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Economics as it Should Be

I gave a talk at Atlas Summit on ‘Economics, Evolution, and Rand’s Meta-Ethics’ and one person asked me how my ideas would alter economics.  In my talks and in my book Source of Economic Growth, I suggest that economics needs to be rethought from the ground up based on my findings.  Here are some of the ways economics needs to be changed in order to make it a science.econgrowth.small

 

1) Fundamental Questions of Economics

No school of economics is even asking the right questions.  I have written another post on point (Intellectual Capitalism: Part 1), so I will not repeat all of it here.

Every science is defined by the questions it asks.  According to a sampling of websites three of the major questions economics asks are:

1) What goods will be produced?

2) How will the goods be produced?

3) For whom are the goods produced?

All of these questions are inherently collectivist and in a truly capitalist country (i.e., one that protects Natural Rights) all of these questions lead to very boring answers.  In addition, none of these questions are scientific questions (Just another example of how economics is not a science).

The single most important question in economics is:

What is the source of real per capita increases in wealth?

This immediately leads to the second most important question in economics today which is: What caused the Industrial Revolution?  Both of these questions have empirical and objective answers.

The answer to the first question is inventions and this leads to a number of other important questions, such as how do we measure the rate of technological change?, what things influence the rate of technological change?, why does Singapore appear to have a faster growth rate than Hong Kong despite a lower economic freedom index?, are inventions subject to diminishing returns?, etc.

 

2) Definition of Economics

Since economics is asking the wrong questions, the definition of economics is incorrect.  Here is my suggested definition of economics vs. standard definitions.  Note that I have a whole chapter on this subject in my book Source of Economic Growth.

Standard Definitions

Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.

The science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or the material welfare of humankind.

 

My Definition

Economics is the study of how man obtains those things he needs to live.

 

3) Cause and Effect in Economics

Classical, Neo-Classical, and Austrian economics emphasize manufacturing and trade, while Keynesian economics emphasizes consumption as the driver of economics and all of them are wrong.  The chain of cause and effect in economics is shown in the chart below.

EconomicCauseEffect

When man applies his reason to the problems of survival he invents.  Production, which is really about reproduction or replication, is not the driver in economics as the questions from mainstream economics imply.  Trade is also not the driver and in fact the Manufacturing and Trade steps are not absolutely necessary.  Keynesian economics focuses on consumption, so it is on the far wrong side of the cause and effect chain.

Because Classical, Neo-Classical, and Austrian economics emphasizes the effects instead of the causes in economics they waste an huge amount of time on supply and demand curves.  Every supply and demand curve should come with two caveats: 1) demand does not create supply and 2) this chart assumes a technologically stagnant world.  If demand could create supply then Keynesians would be right.  What a supply and demand chart shows is how much people would be willing to sell of their present stock at various prices, it does not show that anyone will produce anything.

 

4) Economics is not a Social Science its Foundations are in Biology and Evolution

Economics is not a social science, it is a real science based on the biological facts of human existence.  Specifically that humans have to obtain a certain number of calories (calories here substitute well for all our needs, including oxygen, water, etc.) per day or we die.  This gives us a physical definition of profit and loss.  Modern economics treats the whole subject as if it was merely a game.  Venezuela, North Korea, China, and the USSR prove that it is not.

For more information see Economics, Evolution, and Rand’s Meta-Ethics (Intellectual Capitalism: Fundamentals Part 2)

The fact that profit and loss have real physical definitions means that economics is a real empirical science.  Neoclassical economics pretends to be an empirical science but too often they create mathematical models in which none of the variables are measurable.  That is not science.

 

5) Perfect Competition

Perfect competition is an inherently flawed concept that has no place in economics.  All conclusions based on perfect competition are wrong, including the whole monopoly power and anti-trust analysis.  Perfect competition should be laid to rest and only discussed as a historical example of how absurd economics once was.  I have a large section analyzing perfect competition in my book Source of Economic Growth.

Competition is not the source of our wealth.  One of the narratives of economics is that competition drives down profit margins and that is how we become wealthy.  This is left over from the nonsense of perfect competition.  While it is true that we do not want the government to setup rules that provide an advantage for one market participate over another and that these rules hurt the economy, it does not follow that competition creates wealth.  The wealthiest countries in the world are those in which a larger percentage of people create unique products and services that have little or no direct competition.  The goal is for everyone to be producing unique high value items, not 300 million or even 100 million people all producing me too products.

