Posts by Robert A. McKeown

Hello! Welcome to The Blue Collar Economist where economic reality meets mainstream myth. Feel free to comment, like and share with your friends.

Please! Spare Me, Enough Already!

Recently, I overheard a discussion from a pair of Bernie Sanders fans about how horrible capitalism is because America allowed child labor in the 19th century, during our Industrial Revolution. These people complained that the “Robber Barons” only achieved their great fortunes because they exploited workers, created monopolies and jacked up prices on goods. Thank God, the government intervened in the market and set things right!

Where do we begin? There was so much bovine scatology flying around, one had to make sure their tetanus shots were up to date. First and foremost, when someone uses the term “Robber Baron” they are telegraphing to the recipient that they have a prejudice against someone having more wealth than they do. Those early entrepreneurs didn’t steal anything from anyone and America doesn’t have “barons” for there is no aristocracy. Evidently, someone lost at Monopoly too many times. The record shows that the prices of goods produced during the latter 19th century were actually decreasing at a steady pace, the same time wages were increasing, I might add. Nowhere does the actual history record show a monopolistic increase in prices. Nowhere. The era from the 1870s to about the early 1920s was the greatest increase of wealth this country had ever experienced. Standards of living rose to unimaginable levels in two generations.

Being no fan of the Rockefeller dynasty, I have to remain true to the facts that J.D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company did more for saving the whale than any endangered species protection act ever could. Up to that time whale oil was used to light people’s homes and the plight of the whale population was at serious levels. Rockefeller’s innovation in marketing kerosene staved off the extermination of the whale. He was actually able to sell kerosene at a much cheaper price than whale oil and allowed even more people to escape the dark of night. Mind you, his intention was to extend the work day for his workers by allowing them to work at night. The positive side effect of his “corporate greed” was more families being able to afford lighting. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” strikes again!

Secondly ask yourself, Why were all of those immigrants practically killing themselves to come to America only to be exploited in a sweatshop? The US had no welfare state at that time. No subsidized housing. No labor laws and very few regulations. If it was so god-awful during the 19th century in America, why did the US experience immigration at such gargantuan levels? Where capitalism channels self-interest into a net benefit, as with Rockefeller, so to with people wanting to be left better off. The standards of living on the farms and in poor European countries like Ireland, were low enough that a job in a dark dank factory was a step up. The wages alone outstripped those found in the agrarian regions. If it wasn’t for that Robber Baron, John Deere, America might of starved due to the lack of sufficient farm labor. Mechanized farming produced more food for the country than ever before, plus at lower prices. Capitalism 2, Socialism 0.

Now on to child labor. Yes, children worked in factories. They worked in coal mines. They worked in the farm fields. Children have always worked throughout human history. That is nothing new or unusual. It was either work or starve to death. That has been the normal state of affairs for human beings up to the advent of capitalism. As all developing countries experience, it takes time to amass enough capital through the free market system to relieve children from having to work. Once production increases, so to the standards of living. After the production from labor increased to the level that only the adults had to work, the children went to school for the day and received an education. They later were able to do something only the aristocracy of Europe could afford to do, namely, get a college education. Average people were able to get degreed and move on to professional occupations for the first time. Yes, capitalism did that. Another goose egg for the socialists.

Most importantly, before Sanders supporters try to convince America that more socialism is the answer, they first have to step over 100 million dead bodies. That’s right. Since the Bolshevik “Red October” Revolution in 1917, there have amassed over 100 million deaths due to socialism and its twin brother communism. Socialists still have to give an account for the likes of Lenin, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Pinochet, Ceausescu, Che Guevara, Idi Amin Dada, East German Chancellor Ulbricht and his Berlin Wall and so many more atrocities done in the name of the new socialist man. So far only platitudes, denials and the typical, “If only the right people get in charge, then socialism can work.” Please, spare me. This fact alone leaves socialism morally bankrupt. Anyone denying the amount of totalitarian hardship and bloodshed that mankind had endured during the 20th century at the hand of State run socialism would have to be a liar or simply stupid. Over 100 million dead voices demand an answer.

