Food Scarcities and High Food Prices are Government-Made Crises

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 21st, 2013

Week in Review

The world’s population is growing.  And it’s threatening our food supplies.  Or so say the experts on population.  But what’s interesting is that the populations in the advanced economies of the world which are generally food exporters have fallen.  Apart from the United States these countries are having so few babies that they won’t be able to replace their parent’s generation.  So these countries will see a decline in population.  Yet the world’s population is growing.  So who’s growing the world’s population?   And threatening the world’s food supplies?

Primarily the less-advanced economies.   The food importers.  Like the countries of Africa.  Afghanistan.  Yemen.  And the Palestinian Territories.  Many of which have the lowest life expectancies.  And the highest child mortality rates.  So, the countries that can feed the world aren’t having enough babies to replace the current generation.  While the countries that have the highest fertility rates are also suffering from the shortest life expectancies due to those high child mortality rates.   So it’s hard to see where the food crisis is.

Once upon a time food was so scarce that famines were commonplace.  A lot of wars were fought to prevent famine.  One of the reasons Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union was for food.  To make Europe’s breadbasket, the Ukraine, a part of the Third Reich.  Today the advanced economies have so much food that they’re making gasoline out of it.  So if there is any food shortage it must be manmade.  And anything manmade can be unmade.  But until we do food prices will rise (see Food prices forecast to treble as world population soars by Steve Hawkes posted 7/21/2013 on The Telegraph).

Professor Tim Benton, head of Global Food Security working group, added there could be shortages in the UK in the future as the emerging middle class in south-east Asia sparks a revolution in “food flows” such as the trade in grain and soya around the world…

The shock forecast came as the chief executive of Tesco, Philip Clarke, warned the era of cheap food was over because of the forecast surge in demand.

In an interview over the weekend, the supermarket chief said: “Over the long run I think food prices and the proportion of income spent on food may well be going up…”

Food inflation in the UK has been running around 4 per cent for much of the year, and is among the highest in the EU after poor harvests last year and the rising cost of feed.

Here’s a thought.  If food is becoming so scarce why don’t stop using it for energy?  Let’s use fossil fuels that we can’t eat for energy.  And use food for food.  By mandating that we add ethanol to gasoline we diverted corn from the food chain already suffering from a depleted corn crop thanks to Midwest droughts.  Raising corn prices.  And meat, poultry and dairy prices.  As cows and chicken eat corn.  So if we stop artificially raising the price of corn feed we stop raising the price of everything downstream of corn in the food chain.  Crazy talk, I know.  But sometimes you just have to think outside of the box.

And here’s another thought.  Let’s do everything we can to bring energy costs down.  Let’s drill for more oil.  Let’s build that Keystone XL pipeline.  Let’s frack like there’s no tomorrow.  Because high fuel prices cause high food prices.  Everything we grow and raise has to travel great distances before landing on our kitchen tables.  By tractor, by truck, by train by ship.  Means of conveyance with internal combustion engines that burn a petroleum product.  From the farm to the silo to the grain elevator to the rail terminal to the mill to the food processing plant to the wholesale distributor to the grocery store.  Every mile of every trip from the farm to our kitchen table burns a petroleum product.  Every mile we burn fuel bringing food to our tables adds to the price tag in the grocery store.  Higher fuel costs even reduce what families can spend in those grocery stores.  For the higher gas prices are the greater amount of their paycheck go into their gas tanks.  Leaving less to buy food with.

And speaking of energy let’s dig up that coal and use it for what it’s best for.  Burning.  To produce steam.  To spin turbines.  That spin electric generators.  And let’s end the war on coal.  And make it less costly to generate electric power.  Because when food isn’t moving it’s using electric power.  For electric power runs our grain elevators, our mills, our food processing plants, our wholesale distributors and our grocery stores.

There are a lot of manmade causes making food scarcer and more costly.  If we care about feeding the world we should focus on the manmade causes.  For we can do something about those.  Unlike a drought.  But petroleum and coal can even lessen the impact of the occasional drought.  We can ship food from areas not suffering from drought to areas suffering from drought.  And we can use the electric power generated from burning coal to store food surpluses in refrigerated warehouses.

The only food crisis we have is manmade.  Or, rather, government-made.  Where government officials take more and more control of the private economy to fight the myth of manmade global warming.  Whose solution to save the planet is a simple one.  Save the planet.  Kill the people.

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Family Farms, Big City Factories, Fertility Rates and Federal Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 9th, 2013

History 101

The Mechanization of the Farm began a Migration from the Country to the Cities

Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830ish) if you worked you most probably farmed.  For most everyone from the dawn of civilization on the Nile, the Euphrates & Tigris, the Indus and the Yangtze farmed.  To produce food for the civilization for the good times.  And food surpluses for the bad times.  For having enough to eat was never a sure thing.  And surviving the winter was a challenge.

What early civilizations needed were a lot of people to work the land.  For large-scale farming could produce large harvests.  Enough to feed everyone during the good times.  During the winters.  And even the occasional drought.  But it could be a risky game to play.  Because a lot of people to work the land also meant a lot of mouths to feed.  Which meant everyone worked the fields.  Men.  Women.  And children.  Anyone who ate worked.  As they did on the family farm.  Which is why they had large families.  For the more children they had the more land they could work.  Allowing them to eat during the good times.  During the winters.  The occasional drought.  While having large food surpluses to sell.  Allowing them to build wealth.  Just like the landowners in the Old World.  The aristocracy.  Only instead of peasants working the land it was family.

