Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Economy of Coercion

John Stossel's latest column at Town Hall echoes some of my latest reading material. Stossel makes his point far more eloquently than I would, but it won't prevent me from trying to expand on what he wrote. Von Hayek wrote about why government cannot run an economy better than the Invisible Hand made famous by Adam Smith. A government run economy depends on experts in their field to plan the best route for production and, through that, the best route for consumption. The major flaw with this is that experts have a very narrow scope of vision, primarily the field in which they have studied. What happens then is they all vie for the important aspects of their division to be paramount while not being able to comprehend the total interaction of all aspects of the economy.

If the experts can't put it all together, how can the average citizen, you ask? Simple, the average citizen merely has to concentrate on that which is pertinent to his or her life. When you have an entire populace looking out for number One, the invisible hand appears. Market forces shape the flow of commodities by making the most used products and industries buy more and industries and products that aren't economical fall off the map or become a specialty and niche market. It makes for a very fluid and sometimes unpredictable economy. However, it also creates something of a market Darwinism, an evolution of production. Those companies that are useful and have a working business model profit and continue be useful in the economy; those that lack those things fail and remove the excess fat and chaff from the market.

Yes, a free market makes uncertainty a part of life, but it also drives innovation and development. The liberal ideas that sparked the explosive growth of the past three- hundred years still work but they also mean that we must be able to understand that sometimes things must change to continue that growth. This brings me to my next point: What will happen if we bail out the Detroit automakers? What happens when we artificially prop up failed business models? In the short run, a bail out may allow the companies to free up and divert capitol to projects that make them more competitive. Or it might give them the illusion of a cushion against the current push of the markets and make them even more sluggish in response to changing consumer needs, merely prolonging the death throws of a dieing business model which other companies have already left behind (including the continued leaching by the UAW.) The biggest hurdle the American automakers face in becoming competitive is the cost difference in production compared to their foreign brethren. GM has hourly labor costs (including benefits) of $78 per hour, while Toyota has a mere $35 per cost. At half the cost of labor, the non-union model is more streamlined and can cut consumer cost further. Add to this the perception that Toyota has higher quality cars and you get a compelling reason to cut the chaff that is GM from the economy.

The above is one example where a free market would cause fluctuation and uncertainty, but the economy would come out stronger. What worries me the most about the auto bailout currently proposed would pave the way for nationalization of the auto industry. If the government already owns a portion of the company, how big of a step would it be to buy the rest of it in the name of helping direct the company to more effectively aid the economy? Why does nationalization worry me? If my opening paragraph doesn't paint a clear enough picture, let us examine what happens to any industry when it gets taken over. First, it is important to note that most countries that at one time nationalized various industries re-privatized them later. It seems that the main effect of nationalization is to remove the incentive to innovate: profit for the individual (or group of investors.) Without that drive to innovate the economy stagnates and flounders, see the example of the "progress" experienced by the ultimate example of state control, the Soviet Union. The USSR did increase production under state control with a mandated shift away from agriculture to industry, but it also increased the cost of such development (including the human cost of producing less food,) resulting in the lowering of the standard of living. I suppose that is one way of achieving equality, and perhaps the only way. To make everyone equal you must bring everyone to a common denominator, usually down.

1 comment:

  1. Some joker needs to organize a parade in favor of nationalizing the American auto industry. It should be open to all postwar Renaults and to British Leyland cars built after 1975, to prove that nationalized automotive companies can still be internationally competative.