Proof Is in the Dow

“The Obama budget is nothing less than an attempt to end the ideas of Ronald Reagan.” — New York Times

Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, once stated, “There is much ruin in a nation.”  President Obama is out to prove it in his Newspeak program he calls “A New Era of Responsibility.”  It should be called “A New Era of Irresponsibility.”

And there’s no better proof than the stock market’s reaction to Obamanomics, which is big-government Keynesianism at its worst.  Since Obama took office, the Dow is down a whooping 15% — and that’s after the huge sell off in the market in 2008 by more than 30%.

And the market has continued to drop precipitously since Obama addressed Congress and announced his obscene $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year 2010.  This budget includes:

the largest tax increase in history, including a monstrous tax on oil & gas (cap and trade) and the repeal of the Bush tax rates on incomes higher than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.  Contrary to Obama’s claim, over 65% of tax filers in this category are small business owners and investors.

the highest level of federal spending since 1945, from today’s 21% of GDP to a whooping 27.7%.  This includes new entitlements in health care and energy.

Clearly Wall Street has spoken:  Obama’s tax, spend and regulate policies are a disaster for the nation.

And sadly Obama doesn’t get it.

What should investors do?  Play it conservative.  Be well-diversified in global stocks.  Maintain a high cash position, look for bargain opportunities, and keep squirreling away gold and silver coins.

And do not despair.  It is not time to head for the hills, although some wealthy friends are talking about moving to New Zealand, or the Bahamas.  (One friend of mine has already taken the extreme step of renouncing his US citizenship!)

In writing “The Big Three in Economics” (click here to order), I found that Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack on many occasions by his sworn enemies Keynesians, Marxists and socialists, and has often been left for dead, but always makes a comeback.

As Adam Smith declared in his 1776 classic “The Wealth of Nations,”

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition . . . is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

In sum, the ideas of Adam Smith, and his modern followers, including Ronald Reagan, are far from dead.  They are only in hibernation.  The free-market giant will soon be awakened by our dire situation.

Hopefully pro-market forces in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats)  will filibuster the Obama tax increases and budget excesses.  Charities and non-profits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas, the focal point of liberty.  For details, go to www.freedomfest.com.  I hope you will join us.

I know I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.

Obamanomics Is Making Matters Worse

Unfortunately, the [Keynesian] balance week is unbalanced. ~ Milton Friedman

We have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of [Keynesian] policies. ~ Ludwig von Mises

Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced another solution to the financial crisis — his new “Financial Stability Plan.” Since the announcement, Citigroup has fallen 51 percent, Bank of America is down 46 percent, and Wall Street had its worst week in 2009.

So much for the Financial “Stability” Plan.

As John Adams once said, “Facts are a stubborn thing.”  The Obama model of Keynesian-style bailouts and massive deficits is simply failing to cure the growing financial crisis.

Despite all the bailouts President Obama has put forth — for the banks, the big 3 auto companies, and homeowners — the global economy is still reeling.

In fact, I would argue that Obamanomics (Keynesian economics in disguise) is counterproductive and making matters worse.  That’s because business and Wall Street recognize that there is no free lunch — government spending is piling up huge debts that will need to be paid back, probably through the printing presses.  And inflation — another evil — will come back with a vengeance.

Keynes is famous for the line, “In the long run, we are all dead.”  And that’s what Wall Street fears — that financially we are all going to be killed by excessive debt.

Lack of confidence in Obama, Geitner and Bernanke is why gold is going through the roof now, and is approaching $1,000 an ounce. The U.S. Mint is having a hard time keeping up with demand for American eagle gold and silver coins.

The problem is Keynesian-style policy, the darling of the establishment politicos and media giants.  Keynes has suddenly trumped Adam Smith.  And that’s dangerous.

One day last week, I walked into the largest Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York and saw a big display table up front with all kinds of books on John Maynard Keynes and Keynesian economics.  One book, The Return of Depression Economics, was written by Paul Krugman, the caustic New York Times columnist who just won the Nobel Prize.

Another book was called The Case for Big Government by Jeff Madrick, the editor of Challenge magazine.  I can understand writing a book in support of good, efficient, strong, and productive government, but “big” alone?  Most Americans prefer the motto “cheaper and better.”

The biggest surprise at Barnes & Noble was to see my own book, The Big Three in Economics, prominently displayed along side all the Keynesian and Marxist books.  It has suddenly become my most successful book.

Mark Skousen with the Totem Pole of Economics

But mine was the only book there that took a dim view of Keynes and Marx and their solutions to the financial crisis (always more government, more taxes, and more regulations).  For my money, Adam Smith and his followers (Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard) deserve to be on top of the Totem Pole of Economics.

Unfortunately, Keynes is all the rage now.  The British economist became famous in the 1930s for advocating going off the gold standard, running deficits and bailing out troubled banks with easy money as a way to end the Great Depression.
Today’s politicians, from George Bush to Barack Obama, have suddenly become Keynesians during this financial crisis, spending money they don’t have in a vain effort to right the ship.  Even Newsweek has gone so far to say, “We are all socialists now.”  Alan Greenspan, the ex-student of Ayn Rand, now favors nationalization of the big American banks Citibank and Bank of America.

Every investor and gold bug should know the enemy: Keynes, the advocate of big government and the welfare state, and Karl Marx, the radical who advocated outright state socialism and total central control of the means of production.
After World War I, Randolph Bourne observed, “War is the health of the state.”  Today he might say, “A financial crisis is the health of the state.”

It looks like modern-day statists are getting their wish.  We’re getting big government, good and hard.  Adam Smith and Milton Friedman are out of favor, while John Maynard Keynes, the patron saint of bailouts, inflation, and the welfare state, is making a comeback with a vengeance.

The tentacles of the leviathan state are growing by leaps and bounds.  In 2009, global governments will be the largest shareholders in commercial banks, reversing 20 years of retreat by the state.  The costs of entitlements are exploding upwards, and Congress hasn’t had the courage to address future liabilities.  Social Security and Medicare are government-sponsored Ponzi schemes that will make Bernie Madoff’s embezzlement look like a picnic.

The late management guru Peter Drucker said, “Government is better at creating problems than solving them.” In fact, wrote a cynical Ducker, government has gotten bigger, not stronger, and can only do three things well — taxation, inflation, and making war.  According to Drucker, the state has become a “swollen monstrosity….Indeed, government is sick — and just at a time when we need a strong, healthy, and vigorous government.”  (He said all this in 1969.)  If you want to solve problems, he counseled, you must turn to business and the private sector.