But with the Industrial Revolution came change.  The steam engine mechanized farming.  Allowing fewer people to produce more.  Also, steam power allowed factories away from rivers.  As they no longer needed moving water to turn a waterwheel.  So factories filled our cities.  Creating a lot of jobs.  This and the mechanization of the farm requiring fewer hands to work the land began a migration.  Of people from the country.  To the cities.

The Migration from the Family Farm to the Big City got People used to Bigger Government and Taxes

The world modernized in the 1800s.  Food was never more plentiful.  Allowing more people to leave the farm.  And think about other things.  Like electrical engineering.  Nikola Tesla gave us AC electric power.  And the AC electric motor.  Changing manufacturing forever.  Those little spinning machines filled our factories.  And operated the machines in those factories.  Everything we ever made we made better and more efficiently thanks to the electric motor.  Allowing us to manufacture more than ever.  And manufacture more complex things.  Factories grew.  With many levels of manufacturing contained within.  Packing more people than ever in these factories.

The common perception of this industrial world is of sweatshops.  Child labor.  Soot and smoke casting a pall over overcrowded cities.  Where people packed into overcrowded housing.  Thanks to that migration from the family farm to the big city factories.  Which changed things.  Instead of people raising a large family on a large farm where there was plenty of room and plenty of food to eat these families were living in cramped apartments in the crowded city.  And they had to pay for the food they ate.  And the more mouths they had to feed the more money it took.  This was a big change.  Whereas on the farm a large family meant more food.  And more wealth.  In the city, though, more children meant less food for everyone else to eat.  And more poverty.

The growth of cities also caused another change.  When people lived on scattered farms they didn’t need any government services.  But in the crowded cities they did.  Homes had utilities.  And sanitation.  Cities also had streets.  Which the city needed to maintain.  Eventually there was street lighting.  And traffic signals.  Police departments.  Fire departments.  Schools.  And teachers.  All of these things cost money.  And we paid for them with taxes.  Getting people used to bigger government.  And bigger taxes.  Then the progressives entered government at the federal level.  Who wanted government to do at the federal level what it did at the local level.  Be mother to the people.  Instead of just doing those things the Constitution said it should do.

A Falling Fertility Rate forced the Government to go into ‘World War’ Debt just to pay for Social Security and Medicare

The fertility rate (the number of children a woman has during her child-bearing days) fell all during the 1800s.  As large families went from being wealth producers on the farm to poverty inducers in the cities.  While federal debt from the American Revolutionary War fell during the early 1800s.  The debt fell because there wasn’t a lot of federal spending.  So it wasn’t hard to retire that debt.  But that federal restraint didn’t last.  There was a spike in federal debt (as a percent of GDP) following American Civil War (1861-1865) as they had to borrow heavily to pay for that war.  But after the war the debt level did not fall back to pre-war levels.  A trend that would continue.  As we can see here.

Fertilty Rate versus Debt as Percent of GDP

There was another spike in federal debt following World War I (1917-1918).  But the debt level never fell back to pre-war levels.  Then the Great Depression and the New Deal (1930s) began another spike in Federal debt.  That World War II took to record highs.  And once again after the war the federal debt did not fall back to pre-war levels.  Then came President Reagan.  Who had the guts to call communism what it was.  A failed economic system that oppressed its people and was the greatest killer of the 20th century.  To push the Soviet Union into the ‘ash heap of history’ Reagan forced them to spend more than they could afford.  By ramping up defense spending to a level the Soviets couldn’t match.  Which ultimately won the Cold War (1947-1991, with Reagan delivering the knockout blow during his presidency (1981-1989) ).  But federal debt levels, once again, did not fall back to pre-war levels.  In fact, despite the peace dividend President Clinton inherited he still raised federal spending.  Just at a reduced rate than it was during the Cold War.  President Bush gave us Medicare Part D (drugs for seniors).  Then came 9/11.  And the War on Terror.  Then President Obama.  Who despite ending the Iraq War had the greatest budget deficits of any president.  As he spent more than any other president.  As he tried to transform the country into a European social democracy.  Sending out debt soaring to new heights.

FDR gave us Social Security in 1935.  At the tail-end of a long decline in the fertility rate.  Promising great benefits to future retirees.  Which LBJ added to during the Sixties with his Great Society.  During the post-war baby boom.  Perhaps assuming that increasing fertility rate would provide a lot of new taxpayers in the future when the weight of all these new government programs (FDR’s and LBJ’s) would be felt.  But then two things happened that they didn’t quite plan on.  The birth control pill and abortion created a baby bust following the baby boom.  Worse, thanks to modern medicine people were living longer into retirement.  Consuming more Social Security and Medicare benefits than anyone had ever imagined.  And just when the full force of those baby boomers was going to hit there were going to be fewer taxpayers around to pay for it.  Thanks to that baby bust.  More retirees paid for by fewer taxpayers.  A recipe for disaster.  Which is why debt soared towards World War II highs following the Cold War.  Even though there was no world war.  Because the cost of all those government benefits far exceeded the tax revenue.  Forcing the government to go into ‘world war’ debt just to pay for Social Security.  Medicare.  And everything else the federal government was providing so they could play mother to the American people.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Earth Day Past and Present, the Lies may Change but the Agenda remains the Same

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 27th, 2013

Week in Review

If you’re old you probably get exasperated by the environmentalists.  And their hand-wrenching cries that the planet will die if we don’t start acting right now.  Before it’s too late.  Things we’ve been hearing for the last 40 some years.  Which is why us old farts get exasperated.  We’ve been hearing these dire warnings for 40 some years.  Which means we haven’t acted yet to save the planet.  Because they are still wringing their hands about the coming environmental apocalypse.  Yet if these people knew what they were talking about 40 some years ago we wouldn’t be here now.  We’d be dead.  As well as the planet.  Based on their dire warnings some 40 years ago.  So when it comes to credibility the environmentalists have none.