Finally, according to the socialist gospel Das Capital, capitalism should have, by now, run America down the road of abject poverty for the worker, mass degradation of the infrastructure and extreme civil unrest of the masses. The workers were supposed to have united and overthrown their exploiters and took over the means of production. Well, still waiting. Of course, only the opposite is true. Average people today live better than the wealthiest monarchs of old. Our scarce resources produce even more goods than was ever conceived. Maybe with enough State injected socialism and intervention into the market they can finally achieve their goals. They can continue to put more people on the the government’s dole, run down the purchasing power of the worker’s wages through monetary inflation, invent more give-aways and run up even more national debt. A presidential win for Bernie should do the trick. I feel better now that I got that off my chest.

Thank you for listening.

Advertisements

History Rhymes: A Look At Deutsche Bank

Many a free marketeer has made projections as to when this bubble infested economy may implode. Some rely on the weakening purchasing power in the world’s currencies as central banks devalue their currencies at an ever accelerating rate. Others look eastward as China begins to compete with the western central banking status quo. We see an emerging Shanghai Gold Exchange that will become the physical counter to the COMEX’s paper gold. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which will be diametrically opposed to the IMF’s regime of extortion. An ever faltering Eurozone with Greece only being the salad before the main course. All of this may be true, but others are looking internally at the banking system itself. As a wise investor once said, “History may not repeat, but it does rhyme. In market terms, it tends to rhyme every seven years.” Let us not forget the catalyst that brought about the 2008 Financial Crisis, Lehman Brothers.

More exactly let us look at Deutsche Bank. The fly in the banking regime’s ointment of bail outs, equity and derivative purchases and quantitative easing has been in the Eurozone’s strongest economy all along. Deutsche Bank has been compared to Lehman Brothers on many levels, mainly because of it’s huge exposure to derivatives. With more than $75 trillion in derivative bets, it out paces a giant like JP Morgan by $5 trillion and the German GDP by twenty times. Many market analysts believe Deutsche Bank’s exposure is being severely understated. As Dave Kranzler of Investment Research Dynamics pointed out, DB isn’t like Lehman before the 2008 blow-up, it’s more like 2008 x 10. Deutsche Bank has declared an asset value of $1.5 trillion on top of $67 billion of net worth. A large portion of its assets are in loans and investment vehicles that are connected to Glencore (in trouble), Volkswagen (in trouble), the energy sector (in decline) and hard hit emerging market companies. If Deutsche Bank missed the actual market value of these assets by a simple 5%, its total net worth will be wiped out. For more on this listen to the podcast, “Deutsche Bank and the Coming Global Financial Catastrophe”.

If Deutsche Bank begins to falter the need for the ECB to create Euros will accelerate at an alarming rate. Think Wiemar. The Federal Reserve will probably be called upon for an emergency rescue as all of these zombie banks are being kept alive from the same beating heart. Think about those four words that killed capitalism, “Too Big To Fail”. The cascade of failures will be reminiscent of 2008, but much worse. In 2008 the middle class was wiped out, this implosion will wipe out the investor class. Once the dust settles only a handful of criminals will be left with all of any wealth that may be left after a global reset.

China is hedging its bet on its heavy gold and silver position. They hope as the west’s fiat regime descends into a fiery hell, the markets will turn east for a rescue and some simulation of sanity. But the western central banking power elite will not simply “let” a failure occur. Tensions in the middle east and Eurasia are a foreshadow that these crazies are gearing up for global war. Do not be surprised if a false flag event happens just as the markets begin to falter. Many Keynesian economists believe that a war spending regime could rescue a failing economy. They wrongly assumed WWII ended the Great Depression. Actually, as economist Robert Higgs pointed out in his book, “Depression, War and Cold War” the increase in private sector investment after the war is what ended the Great Depression. But governments rarely let facts influence their decisions when it comes to war.

In concluding, lets not ignore the aforementioned problems with the economy. That is, the currency wars, growing welfare dependency, distortions and manipulations in the investment markets and so on. These are all relevant and are cracks in the foundation of this shaky house of cards. Deutsche Bank still looms large as the biggest blip on the radar at this time. Never underestimate the level of incompetence of these elitists. In 2014, Deutsche Bank hired Tom Humphrey, a two decade executive at Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. to head the German’s investment-banking and securities business in North America. See, we’re all in good hands.

