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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One of the most Basic Comforts of Life, the Flush Toilet, goes back to Trade with the Indus Valley Civilization

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 1st, 2011

History 101

The Earliest Discovery of an Indoor Flush Toilet goes all the way Back to India

The first First Lady to live at the White House was Abigail Adams.  Wife of the second U.S. president.  The great John Adams.  They moved into the White House while it was still under construction.  And long before it had indoor plumbing.  So when the First Lady had to do her business she did so like most everyone at that time did.  She visited the outhouse.  Which was in full view of the general public.  So everyone knew what she was doing when she was doing her business.  Not a dignified moment for America’s First Lady.

Today when a lady has to poop we spare her this indignity.  For we have indoor flush toilets.  And when they go into the bathroom they always emerged with fresh makeup and coifed hair.  So we have no idea what they’re doing in the powder room.  Pooping.  Or just making themselves beautiful.  Which makes a trip to the toilet never an embarrassing moment these days.  Like it was for poor Abigail Adams.  If only we had indoor flush toilets during Mrs. Adams time.

The funny thing is, we did.  Not in America.  But in ancient Rome.  For the Romans had flush toilets.  Some 2000 years before they had them in America.  But the Romans didn’t invent this luxury.  No.  They were great engineers.  Great builders.  But they weren’t great mathematicians and scientists.  The Greeks were.  The Romans took the great learning of the Greeks and built great things.  But the indoor flush toilet even predates the Greeks.  The earliest discovery of an indoor flush toilet goes all the way back to India.  To the Indus Valley Civilization.  And the ancient city of Harappa.

The Greeks may have Learned about Sanitary Sewers and Flush Toilets from the Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) was one of the four first big civilizations.  Along with Egypt in the Nile Valley.  Sumer in the Fertile Crescent.  And the Chinese in the Hwang-Ho valley.  They started out independently.  Then their trade routes eventually crossed.  And they learned from each other.  Through their trade.

We don’t know a lot about the IVC.  For we haven’t been able to decipher their early writing.  Yet.  But what we do know is that they had a remarkably advanced city infrastructure.  And that they traded.  They had the wheel.  And boats.  They traded overland into Central Asia and the Iranian Plateau.  And over water to Mesopotamia.  Where they traded with the Sumerians.  And the people who followed the Sumerians traded with the Greeks.

The Sumerians were probably the first to map the stars and planets.  The Greeks may have used this work as the foundation for their astronomy.  And it may not be the only thing they learned from the Sumerians.  For it is likely they learned about the IVC from their friends in Mesopotamia.  And took what they learned about sanitary sewers and flush toilets back to Greece.  Where the Romans eventually learned about it.

Germanic Barbarian Tribes brought the Western Roman Empire and the Indoor Flush Toilet to an End

Trade is not just about goods and services.  We trade knowledge, too.  And the knowledge we gain makes our civilization better.  More advanced.  Giving us as higher quality of life.  All through peaceful means.  Of course those on the outside looking in, the uncivilized barbarians beyond the frontiers of civilization, prefer plunder over trade.  And less peaceful means.

It was the Germanic tribes north of the Western Roman Empire that eventually conquered this advanced civilization.  Which turned back the hands of time.  And Introduced the Dark Ages.  Plunging us back into a backward world.  Where we lost much of our knowledge.  And the modern comforts of life.  Including the flush toilet.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #41: “The want of unearned money is the root of most evil.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2010

Survival of the Fittest is not a Pleasant Way to Live

Whoever said that ‘money is the root of all evil’ got it wrong.  Money gives us peace.  It gives us safe societies to live in.  It’s money that has civilized us.  Differentiated us from the animals. 

Which kingdom is crueler to live in?  The animal kingdom?  Or the human kingdom?  Most will say the human kingdom.  They will point to the Nazis and World War II.  The death camps.  The horrors of the Eastern Front as the Soviets and the Germans waged perhaps the cruelest war of attrition known to history.  And then say check and mate.  Man is worse than animals when it comes to acts of cruelty.  As World War II so clearly demonstrates.