The environmentalists are like the boy who cried wolf.  I say ‘like’ because in the Aesop Fable no one believes the boy when he is telling the truth because he has lied so often in the past.  In real life environmentalists never tell the truth.  So you never have to worry about not believing them when they are, in fact, telling the truth.  Here’s a joke to help you remember this.  How can you tell when environmentalists are lying?  Their lips are moving.

After being so wrong for so long you just can’t take them seriously anymore.  Which is why they teach environmentalism to our kids in school.  Because they’re young.  We may be a lost cause but they have a chance to still scare the bejesus out of our kids.  Who are hearing these dire warnings for the first time.  And believe what their teachers tell them.  They believe them so much that they come home from school and argue with their parents about how we are destroying the planet.  Little do they realize that their teachers are just trying to get these kids to become Democrat voters when they turn of age.  So they and their unions continue to have friends in high places.  That will help them keep their generous pay and benefit packages.  For people lie for a reason.  And usually that reason is money.  If these teachers aren’t frightening our kids about the global warming boogeyman for money then just why are they lying to them?

So what were they saying 40 some years ago?  Well, on the anniversary of Earth Day a lot of people have been pointing out some of their worst predictions.  Here are 13 that should have every environmentalist hanging their head in shame (see 13 Worst Predictions Made on Earth Day, 1970 by Jon Gabriel posted 4/22/2013 on FreedomWorks).

1.”Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”  — Harvard biologist George Wald

2.”We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner

3.”Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.” — New York Times editorial

These are from two prestigious universities and the esteemed New York Times.  That are supposed to be the wisest and brightest among us.  People we can trust.  Now either they’re not very wise or bright.  Or they are not trustworthy.  For the world has never been a better place for human habitation.  Life got better.  Not worse.  In fact, the only threat for human habitation is birth control and abortion.  And advances in medicine.  We’re having fewer kids to grow up and enter the workforce to pay taxes.  While advances in medicine our letting those who leave the workforce live a long time into retirement.  This is the danger to mankind.  The collapse of the welfare state that may degenerate in rioting.  And it was the same people incidentally that gave us the welfare state that are now trying to scare the bejesus out of us that we’re killing the planet.  If anyone is killing anything it’s the political left and their unsustainable welfare state.

4.”Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich

5.”Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich

6.”It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day

7.”Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter

The only thing causing famine in these poorer countries are environmentalists.  Who are forcing us to make gasoline out of corn.  That’s right, we have such large food surpluses we use it for fuel.  Raising the price of food for the poorest of people.  And leaving less to give to the hungry because we’re making ethanol out of it to save us from global warming.  The environmentalists were the only ones wringing their hands about these coming famines.  While there are some famines they are usually in countries with the kind of government these environmentalists like.  Those who put people before profits.  Like the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  The People’s Republic of China (under Mao).  And North Korea.  Who all suffered/are suffering recurring famines because they put people before profits.  North Korea still cannot feed her people.  But the environmentalist will love how clean and unspoiled their country is.  For their society is so undeveloped that most houses don’t even have electricity or a furnace.  And while advanced economies have an obesity problem even in their poorer populations most North Koreans are malnourished.  Advanced economies that use energy can feed their people.  And support a growing population.  Even Hong Kong can prosper.  An island on a rock.  With little resources.  That imports just about everything they eat.  And yet they have one of the highest standards of living.  With no famine.  Because Hong Kong is a bastion of laissez-faire capitalism.

8.”In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine

9.”At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt

10.”Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich

11.”By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt

12.”[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.” — Newsweek magazine

13.”The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt

With all the talk of global warming and rising sea levels it is hard not to laugh at this nonsense.  The greatest threat to civilizations is dealing with aging populations.  Who are living far longer than any actuary predicted.  Not only is air pollution NOT claiming hundreds of thousands of lives we’re actually living longer.  Showing how ignorant and/or politically motivated these ecologists and environmentalist were.  And still are.  For it wasn’t that long after they got us all scared about the coming Ice Age that they started scaring us about global warming.  Either they were using flawed climate models or they were just lying to us.  For you can’t go from we’re killing the planet with global cooling to we’re killing the planet with global warming in a matter of a decade or two.

What is obvious is that these people have been and still are politically motivated.  They look at small snapshots of data and tell us the sky is falling.  For what reason?  Well, most of these environmentalists are anti-capitalists.  Whose environmentalist hysteria has led to what?  A lot of environmental regulations targeted at business.  Making it harder for them to stay in business.  Old people understand this.  Our kids don’t.  So they brain wash our kids in the public school so they come home and tell us what horrible people we are.  But they will learn the truth one day.  In about 40 years or so from now they will be reading about the silly predictions of people like Al Gore.  Shake their heads.  And listen to their kids coming home from school.  Telling them how they’re destroying the planet with all of their global cooling.  Which may be the fear in vogue then.  Or perhaps they will find something new to scare our grandchildren about in school.  Whatever it is the teachers of the future will be scaring our kids with it so they will grow up and vote Democrat.  So they and their unions continue to have friends in high places.  That will help them keep their generous pay and benefit packages.  For some things never change.  Unlike the warming and cooling of the planet.

