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.

Having Their Cake

Economics on Trial
Ideas on Liberty
October 2000

Having Their Cake
by Mark Skousen

“The duty of ‘saving’ became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion.” -JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1)

In his 1920 bestseller, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes made a profound observation about the success of capitalism before the Great War. He lauded “the immense accumulations of fixed capital” built up by the “new rich” during the half century before the war and compared the huge capital investment of this golden era to a “cake,” noting how “vital” it was that the cake “never be consumed;” but continue to “grow.”

Keynes was intensely optimistic about the prospects of humanity, “if only the cake were not cut but was allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion predicted by Malthus for population.” Rapid capital accumulation would result in the elimination of “overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding,” and workingmen “could proceed to the nobler exercises of their faculties.”

Alas, it was not to be. The First World War destroyed Keynes’s dream of universal progress. The cake was consumed. “The war has disclosed the possibility of consumption to all and the vanity of abstinence to many.” (2)

War isn’t the only enemy of capital accumulation. Since World War II, the greatest threat to capital formation (the growth of the cake) has been the direct and indirect taxation of capital.

Take, for example, the federal estate tax. The estate tax is often viewed as an “inheritance” tax and even a “death” tax. But it’s much worse than that. It’s also a tax on capital. An estate’s taxable property includes stocks, bonds, business assets, real estate, coins and collectibles-all after-tax, afterconsumption investments.

If your net worth exceeds $675,000, your heirs will be forced to pay at least 18 percent to the IRS. The tax rate hits a confiscatory 55 percent at a mere taxable estate of $3 million.

Capital is the lifeblood of the economy. Capital investment finances new technology, new production processes, quality improvements, jobs, and economic growth in general. When those investment funds are taxed-$28 billion in 1998-the funds are removed from the investment pool and transferred to Washington, where they are consumed. For the most part the funds are consumed through government expenditures and “transfer payments” (welfare, salaries of government workers, and so on).

The estate tax also creates economic distortions. It encourages individuals to engage in “estate planning,” expensive legal exercises to avoid the death tax. It forces individuals to buy insurance policies they would not otherwise buy and create tax-exempt trusts and foundations that they would not ordinarily create. Undoubtedly, millions of fiends are transferred every year into foundations and charities just to avoid estate taxes. Charitable giving and public foundations have become big business, but what is the price? Mismanagement and waste are common features in these nonbusiness organizations.

Another Inefficient Tax: Capital Gains Taxes

Perhaps an even more sinister tax is the capital gains tax. If you sell an asset (stock, bond, commodity, real estate, or collectible), the profits are taxed between 20 and 40 percent, depending on how long you held the asset. (If you hold for more than a year, the maximum rate is 20 percent.) This is a terrible penalty on capital. It means that every time a stock or other asset is traded outside a taxexempt vehicle, 20 to 40 percent of the profits are removed from the private economy and sent to Washington, never to be invested again. With the recent bull market on Wall Street, annual capital gains taxes have exceeded $100 billion. What a terrible drain on the economy.

Capital gains taxes also result in economic inefficiency. Because of the high tax on capital gains, many investors refuse to sell their assets. They may prefer to switch into a potentially more profitable investment, but they stay with their original investment because they hate the idea of paying Uncle Sam. Clearly, capital would be more efficiently allocated to its more productive use without this burdensome profits tax.

The United States can learn a lot from foreign nations. Hong Kong has a flat 15 percent personal income tax, a 16.5 percent corporate income tax, and no tax at all on capital gains. In fact, most of the New Industrial Countries in Southeast Asia do not tax capital gains.

Thus capital can move freely throughout Hong Kong and around the world without distortion. And the cake has grown rapidly because of capital’s tax-free status. Hong Kong does have an estate tax on values exceeding HK$7 million, but the maximum rate is only 18 percent. (3)

Fortunately, the U.S. government has recently recognized the negative drain these taxes have on the economy. It has reduced long-term capital gains, and Congress has even entertained a bill to abolish federal estate taxes altogether.

Eliminating taxes on estates and capital gains has been criticized as a break for the rich. Moreover, critics say, estate taxes should be kept in order to establish a level playing field. They argue, “Children and grandchildren of wealthy people didn’t earn inherited money. They should have to work for it, just as their parents did. Inheritances create disincentives to work.”