But where does one get the straight scoop on Keynes, Marx, and their nemesis, Adam Smith and the followers of free-market capitalism?

I have no apologies for where I stand on the issue.  In writing The Big Three, I commissioned a Florida woodcarver, James Sagui, to create “The Totem Pole of Economics.”  (The Tolem Pole of Economics is shown on the back cover of the book.)  Clearly, my hero is Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, a declaration of economic independence.

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher, is on top of the Totem Pole for his advocacy of a revolutionary new doctrine which he called a “system of natural liberty,” what we might call laissez faire or free-market capitalism.  He used the “invisible hand” to symbolized how the private actions of individual entrepreneurs would lead to the public good.

Today’s advocates of Smithian economics have real solutions to the crisis, as I’ve outlined in previous HUMAN EVENTS columns:  suspend “mark to market” accounting rules, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, slash the corporate tax rate, and mostly importantly “do no harm.”  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the Canadian banking system, ranked #1 in the world in soundness (US is #40) for its conservative reserve requirements and nationwide branching.  (Not a single Canadian bank has failed in either the Great Depression or now.)

Keynes is ranked below Adam Smith, because he supported big government and the welfare state as a way to stabilize the crisis-prone capitalist economy, the “middle ground” between laissez faire and totalitarian socialism.  But as we have seen, Keynesian activism has led to much mischief in the world today, and countries that have adopted his bureaucratic, regulated mindset have witnessed “slow growth” and “stagflation” style economies.

And Marx is the “low man” on the Totem Pole.  His radical solution, government ownership and control of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, would be, as Hayek says, “the road to serfdom.”

Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack many times by his arch enemies, the Marxists and Keynesians.  But Smithian economics has nine lives, and has always managed a comeback.  With your help, Adam Smith will return.

Click here for a copy of The Big Three in Economics.

From Poverty to Riches: Is There a Magic Elixir?

From The President’s Desk
Published in Ideas on Liberty
July 2002

by Mark Skousen

“The problem of making poor countries rich was much more difficult than we thought.”

—William Easterly, World Bank1

“If there is one formula for our success, it was that we were constantly studying how to make things work, or how to make them work better.”

—Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister, Singapore2

William Easterly has spent his entire adult life working for the World Bank, living in the Third World, and helping poor countries develop into rich countries. You would think he would severely lecture the World Bank and his fellow economists about the dumb policies governments have pursued.

Instead, Easterly throws his hands in the air and offers no clues to the “elusive” quest for growth. He confirms a few economic truths, such as “incentives matter” and “government can kill growth,” but ultimately he thinks luck has as much to do with it as anything. “There are no magic elixirs,” he sighs. The almighty empirical evidence solemnly declares it. Foreign aid doesn’t work. Foreign investment doesn’t work. High savings don’t work. Investment in machinery doesn’t work. Education doesn’t work. Technology doesn’t work. Tax cuts don’t work. All have failed to live up to expectations. It’s time for the economist to be humbled: “It’s very, very hard to predict success in sports, music, and politics—as well as in economics.”3

Over the years I have witnessed a split in the economics profession. Some adhere to the view that we live in an Age of Ignorance; that we know very little about how the world economy really operates and what government policies should be pursued. They are in large measure armchair critics and doubting Thomases.4 Others believe we live in an Age of Enlightenment; that despite maddening uncertainties about the marketplace, we do know with some assurance how a freely competitive market economy works and we have learned a great deal about what governments should and should not do. It is sad commentary to see that despite his honesty, Easterly, a seasoned veteran in the war on world poverty, tends to fall into the former category. He certainly lost an opportunity to clear the air and reveal the root causes and cures of poverty.

Singapore’s Economic Miracle

Perhaps one reason Easterly’s story ends in tragedy is that he apparently spent too much time in failed economies and not enough time in successful ones. I notice that his book says almost nothing about Chile, the economic model of Latin America, or the Four Tigers—Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Contrast Easterly’s confused story with Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiographical account of Singapore. Lee became president of the tiny, poverty-stricken British colony after it was granted independence in 1965. In one generation, he oversaw its transformation into an Asian giant with the world’s number-one airline, best airport, busiest port of trade, and the world’s fourth-largest per capita real income.

How did this economic miracle happen?

First, Lee offered real leadership. He was a seminal figure in Asia who accomplished extraordinary things. He built an army from scratch, won over the unions, and destroyed the communists after the British left a vacuum. Despite strong opposition, he insisted on making English one of four official spoken languages, knowing it was fast becoming the language of international business. Singapore, like other Southeast Asian countries, was known for its nepotism, favoritism, and covert corruption; Lee cleaned up the courts, police, and immigration and customs offices. Today Singapore is ranked as the least corrupt country in Asia. Singapore was also dirty, so Lee began a “clean and green” campaign. Rivers, canals, and drains were cleaned up and millions of trees, palms, and shrubs were planted.

The Lee government tore down dilapidated shacks and replaced them with high-rise apartments. He imposed law and order by demanding severe sentences for murder and other crimes. Today Singapore ranks no. 1 in the world for security. To reduce traffic congestion, a huge problem in Asian cities, Singapore built an underground subway system, and imposed an electronic road-pricing program. Every vehicle has a “smart card” on its windshield, and the toll amount varies with the road used and the time of day. During rush hour, the price goes up. “Since the amount people pay now depends upon how much they use the roads, the optimum number of cars can be owned with the minimum of congestion.”5 A sound economic principle!

Lee rejected Soviet-style central planning and domestic heavy industry, although he did target certain industries for development. He focused on a two-pronged plan to advance Singapore: First, his government encouraged domestic industry to leap over their neighbors and link up with the developed world of America, Europe, and Japan, and tried to attract their manufacturers to produce in Singapore. Second, Lee wished to create a First World oasis in the Third World by establishing top standards in security, health, education, communications, and transportation, and a government offering a stable currency, low taxes, and free trade. Singapore would become a “base camp” for multinational corporations from around the world. And, after years of effort, it worked.