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Farming, Food Surplus, Artisans, Trade, Barter, Search Costs, Money, Precious Metals, Pound, Dollar and Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 9th, 2012

History 101

Food Surpluses allowed Everything that followed in the Modern Age

Humans were hunters and gatherers first.  When the environment ruled supreme.  Then something happened.  Humans began to think more.  And started to push back against their environment.  First with tools.  Then with fire.  Bringing people closer together.  Eventually settling down in civilizations.  When the human race embarked on a new path.  A path that would eventually usher in the modern age we enjoy today.  We stopped hunting and gathering.  And began farming.

Throughout history life has been precarious.  Due to the uncertainty of the food supply.  Especially when the environment ruled our lives.  That changed with farming.  When we started taking control of our environment.  We domesticated animals.  And learned how to grow food.  Which lead to perhaps the most important human advancement.  The one thing that allowed everything that followed in the modern age.   Food surpluses.  Which made life less precarious.  And a whole lot more enjoyable.

Producing more food than we needed allowed us to store food to get us through long winters and seasons with poor harvests.  But more importantly it freed people.  Not everyone had to farm.  Some could do other things.  Think about other things.  And build other things.  Artisans arose.  They built things to make our lives easier.  More enjoyable.  And when these talented artisans and farmers met other talented artisans and farmers they traded the products of all their labors.  In markets.  That became cities.  Enriching each other’s lives.  By allowing them to trade for food.  For things that made life easier.  And for things that made life more enjoyable.

We settled on using Precious Metals (Gold and Silver) for Money for they were Everything Money Should Be

As civilizations advanced artisans made a wider variety of things.  Putting a lot of goods into the market place.  Unfortunately, it made trading more difficult.  Because while you saw what you wanted the person who had it may not want what you had to offer in trade.  So what do you do?  You look for someone else that has that same thing.  And will trade for what you have.  And when the second person doesn’t want to trade for what you have you look for a third person.  Then a fourth.  Then a fifth.  Until you find someone who wants to trade for what you have.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods for goods.  And as you can see it has high search costs to find someone to trade with.  Time that people could better spend making more things to trade.  What they needed was a temporary storage of value.  Something people could trade their things for.  And those people could then use that temporary storage they received in trade to later trade for something they wanted.   We call this ‘something’ money.

We have used many things for money.  Some things better than others.  In time we learned that the best things to use for money had to have a few characteristics.  It had to be scarce.  A rock didn’t make good money because why would anyone trade for it when you could just pick one up from the ground?  It had to be indestructible and hold its value.  A slab of bacon had value because bacon is delicious.  But if you held on to it too long it could grow rancid, losing all the value it once held.  Or you could eat it.  Which would also remove its value.  It had to be divisible.  A live pig removed the problem of bacon growing rancid.  However, it was hard making change with live pigs.  Which is why we settled on using precious metals (gold and silver) for money.  For they were everything money should be.

The Key to Economic Activity is People with Creative Talent to make Things to Trade

Money came first.  Then government monetary systems.  Traders were using gold and silver long before nations established their own money.  And when they did they based them on weights of these precious metals.  The British pound sterling represented one Saxon pound of silver.  The U.S. dollar came from the Spanish dollar.  Which traces back to 16th century Bohemia.  To the St. Joachim Valley.  Where they minted private silver coins.  The Joachimsthaler.  Where the ‘thaler’ (which translated to valley) in Joachimsthaler became dollar.  The German mark and the French franc came into being as weights of precious metals.  People either traded silver or gold coins.  Or paper notes that represented silver or gold.

We used silver first as the basis for national currencies.  Then with new gold discoveries in the United States, Australia and South Africa gold became the precious metal of choice.  Using precious metals simplified trade by providing sound money.  And it also made foreign exchange easy.  For when the British made their pound represent 1/4 of an ounce of gold and the Americans made their dollar represent 1/20 of an ounce of gold the exchange rate was easy to calculate.  The British pound had 5 times as much gold in it than the U.S. dollar.  So the exchange rate was simply 5 U.S. dollars for every British pound.  Which made international trade easy.  And fair.  Because everything was priced in weights of gold.

The pure gold standard, then, was part of the natural evolution of money.  The state did not create it.  It does not require an act of legislation.  Or political decree.  The pure gold standard existed before the state.  And states based their currencies on the monetary system that already existed.  Using weights of precious metals as money.  That is, a pure gold standard.  Central banks and fiat money are only recent inventions of the state.  And bad ones at that.  For the thousands of years that preceded the last hundred years or so there were only traders mutually agreeing to trade their goods for precious metals.  Using these precious metals as a temporary storage of wealth.  To temporarily hold the value of the things they made.  So the key to economic activity is people with creative talent to make things to trade.  And a sound money like gold and silver to facilitate that trade.  Not a central bank.  Or monetary policy.

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Rent-Seeking

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 11th, 2012

Economics 101

Wealth Creators Freely met and Made Trades they felt were Mutually Beneficial

The human race started as subsistence hunters and gatherers.  Our ancestors spent all of their time hunting.  And gathering.  If they were successful they propagated our species.  Making it possible for us to be here.  If they weren’t their family tree was a barren one. 