But these critics fail to understand the broader implications of a large tax-free estate and tax-free capital gains. Everyone-not just the rich-benefits from eliminating these taxes because wealthy people’s capital would be left intact, invested in the stock market, businesses, farms, banks, insurance companies, real estate, and other capital assets, thus insuring strong economic growth and a high standard of living for everyone. As Ludwig von Mises once stated, “Do they realize that every measure leading to capital decumulation jeopardizes their prosperity?” (4)

As an investment adviser, I share the concern that unrestricted inheritances to children or grandchildren can be morally corrupting, but there are other solutions besides a confiscatory tax. For example, a will can limit the use of inherited funds until a certain age of responsibility is reached, or a trust can offer matching funds as a way to encourage work and responsibility.

1. John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1920), p. 20.
2. Ibid., pp. 20-21.
3. For an excellent summary of tax policies throughout the world, see International Tax Summaries, published annually by Coopers & Lybrand (New York: John Wiley & Sons).
4. Ludwig von Mises, Planning for Freedom, 4th ed. (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1980), p. 208.

An Enemy Hath Done This

Economics on Trial – Ideas on Liberty – SEPTEMBER 2000

by Mark Skousen

“Government measures . . . give individuals an incentive to misuse and misdirect resources and distort the investment of new savings.”
– MILTON FRIEDMAN 1

Several months ago, I had the opportunity of speaking before a Miami chapter of Legatus, a group of Catholic business leaders organized originally by Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza. The topic was the outlook for the stock market, which had reached sky-high levels and by any traditional measurement appeared extremely overvalued. Even many experienced Wall Street analysts recognized that a bear-market correction or crash was inevitable and necessary. As the old Wall Street saying goes, “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” Indeed, in the spring the stock market took a well-deserved tumble. What is the cause of this boom-bust cycle in the stock market? Does capitalism inherently create unsustainable growth? Is the bull market on Wall Street real or a bubble?

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

To answer these questions, I applied Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) to today’s financial situation.

Jesus tells the story of a wheat farmer whose crop comes under attack by an unknown assailant. In the middle of the night this enemy sows tares (weeds) in his wheat fields. Soon the farmer’s servants discover that the farmer’s crop appears to be twice the normal size. Yet the master realizes that half the crop is fake-weeds instead of wheat. But he warns his servants not to tear out the weeds for fear of uprooting the good shoots; they must wait and let the wheat and the tares grow up together until harvest time. Months later, the wheat produces good grain, while the tares are merely weeds and provide no fruit. The servants pull out the weeds and burn them, and store the grain in the barn.

The parable is imminently applicable to the recent wild ride on Wall Street. In today’s robust global economy, the wheat represents genuine prosperity-the new products, technologies, and productivity generated by capitalists and entrepreneurs. It represents real economic growth and when harvested, reflects a true higher standard of living for everyone. Under such conditions, stock prices are likely to rise.

On the other hand, the tares represent artificial prosperity that bears no fruit in the end and must be burned at harvest time. Where does this artificial growth come from? The central bank’s “easy money” policies! The Fed artificially lowers interest rates and creates new money out of thin air (through openmarket operations). This new money, like regular savings, is invested in the economy and stimulates more growth and higher stock prices-higher than sustainable over the long run.

Who is the enemy who sows artificial prosperity? Alan Greenspan! (Or, to be more accurate, central bankers.) The money supply-which is controlled by the Fed-has been growing by leaps and bounds, especially since the 1997 Asian crisis.

But there is no free lunch, as sound economists have warned repeatedly. At some point, the harvest time comes and the wheat must be separated from the tares. This is the crisis stage, where the boom turns into the bust. Harvest time in wheat is fairly easy to predict, but not so in the economy. Clearly economic conditions are heating up, as measured by asset inflation, real estate prices, the art mar ket, and recently the Consumer Price Index. At some point, a “burning” of excessive asset values in the financial markets must occur. As Ludwig von Mises stated long ago, “if a brake is thus put on the boom, it will quickly be seen that the false impression of `profitability’ created by the credit expansion has led to unjustified investments..”2

Lesson: Globalization and supply-side freemarket policies have justified genuine economic growth and higher stock prices over the past two decades, but “easy money” policies have at the same time created an artificial boom and “irrational exuberance” on Wall Street. Ignore this lesson at your own peril. Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares!

1. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago, 1962), p. 38.
2. Ludwig von Mises, “The `Austrian’ Theory of the Trade Cycle,” in The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle and Other Essays, compiled by Richard M. Ebeling (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1996), p. 30.

If You Build It – Privately – They Will Come

Ideas on Liberty
Economics on Trial
August 2000

by Mark Skousen

“Government provides certain indispensable public services without which community life would be unthinkable and which by their nature cannot appropriately be left to private enterprise.” – PAUL A. SAMUELSON

If you take a course in public finance, you will invariably encounter the “public goods” argument for government: Some services simply can’t be produced sufficiently by the private sector, such as schools, courts, prisons, roads, welfare, and lighthouses.