Under Lee’s brilliant leadership, Singapore has advanced far beyond anyone’s dreams. Yet we cannot ignore his mistakes—his paternalistic strong-arm tactics, his interventionist targeting of industries, his forced saving programs, his denial of a free press, and his excessive punishments for certain crimes. It will be interesting to see how Singapore performs, both as a people and economy, after Lee Kuan Yew is gone. We can only hope that economic freedom will lead to political liberty.

1. William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), p. 291.
2. Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965–2000 (New York: Harper Collins, 2000), p. 687.
3. Easterly, p. 208. Despite Easterly’s failure to come to any clear conclusions, his book offers an honest and often entertaining appraisal of development literature.
4. See my columns, “Is This the Age of Ignorance—or Enlightenment?,” June 1994; “European Unemployment: The Age of Ignorance, Part II,” January 1995; and “The Age of Confusion,” August 1995.
5. Lee, p. 206.

Mark Skousen is president of FEE.

The World Map of Economic Freedom

Personal Snapshots
Forecasts & Strategies
June 2002

“Economic repression breeds intolerance, fanaticism and terrorism.”

— Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., Heritage Foundation

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this unusual map of the world. “The World Map of Economic Freedom” was published by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This incredible map—reproduced in full in the May issue of Ideas on Liberty—predicted in living color a war between America and the Middle East, and reveals in unmistakable clarity why Islamic extremists attacked New York and Washington.

Since September 11, we’ve heard all kinds of reasons why the terrorists struck America—in retaliation for the United States’ supporting Israel, for America’s meddling in the Middle East, Arab’s envy of America’s superpower status and their hatred of America’s lifestyle. This map gives the real reason.

World Economic Freedom Map from the Fraser Institute

World Economic Freedom Map from the Fraser Institute

In this “world map of economic freedom,” each nation is ranked according to its degree of economic freedom, based on 10 factors, such as level of taxation, trade restrictions, labor regulations, inflation, property rights and government intervention in the economy. Countries in blue, like the United States and Britain, are ranked “free.” Countries in green, like Canada and France, are considered “mostly free.” Nations in yellow, like Russia and Brazil, are labeled “mostly unfree.” Finally, nations in red are ranked “repressed.”

This world map is an eye-opener. It shows that few nations are truly free. Countries colored in blue include the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Clearly, freedom is a delicate and rare flower. Canada and Europe are “mostly free.” Third World nations are “mostly unfree.” Countries painted yellow include Russia, China, India, Brazil and most of Africa. In fact, of the 155 nations surveyed, over half (81) received a negative grade (yellow or red).

The Biggest Shock: Where Is the Red?

But the most shocking fact is that almost all of the red nations are located in the Middle East. It is clearly the area of the world with the highest concentration of “repressed” freedom. This area of the world has been crippled from constant war, corruption, inflation, black markets, protectionism and government intervention on a grand scale. Most of the Arab world continues to suffer from economic dislocation, political turmoil and military conflict. It is not surprising that for most Arabs the standard of living is low, despite an abundance of oil.

The Most Important Lesson in the War on Terrorism

What is the most important lesson we can learn from this map? Simply this: Economic repression leads to intolerance, fanaticism and terrorism. It is not surprising that the Middle East is a major source of radicalism and chaos. A closed society breeds intolerance and fanaticism. Interestingly, most of the Middle East is also famous for its lack of political democracy and religious tolerance. Most are ruled by dictators or kings. Religious proselyting is prohibited in Arab nations and even in Israel.

But there is another important lesson to learn from this map. Liberalized trade and open markets break down cultural and social monotheism, and destroy fanaticism and intolerance. Business encourages people to become educated, industrious and self-disciplined. Commerce encourages trade, travel and exchange between nations and cultures.

What then is the real solution to the War on Terrorism? Sending troops and fighting war in faraway lands may offer a short-term solution to terrorism, but the only real permanent peace can be achieved through expanding trade and business, and establishing a legal system conducing to a civil society and prosperous economy. In short, a good dose of open markets and competition in all walks of life could go a long way toward bringing peace, prosperity and goodwill in this dangerous part of the world. Until that happens, however, many will shout “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11)

Our Goal at FEE: Color the World Blue!

This world map also gives us the opportunity to explain our mission here at FEE in simple terms that everyone can see: Freedom in our time for all peoples. Our goal is to color the world blue. I do think that we are making progress. If you saw this world map of economic freedom in 1985, when the Soviet Union and China were closed communist nations, over half the world’s population would have been colored “red.” With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the downfall of Soviet communism, many nations have moved from “red” to “yellow” and from “yellow” to “green.” Will they eventually move to “blue”? Through our books, monthly magazines and seminars, FEE will do everything in its power to achieve this lofty goal.

Action to Take: To receive a copy of “The Map That Predicted the Terrorist Attacks,” subscribe now to Ideas on Liberty, only $39 for 12 issues. We’ll send you, free, the map and a four-page commentary. Make your payment to Foundation for Economic Education, 30 South Broadway, Irvington, New York 10533. Or www.fee.org or call 800/960-4FEE, ext. 209, for credit-card orders.

FEE Fest 2002: Special Report

“I’ve attended many conferences, but yours is the best of the best. Thank you!”

—Attendee, FEE National Convention

Last month, FEE held its first ever FEE National Convention, and it was a huge success. With only four months of planning, we were able to register nearly 900 attendees. Nathaniel Branden, a keynote speaker at the Saturday night banquet, described the atmosphere well when he said, “I feel an electricity here that I haven’t sensed at libertarian meetings for a long time.” Actor Ben Stein wrote a poem just for FEE (to be published in the June issue of Ideas on Liberty), and C-SPAN Book TV videotaped six book authors (check the schedule on www.booktv.com or www.FEEnews.org).

The FEE Fest was packed with workshops, panels and debates on philosophy, history, economics, finance, education, art and public policy.

Audiotapes/Videos Now Available

If you missed the FEE Fest, I have good news. Audio and videotapes are available for almost all the sessions at the FEE National Convention. Audiotapes cost only $5 per session, ($275 for all) and videotapes are available for only $15 ($110 for all). Go to www.FEEnationalconvention.org for the complete list of tape recordings available and how to order or call Harold Skousen, 800/254-2057.

SKOUSEN’S PUZZLER FOR JUNE:

1883 is a very important year in economics. Name one economist who died in 1883, and two economists who were born in that same year. They say that it took two economists to make up for the mischief of the one who died. Who are these three economists? (Hint: You can find the answer in my book, The Making of Modern Economics, available from FEE, 800-960-4FEE, ext. 209).