So that was life.  A rather short and brutish life.  Except that part about propagating the species.  And we lived that way for some 2 million years.  Eating.  Fleeing.  Fighting.  And, of course, propagating.  As we grew more intelligent we did a lot of things that ushered in the modern world.  But perhaps the single greatest advancement that brought on the modern age was our evolution from hunters and gatherers to farmers.  Everything followed from this.  We learned to live together in cities.  And we increased crop yields so much we created food surpluses.  Which gave us time to do other things.  It allowed the rise of artisans.  A middle class.  That built things and traded them for their food.  These new goods helped produce more food.  And the greater food production allowed more people to do other things.  Creating a complex economy.  Where people traveled to market with the things they created.  And traded them for the things other people brought to market.  We traded things of value for other things of value.  Because these traders, these wealth creators, each created something of value.

These wealth creators freely met and made trades they felt were mutually beneficial.  Each felt they came out a winner after their trade.  For they each received something they valued more than what they traded away to get it.  Which means going to the market was where to go to get valuable things.  Which provided an incentive to make more things so you could take them to market.  And trade for things you valued more.  As everyone did this the overall wealth in the economy increased.  People specialized.  Focused on what they were good at.  To produce as much as possible so they could trade for more.  And because they specialized they improved quality.  And used the available resources as efficiently as possible.

Rent-Seeking People took more Wealth from the Market than they Brought to It

There are many competing schools of economics.  But if you go back to where it all began what you find is laissez faire free market capitalism.  Where the profit incentive drove people to create wealth.  Which they then traded for the things they didn’t make.  Then things started to change.  Some people didn’t want to work hard and innovate.  And bring new things to market.  What they wanted was influence.  Privilege.  And a rigged market.  So they could get more in trade than the value of the things they produced for trade.  One of the first vehicles used for this was the artisan guild.

In medieval Europe if you wanted to be a blacksmith you had to join a guild.  If the guild accepted you a long apprenticeship awaited you.  But the guilds denied more people entry than they allowed.  Why?  To limit competition.  So blacksmiths could keep their prices high.  At any given time a city, town or village had a very limited number of blacksmiths.  The guild worked to keep it that way.  For the last thing these blacksmiths wanted was other blacksmiths opening up shop.  Putting more goods onto the market.  And lowering prices.  No, the guild wanted to fix prices above their market value by keeping would-be blacksmiths out of the trade.

The economic term for this is rent-seeking.  Which is sort of the opposite of profit seeking.  In profit-seeking people create wealth to trade (or to pay) for other wealth.  They work hard to earn more so they can buy more.  Both buyer and seller add wealth to the economy.  Not so in rent-seeking.  In rent-seeking you try to garner more wealth not by working harder but by using the power of government.  By getting tariffs placed on foreign competition.  By getting prices fixed above market prices.  By getting onerous regulations enacted to hurt your competition.  By restricting entrance into the industry thus limiting domestic competition.  Such as the guilds did for those medieval blacksmiths.  This interference into laissez faire free market capitalism reduced economic activity.  Because rent-seeking people took more wealth from the market than they brought to it.

The Government caused the Great Depression by Favoring Rent-Seeking over Free Market Capitalism

Some say a better name for rent-seeking is privilege seeking.  For that is what they are seeking.  Special privilege so they don’t have to compete in the free market.  For the cost of a little lobbying can remove the need for innovation.  Maintaining the level of quality.  Or satisfying customers.  For if you have a government-imposed monopoly you don’t have to do any of those things because the people don’t have anywhere else to go.

Rent-seeking is rife in crony capitalism and state capitalism.  Neither of which is true capitalism.  These companies are granted monopolies (or near monopolies) by the government in exchange for political support.  Which they can afford when they can sell their goods above market prices.  They get rich.  Their cronies in government get rich.  But the consumers suffer.  As they have to pay higher prices. Suffer poorer quality.  And less innovation.  Rent-seeking is common in the older industries.  Particularly ones with strong unions.  Who have negotiated costly wage and benefit packages.  Which they can afford to pay until new innovation and new competition enters the market.  Putting out a higher quality product at a lower price.  Prices so low that an old firm saddled with a costly union wage and benefit package simply can’t sell at and pay their bills.  So they go to government.  And lobby for privilege.

What typically happens is that they delay the inevitable.  All the protected industries in the U.S. have failed.  Textile.  Steel.  Even the automobile (well, two of the Big Three have failed.  Ford hasn’t).  For when you take more wealth from the market than you bring to it you’re just transferring wealth.  You’re not creating it.  Which is a problem.  Because you have to create wealth to increase economic activity.  So when you protect an industry you’re just pulling wealth out of the private economy and transferring it to the rent-seekers.  Who give so little in return.   Which results in a decline of economic activity.  And if it spreads enough it can and has caused recessions.  Even a Great Depression.  Such as when domestic industries lobbied government to enact the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Which launched an all-out trade war.  All because the government favored rent-seeking over free market capitalism.

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FT120: “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 1st, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In Warfare Starvation and Famine are the most Potent of Weapons

Starvation and famine has plagued mankind since the dawn of time.  It was the driving force in evolution.  Those who took control of their food supply lived.  Those who didn’t disappeared from the evolutionary path.  Like Neanderthal.  And those who came before him.  Our earliest civilizations massed their populations to farm.  And the masses lived in cities.  Setting down roots and saying goodbye to their hunting and gathering ways.  In the Wei River valley.  In the Indus River valley.  The valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris.  In the Nile River valley.  Where modern life took root.  Produced our first food surpluses.  And gave birth to urban life.  And the middle class.

The rise of the middle class allowed civilization to flourish.  For every person that didn’t have to produce food could do something else.  Build better tools.  Create a better government.  Create art.  In general, think about other things.  Those other things that made humans different.  By giving us a more interesting life.  And more sophisticated ways to express ourselves.