The lighthouse example has been highlighted as a classic public good in Paul Samuelson’s famous textbook since 1964. “Its beam helps everyone in sight. A businessman could not build it for a profit, since he cannot claim a price for each user.” 1

Really? Chicago economist Ronald H. Coase revealed that numerous lighthouses in England were built and owned by private individuals and companies prior to the nineteenth century. They earned profits by charging tolls on ships docking at nearby ports. The Trinity House was a prime example of a privately owned operation granted a charter in 1514 to operate lighthouses and charge ships a toll for their use.

Samuelson went on to recommend that lighthouses be financed out of general revenues. According to Coase, such a financing system has never been tried in Britain: “the service [at Trinity House] continued to be financed by tolls levied on ships.”2

What’s even more amazing, Coase wrote his trailblazing article in 1974, but Samuelson continued to use the lighthouse as an ideal public good only the government could supply. After I publicly chided Samuelson for his failure to acknowledge Coase’s revelation,3 Samuelson finally admitted the existence of private lighthouses “in an earlier age,” in a footnote in the 16th edition of his textbook, but insisted that private lighthouses still encountered a “free rider” problem.4

Private Solutions for Public Services

The lighthouse isn’t the only example of a public good that can be provided for by private enterprise. A privately run toll road operates in southern California. Wackenhut Corrections manages state prisons. Catholic schools provide a better education than public schools. The Mormon Church offers a better welfare plan than the USDA food stamp program. Habitat for Humanity builds houses for responsible poor people.

And now, for the first time in 38 years, there is a privately built major league baseball stadium-Pacific Bell Park, new home of the San Francisco Giants. After Bay area voters rejected four separate ballot initiatives to raise government funds to replace the windy and poorly attended Candlestick Park, Peter Magowan, a Safeway and Merrill Lynch heir, teamed with local investors, to buy the club and, with the help of a $155 million Chase Securities loan, built the new stadium for $345 million. The owners also got huge sponsorships from Pacific Bell, Safeway, CocaCola, and Charles Schwab.

So far the private ballpark has been a super success, selling a league-leading 30,000 season tickets for the 41,000seat stadium. The team’s 81 home games are nearly sold out. Other team owners, whose stadiums are heavily subsidized, were skeptical, but a dozen team owners have visited the new operation to study what they’ve done. They include George Steinbrenner, who is considering a $1 billion new Yankee stadium.5

Economists Attack Public Financing

Perhaps private funding of major league sports facilities has been influenced by two recent in-depth studies by professional economists attacking publicly subsidized sports arenas. In Major League Losers, Mark Rosentraub of Indiana University (and a big sports fan) studied stadium financing in five cities and meticulously demonstrated that pro sports produce very few jobs with little ripple effects in the community, take away business for suburban entertainment and food venues, and often leave municipalities with huge losses.6

A Brookings Institution study came to similar conclusions. After reviewing major sports facilities in seven cities, Roger G. Noll (Stanford) and Andrew Zimbalist (Smith College) found they were not a source of local economic growth and employment, and the net subsidy exceeded the financial benefit to the community.7

These empirical studies confirm a longstanding sound principle of public finance: Beneficiaries should pay for the services they use. In my free-market textbook I call this “The Principle of Accountability,” also known as the “benefit principle.” It’s amazing how often politicians violate this basic concept. For example, John Henry, a commodities trader worth $300 million and owner of the Marlins baseball team, is pushing through the Florida state legislature a bill to tax cruiseship passengers to help fund a new Miami ballpark. (Fortunately, Governor Jeb Bush just vetoed the bill.)

Please, will someone send Mr. Henry a copy of my free-market textbook, Economic Logic?

1. Paul A. Samuelson, Economics, 6th ed. (New York; McGraw Hill, 1964), p. 159.
2. Ronald H. Coase, “The Lighthouse in Economics” in The Firm, the Market, and the Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 213. Coase’s article originally appeared in The Journal of Law and Economics, October 1974.
3. Mark Skousen, “The Perseverance of Paul Samuelson’s Economics,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring 1997, p. 145.
4. Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics, 16th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1998), p. 36n.
5. Peter Waldman, “If You Build It Without Public Cash, They’ll Still Come,” Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2000, p. 1.
6. Mark S. Rosentraub, Major League Losers: The Real Cost of Sports and Who’s Paying for It (New York: Basic Hooks, 1997).
7. Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums (Washington, D.C.., Brookings Institution, 1997).