The first 10 winners with the correct answer will receive a copy of my book, Economic Logic. Drawing will be on July 31, 2002. Send answer to Quarterly Puzzler, c/o Phillips Investment Resources, LLC, 7811 Montrose Rd., Potomac, Maryland 20854, or e-mail your answer to [email protected].

Pulling Down the Keynesian Cross

Ideas On Liberty
Economics on Trial
June 2001

by Mark Skousen

“The circle had come right round; it was as though Keynes had never been.”
-Robert Skidelsky1

“Textbooks have to be rewritten in the aftermath of each scientific revolution.”
-Thomas S. Kuhn2

In his third and final volume on John Maynard Keynes, Robert Skidelsky comes to the shocking conclusion that the Keynesian revolution was temporary, that Keynes’s General Theory was really only a “special” case, and that “free market liberalism” has ultimately triumphed. This is all the more amazing given that Lord Skidelsky has spent the past 20 years of his professional career studying Keynes and resides in Keynes’s old estate, Tilton House. Few scholars would have the guts to repudiate the theory of the man they adore.

It’s even tougher for old dogs to learn new tricks, and that refrain applies to Paul Samuelson, the “American Keynes” who introduced millions of students to the “new economics” of the master. He continues to hang his hat on the Keynesian cross, even as he publishes the 17th edition of his world-famous textbook. The pedagogical paradigm keeps shifting further toward the classical model of Adam Smith, and as each edition of Economics moves in that direction, Samuelson resists the change. He cites his mentor more than any other economist; only Keynes, not Adam Smith or Milton Friedman, is measured as a “many-sided genius.” His textbook still begins macroeconomics with the Keynesian model, even though most other textbook writers have adopted Greg Mankiw’s method of starting with the long-run classical model.3 According to Samuelson, Adam Smith’s invisible-hand doctrine-that laissez-faire behavior maximizes social welfare-“holds only under very limited conditions.”4 On the final page (755) of his massive textbook, he renders “two cheers to the market, but not three.”

Two Cheers for Hayek and Friedman

Having reviewed all 17 editions of Samuelson’s magnum opus, I conclude that his textbook has gradually shifted, albeit grudgingly, from one cheer to two cheers for the market. Much of this improvement is due to Yale’s Bill Nordhaus, his co-author since 1985. (He writes the entire text now, which Samuelson then reviews.)

What’s new about the latest edition? More free-market economists are cited, including Julian Simon, Ronald Coase, James Buchanan, Arthur Laffer, Robert Mundell, and Gary Becker. Samuelson and Nordhaus devote an entire page (41) to F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, “guardians of economic freedom.” They recommend Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, saying, “All thoughtful economists should study his arguments carefully.”

In chapter 2, “Markets and Government in a Modern Economy,” the authors highlight the benefits of globalization and the importance of property rights, noting that Russia and other former communist nations have suffered because of a failure to enforce “the legal framework.”

They also add an entire new page on the issue of lighthouses as public goods. For years Samuelson used the lighthouse as a prime example of market failure; only government could build and operate lighthouses. Several years ago I chided Samuelson for ignoring Ronald Coase’s famous essay, “The Lighthouse in Economics,” which proved that the Trinity House and other lighthouses in England were built and owned by private firms that imposed tolls on ships docking at nearby ports.5

Now, finally, Samuelson and Nordhaus have responded to Coase’s challenge in the 17th edition (pp. 37—38). They admit that privately operated lighthouses existed in England, but then point to the east coast of Florida as a case where “there were no lighthouses until 1825, and no private-sector lighthouses were ever built in this area.” According to Nordhaus, the only response to shipwrecks was a thriving private “wrecking” industry that charged high fees for “saving lives and cargo.” Nordhaus goes on to note that lighthouses have become obsolete, replaced by the satellite-based Global Positioning System, a service provided by the government.

In sum, the paradigm in economics has definitely shifted from Keynesianism to classical economics, but the case for complete laissez faire is still raging in the halls of academia.

1. Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain, 1937-1946 (London: Macmillan, 2000), p. 506.
2. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 137.
3. See N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics, 2d ed. (Ft. Worth, Tex.: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001). I still regard Roy J. Ruffin and Paul R.Gregory, Principles of Economics, 7th ed. (Boston: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001) as the best mainstream textbook on the market today.
4. Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics, 17th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2001), p. 325.
5. Mark Skousen, “The Perseverance of Paul Samuelson’s Economics,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring 1997, p. 145. Coase’s article appeared in the Journal of Law and Economics, October 1974, pp.357-76.

Beyond GDP: A Breakthrough in National Income Accounting

IDEAS ON LIBERTY
Economics on Trial
APRIL 2001

Beyond GDP: A Breakthrough in National Income Accounting
by Mark Skousen

“It is apparent that a large part of a country’s total production serves for the production of capital goods and not for the production of consumer goods, and that the production of capital goods must itself become a specialized branch of manufacturing.” —Wilhelm Ropke 1

Good news! The U.S. Department of Commerce, which compiles Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has just added a new national income statistic, Gross Output (GO), as a measure of total spending in the economy. I have been making the case for this new statistic for over ten years. Now it is a reality. In The Structure of Production (1990) and Economics on Trial (1993), I was critical of GDP for two reasons:

First, GDP is a Keynesian concept that measures only the output of final goods and services and excludes intermediate production. Second, government spending is included in GDP data, an autonomous addition to national output.2

Both peculiarities of GDP have led to much mischief. In the first case, by focusing solely on final output, many economists and commentators in the media have concluded that consumer spending is more important than capital investment in an economy, based on the fact that consumption expenditures usually represent about two-thirds of GDP. In the second case, including government spending in GDP has led many pundits to believe that an increase in that spending—even if accomplished through deficit spending—will automatically increase economic growth (or conversely, a cut in government spending will inevitably lead to a recession). Both conclusions are false.

Most students of economics are unaware of the fact that GDP was created by Simon Kuznets during World War II to quantify final aggregate demand according to the new economics of Keynes. As such, GDP ignores all intermediate spending in the economy, based on the tenuous argument that earlier stages of production constitute double counting.

However, the goods-in-process sector of the economy—the natural resource, manufacturing, and wholesale stages—are important for several reasons. Austrian economist Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk and German economist Wilhelm Ropke, among others, demonstrated that interest rates and technology greatly influence the structure of production and that changes in the early stages are especially important in the business cycle.

