Free Markets, Free People
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is frightening to read the words by this President and it is hard not be appalled by the apparent economic ignorance they contain. We’ve remarked on it several times. In particular this statement is stunning in that regard:
Factories where people thought they would retire suddenly picked up and went overseas, where workers were cheaper. Steel mills that needed 100—or 1,000 employees are now able to do the same work with 100 employees, so layoffs too often became permanent, not just a temporary part of the business cycle. And these changes didn’t just affect blue-collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs and the Internet.
Richard Epstein of the Hoover Institution noticed it too. And in very blunt language, points the very same thing we’ve been talking about:
To anyone schooled in economics, these statements reveal a breathtaking ignorance about the sources of national prosperity. It is a good thing when plants can achieve the same output with less labor. Do we really want an America in which thousands of people work in dangerous occupations to turn molten lava into steel bars? Far better it is that fewer workers are doing those jobs. The jobs lost in that industry will be in part replaced by newer jobs created in the firms that build the equipment that make it possible to run steel mills at a lower cost and far lower risk of personal injury. The former workers can seek jobs in newer industries that will only expand by competing for labor.
And what about those ATM machines? Does the president really want people to have to queue up in banks to make deposits or withdraw cash in order to make a boom market for human tellers? Perhaps we should return to the days before automation, when phone calls were all connected by human operators. And why blast the Internet, which has created far more useful jobs than it has ever destroyed?
The painful ignorance that is revealed in these remarks augurs ill for the long-term recovery of America. With the president firmly determined to set himself against the tides of progress, innovation will be harder to come by. The levels of unemployment will continue to be high as the president works overtime to impose additional restrictions on the labor markets and more taxes at the top of the income distribution—both backhanded ways to reward innovation and growth.
The problem, therefore, with the president’s speech is not that it is demagogic in tone. The problem is that it is intellectually incoherent. As a matter of high principle, the president announces his fealty to markets. As a matter of practical politics, he denigrates and undermines them at every step. It is a frightening prospect to have a president who lives in a time warp that lets him believe that the failed policies of 1935 can lead this nation back from the brink. His chosen constituency, the middle class, should tremble at the prospect that his agenda might well set the course for the United States for the next four years.
Well said, but frightening. Take the time to read the rest of Epstein’s piece. It’s worth the read.
If ever there was an indicator – an example – of the appalling level of economic ignorance to be found among our national legislators, this from Nancy Pelosi is perfect:
Talking to reporters, the House speaker was defending a jobless benefits extension against those who say it gives recipients little incentive to work. By her reasoning, those checks are helping give somebody a job. "It injects demand into the economy," Pelosi said, arguing that when families have money to spend it keeps the economy churning. "It creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name."
Pelosi said the aid has the "double benefit" of helping those who lost their jobs and acting as a "job creator" on the side.
Demand is not created or "injected" by jobless benefits. At best may be, at some level, maintained. But it also could be argued that if the drop in income in an area is wide enough (former salary income v. jobless benefit income) it could cost jobs.
For instance the store clerk in a grocery store can be economically justified if the average grocery bill in the area is X. But if it falls to Y, which is likely with belt tightening by those receiving lesser unemployment benefits, then the clerk’s salary is no longer economically justifiable.
Jobless benefits rarely lend themselves to purchases outside the necessities because they’re usually not a great amount of money. The benefits are a maintenance income. What they mostly do is allow the recipient to pay for food, clothing, shelter and transportation, or some combination of those necessities.
Employers don’t create businesses and jobs in anticipation of receiving some of a person’s unemployment check. So unemployment checks are not out there creating jobs "faster than almost any other initiative you can name". In fact, their extension most likely inhibits job seeking (as the person and/or family adjust their lifestyle to the income until all necessities are covered).
This is an amazing example of the appalling economic ignorance that has gotten this country in the financial hole it is in and seems bound and determined to dig it deeper. And she’s 3 heartbeats away, folks.
[MICHAEL ADDS:] The left has been pushing this idea for awhile. I tackled it back in January:
If you look closely at the chart you will be unsurprised to find that government spending is calculated to provide substantially more “bang for the buck” in creating wealth and jobs. That’s unsurprising because this chart is intended to support a progressive prescription for the economy. Of course it will show government as the answer.
Without arguing the statistical or modeling specifics behind the chart, there is one glaring item that reveals how much magical thinking went into its creation. By far the most “stimulating” actions set forth are “Temporary Increase in Food Stamps”(calculated to create 9,803,333 jobs), “Extending Unemployment Insurance” (9,236,667 jobs), and “Increased infrastructure Spending” (9,010,000 jobs). The closest tax-cutting measure, according to this analysis, in job creation is a “Payroll Tax Holiday” which is estimated to create 7,253,333 jobs. Do you see the problem?
How, exactly, do food stamps and unemployment benefits create jobs? Arguably, spending on infrastructure could create construction jobs on a temporary basis, although that hasn’t proven to be the case with the stimulus bill that was passed. But there is simply no logic to the idea that providing government benefits to the poor and unemployed will serve to create jobs, much less 9 to 10 million of them. That’s just magical thinking.
And again in February. Based on whatever studies they’ve compiled to prove their point, the Democrats are going to simply go with this economic model sans examination.