A Much-Deserved Triumph in Supply-Side Economics

Economics on Trial
IDEAS ON LIBERTY
February 2000

by Mark Skousen

“After occupying center stage during the 1980s, the supply-side approach to economics disappeared when Ronald Reagan left office.” — Paul Samuelson (1)

Until Robert Mundell won the Nobel Prize in 1999, supply-side economics had been a school without honor among professional economists. Established textbook writers such as Paul Samuelson (MIT), Greg Mankiw (Harvard), and Alan Blinder (Princeton) frequently condemned the supply-side idea that marginal tax cuts increase labor productivity, or that tax cuts stimulate the economy sufficiently to increase government revenues.

The Laffer Curve — the theory that when taxes are too high, reducing them would actually raise tax revenue — is dismissed. “When Reagan cut taxes after he was elected, the result was less revenue, not more,” reports Mankiw in his popular textbook.(2) Never mind that tax revenues actually rose significantly every year of the Reagan administration; the perception is that supply-side economics has been discredited. Arthur Laffer isn’t even listed in the 1999 edition of Who’s Who in Economics, although the Laffer Curve is frequently discussed in college textbooks.(3)

Now that is all about to change with Columbia University economist Robert A. Mundell’s Nobel Prize in economics. According to Jude Wanniski, Mundell, 67, is the theoretical founder of the Laffer Curve.(4) In the early 1970s he told Wanniski, “The level of U.S. taxes has become a drag on economic growth in the United States. The national economy is being choked by taxes–asphyxiated.”(5)

Mundell offered a creative solution to stagflation (inflationary recession) of the 1970s: impose a tight-money, high-interest rate policy to curb inflation and strengthen the dollar, and slash marginal tax rates to fight recession. Mundell’s prescription was adopted by Reagan and Fed chairman Paul Volcker in the early 1980s. “There’s been no downside to tax cuts,” he told reporters recently.

Yet, oddly enough, Mundell isn’t accorded much attention compared to supply-siders Laffer, Paul Craig Roberts, and Martin Anderson. In their histories of Reaganomics, Roberts and Anderson mention Mundell only once.(6) Two major studies of supply-side economics in 1982 don’t cite his works at all. Nevertheless, Mundell has accomplished a great deal worth lauding. In fact, he is considered the most professional scholar of the supply-siders.

Robert Mundell has had an amazing professional career. A Canadian by birth, he has attended, taught, or worked at over a dozen universities and organizations, including MIT, University of Washington, Chicago, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, the Brookings Institution, Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Remnin University of China (Beijing), and the IMF. Before going to Columbia in 1974, he was a professor at the University of Chicago and editor of The Journal of Political Economy. Thus the Chicago school can once again claim a Nobel, although Mundell differs markedly from the monetarist school.

Monetary vs. Fiscal Policy

Famed monetarist Milton Friedman says, “I have never believed that fiscal policy, given monetary policy, is an important influence on the ups and downs of the economy.”(7) Supply-siders strongly disagree. Cutting marginal tax rates and slowing government spending can reduce the deficit, lower interest rates, and stimulate long-term economic growth.

Mundell counters, “Monetary policy cannot be the engine of higher noninflationary growth. But fiscal policy-both levers of it can be. . . . The U.S. tax-and-spend system reduces potential growth because it penalizes success and rewards failure.”

Mundell favors spending on education, research and development, and infrastructure rather than government welfare programs. He advocates reducing top marginal income tax rates, slashing the capital gains tax, and cutting the corporate income tax. Such policies would sharply raise saving rates and economic growth-“an increase in the rate of saving by 5% of income (GDP), say from 10% of income to 15%, would increase the rate of [economic] growth by 50%, i.e., from 2.5% to 3.75%.”(8)

Mundell as Gold Bug

Supply-siders also take a different approach to monetary policy. They go beyond the monetarist policy of controlling the growth of the money supply. Unlike the monetarists, supply-siders like Mundell resolutely favor increasing the role of gold in international monetary affairs. “Gold provides a stabilizing effect in a world of entirely flexible currencies,” he told a group of reporters in New York in November 1999. According to Mundell, gold plays an essential role as a hedge against a return of inflation. He predicted that the price of gold could skyrocket in the next decade, to as high as $6,000 an ounce, if G7 central banks continue to expand the money supply at 6 percent a year. “I do not think this an outlandish figure. Gold is a good investment for central bankers.” He did not foresee central banks selling any more gold. “Gold will stay at center stage in the world’s central banking system,” he said.