In an effort to measure intermediate production, The Structure of Production introduced a new national income statistic, Gross Domestic Output (GDO)—a more complete measure of spending at all stages of production—as an “Austrian” alternative to the Keynesian GDP. It counts spending (sales or revenues) of firms at all stages of production, not just at the retail level.

GO: A New National Statistic

For a decade I thought my criticisms of GDP had fallen on deaf ears and no one was interested in using a new national income statistic like GDO that accurately included total spending in the economy, not just final output. However, I am happy to report that the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has just begun to publish a new series called “Gross Output,” an annual measure of total spending at all stages. GO is defined as Intermediate Input (II) plus GDP (final output).3

Intermediate Input (II) represents the sale of all products in the natural resource, manufacturing, and wholesale markets. GDP represents the final retail market.

I am currently working on a professional paper analyzing GO and II statistics and how they increase our understanding of the economy. Since this paper will not be published for some time, let me give you a few of my preliminary conclusions. Overall, much of the data appears to confirm several Austrian themes.

First, the data support the Austrian theory that the structure of production lengthens as an economy grows. Indeed, from 1987 until 1998 real GDP rose from $6.1 trillion to $8.8 trillion, or 39 percent (using 1996 as a base year). But real Intermediate Input (II) increased from $4.3 trillion to $6.5 trillion, or 53 percent, much faster than GDP. In other words, the producer/capital goods market grew more rapidly than the consumer/retail good market. This suggests that the number of stages of production increased.

Second, the data seem to confirm the Austrian view that production in the intermediate processes tends to be more volatile than final output and thus more sensitive to the business cycle. For example, during the 1990-91 recession, real GDP fell $31.5 billion, while real II fell $74.6 billion—more than twice retail sales. Since then, intermediate production has grown substantially faster (41 percent) than consumer spending (27 percent) from 1991 to 1998. I would like to test these statistics during previous boom-bust cycles (such as 1973-75 and 1980-82), but unfortunately, the data for II and GO are incomplete prior to 1987.

Third, GO data support the Austrian argument that business investment—not consumer spending—is the driving force behind economic growth. The Keynesian argument that consumer spending is the largest sector of the economy is specious and is based on a misunderstanding of GDP statistics. It is true that personal consumption expenditures typically represent 67 percent of GDP, but GDP is not total spending in the economy. On measuring total spending (GO), one sees that the capital/producer goods industry is substantially larger than the final consumer/retail goods industry. Using 1998 data, we find that personal consumption expenditures amount to $5.8 trillion, only 38 percent of GO, and gross business investment (which includes all intermediate production, plus gross fixed investment) amounts to $7.9 trillion, 52 percent of total spending.

In sum, intermediate production does matter, and GO is a better indicator of what is happening in the entire economy, not just the retail sector. Hopefully, the next step will be for the Commerce Department to release up-to-date quarterly data for GO and II as they currently do for GDP. We could learn a lot more about the direction of the economy with these new Austrian national income statistics

1. Wilhelm Ropke, Economics of a Free Society (Chicago: Henry Regnery & Co., 1963), p. 43.
2. See The Structure of Production (New York: New York University Press, 1990), chapter 6, and Economics on Trial (Homewood, Ill.: Irwin, 1993), chapter 4.
3. See “Improved Estimates of Gross Product by Industry for 1947-98,” Survey of Current Business 80:6 (June 2000), pp. 24-63. Table 8 measures Gross Output 1987-98, and table 9 measures Intermediate Input 1987-98.

The Troubled Economics of Ayn Rand

Published in January, 2001, issue of Liberty Magazine:

THE TROUBLED ECONOMICS OF AYN RAND
by Mark Skousen

“No creator was prompted by a desire to serve his brothers…”

–Howard Roark, The Fountainhead (1994:710)

Ayn Rand, author of the celebrated Capitalism: The Unknown Idea, is honored almost universally as the fountainhead of market capitalism, an impassioned proponent of reason, individualism, and rational self-interest.

There is much to praise in Ayn Rand’s novels and writings, especially her uncompromising defense of freedom and her unrelenting denunciations of collectivism. No one has written more persuasively about property rights, the right of an individual to safeguard his wealth and property from the agents of coercion. Her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have probably done more than any other works of fiction to vindicate and honor the glories of “making money.”

Yet in reading her novels and writings, I was surprised to learn that her work often portrays a strange, distorted view of the money-making process. In a perverse way, her model of business may even give aid to the cause of the enemies of liberty–by giving capitalism a bad name.

Consumer Sovereign in The Fountainhead

Take, for example, Howard Roark’s philosophy toward his architectural work in The Fountainhead. In the beginning, Roark indicates that he chose architecture as a profession because he loves his work. He seeks to set the highest standards of excellence. He tries to be creative. All of these traits are to be admired.

But then Roark denies a basic tenet of sound economics–the principle of consumer sovereignty. When the dean of the architectural school tells Roark, “Your only purpose is to serve him [the client],” Roark objects. “I don’t intend to build in order to serve or help anyone. I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.” (1994:14) This bizarre, almost anti-social, attitude sounds like a perverse rending of Say’s Law, “supply creates its own demand,” or the statement made in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” But supply only creates demand if the supply can be sold to customers; and people come to a new baseball field only if they want to play or watch. Supply must satisfy demand, or it becomes a wasted resource.

Now I have no problem with an architect who tries to set new standards of design, just as I would applaud entrepreneurs who seek to invent a new product or design a new process. Such actions are often highly risky and financially dangerous, and are often met with derision at first. Ayn Rand rightly points out that they are a major cause of economic progress. History is full of examples of “men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.” (Rand 1994:710)

But the goal of all rational entrepreneurship must be to satisfy the needs of consumers, not to ignore them! Discovering and fulfilling the needs of customers is the essence of market capitalism. Imagine how far a TV manufacturer would get if he decides to build TVs that only tune into his five favorite channels, the consumer be damned. It wouldn’t be long before he would be on the road to bankruptcy.