 

Trump, Tarrifs and Trade

I recently critiqued Bernie Sanders’ welfare ideas in the article, “Bernie Sanders’ Welfare Trap”. In the spirit of being fair, this article will address the crazy notion that populist Republican Donald Trump came up with. Namely, a 25% tariff on Chinese produced goods. In this day an age it’s remarkable how many people still do not understand the negative affects of tariffs, regulations and other trade barriers.

The media has had a heyday with Trump these last months. His popularity, especially among the blue collar class, has skyrocketed. To many he’s an amusing departure from the typical dull and boring establishment candidate. He talks off-the-cuff and spouts his opinions without a second thought of any political fallout. His stance on issues from immigration and foreign policy to international trade has made him the populist candidate, not unlike Theodore Roosevelt some 100 years ago. But are his fans even listening to what he promotes? Do they understand the consequences of electing an individual who’s intention is to amass even more power in the executive branch, ala Roosevelt?

Trade and Tariffs

To get a handle on what the fallout may be on a 25% tariff of Chinese goods is to look back to those glorious years of The Great Depression. Shortly after the stock market crash in 1929, the Hoover administration signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 into law. Economic historians, the world over, can tell you how departmental that was for the US economy and world economy as a whole. It kicked off a series of trade wars that left the industrialized nations weakened. They became economic islands of autarky. An autarky is a self sufficient economy. The problem is, no nation can sustain its economy under the severe conditions of an autarky. The Great Depression deepened and spread around the world. Post WWI Germany, in particular, was harshly affected by these trade barriers. Without the ability to export what manufactured goods they produced, they fell into a series of hyper inflationary bouts that destroyed their currency. A decade of isolation and alienation from world markets gave rise to the sentiment that elected The National Socialist Workers’ Party of Adolf Hitler. A key plank in Hitler’s economic plan was an autarkic fatherland that would conquer her neighbors in order to provide for her citizenry. To hell with trade, free or otherwise.

After Adam Smith became famous with his book, “An Inquiry Into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, other classical economists continued where he left off. One of these economists was David Ricardo. Ricardo famously postulated that through the specialization of trade, even when a nation has an absolute advantage, both trading partners became better off and the standards of living for their respective citizens increased. To illustrate, imagine Costa Ricans wanting to have maple syrup for their pancakes. They could attempt to grow maple trees in a tropical climate and harvest the maple syrup. They might even pull it off with enough capital investment, but at what cost? Simultaneously, imagine Canadians having a craving for bananas. They too could attempt to grow their own banana trees in giant greenhouses. What would the immense cost be to undertake a project of that scale? The answer is for each country to specialize in what it can produce at the lowest opportunity cost. In our example, Canada specializes in maple syrup production and Costa Rica trades in bananas. Both nations can then allocate their scarce resources in other more beneficial projects. The price for each good would also be cheaper for consumers as there would be a net increase of the traded goods in each country.

Although free trade became fashionable after Adam Smith among British intellectuals, it didn’t catch on with the US government. The government continued to impose protectionist tariffs on other nation’s goods as a chief source of revenue. This is a part of what is known as mercantilism, where the government controls trade between nations and businesses as it was in the colonial days. In the mid 19th century, the newly formed Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln proposed high protectionist tariffs to protect the fledgling industry of the northeast, in particular the railroads. After his election, Lincoln signed the Morrill Tariff which increased the import tariff from 21% to 31% overall on goods imported from Europe. Before the Morrill Tariff, the US had enacted a 55% tariff that almost led to the secession of South Carolina under the Andrew Jackson administration. A compromise was struck and the tariff was eventually lowered to 21%.

Protectionist tariffs had hit the agrarian southern states the hardest, as they depended on good trade relations with their European partners. Cotton was the nation’s key export and garnered great wealth for southern growers. The Republican Party incorporated a plank into their platform that would funnel some of that wealth to their friends in the northeast by way of a higher tariff and subsidies. In his 1st Inaugural Address, Lincoln stated that he would enforce the collection of “… all duties and imposts…” much to the southern states’ chagrin. It’s no surprise the first shot fired was at Ft. Sumter, an import duties post that controlled shipping into Charleston Harbor.