In awarding Mundell the prize, the Bank of Sweden recognized him as the chief intellectual proponent of the euro, the new currency of the European Community. He considers the euro a super-currency of continental dimensions that will challenge the dollar as the dominant currency. The benefits of a single currency include lower transaction costs, greater monetary stability, and a common monetary policy. Mundell advocates an open global economy, expanded foreign trade, and fewer national currencies. Ultimately, he envisions a universal currency backed by gold as the ideal world monetary system. Under a strict gold standard, “real liquidity balances are generated during recessions and constrained during inflations.”(9)

Mundell is an optimist as we enter a new century. He’s bullish on the global stock markets, the gold standard, globalization, and downsized government. He’s my kind of economist.

1. Paul Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics, 16th ed. (Boston: Irwin/McGraw-Hill. 1998) p. 640.
2. N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics (Fort Worth, Tex. Harcourt/Dryden Press, 1998), p. 166.
3. Mark Blaug, compiler of Who’s Who in Economics (Northampton, Mass. Edward Elgar, 1999), determines the top 1,000 names in the book based on frequency of citation in scholarly journals. Among the famous economists missing the cut are Arthur Laffer, Paul Craig Roberts, and Murray N. Rothbard.
4. Jude Wanniski, The Way the World Works, rev. and updated (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. x.
5. Wanniski, “It’s Time to Cut Taxes,” Wall Street Journal, December 11, 1974.
6. Paul Craig Roberts, The Supply-Side Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984) and Martin Anderson, Revolution (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1990).
7. Milton Friedman, “Supply-Side Policies: Where Do We Go from Here?” Supply-Side Economics in the 1980s Conference Proceedings (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1982), p. 53.
8. Robert A. Mundell, “A Progrowth Fiscal System,” The Rising Tide, ed. Jerry J. Jasinowski (New York: Wiley, 1998), pp. 198, 203-204.
9. Mundell, The New International Monetary System (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 242.

Greed Is Good — NOT!

Personal Snapshots

Forecasts & Strategies, February 2000

Greed is Good — NOT!

“Unbridled avarice is not in the least the equivalent of capitalism, still less its ‘spirit.'” — Max Weber

Recently I heard free-market economist Walter Williams speak at a local college about capitalism. He quoted approvingly from Gordon Gekko, the fictional character of the film Wall Street, “Greed is good.”

I normally agree with most everything Walter Williams says, but not this statement. Too often, defenders of capitalism go overboard in defending pejorative phrases, such as “greed is good” or, in the case of Ayn Rand, her book title The Virtue of Selfishness. But selfishness is not a virtue, nor is greed, whether in business or finance. Selfishness leads to unethical behavior — deceptive advertising, fraud, and even theft. It often means taking advantage of another person. Greed and selfishness could land you in jail.

Adam Smith’s Model of Enlightened Self-Interest

Adam Smith, the father of free-market capitalism, did not write approvingly of selfishness or greed. He favored enlightened self-interest and industriousness. He believed that his “system of natural liberty,” his phrase for capitalism, would actually reduce greed, selfishness and fraud. Commercial society, he said, encourages people to be educated and industrious. It “cultivates patience, industry, fortitude and application of thought.” The fear of losing customers “restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence,” Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations. In contrast to political societies, which depend on flattery, favoritism and deceit, capitalist societies foster self-control, cooperation, punctuality, benevolence and deferred gratification.

Financial Advice: Don’t Get Greedy!

In the financial field, we know that the two greatest enemies to profits are fear and greed. Contrarians take advantage of inexperienced investors who panic when prices are dropping and often sell out in desperation at the bottom. Unseasoned investors also tend to buy heavily at the top, only to see their investments disappear. In short, greed is a disaster for investors. This is a vital lesson given the high-wire act Wall Street is following these days, especially with regard to Internet stocks.

The Real Significance of the Millennium

A friend of mine wrote me saying that the year 2000 was no big deal, and this new millennium was nothing unusual in terms of other calendars: For Moslems, it was 1420, for Jews it was 5760, for Buddhists it was 5119, etc. Well, he’s wrong. There is no universal celebration of the Moslem, Jewish or Buddhist calendar, yet on New Year’s Eve, what did we witness on television? Magnificent celebrations across the globe even in China, Israel, Africa and other places that are not Christian. Why? Western capitalism, which uses the Christian calendar, has captured the world — in business, in dress, in culture.

Economics for the 21st Century

Economics on Trial
IDEAS ON LIBERTY
January 2000

Economics for the 21st Century
by Mark Skousen

“Nature has set no limit to the realization of our hopes.” — Marquis De Condorcet

Recently I came across the extraordinary writings of the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94), a mathematician with an amazing gift of prophecy in l`age des lumieres. Robert Malthus (1766-1834) ridiculed Condorcet’s optimism in his famous Essay on Population (1798). Today Malthus is well known and Condorcet is forgotten. Yet it is Condorcet who has proven to be far more prescient.