Rand Denies the Essence of Business Enterprise

In short, Howard Roark’s conviction is irrational and contradicts a basic premise of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. For Roark, A is not A. He wants A to be B–his B, not his customer’s A. Thus, Ayn Rand’s ideal man misconceives the very nature and logic of capitalism–to fulfill the needs of customers and thereby advance the general welfare. As Ludwig von Mises writes in his book, The Anti-Capitalist Mentality, “The profit system makes those men prosper who have succeeded in filling the wants of the people in the best possible and cheapest way. Wealth can be acquired only by serving the consumers.” (1972:2) Apparently Howard Roark doesn’t believe in consumer sovereignty. As he states in his final court defense, “An architect needs clients, but he dos not subordinate his work to their wishes.” (1994:714) Really?

Talk to any architects about The Fountainhead. Yes, they will tell you that there are a few self-centered, highly-egotistical, elitist Howard-Roark types in architecture who can get away with making monuments to their egos at their client’s expense. Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect Rand deeply admired, may be one of them. But the book’s thesis is entirely unrealistic in the everyday world of commercial building. Occasionally a client values more the notoriety of living in a home built by a signature designer than getting what he really wants, but not many. Almost all of Rand’s scenarios are extreme and idealistic, a strategy that works to sell novels, but does violence to all sense of reality. Normally architects work closely with the client and make numerous changes in order to fit the client’s needs.

Compromise is a necessary element to a successful completion of a project. And this consumer-oriented approach is true in all areas of capitalistic production. An architect or producer of any product who acts like Roark in The Fountainhead is likely to be out of work. Roark’s fate is even worse–he is guilty of his crime, blowing up a much-needed housing project rather than permit the slightest alteration in his designs. The jury may have exonerated him, but the market punishes his kind of behavior.

Ironically, Ayn Rand herself compromised in the making of the movie “The Fountainhead.” She insisted that only Frank Lloyd Wright would design the models for the film, but her demand was later rejected due to Wright’s outrageous fee. In the end, the models were done by a studio set designer. Rand called them “horrible” and “embarrassingly bad.” But the film was made and released. (Branden 1986:209) Oh, the agonies of dealing with other people!

The fact that Howard Roark represents the ideal man in Ayn Rand’s novel and the fact that she denigrates other characters in The Fountainhead who “compromise” with client’s demands suggest that Ayn Rand is philosophically in denial when it comes to comprehending the nature of business. She denies the very raison d’etre of capitalism–consumer sovereignty.

Assault on the Common Man

In this sense, Ayn Rand is not much different from other artists and intellectuals. Artists often bash the capitalist system. They hate the idea of subjecting their talents to crass commercialism and the crude tastes of the common man. Yet Ludwig von Mises chastised this snobbish attitude in The Anti-Capitalist Mentality: “The judgment about the merits of a work of art is entirely subjective. Some people praise what others disdain. There is no yardstick to measure the aesthetic worth of a poem or of a building.” (1972:75) Mises adds that only through economic progress — the creation of surplus wealth — has the level of taste and art been raised to meet the criteria of the more sophisticated artist. “When modern industry began to provide the masses with the paraphernalia of a better life, their main concern was to produce as cheaply as possible without any regard to aesthetic values. Later, when the progress of capitalism had raised the masses’ standard of living, they turned step by step to the fabrication of things which do not lack refinement and beauty.” (1972:80)

The Flaw in Atlas Shrugged

This brings us to the fatal flaw in Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s basic plot violates the whole rationale of business’s existence–constantly working within the system to find ways to make money. There will never be a Galt’s Gulch, where the world’s greatest entrepreneurs isolated themselves from the rest of the world. There will never be enough principled business leaders to fight the system. The business world does not typically attract ideologues and true believers; it attracts people primarily interested in money making by whatever means. They wouldn’t give John Galt the time of day. As Mises states, “There is little social intercourse between the successful businessmen and the nation’s eminent authors, artists and scientists…Most of the ‘socialites’ are not interested in books and ideas.” (Mises 1972:19) Ayn Rand admired Mises, but apparently she didn’t learn much from his writings. Pity.

Altruism Vs. Selfishness

Howard Roark’s diatribe against consumer sovereignty is undoubtedly a way to introduce Rand’s philosophy of selfishness. There are two extremes here: The philosophy of those who serve and satisfy themselves only, and the philosophy of those who believe that they should strive at all times to serve and sacrifice for others. Rand labels the latter “altruism.” In The Virtue of Selfishness, she opines, “Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil.” (Rand 1999:80) Obviously, Rand protests against altruism and espouses the opposite extreme. As Francisco d’Anconias tells Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged: “Don’t consider our interests or our desires. You have no duty to anyone but yourself.” (Rand 1992:802) No sacrifice, no altruism, just pure egotistical selfishness.

The Adam Smith Solution

The founder of modern economics, Adam Smith, takes a different approach by trying to incorporate both concepts in his “system of natural liberty.” Smith and Rand are in agreement about the universal benefits of a free capitalistic society. But Smith rejects Rand’s vision of selfish independence. He teaches that there are two driving forces behind man’s actions–in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, he identifies the first as “sympathy” or “benevolence” toward others in society, while in his Wealth of Nations, he focuses on the second, “self interest,” the right to pursue one’s own business. Smith believes that as the market economy develops and individuals move away from their community, “self interest” becomes a more dominant force than “sympathy.” But both are essential to achieve “universal opulence.” (Smith 1965:11)

Adam Smith is famous for making a statement that sounds Randian in tone: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” (Smith 1965:14) But this statement is often taken out of context. Smith’s self-interest never reaches the Randian selfishness that ignores the interest of others. On the contrary, in Smith’s mind, an individual’s goals cannot be fully achieved in business unless he appeals to the self-interest of others. Smith says so in the very next sentence: “We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” (Ibid.) Moreover, he writes earlier on the same page, “He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour….Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the mean of every such offer.” (Ibid.) Smith’s theme echoes his Christian heritage, particularly the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (See Matthew 7:12)

Perhaps a true capitalist spirit can best be summed up in the Christian commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39) Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises would undoubtedly agree with this creed, but apparently Howard Roark and John Galt — and their creator — would agree with only half. And that’s a great tragedy for the greatest novelist of the 20th century.

References

* Branden, Barbara. 1986. The Passion of Ayn Rand. Doubleday.
* Mises, Ludwig von. 1972 [1956]. The Anti-Capitalist Mentality. Libertarian Press.
* Rand, Ayn. 1992 [1957]. Atlas Shrugged. Dutton Books.
* Rand, Ayn. 1994 [1943]. The Fountainhead. Penguin Books.
* Rand, Ayn. 1999. The Ayn Rand Reader, ed. by Gary Hull and Leonard Peikoff. Penguin Books.
* Smith, Adam. 1965 [1776]. The Wealth of Nations. Modern Library.