 

6) Property Rights/Ethics

There has been a movement to eliminate ethics from economics and this runs through all schools of economics.  The justification for this is that science is devoid of ethical considerations.  This is not true and the best example of what happens when scientists divorce themselves of ethics is Anthropomorphic Global Warming.  All science has an ethics that at least includes the rules of: 1) you must report the data accurately, and 2) you must follow the data to its logical conclusions.  Some sciences such as medicine have additional ethical constraints.  In medicine it is not ethical for the doctor to give the patient poison or prescribe poison just to see what happens or undertake surgery just to see how the human body reacts.  Similarly, economics must not prescribe economic poison.  Economics is ethically constrained to policies that promote life.

This attempt by economics to divorce itself from ethics not only means that economics defaults to a utilitarian based ethics, it also means that economists have no idea what property rights are.  Property rights cannot be justified on utilitarian grounds.  The utilitarian benefits of ‘property rights’ are the effect not the cause.  Because of this confusion economists will go around saying that taxing medallions are property rights or FCC licenses or slavery in the South.  It also means that when they combine their flawed ideas on ‘property rights’ with the nonsense of perfect competition they start talking about true property rights as giving monopoly power.  This leads to all sorts of nonsense including the idea that patents and copyrights are monopolies.

Property rights are based in ethics and cannot be divorced from ethics.  Property rights are the recognition that someone created something of value.  When economics attempts to redefine property rights, it commits both a scientific error and an ethical error.  The scientific error is the result of ignoring definitions and reality.  Words have meaning and when economists say property rights are any legally enforceable control over an object it is like a biologist saying a mammal is any warm blooded animal (birds are warm blooded).  The definition of a mammal is based in reality and is not arbitrary and the definition of property rights are based in reality.  Ignoring reality is not science.

Ethically when economists attempt to redefine property rights they are advocating fraud or theft, by advocating that a creator’s creation be taken from him and given to someone else without the creator’s consent.

It is a sad fact that most economists have no idea what property rights are, however they are in good company.  Lawyers, free market advocates, and even Objectivists do not have a firm grounding in what property rights are or how they come about.  Historically, the study of property rights peaked around the time of the Homestead Act of 1862 and was dead when Hoover said the airwaves belong to the public.

Adam Mossoff is one of the few academics trying to advance the theoretical foundations of property rights.  Studying the nature of property rights is part of economics and is completely neglected by all modern schools of economics.

 

7) Regulation and Opportunity Costs (An Application)

Regulation is usually analyzed on its effectiveness and based on its opportunity costs.  For instance, if we mandate that all cars have airbags, this means that the cost of all cars will increase but the cars will be safer.  This means that people will put off buying newer. safer cars and when they do buy a new car they will likely be forced to buy a smaller car that is less safe.

Another example is that if we force houses to meet building codes, builders will have to spend more time complying with these rules and will not be able to make certain tradeoffs.  The supposed advantage is safety, but the opportunity costs is that housing is more expensive which means consumers have to drive cars that are not as safe or eat food of lower quality or have fewer children or spend less on education.

This analysis is flawed, because the largest opportunity cost of regulation is the lost inventions.  The main justification for regulations is safety.  However, because regulations such building codes and the FDA lock us into a technological stagnant (or retarded) market, in the long run we are less safe and these regulated product cost more.  In the case of the FDA I am sure that what minor benefits we obtain in safety are wiped out within a year or two by the lost technological advances.  However there have been no empirical studies on point to my knowledge.  In fact, studies looking at this issue would be excellent research project in economics.

 

8) Immigration (An Application)

Does immigration lower wages or not?  Economists argue both side of this argument and point to differing empirical evidence to support their positions.  The reason for this confusion is that economists do not understand that inventions are the source of real per capita increases in wealth.  I will show how my system of economics resolves this debate and why there appears to be conflicting empirical data.

We will start with the simplest case first.  If we have a country where the overwhelming majority of people are living in the Malthusian Trap (i.e., the edge of starvation, subsistence living) then if more people move into that country people’s wages will not go down, but people will starve to death.[1]  With this information let’s examine the two extreme cases: a technologically stagnant country and a technologically dynamic country.  In a technologically stagnant country the total GDP is flat to declining slowly.  If immigrants increase the population of this country they will not and cannot increase its GDP, so real per capita incomes will decrease and therefore wages will decline.  This is similar to the country in the Malthusian Trap.

When a country is technologically dynamic then its real per capita GDP is increasing.  Immigrants in this case can contribute to the country’s increasing level of technology and therefore the wealth of the country.  In that case each new person that is open to using their mind is an asset and only makes the country wealthier.  A pretty good measure of how technologically dynamic a country is its economic freedom index.