In an essay written over 200 years ago, translated as “The Future Progress of the Mind,” Condorcet foresaw the agricultural revolution, gigantic leaps in labor productivity, a reduced work week, the consumer society, a dramatic rise in the average life span, medical breakthroughs, cures for common diseases, and an explosion in the world’s population.

Condorcet concluded his essay with a statement that accurately describes the two major forces of the twentieth century — the destructive force of war and crimes against humanity, and the creative force of global free-market capitalism. He wrote eloquently of “the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the earth,” while at the same time celebrating our being “emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue and happiness!”(1)

As we enter the year 2000, the public has focused on the history of the twentieth century. Condorcet’s essay reflects two characteristics of this incredible period. First, the misery and vicious injustices of the past hundred years, and second, the incredible economic and technological advances during the same time.

The Crimes of the Twentieth Century

Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, by far the best twentieth-century history of the world, demonstrates powerfully that this century has been the bloodiest of all world history.* Here is a breakdown of the carnage:

Civilians Killed by Governments (in millions) Years
Soviet Union 62 (1917-91)
China (communist) 35 (1949- )
Germany 21 (1933-45)
China (Kuomintang) 10 (1928-49)
Japan 6 (1936-45)
Other 36 (1900- )
Total 170 million
Deaths in War (in millions)
International wars 30
Civil wars 7
Total 37 million

Economists use a statistic to measure what national output could exist under conditions of full employment, called Potential GDP Imagine the Potential GDP if the communists, Nazis, and other despots hadn’t used government power to commit those hateful crimes against humanity.

Another great French writer, Frederic Bastiat (1801-50), wrote an essay in 1850 on “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.”(3) We do not see the art, literature, inventions, music, books, charity, and good works of the millions who lost their lives in the Soviet gulags, Nazi concentration camps, and Pol Pot’s killing fields.

The Economic Miracle of the Twentieth Century

Yet the twentieth century was also the best of times, for those who survived the wars and repression. Millions of Americans, Europeans, and Asians were emancipated from the drudgery of all-day work by miraculous technological advances in telecommunications, agriculture, transportation, energy, and medicine. The best book describing this economic miracle is Stanley Lebergott’s Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 1993). Focusing on trends in food, tobacco and alcohol, clothing, housing, fuel, housework, health, transportation, recreation, and religion, he demonstrates powerfully how “consumers have sought to make an uncertain and often cruel world into a pleasanter and more convenient place.” As a result, Americans have increased their standard of living at least tenfold in the past 100 years.

What should be the goal of the economist in the new millennium? Certainly not to repeat the blunders of the past. In the halls of Congress, the White House, and academia, we need to reject the brutality of Marxism, the weight of Keynesian big government, and the debauchery of sound currency by interventionist central banks. Most important, ivory-tower economists need to concentrate more on applied economics (like the work of Lebergott) instead of high mathematical modeling.

As far as a positive program is concerned, the right direction can be found in an essay on the “next economics” written by the great Austrian-born management guru Peter F. Drucker almost 20 years ago: “Capital is the future . . . the Next Economics will have to be again micro-economic and centered on supply.” Drucker demanded an economic theory aiming at “optimizing productivity” that would benefit all workers and consumers.(4) Interestingly, Drucker cited approvingly from the work of Robert Mundell, the newest Nobel Prize winner in economics, who is famed for his advocacy of supply-side economics and a gold-backed international currency.

Beware the Enemy

Market forces are on the march. The collapse of Soviet communism has, in the words of Milton Friedman, turned “creeping socialism” into “crumbling socialism.” But let us not be deluded. Bad policies, socialistic thinking, and class hatred die slowly. Unless we are vigilant, natural liberty and universal prosperity will be on the defensive once again.

We need to deregulate, privatize, cut taxes, open borders, stop inflating, balance the budget, and limit government to its proper constitutional authority. We need to teach, write, and speak out for economic liberalization as never before. Let our goal for the coming era be: freedom in our time for all peoples!

1. Marquis de Condorcet, “The Future Progress of the Human Mind,” The Portable Enlightenment Reader, ed. Isaac Kramnick (Penguin Books, 1995), p. 38. Several of Condorcet’s writings can be found in this excellent anthology.
2. Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1992). The best survey of the horrors of communism is The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), written by six French scholars, some of whom are former communists.
3. Frederic Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1995 [1964]).
4. Peter F. Drucker, Toward the Next Economics, and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1981), pp. 1-21.