But this growth was a double-edged sword.  For large urban populations that made life more enjoyable was also a great threat to the food supply.  A cool and wet summer could destroy crops.  Poor food storage could spoil the food surplus.  A war could see an enemy purposely destroy your crops and your food surplus.  Causing famine.  Where half or your city population could easily die before the next harvest.  Or more.  Especially if the famine resulted from an act of war.   As an act of genocide.  To clear people off land that others want to use for their own food needs.  Which was Hitler’s plan in Russia.  To take the food from the Ukraine.  Kill the indigenous population.  And replace them with Nazis.  Thus creating more living space for the Third Reich.  Or Lebensraum.    Because in warfare starvation and famine are the most potent of weapons.

History has shown that the most Food-Abundant Countries are the most Capitalistic

England led the way in agricultural advances.  Increasing crop yields such that small tracts of land could support greater populations.  As well as produce such huge food surpluses that they had food to export.  As the British Empire spread across the globe so did their advanced agricultural ways.  During the 19th century starvation and famine were becoming rarer in the technologically advanced West.  The 19th century Irish Potato Famine reduced Ireland’s population by up to 25%.  A tragedy of epic proportions.  But it was an exception to the rule.  For food was growing so abundant in the advanced Western World that rarely did people go hungry.  Or feared famine.  And when mechanization and chemistry hit the farm our crop yields exploded.

During the Twentieth Century the Western World produced so much food that food prices plummeted.  Causing the Great Depression.  There was so much food available that farmers couldn’t sell their food at a high enough price to service the debt that they incurred mechanizing their farms.  But not everyone was producing bumper crops in the Twentieth Century.  Both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China set records for death by famine.  As they shunned the ways of the West.  And the state took over their agricultural sectors.  States that were so inept at good farming practices and things economic that crop yields plummeted.  North Korea to this day can’t even grow enough food for her own people.  And has recurring famines.  Because they hold on to the communist ways of Stalin and Mao.  While the Russians and the Chinese have long abandoned them. 

History has shown that the most food-abundant countries are the most capitalistic.  Countries whose agricultural sectors use the latest in technology.  And/or have a rich and vibrant economy that can buy all the food they need if they can’t produce their own.  Like Hong Kong.  Basically a rock off the Chinese mainland.  It has little arable land.  Few natural resources.  But what it does have is low taxation and free trade.  And laissez-faire capitalism.  The Chinese lost Hong Kong to the British Empire (who have since given it back).  And the British used laissez-faire capitalism to make Hong Kong the gem it is today.  Where people are free and in want of little.  And in this island nation that can’t grow enough food to feed their population famine is unheard of.  Why?  Because they have the wealth to trade for all the food they desire.  In fact, while Mao gave the people in the People’s Republic of China famine Hong Kong were doing just fine.  Because they were wealthy and could trade for what they needed.  And they had the Royal Navy protecting her.

In America our Food Supplies are so Abundant and so Cheap that Poor People are becoming Obese

Poverty is the biggest killer.  Famine is prevalent in poor countries.  Like Haiti.  North Korea.  And sub-Saharan Africa.  People suffer in these countries unlike they do in the West.  Despite the amount of aid the West pours into them.  And it’s not because Western nations were blessed with natural resources.  Hong Kong doesn’t have anything other than laissez-faire capitalism.  Protected by the Rule of Law and minimal government interference into the private sector economy.  The very things that are missing from Haiti, North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa.  Where corruption rules supreme.  There is little regard for human rights.  Or property rights.  And no one can protect their people from the abuses of government.  Or from warring neighbors.  Like the Royal Navy protected Hong Kong.  And pretty much the rest of the world during the 19th century.  Just like America’s military might made the world safe for capitalism in the Twentieth Century.

Third world nations are not a victim of first world nations.  They are a victim of themselves.  Where corrupt rulers collect Western aid and live well while their people suffer.  Especially the nations that eschew capitalism.  And embrace socialism.  Like the Soviet Union did.  Like the People’s Republic of China did (the current Chinese regime is enjoying economic growth by allowing some capitalism into their still communist country).  And like North Korea still does.  These socialist utopias were a living hell for their people.  Where they live in fear of their government.  And of famine.

Meanwhile in the Western capitalist nations what do they suffer from?  Especially the poor people in America?  Obesity.  In New York they’re passing laws restricting the size of sugary beverages because they are dangerous to your health.  While they pass out free condoms and birth control as sex is far less risky behavior than a delicious carbonated beverage.  Apparently.  Yes, in America our food supplies are so abundant and so cheap that poor people are becoming obese.  Because capitalism has made those food supplies abundant and cheap.  And capitalism gave people jobs where they could afford to buy so much food that they can give themselves an obesity problem.  A problem they just don’t have in Haiti, North Korea or sub-Saharan Africa.  Because they can’t grow enough food.  Or earn enough money to buy enough food.  For they don’t have an environment conducive to creating jobs.  Which is why these nations are still impoverished and/or suffering famine despite all the aid the West gives them.  Food aid will run out.  And then they’ll just be starving once again.  If they have jobs, though, they’ll be able to buy food whenever they’re hungry.  Because it’s like that old saying.  Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Mercantilism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2012

Economics 101

Wealth is the Stuff we use our Talent and Ability to Make

Mercantilism gave us the United States.  For it was because of these policies that the British established colonies in North America.  And it was those same policies that led to American Independence.  Because those polices pissed off the Americans. 

