Saturday, February 7, 2009

How to treat a recession II

Some more water's been going down the Mississippi since my last post. I decided it was time to get into the business again. Starting with a few minor design changes, I intend to contribute content more regularly now and offer some additional features to complement my random thoughts on supposedly important topics. Let's get back to work!

Now that a new high-priest in chief has been sworn into office, I figured it'd be a kind gesture to provide some more advice concerning the treatment of a recession. We'll examine public works programs today.

There is a widespread belief that one of the purposes of "the economy" is to provide jobs. This is false. The purpose of economic transacation is to satisfy needs and wants. The reason why the first cavemen engaged in trade with each other was precisely the effectiveness of the division of labor when it comes to satisfying diverse needs and wants. One caveman would hunt deer whereas the other one would collect berries. The two could then engage in voluntary exchange, improve their diet and increase their survivability - or just have more pleasure eating. In any case, they'd be better off than their non-trading caveman friends.

Of course, in the process of satisfying wants and needs, work opportunities are created. A few years down the road, the berry-trading cavemen may have been able to hire other neanderthals to collect more berries for him and get paid in, say, deer meat. The example isn't all too significant since it lacks a common currency and the job is not really an advance from scratch for the one performing it, but still. We now have employment. Meaningful employment. If our neanderthal would carve beautiful wooden dolls, that'd be great, but useless in the absence of demand for beautiful wooden dolls. There's no point in forcing the berry entrepreneur to give deer meat to the doll carver in order for the carver to continue his business, but that's exactly what public works programs are all about.

Instead of pursuing meaningful and profitable employment on the market, people are incentivized by the state to engage in random activity subsidized by tax money. The activity may not appear to be random since it benefits someone, but it remains a subsidy at best, for if the job was profitable, there'd be no need for the state to provide it. Thus, public works programs not only extract labor from the market to use it in unproductive endeavors, but force productive workers to finance this madness. That way, the real function of markets - the satisfaction of needs and wants - is impaired from two sides at the same time.

Public works programs do not support, but hinder economic recovery. The idea should've been discarded long ago.

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