Keynesianism Defeated

WALL STREET JOURNAL — THURSDAY, OCTOBER 9, 1997

By Mark Skousen

In 1992, Harvard Prof. Greg Mankiw was paid an unprecedented advance of $1.1 million to produce the “next Salmuelson”–a successor to Paul Samuelson’s “Economics,” the most successful economics textbook ever written, with more than four million copies sold in 15 editions and 41 foreign translations since 1948. Mr. Mankiw’s 800-page “Principles of Economics” has now been published, to great publicity. And for good reason: Mr. Mankiw has written a revolutionary–or rather, counterrevolutionary–work.

Virtually the entire book is devoted to classical economics, leaving the Keynesian model as an afterthought in the end chapters. Mr. Mankiw’s pedagogy is all the more remarkable given that he considers himself a “neo-Keynesian.” His liberal bias has allowed him to do what no other mainstream economist dares: He has betrayed Keynes.

Almost all economics textbooks published in the past 50 years have taken their cue from Mr. Samuelson, whose major influence was John Maynard Keynes’s “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” (1936). Keynes’s book taught that Adam Smith’s classical model–founded on the virtues of thrift and balanced budgets, laissez faire capitalism and free trade–was a “special” case and only applied in times of full employment.

Keynes’s model portrayed the market as a driver without a steering wheel, a driver that could push the economy off the road at any time. He taught that the economy needed a large and activist government to steer it on the road of full employment. Keynesianism, or the “new economics,” became widespread–the “general” theory.

Modern economics textbooks thus focused primarily on the ups and downs of the capitalist system and how government policy could attempt to ameliorate the business cycle. They include many chapters studying cyclical fluctuations, while burying the study of economic growth and development–otherwise known as supply-side economics–in the back pages. Now Mr. Mankiw has changed all that, putting classical economics back at the forefront, where it belongs.

This is more than some free-market economists have been able to accomplish in tile past. James Gwartney and Richard Stroup, authors of “Economics: Private and Public Choice” (Dryden, 1997), don’t believe in the Keynesian model of aggregate supply and aggregate demand, or AS-AD, but they were forced to include it by their publisher’s review board, which consists of mainstream economists. Roger LeRoy Miller, author of another best-selling textbook, “Economics Today” (Addison-Wesley, 1997), told me, “AS-AD is a bunch of nonsense, but I’m required to teach it.” (One small victory: Paul Heyne refused to put AS-AD in his “The Economic Way of Thinking” (Prentice-Hall, 1997) and got away with it because he writes for a niche market.)

So, in a Nixon-goes-to-China twist, it took a Keynesian to accomplish what the free-market economists couldn’t–relegating Keynesian models to a minor role in textbooks.

Mr. Mankiw calls his classical model “the real economy in the long run.” His textbook, published by Harcourt Brace’s Dryden Press, teaches that increases in government spending crowd out private capital, producing higher interest rates. Higher thrift and greater savings produce lower interest rates and higher economic growth. Unemployment is caused not by greedy industrialists, but by minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, unemployment insurance and other regulations that raise the cost of labor.

Mr. Mankiw even approvingly quotes Milton Friedman: “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon”–not the product of rising labor or supply costs, as many Keynesians believe. In fact, Mr. Mankiw cites Mr. Friedman more than he cites Keynes.

This is not to say that Mr. Mankiw’s textbook isn’t without a few sins of omission. He fails to tell students about the great postwar economic miracles of Japan, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and Chile. He also ignores the current debate over Social Security privatization. And there are no references to the great Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, or to Nobel laureate James Buchanan and the public choice theory he espouses.

But these complaints are small compared with the book’s overall message, that classical economics is now the “general” theory and Keynesian economics is the “special” case. Amazingly, Mr. Mankiw doesn’t mention most of the standard Keynesian analysis: No “consumption function,” no “Keynesian cross,” no “propensity to save,” no “paradox of thrift”– and only one short reference to the “multiplier”!

That’s quite a feat for Mr. Mankiw, a man who named his dog Keynes.

Economics in One Page

Economics on Trial – THE FREEMAN – JANUARY 1997

By Mark Skousen

“What makes it [economics] most fascinating is that its fundamental principles are so simple that they can be written on one page, that anyone can understand them, and yet very few do.”1
–Milton Friedman

The above statement by Friedman got me thinking: Is it possible to summarize the basic principles of economics in a single page? After all, Henry Hazlitt gave us a masterful summary of sound principles in Economics in One Lesson. Could these concepts be reduced to a page?