The mercantile system came into being as nation states arose from feudal estates.  Kings arose and consolidated these estates into larger kingdoms.  Then one king arose to consolidate the kingdoms into a nation.  Creating Spain, France, the Netherlands, England, etc.  Enlightened thinking and better technology created food surpluses.  With food surpluses a middle class of artisans arose.  And manufactured goods.  People met in markets to trade their food and goods.   These markets grew into cities.  All of this economic activity created wealth.  Food.  And manufactured goods.  That we bought with money.  Often silver and gold. 

There was wealth.  And there was money.  Two different things.  Wealth is the stuff we use our talent and ability to make.  Food and manufactured goods, for example.  And the more food and manufactured goods a nation has the wealthier that nation is.  This is a critical point.  And the mercantile policies ultimately failed because those policies mistook money for wealth.  But money is not wealth.  It’s a temporary storage of wealth.  To make our trading of food and manufactured goods easier.  By reducing the search costs to find people to trade with.  Which is why the barter system failed in a complex economy.  It just took too long to find people to trade with.  Money solved that problem.  Because you could trade what you had for money.  Then trade your money for what you wanted.

England used the Positive Flow of Bullion to Finance the Building of the Royal Navy

Mercantilism focused on the money.  And used wealth to accumulate it.  Instead of the other way around.  The way most advanced nations do today.  These European nations accumulated money with international trade.  Beginning in the 15th century they started looking at the balance of trade between nations.  And did everything they could to maintain a positive balance of trade.  Meaning they tried to export more than they imported.  Why?  Well, nations often did trade with each other.  So they owed each other money.  And when you settled your account if other nations owed you more than you owed them there was a net flow of money to you.  Bullion.  Silver and gold.  Which is what they wanted.

To maintain a positive balance of trade the government actively intervened into the economy.  It set up monopolies.  It provided subsidies for manufacturers who exported their goods for bullion.  It placed tariffs on imports.  Or simply blocked the importation of any goods that they produced domestically.  They set up colonies to harvest raw materials to ship back to the mother country.  Which would use those raw materials in their factories to produced higher valued finished goods.  That they would export.  Especially to their colonies.  Which were convenient captive markets for their finished goods.  On the mother country’s ships.  Through the mother country’s ports.  Where they, of course taxed it.  Guaranteeing that at every step of the way they added to the positive bullion flow back to the mother country.

And it worked.  To a certain extent.  England used that positive flow of bullion to finance the building of the Royal Navy.  Which proved invaluable in the wars that followed in the mercantile world.  For mercantilism is a zero-sum game.  For every winner there had to be a loser.  Which is why this era was an era of world war.  To wrest control of those colonies.  And those sea lanes.  Great Britain came out the victor.  Thanks to their Royal Navy.  But it wasn’t all good.  For Spain found gold in the New World.  And they took it.  Shipped it back to the Old World.  Just like a good mercantilist would.  Which caused problems in the Old World.  Because money is not wealth.  It’s a temporary storage of wealth.  And when they inflated their money supply it took more of it to hold the same amount of value it once did.  Because there was so much of it in circulation.  And what happens during inflation?  Prices rise.  Because the money is worth less it takes more of it to buy the same things as it did before.  So by hording bullion to create wealth they actually destroyed wealth.  With wealth-destroying inflation.

With the Boston Tea Party the Americans Renounced Mercantilism and Demanded Free Trade

Spain was one of the greatest mercantile nations of the era.  But they quickly became a shadow of their former self.  Even though they had more bullion than their European neighbors.  For it turned out that those mercantile policies hindered economic growth.  Which is the true source of wealth.  Economic growth.  Where people use their talent and ability to create things.  That’s where the true value lay.  Not the money that held that value temporarily.  All those mercantilist policies did was raise domestic prices.  And allocated scarce resources poorly. 

It turned out free trade was the secret to wealth.  For free trade can increase wealth.  For both nations.  Thanks to something we call comparative advantage.  Instead of both nations manufacturing all of their goods they should only manufacture those goods that they can manufacture best.  And trade for the goods they can’t manufacture best.  This more efficiently allocates those scarce resources.  And produces a greater total amount of wealth.  By allowing people to buy lower cost imports they have more money left over to buy other stuff.  Increasing the overall amount of economic activity.  Which is why when Great Britain adopted free trade in the 19th century the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  And led the Industrial Revolution.  By creating wealth.  Goods and services people created with their talent and ability.  That changed the world.  And ushered in the modern era.  Something no amount of bullion could do.

But before Britain adopted free trade they were struggling with one of their belligerent colonies.  Their British American colonies.  Who were unhappy over taxation without representation in Parliament.  And the mother country forcing them to buy only British tea shipped on British ships at higher prices than they could get from the Dutch.  The British thought they found a solution to their problem.  By permitting their British East India Company monopoly to ship their tea directly to America without passing through an English port.  The tea was cheaper because of this.  But it also would set a precedent for taxation without representation.  Something the Americans weren’t about to accept.  So they threw that tea into Boston Harbor.  What we affectionately call the Boston Tea Party.  Renouncing mercantilism.  And demanding the right to engage in free trade.  Which they got after winning their independence.  And the mother country would follow suit in a few decades.  Because they, too, would learn that free trade was better than mercantilism.

