… then socialism would have worked. The absolute absurdity of our age is the belief that socialism somehow manages to succeed for the public sector despite the fact that it fails for the entire economy. Socialism fails just as much for public goods as it does for private goods. Taking consumer choice out of the equation will always have logically detrimental consequences.


Reply to: The False Tradeoff Between Efficiency and Equity by Haynes Goddard


The heart of efficiency isn’t just opportunity cost… it’s also the choices we make… which depend largely on our preferences and circumstances.

A vegetarian looks at a menu and rules out any dishes that contain meat. Then she looks at the prices and imagines how much value she’d derive from the alternative uses of her money. She also recalls the last time that she had each dish. Perhaps she also counts calories and considers nutritional value… or lack thereoff.

After an immense amount of computation/calculation…most of which occurs as a background process… she filters out all the other options and orders a salad. The waiter brings her a steak. It’s a non sequitur because the conclusion (steak/supply) doesn’t follow from the premise (her vegetarian preference).

It’s an inefficient allocation of resources.

As we can see, efficiency is easily and reasonably defined by the supply’s distance from a consumer’s demonstrated preference.

Except, you’re not defining efficiency in terms of consumer preference. You’re just throwing opportunity cost out there without any recognition or acknowledgement of all the other relevant parts. This vagueness allows you to argue that efficiency is a type of fairness.

Efficiency really isn’t fairness. Efficiency is the most valuable uses of society’s scarce resources. And value is a function of choice, sacrifice, preference, circumstance….which can all be rolled into “demand”. How well supply matches demand is a matter of efficiency.

Fairness disregards demand. Fairness is voters reaching into each other’s pockets. Fairness is an argument made by people who think that abundance is a function of taking rather than trading. Fairness is about diverting scarce resources away from more valuable uses. Fairness is a function of economic ignorance.

There’s nothing false about the tradeoff between efficiency and equity. There’s a very distinct and concrete tradeoff. We either have efficiency and abundance or equity and scarcity. These two things are diametrically opposed.

To be clear… because of the free-rider problem… taxation can increase efficiency… if, and only if…taxpayers are free to choose where their taxes go.

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