Friedman himself did not attempt to make a list when he made this statement in a 1986 interview. After completing a preliminary one-page summary of economic principles, I sent him a copy. In his reply, he added a few of his own, but in no way endorses my attempt.

After making this list of basic principles (see the next page), I have to agree with Friedman and Hazlitt. The principles of economics are simple: Supply and demand. Opportunity cost. Comparative advantage. Profit and loss. Competition. Division of labor. And so on.

In fact, one professor even suggested to me that economics can be reduced to one word: “price.” Or maybe, I suggested alternatively, “cost.” Everything has a price; everything has a cost.

Additionally, sound economic policy is straightforward: Let the market, not the state, set wages and prices. Keep government’s hands off monetary policy. Taxes should be minimized. Government should do only those things private citizens can’t do for themselves. Government should live within its means. Rules and regulations should provide a level playing field. Tariffs and other barriers to trade should be eliminated as much as possible. In short, government governs best which governs least.

Unfortunately, economists sometimes forget these basic principles and often get caught up in the details of esoteric model-building, high theory, academic research, and mathematics. The dismal state of the profession was expressed recently by Arjo Klamer and David Colander, who, after reviewing graduate studies at major economics departments around the country, asked, “Why did we have this gut feeling that much of what went on there was a waste?” 2

On the following page is my attempt to summarize the basic principles of economics and sound economic policy. If anyone has any suggested improvements, I look forward to receiving them.

ECONOMICS IN ONE PAGE

1. Self-interest: “The desire of bettering our condition comes with us from the womb and never leaves till we go into the grave” (Adam Smith). No one spends someone else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

2. Economic growth: The key to a higher standard of living is to expand savings, capital formation, education, and technology.

3. Trade: In all voluntary exchanges, where accurate information is known, both the buyer and seller gain; therefore, an increase in trade between individuals, groups, or nations benefits both parties.

4. Competition: Given the universal existence of limited resources and unlimited wants, competition exists in all societies and cannot be abolished by government edict.

5. Cooperation: Since most individuals are not self-sufficient, and almost all natural resources must be transformed in order to become usable, individuals–laborers, landlords, capitalists, and entrepreneurs–must work together to produce valuable goods and services.

6. Division of labor and comparative advantage: Differences in talents, intelligence, knowledge, and property lead to specialization and comparative advantage by each individual, firm, and nation.

7. Dispersion of knowledge: Information about market behavior is so diverse and ubiquitous that it cannot be captured and calculated by a central authority.

8. Profit and loss: Profit and loss are the market mechanisms that guide what should and should not be produced over the long run.

9. Opportunity cost: Given the limitations of time and resources, there are always trade-offs in life. If you want to do something, you must give up other things you may wish to do. The price you pay to engage in one activity is equal to the cost of other activities you have forgone.

10. Price theory: Prices are determined by the subjective valuations of buyers (demand) and sellers (supply), not by any objective cost of production; the higher the price, the smaller the quantity purchasers will be willing to buy and the larger the quantity sellers will be willing to offer for sale.

11. Causality: For every cause there is an effect. Actions taken by individuals, firms, and governments have an impact on other actors in the economy that may be predictable, although the level of predictability depends on the complexity of the actions involved.

12. Uncertainty: There is always a degree of risk and uncertainty about the future because people are often reevaluating, learning from their mistakes, and changing their minds, thus making it difficult to predict their behavior in the future.

13. Labor economics: Higher wages can only be achieved in the long run by greater productivity, i.e., applying more capital investment per worker; chronic unemployment is caused by government fixing wage rates above equilibrium market levels.

14. Government controls: Price-rent-wage controls may benefit some individuals and groups, but not society as a whole; ultimately, they create shortages, black markets, and a deterioration of quality and services. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

15. Money: Deliberate attempts to depreciate the nation’s currency, artificially lower interest rates, and engage in “easy money” policies inevitably lead to inflation, boom-bust cycles, and economic crisis. The market, not the state, should determine money and credit.

16. Public finance: In all public enterprises, in order to maintain a high degree of efficiency and good management, market principles should be adopted whenever possible: (1) Government should try to do only what private enterprise cannot do; government should not engage in businesses that private enterprise can do better; (2) government should live within its means; (3) cost-benefit analysis: marginal benefits should exceed marginal costs; and (4) the accountability principle: those who benefit from a service should pay for the service.

Endnotes:
1. Quoted in interview, Lives of the Laureates, William Breit and Roger W. Spencer, eds. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986), p.91.
2. Arjo Klamer and David Colander, The Making of an Economist (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990), p. xiv. See also David Colander and Reuven Brenner, Educating Economists (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992).