Is Alan Greenspan Really That Good?

Forecasts & Strategies
Personal Snapshots
January 2001

Is Alan Greenspan Really That Good?
By Mark Skousen

“He played the game, skillfully …. He helped breath life into the vision of America as strong, the best, invincible.” -Bob Woodward, Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom

Last month I listened on audiotape to Bob Woodward’s new book, Maestro (Simon & Schuster), the inside story of Alan Greenspan and his long tenure as chairman of the world’s most powerful central bank. Woodward gave Greenspan extremely high marks for his ability to manipulate interest rates and keep the American economy stable and growing. He also felt that Greenspan was one of the first economists to recognize the surprise jump in productivity in the United States in the early 1990s. As a result, Greenspan fought against efforts to raise interest rates during most of the 1990s.

Certainly Greenspan has achieved remarkable success as measured by the low level of price inflation in the 1990s, and his handling of various crises (1987 crash, 1990-91 recession, Long Term Capital Management fiasco and the 1997 Asian meltdown). He has also been willing to raise interest rates when the American boom appeared to be getting out of hand (1994 and 2000) and thereby engineering a soft landing.

On the negative side, I give him low marks for opposing tax cuts in the 1990s, creating an asset inflation by pumping too much money into the economy after the 1997 Asian meltdown, and buying into the Y2K computer glitch problem in 1999. He’s been too easy, too long and too tight since he’s been chairman. But by far his worse decision was before he became Fed chairman. In 1983, he chaired the Social Security reform commission and refused to even entertain the idea of privatization. Instead he raised taxes and broadened the tax base. Ayn Rand, his mentor, must have been turning over in her grave.

The Imperial Science

Ideas on Liberty
Economics on Trial
January 2001

The Imperial Science
by Mark Skousen

“I think it is quite likely that we are entering an era of much more interaction among the sciences.” Kenneth E. Boulding 1

During the 20th century it was popular to label economics the “dismal science,” a term of derision coined by the English critic Thomas Carlyle in the 1850s. Carlyle lashed out against laissez-faire capitalism, which be defined as “anarchy plus the constable,” for, among other things, being inconsistent with slavery.2

But attitudes are rapidly changing as we enter the 21st century. Economics, no longer dismal, has come a long way toward reinventing itself and expanding into new territories so rapidly that another descriptive phrase is needed. Like an invading army, the science of Adam Smith is overrunning the whole of social science–law, finance, politics, history, sociology, environmentalism, religion, and even sports. Therefore, I have dubbed 21st-century economics the “imperial science.”

Boulding’s Dream Comes True

The father of economics as an interdisciplinary movement is Kenneth E. Boulding, longtime professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who died in 1993. He published over 1,000 articles on more than two dozen eclectic subjects, ranging from capital theory to Quakerism. But Boulding’s vision of every discipline borrowing ideas from other disciplines isn’t exactly what has happened. Instead, economics has started to dominate the other professions.

The first breakthrough came in finance theory. Harry Markowitz, a graduate economics student at the University of Chicago, wrote an article on portfolio theory in the March 1952 issue of The Journal of Finance. It was the first attempt to quantify the economic concept of risk in stock and portfolio selection. Out of this work came modern portfolio theory and the “efficient market theory,” which argues that short-term changes in stock prices are virtually unpredictable and that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to beat the market averages over the long run.

These ivory-tower theories were greeted with scorn by Wall Street professional managers, but eventually confirmed by numerous studies. Index funds, the economists’ favorite investment vehicles, are now the largest type of mutual fund sold on Wall Street?

James Buchman and Gordon Tullock, both at the University of Virginia, published The Calculus of Consent in 1962 and forever changed how political scientists view public finance and democracy. Today public-choice theory has been added to every economics classroom’s curriculum.

Buchanan and other public-choice theorists contend that politicians, like businessmen, are motivated by self-interest. They seek to maximize their influence and set policies in order to be re-elected. Unfortunately, the incentives and discipline of the marketplace are often missing in government. Voters have little incentive to control the excesses of legislators, who in turn are more responsive to powerful interest groups. As a result, government subsidizes vested interests of commerce while it imposes costly, wasteful regulations and taxes on the general public.

The public-choice school has changed the debate from “market failure” to “government failure.” Buchanan and others have recommended a series of constitutional rules to require the misguided public sector to act more responsibly, including requiring supermajorities to raise taxes, protecting minority rights, returning power to local governments, and imposing term limits?

Economics Enters the Courtroom

In 1972 Richard A. Posner, an economist who teaches at the University of Chicago Law School and serves as chief judge of the U.S. Seventh Circuit of Appeals, wrote Economic Analysts of Law, which synthesized the ideas of Ronald Coase, Gary Becker, F. A. Hayek, and other great economists at the University of Chicago. Today centers of “law and economics” are found on many campuses. Judge Posner states, “Every field of law, every legal institution, every practice or custom of lawyers, judges, and legislators, present or past-even ancient-is grist for the economic analyst’s mill” 5. Economists apply the principles of cost-benefit and welfare analysis to all kinds of legal issues antitrust, labor, discrimination, environment, commercial regulations, punishments and awards. In my October 1999 column, I reported on Chicago law professor John R. Lott, Jr.’s new work on the relationship between gun ownership and crime. He applied the incentive principle to demonstrate that well-armed citizens deter crime.

Chicago’s Gary Becker has been in the forefront of applying price theory to contemporary social problems, such as education, marriage and divorce, race discrimination, charity, and drug abuse. Not surprisingly, he called his book for the general public The Economics of Life. But Becker warned, “This work was not well received by most economists,” and the attacks from his critics were “sometimes very nasty.”6

There are many other cases where economists have made significant improvements in other disciplines-in accounting (see July 1999 column on “Economic Value Added,” or EVA), history (see the work of Robert Fogel and Douglass North), religion (Lawrence Iannaccone and Edwin West have shown that increased competition in religions increases attendance at churches), management (the Center for Market Processes at George Mason University), and sociology (see the writings of Richard Swedberg). They’ve even changed the way Treasury bills are auctioned.