Free” Trade

Our above example of maple syrup and bananas pertained to specialization in trade where each trading partner had an absolute advantage. But what happens when both nations have comparatively the same opportunity cost and resources to produce comparable goods? Let’s take automobiles as an example. After WWII, the US had dominated the world market in automobile manufacturing. It wasn’t until Europe and Japan had rebuilt their economies that they became competitors in the global automobile market. How does the advent of new competition affect world trade? The same way competition affects trade on the local level. Each producer must compete with the lowest prices and at the best quality in order to please consumers. Similarly, this is the same with consumer electronics, textiles, agricultural products and a myriad of other goods. Some developing nations compete with other more advanced nations through lower labor costs. Others through natural resources such as, lumber, oil or rare earth metals for lithium batteries. The end affect is higher standards of living for the globe through better allocating scarce resources into their most productive uses.

When left alone, this laissez-faire globalization of trade benefits everyone. It helps to stay off conflicts which lead to wars and supplies less affluent countries with goods that may otherwise be unattainable. But laissez-faire capitalism is in short supply these days. Just as large protected crony corporations intervene in local exchanges, they also intervene in global trade. Trade agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, SAFTA and the recent TPP are anything but examples of free trade or capitalism. These managed trade agreements hamper competitors by incorporating the use of political force. They cause trade imbalances, shortages and lowered standards of living for everyone involved. They give the crony corporations an absolute advantage by hampering smaller competitors on both the national and international level. Those who scrutinize the concept of free trade are mistaken if they think a multi-thousand page trade agreement represents free trade.

Conclusion

Donald Trump’s idea of slapping a 25% tariff on Chinese goods wouldn’t protect anybody. The idea behind a tariff is to protect a certain national industry. Like a tariff on steel is an attempt to protect less competitive steel producers in the US. But the goods that are imported into the US from China aren’t even manufactured here. A tariff will only cause Walmart and other retailers to raise prices. How is that going to help the American worker?

Trump seems to believe by enforcing the tariff he will compel manufacturing to return to the US. Those goods that China exports are produced with low-cost unskilled labor, by and large. As I had written in my article, “Creative Destruction, Technological Unemployment and Choice”, what manufacturing that does return to our shores is largely being manufactured by advanced robotics and automation. This is little help for the mass of displaced unskilled US workers.

Starting a trade war with a country that manufactures most of your stuff and holds most of your debt is extremely foolish. Trump claims that he’s not all that smart, but the key to his success is surrounding himself with smart people. Maybe he ought to consider finding some smarter people. After all, even if a hole is surrounded by a doughnut, it’s still just a hole.

Bernie Sanders’ Welfare Trap

With the ever growing popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders on the Presidential campaign trail, I thought it would be high time to discuss the concept of the social safety net. Bernie Sanders touts, ad nauseam, the importance of the government to step in and help the poor in our society. Although it may seem altruistic of Sanders and other socialists to insist that government “do something” for the poor, the outcome ends up being quite the opposite. They are down-right harmful and are sending this country over a cliff.

Some History

President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in America when he signed the Economic Opportunity Act on August 20, 1964 which then created the Office of Economic Opportunity. The OEO gave rise to the Community Action Program, Jobs Corps and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Shortly on their heels the Food Stamp Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Medicare and Medicaid were enacted. As a matter of fact, there are some 126 agencies, bureaus and offices and 92 federal programs that have sprung up to fight the war on poverty. Since Johnson made his infamous war declaration, Americans have spent over $22 trillion on poverty. That’s right, $22 TRILLION. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than three times the total spent on all American military wars combined. Let that sink in for a few minutes.