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Market Economy, Command Economy and Market Failures

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 30th, 2012

Economics 101

Money replaced the Barter System making it Easier to Trade Freely and Voluntarily

We did our first economic exchanges in a market economy.  Agricultural advances gave us our first food surpluses.  These food surpluses gave people free time.  To do other things besides growing food.  Like developing an alphabet and writing.  Mathematics.  A code of laws.  And we made material goods.  Like pottery.  Farming tools.  Processing olive oil for lamps.  People who were good at making one thing made a lot of that one thing and traded with other people.  Who were good at making one thing themselves.  These people met.  And traded.  Freely and voluntarily.

Free trade.  A key element of the market economy.  Where people freely met and traded the things they made.  With other people who are freely trading the things they made.  Free trade came before money.  We bartered our first trades.  Trading goods for goods.  We then created money to make our trades easier.  Reducing the search time to find people to trade with.

Money is something that can store value.  Which allowed people to trade their goods for money.  Then they took that money and traded it with someone else.  To get something they wanted.  Money allowed people to spend less time finding people to trade with.  Because you didn’t have to find that one person that had what you wanted AND was willing to trade it for what you made.  Money allowed us to advance beyond the barter system.  Which proved more and more inefficient as we produced more and more goods.

Because of Market Failures the Government taxes to Provide Public Goods and Eliminate the Free-Rider Problem

As we produced more and more goods our standard of living rose.  We had more things in our lives that made that life easier.  More comfortable.  And more enjoyable.  Civilizations with a bustling market economy were great places to live.  Because there were a lot of nice things to make life better.  Which other people saw.  From beyond the civilization.  And they wanted what they saw.  And they took it.  By force.  Raiding parties would enter a developed civilization and rape, murder and plunder.  So to enjoy the amenities of an advanced civilization required the ability to protect your civilization.  Which led to one of the first market failures.  The failure of the market to provide city defenses through the free and voluntary trading of people engaged in economic activity.

We call it a market failure because building city defenses and creating an army are things the market economy can’t provide.  One person can’t make a fort or an army.  And trade it with someone else.  It’s too big.  It takes a lot of people and a lot of effort to make these things.  But it doesn’t take everyone.  If everyone else is contributing one person could skip contributing.  That person would still be able to enjoy the benefits of that fort and army.  Living in safety.  And enjoy living in safety for free.  Something we call the free-rider problem.  The fort and army are examples of public goods.  Things the free market can’t provide.  Or that the free market fails to provide.  Not that the market is broken or operating poorly.  It’s because people rarely act freely and voluntarily to benefit other people.  Because any time and money spent doing this is time and money taken away from their own families.  Which would bring hardship to them.  So the government provides these things that are necessary AND cause personal hardship to individuals to provide.  The government forces everyone to contribute.  Which minimizes the hardship each individual must bear.

Some in power like to take this further.  And call things that people can provide for themselves that benefit only themselves public goods, too.  Such as health care.  Higher education.  Housing.  Food.  Everything the people can buy for themselves by working to earn the money to buy these things.  And when they do they alone enjoy the benefits of these goods.  These goods they incurred hardships to obtain.  By working to earn a paycheck.  Or sacrificing other things to have these things instead.  It’s their call.  Their choice.  A choice they enter freely and voluntarily.  Therefore these things are not public goods.  But that doesn’t stop some people from acting like they are public goods.  Usually to help them win an election to office.  Or to overthrow the government.

A Command Economy reduced Economic Activity and Introduced a Police State

Civilizations with a bustling market economy were great places to live.  If you had talent and ability.  If you did then you could work hard and trade your talent and ability for a paycheck.  That you could use to trade for other things in that bustling economy.  Those with great talent and ability would be able to trade these for great paychecks.  Those with less talent and ability would be able to trade these for lesser paychecks.  Which, of course, caused income inequality.  Which is a handy thing to exploit if you want to seize power.  So you can enjoy the best things the civilization has to offer.  When your talent and ability only can trade for one of those lesser paychecks.

History is full of people trying to seize power.  So this is nothing new.  What was new was the way these people seized power.  By using the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  As they wrote in the Communist Manifesto.  Who attacked market economies.  And capitalism.  Saying that the new middle class, the bourgeois, maximized profits by exploiting the working class.  The proletariat.  Which they said was unfair.  And that the only way to make things fair was to destroy the very concept of private property.  Because only the bourgeois accumulated private property.  The proletariat had none.  And only got poorer and poorer while the bourgeois got richer and richer.  Under their system, then, nothing belonged to the person.  Everything belonged to the state.  If you created something with your talent and ability it belonged to the state.  And then the state determined how to distribute the fruit of your labors.  Basically according to the rule ‘from those according to ability to those according to need’.  Those with the greatest need got the most stuff.  And those with the most ability worked the hardest.  Well, you can just guess how that worked out.  Everyone tried to show as little ability as possible and the greatest need as possible.

Because people weren’t the masters of their talent and ability anymore they couldn’t trade freely and voluntarily.  Which meant there was no longer a market economy.  Instead there was a command economy.  Where the government made all the decisions.  What to make.  How to use resources.  Where people lived.  Where they worked.  And what prices they paid for the things in the state-run stores.  Which had shelves full of things no one wanted to buy.  And empty shelves where the staples went (soap, toilet paper, etc.).  Because the government decided what to bring to the state-run stores.  And in what quantity.  Not people trading freely and voluntarily.  Which reduced economic activity.  Reduced living standards.  And introduced a police state.  Because anyone who had a chance to escape to a market economy did.  Which is why the East Germans built a wall in Berlin.  To keep their people from escaping their command economy.  And going to the market economy across the street.

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