As we enter the 21st century, false theories still prevail in politics, law, history, sociology, and other disciplines. As Lord Acton once stated, “There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest men.” The sooner the principles of market economics enter the fray and attack false doctrines, the better off we’ll all be.

1. Kenneth E. Boulding, The Skills of the Economist (Cleveland: Howard Allen, Inc., 1958). p 134.
2. For the complete background of Carlyle’s racism and vile attack on market capitalism, see David M. Levy, “150 Years and Still Dismal!” in Ideas on Liberty, Marsh 2000, and chapter 3 of my book, The Making of Modern Economics (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2001).
3. Two excellent books on modern portfolio theory are Burton Mankiel, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, 6th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996) and Peter L. Bernstein, Capital Ideas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).
4. Buchanan and Tullock’s The Calculus of Consent (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 1962) is still worth reading. For an excellent summary, see chapter XI, “The Public Choice School: Politics as a Business,” in Todd G. Buchholz, New Ideas From Dead Economists (New York: Penguin Book, 1989).
5. Richard A. Posner, Law and Literature, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998). p. 182. A comprehensive summary of the “law and economics” movement can be found in Nicholas Mercuro and Steven G. Medema, Economics and the Law: From Posner to Post-Modernism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997).
6. Gary S. Becker and Guity Nashat Becerk, The Economics of Life (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997), p.3.

The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, Updated

Economics on Trial
Ideas on Liberty
November 2000

by Mark Skousen

“In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man.” -E. F. SCHUMACHER (1)

In 1956, Ludwig von Mises countered myriad arguments against free enterprise in his insightful book, The AntiCapitalistic Mentality. “The great ideological conflict of our age,” he wrote, “is, which of the two systems, capitalism or socialism, warrants a higher productivity of human efforts to improve people’s standard of living.” (2)

Unfortunately, Mises’s counterattack has done little to stem the tide of anti-market sentiments. One that continues to be popular is E. F.Schumacher’s 1973 book, Small Is Beautiful which has recently been reprinted in an oversized text with commentaries by Paul Hawken and other admirers. Schumacher has a flourishing following, including Schumacher College (in Devon, England) and the Schumacher Society (in Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Hawken hails Schumacher as a visionary and author of “the most important book of [his] life.” (3) Schumacher’s message appeals to environmentalists, self-reliant communitarians, and advocates of “sustainable” growth (but not feminists the old fashioned Schumacher cited favorably the Buddhist view that “large-scale employment of women in offices or factories would be a sign of economic failure” (4) ).

From Austrian to Marxist to Buddhist

Oddly enough, Fritz Schumacher’s background is tied to the Austrians. Schumacher was born in Germany in 1911 and took a class from Joseph Schumpeter in the late 1920s in Bonn. It was Schumpeter’s course that convinced Schumacher to become an economist. While visiting England on a Rhodes scholarship in the early 1930s, Schumacher encountered F. A. Hayek at the London School of Economics and even wrote an article on “Inflation and the Structure of Production.” (5) But his flirtation with Austrian economics ended when he discovered Keynes and Marx. He renounced his Christian heritage and became a “revolutionary socialist.” The Nazi threat forced him to live in London, where he was “interned” as an “enemy alien” during World War II. After the war, he worked with Keynes and Sir William Beveridge and supported the nationalization of heavy industry in both Britain and Germany. But his real change of heart came during a visit to Burma in 1955, when he was converted to Buddhism. “The Burmese lived simply. They had few wants and they were happy,” he commented. “It was wants that made a man poor and this made the role of the West very dangerous.” (6)

Schumacher greatly admired Mahatma Gandhi and his saying, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” Eventually he wrote a series of essays that became his classic, Small Is Beautiful, published in 1973. In the 1970s, he became passionate about trees and began a campaign against deforestation. After a successful book tour in the United States, including a visit with President Jimmy Carter, he died in 1977 of an apparent heart attack.

The Lure of Buddhist Economics

Schumacher’s message is Malthusian in substance. Small Is Beautiful denounces big cities and big business, which “dehumanizes” the economy, strips the world of “nonrenewable” resources, and makes people too materialistic and overspecialized. According to Schumacher, individuals are better off working in smaller units and with less technology.

His most important chapter is “Buddhist Economics,” with its emphasis on “right livelihood” and “the maximum of wellbeing with the minimum of consumption.” Foreign trade does not fit into a Buddhist economy: “to satisfy human wants from faraway places rather than from sources nearby signifies failure rather than success.” (7) In sum, traditional Buddhism rejects labor-saving machinery, assembly-line production, large-scale multinational corporations, foreign trade, and the consumer society.

There are two problems with Schumacher’s glorification of Buddhist economics. First, it denies an individual’s freedom to choose a capitalistic mode of production; it enslaves everyone in a life of “nonmaterialistic” values. And second, it clearly results in a primitive economy. Mises responded to both these issues: “What separates East and West is . . . the fact that the peoples of the East never conceived the idea of liberty . . . . The age of capitalism has abolished all vestiges of slavery and serfdom.” And: “It may be true that there are among Buddhist mendicants, living on alms in dirt and penury, some who feel perfectly happy and do not envy any nabob. However, it is a fact that for the immense majority of people such a life would be unbearable.” (8)

I have no objection to preaching the Buddhist value that sees “the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.” Nor do I disapprove of localized markets (see my favorable review last November of the Grameen Bank, which makes small-scale loans to the poor). But none of this idealism should be forced on any society. Ultimately we must let people choose their own patterns of work and enjoyment. Clearly, whenever Third World countries have been given their economic freedom, the vast majority have chosen capitalistic means of production and consumption. As a result, poor people have been given hope for the first time in their lives-a chance for their families to break away from the drudgery of hard labor, to become educated, see the world, and enjoy “right living.”

Freedom is beautiful!

1. E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful Economics as if People Mattered: 25 Years Later with Commentary (Point Roberts, Wash.: Hanley & Marks, 1999 (1973)), p. 248.
2. Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capiaadatie Mentality (South Holland, Ill.; Libertartan Press, 1972 [1956]),p. 62.
3. Paul Hawken, Introduction to Schumacher, p. xiii.
4. Ibid., p. 40.
5. Sec The Economics of Inflation, ed. by H, P. Willis and J. A Chapman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935).
6. Quoted in Barbara Wood, E. F. Schumacher: His Life and Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), p. 245.
7. Schumacher, p. 42.
8. Mises, p. 74.