Well, yes, World War II is probably the greatest tragedy man has ever perpetrated against his fellow man.  But a lot of those who suffered and perished were doing so to end the tyranny of fanatical state socialism (Italy’s Fascists, Germany’s National Socialists and Japan’s militarists).  It was a struggle of good versus evil.  Where the evil were behaving like animals.  Using military power, ideology and cruelty in a pure Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Welcome to the Animal Kingdom where the Lame and Young are Eaten

Yeah, you didn’t see that coming, did you?  Only man sacrifices for the good of others.  Animals don’t do that.  That’s why they have so many babies.  Because animals prey on the most defenseless.  They don’t help them.  Babies are easy food.  So they have a lot of babies because so few make it to adulthood.  Because others eat them. 

When a soldier falls in combat, others will risk their own life to drag him to safety.  So many do this.  And the few we see we recognize for this extraordinary act of bravery that is above and beyond the call of duty.

Our nation recently awarded Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta the Medal of Honor.  Our highest decoration.  While serving in Afghanistan.  He is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.  This is what men do.  Perform selfless acts of bravery to help others.  And people like Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta make the world a better place.

You know what a hurt animal is?  Easier food.  While the other animals run away, predators eat the slower and lame.  Another reason why animals have so many babies.  They’re still food as they grow up.  And they never stop being food.  This is the animal kingdom.

We Used our Brains more than our Brawn

Say what you want about the cruelty of man, but we don’t eat our babies.  Or our lame.  Most of us live out of the elements.  Many in a warm and cozy house.  The necessities of life come rather easy for most.  Whereas lots of animals perish from the lack of food and water, in America even the poor are obese.

So how did this happen?  How did life get so easy for man compared to the animals?  Yes, our opposable thumbs helped.  And our big brains.  But even with these we were still hunters and gatherers.  And when you hunt and gather, you need a lot of land to hunt and gather on.  Because food just isn’t that plentiful in convenient small areas.  So they traveled.  And came into contact with other hunter and gatherers.  Who they then fought for the limited food supply to survive.

This all changed when we used our brains more than our brawn.  Instead of gathering food, we farmed.  Instead of hunting, we raised cows, pigs, chickens, etc.  As our food supply became steadier, we could do other things besides tending to our food supply.  We thought.  We innovated.  We improved.  We created.

The Barter System was Good but Inefficient

Of course, we were able to do these other things why?  Because not everyone had to be farmers.  But these people still needed food.  So what did they do to get food?  Steal it at every opportunity like in the animal kingdom? 

No.  In the beginning, they traded for food.  A tool maker traded his tools to a farmer for some of his food.  We call this kind of trading the barter system.  It’s an improvement over stealing what you want but it has its problems.  What if the tool maker only makes one kind of tool?  And the farmer already has three?

This is the big downfall of the barter system.  Searching for someone that has something you want AND wants what you have.  The longer it took to find these people to trade with the more time you spent searching than making something.  These ‘search costs’ became costly and made barter inefficient. 

If only we could find something that would make this trading process more efficient.  Something that would allow me to spend less time searching and more time making things.  Something that could temporarily hold value that I can trade for.  That I then could trade with other people for what I wanted.

Money Made Trade Efficient.  And Allowed us to Live Together in Peace and Harmony

We call that ‘something’ money.  And it has exploded the efficiency of trade.  It made it very easy to buy the things you wanted by using the money you made selling the things you made.  Markets where all this buying and selling took place became cities.  Living standards increased.  We were able to live in peace and harmony with each other like never before.

It is our creativity and the things we make or do that allowed this to happen.  Money just made this ‘human capital’ more efficient.  And the more money we accumulated from our human capital, the better everyone lived.  Because we produced more things that people wanted.

But there are those without this human capital.  The lazy.  The shiftless.  Criminals.  Lawyers.  And politicians.  They don’t create anything.  They just want to profit from the human capital of others.  To steal, if you will.  And it is this want of unearned money that is the root of most evil.

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