Sunday, September 14, 2014

If Profits Are Evil, Then So is Economic Progress

Back in the good old days -- before the beginning of the seventeenth century -- the way to get rich was to get an army and then steal and extort from and enslave your neighbors.  That pretty much sums up world history until industrialization and free markets broke through on a grand scale in the seventeenth century.

Prior to the breakthrough of industrialization the plight of the vast bulk of mankind was to live relatively short lives with little to eat and no hopes of economic betterment.  That's just the way it was -- everywhere.

The critics of free markets think somehow that market outcomes are worse than government outcomes.  History suggests the opposite.  When free markets had little or nothing to do with outcomes, goods and services were allocated more or less by brute force and those with military muscle did well and the vast majority of humans lived in constant hunger and deprivation.

By the twentieth century free markets had created the wealthy societies of Western Europe and the US, while the rest of the world languished in hopeless retardation (as much of the world still does).  The poorest of the poor in Western Europe and the US lived far, far better than the top quartile of the population in any and every country outside of Western Europe and the US.  Free markets delivered prosperity for the folks at the bottom of the economic pile.

There have always been rich folks -- long before there were markets.  But, until free markets came along poor folks always remained poor folks with no hope of economic improvement.

In every society in the history of the world, there has been inequality of economic outcomes.  The interesting question is not whether there is inequality -- there is always inequality -- even in the "workers paradise" of the old Soviet Union.  The interesting question is what system best promotes the interests of those at the bottom of the economic pile.  To this question, there is only one answer that history will support.  Free markets are the best hope for those at the bottom of the economic pile.

It wasn't the institution of the minimum wage or government health care that lifted the economic hopes of the poor in the US and Western Europe.  In fact, the case can be made that these institutions and similar institutions designed to have government aid the poor have been total failures.  Left free to pursue their own fortune the vast bulk of poor people in Western Europe and the US became the middle class throughout the western world from the early seventeenth century to the beginnings of the twentieth century.  That's why poverty is now defined on a relative basis.  An American deemed by the bureaucracy to be in poverty would be considered wealthy in all but a few countries in today's world.

When you have few resources and few advantages in life, it helps if there are no government bureaucrats creating and enforcing laws that effectively prohibit you from learning a skill or working.  It also helps if the government doesn't dictate how you receive your income (through employer mandates).  All of these restrictions on free labor contracting really only hurt poor people, as the wealthy are rarely effected by this stuff.

Government poverty programs are notoriously ineffective.  Their main point seems to solidify an economic base for politicians.  You can look at modern America as a great example.  Sustainable economic growth is based upon building the skill sets required to produce things that other people want.  There are no historical examples that run counter to this simple proposition.  Nor, will there ever be.

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