No countries on Earth today are fully optimized to increase their level of technology and only a few are absolutely technologically stagnant.  Some of the more technologically dynamic  countries

include Singapore and Honk Kong.  As Peter Thiel has pointed out the rate that the U.S. creates new technologies outside the information technology area has slowed significantly.  Countries that are close to being technologically stagnant include Venezuela and North Korea and many African countries

Since economists do not control for how technologically dynamic the economy (or part of the economy) was that they used in their studies of whether immigrants increase or decrease wages, it is not surprising they got differing results even if they did everything else right in their studies.

 

Conclusion

My proposed school of economics, Intellectual Capitalism, is profoundly different than Neo-Classical, Austrian, Keynesian or any other school of economics.

 

For more on Intellectual Capitalism see:

My Book Source of Economic Growth

These Articles:

Intellectual Capitalism: Philosophy

Intellectual Capitalism: Fundamentals Part 1

Economics, Evolution, and Rand’s Meta-Ethics (Intellectual Capitalism: Fundamentals Part 2)

Talk:

The Source of Economic Growth

[1] Note this assumes that this country is technologically stagnant, which is likely if most people are living in the Malthusian Trap.  s

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July 25, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, bioeconomics, Intellectual Capitalism, News | , | 1 Comment

Halling asked to Speak at Atlas Summit 2014

Dale B. Halling, author of Pendulum of Justice  (with his wife Kaila) and The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur, has been asked to speak at the Atlas Summit 2014.  The topic of his talk will be “Why did Rand Choose Inventor as Galt’s Profession?”

Abstract

Why did John Galt say “I was an inventor.  I was one of a profession that came last in human history and will be first to vanish on the way back to the sub-human?”  Today, there is an all-out attack on inventors.  Effective property rights for inventors are relatively new, dating from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Currently, patent rights are under assault from all ends of the political spectrum and almost everywhere around the world.  Was Rand wrong when she said, “Patents … are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights.”

February 12, 2014 Posted by | News | , , , , | 4 Comments

Hayek vs. Rand: Patents and Capitalism

David Kelley gave a talk on Ayn Rand vs. Friedrich Hayek On Abstraction.  (If you want to read Mr. Kelly’s paper on point click here)  This is a very important talk and explains the difference between Austrian economists and free market (objectivists).  It also helps explain why Austrian economists who say they are for free markets are against patents, which are property rights in one’s invention.

Ultimately, Hayek is a warmed over Platonist.  According to Hayek our perception and reason are limited (Plato).  It is this limit to reason that is Hayek’s justification for a free market.  Basically, Hayek argues that because our reason is limited it is sheer folly to suggest that central planning can ever work.  Rand on the other hand sees no limit to reason and notes that reason is man’s basic tool of survival.  But each man must reason for them self.  To force (central planning) someone to do something against their reason is immoral and eliminates the creativity and ingeniousness of everyone subject to the central planning decree.  This means we have a small group of people attempting to “solve” problems instead of many people and the people making the decision are not the ones that feel it’s effects.  As a result, central planning is an open loop process, which as any engineer knows is a very inaccurate process.  In addition, central planning does not take all the variables into account, since only each individual can know exactly what their circumstances and needs are.

I believe Austrians gravitate to Hayek’s ideas because it saves religion (Christianity) from reason and the free market.  Hayek’s ideas on the limits of reason puts him in the company of Kant, Hume and Plato.  Hayek in that sense is both anti-reason and anti-science, which leaves plenty of room for religion.

It also explains why Austrians do not understand patents.  Property rights to Austrians are based on social convention or utilitarianism but not based on reason.  According to the Austrians we have property rights (privileges, arbitrary grants) because of tradition or because they believe (not know – reason is limited) it results in the best use of resources.  As Hakek states:

[M]orals, including, especially, our institutions of property, freedom and justice, are not a creation of man‘s reason but a distinct second endowment conferred on him by cultural evolution.

Patents were once characterized as monopolies (see English history), so Austrians cannot reason out the difference between what were called patents before the Statute of Monopolies and what are patents today.  For Rand, creation is the basis of property rights and all human creations start with one man’s mind.  Because of this Rand made it clear patents/copyright (Intellectual property) are the basis of all property rights.

For more see Defending Capitalism: Ayn Rand vs. Hayek

 

More specifically on Hayek’s concept of Abstraction:

If Hayek’s ideas had any validity, then a person whose eyesight was restored after being blind from birth could immediately (visually) identify an apple or red, which we know is not true.  If Hayek’s ideas were true then we would have to have some inherent understanding of the double slit experiment in quantum mechanics or the idea that time slows down as we approach the speed of light, but this is clearly nonsense.

May 2, 2013 Posted by | -Economics, -Philosophy, Patents | , , , | 19 Comments