Jeffrey Tucker tells the story of a meeting he once had with an associate who is a self-described socialist. Sitting at a table over breakfast, in a gorgeous hotel dining room with a friendly wait staff, being served some of the most deliciously prepared food with fruits from around the world, the two ate for not more than a few dollars. And this person is, according to Tucker, still a socialist, despite living in a world full of material comfort and wealth – all provided by capitalism.
The question: “Why Don’t They Get It?” is one that Lew Rockwell asks in this, the 10th installment of Robert Wenzel’s 30 Day Reading List. The answer Rockwell gives is two-fold; there is a dearth of understanding in basic economics and a poor imagination of what life might look like in the absence of the state.
The solution to the first problem is of course to educate, as best as possible, the greatest number of people on how the economy works. Everything from how prices are formed to what impact changes in the interest rate has on human behavior, what inflation is, and how particular regulations impact the market, in short, to see the unseen.
The second problem is not so easily overcome as the first. For this there must be knowledge of sound economic theory and research into how private institutions can deliver the services government has usurped from the market. This is not to say that economists and libertarian philosophers should plan how a free society might function, but simply to illustrate for others that alternatives are viable and what they could look like.
A topic that comes up quite frequently in such discussions is how roads would be provided by the market if government wasn’t in the business. The reactions people have are indicative of not only their own misunderstanding, but of how archaic the state is in such areas.
I was speaking with a friend the other day about a conversation he had with someone about private roads. This other person opposed the idea partly on the grounds that having to stop and pay a toll every time he moved from one road to another would be wholly inconvenient. And of course it would be, but the technology available today is more than capable of handling the process so that stopping at toll booths wouldn’t be at all necessary. The government however isn’t advanced enough to think in those terms, they probably would erect toll booths at every intersection, because without an incentive to innovate and develop more consumer-friendly processes, they stagnate, and we end up with the most obtuse and inconvenient systems.
Rockwell writes that “Once you understand economics, the reality that everyone sees takes on a new significance… In fact, even the smallest products dazzle the mind once you understand the incredible complexity of production process and how the market manages to coordinate it all toward the end of human betterment.” This is absolutely true.
Just think of the concept of disposable flatware. We buy packages of plastic forks and spoons that are derived from oil dug from the deserts in the Middle East. The oil is put on ships, sailed around the world, pumped into refineries, processed into plastic and sent to factories where it’s made into flatware. The forks and spoons then get boxed up, put on trucks and sent to various distribution centers around the country before making their way to retail stores. Then we get into our cars and drive to the store, walk to the appropriate row and buy the product, use it and throw it away, all to avoid a load of dishes.
But the truly beautiful thing is that everyone benefits from this and no one planned it. Every actor in the process makes a small profit, including the consumer, who gains the psychic profit of more leisure time after dinner. No committee was necessary; no bureau is tasked with ensuring this system works. Indeed, any committee or bureau would only gum up the works and make this whole process more costly.