America is actually the Johnny-come-lately to the altruistic welfare party. It began in the mid-late 19th century with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Prussia. After he defeated France in 1871, taking his cues from Abraham Lincoln, he unified the several German provinces into one empire. This centralization of power gave him the ability to control both foreign and domestic policy without the concern of another German province interposing. It also created a captive national citizenry. He then created the first welfare state in the modern world which he called the Sozialstaat. Let’s be clear, the Iron Chancellor didn’t create the welfare state out of kind heartiness. He did so to garner support of the working class away from the up-and-coming socialists. What Bismarck discovered was, as long as the welfare kept being doled out to the masses, he could build a dependence on the state and cement his control.

Otto von Bismarck’s social state gave rise to literally hundreds of bureaus and offices with an intricate maze of regulations and laws that were near impossible to circumvent or even navigate. This lattice work of red tape was still in place when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 with his National Socialist Workers’ Party or Nationalsozialists. It was relatively simple for the Nazi’s to set up shop in a governmental infrastructure that was already centrally controlled. What the German people thought to be a good deal under the Sozialstaat, turned out to be their worst nightmare only a couple of generations later.

The Economics

We know through basic economic principles that people make decisions based on their subjective valuations. People act on the incentive that their actions will leave them either better or worse off. This is known as subjective utility. Another key principle to human action is opportunity cost. That is, in our world of limited resources, it describes the value of the best alternative forgone, where a choice has to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives. The best example would be the choice to go on public assistance (welfare) or take a job. There are certain trade-offs which the individual has to consider, that is the marginal benefits and marginal costs. Simplified, what we are describing is the choice to increase someone’s satisfaction by either taking welfare or working. Of course the choice an individual would have to make is based on that person’s own subjectivity. For some, the stigma of accepting welfare is too great and they would rather go back to work, even if employment may lower their standard of living. For others, peer pressure or generational welfare might influence whether the individual even considers any stigma at all. Since the 1960s there have been many generations of families reliant on the welfare state. To them it’s an ordinary fact of life and a means to increase their marginal utility.

poverty-rate-welfare-spending-2013-12

The above chart is a clear illustration of the choices people have made since the war on poverty began. The poverty rate was on a steady decline until shortly after the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law in 1964. After which, it has moved into a meandering horizontal trend keeping between the 12% to 15% range. Simultaneously, federal spending has done nothing but increase over time. The marginal cost, the cost of increasing one unit of production, has greatly outpaced any marginal benefit, an overall reduction in the poverty rate. In other words, if the goal of the war on poverty is to actually reduce the poverty level, it ain’t working.

What the bureaucrats and apparatchiks haven’t considered is, over time, total welfare payments (housing, power assistance, food stamps, SCHIP, WIC, healthcare, etc.) have set up a competition between the welfare state and labor markets. The benefits a welfare recipient may derive may out pace the benefits someone could expect from gainful employment. As usual, the long term consequences of a policy pales in comparison to the short term benefits the war on poverty has provided for politicians.

In an Illinois Policy study, the potential sum of welfare benefits provided for a single-parent home can reach $47,894 annually and $41,237 for two-parent homes. Welfare benefits can even be made available for some who earn $78,880 annually. A full-time working single mom earning between $8.25 and $12.00 an hour has the most benefits available to her. This means she has to consider her family’s subjective utility before taking a pay increase. An $18 an hour job would spell a loss of one-third of her family’s total resources. In order to off-set any losses and bring her family to the previous level, she would have to earn $38 an hour or about $76,000 annually.

The incentive to remain in a cycle of welfare dependence is startling, when analyzing these figures. But what about the disincentive for “the poor” to maintain a two-parent home? It’s no surprise why minorities have a 72% illegitimate birth rate. It simply pays better.

Conclusion

One of the planks of the Communist Manifesto was a destruction of the family unit by a dependence on the almighty State. The economic concepts and principles we discussed are rudimentary to a learned economist. Concepts of incentives, subjectivity, marginal utility and so on are taught to high school students in an introductory economics course. One would have to consider the incentives the economists have who are employed at the myriad of federal, state and local welfare agencies.

Truth be told, the welfare state has been nothing less than departmental for society as a whole. The moral cost outstrips the financial cost the war on poverty has amassed over the decades. How can you put a monetary value on the security of the family and all of its benefits? Lyndon Johnson’s “The Great Society” has ushered in an era of moral decline that has never been seen before in America. It just furthers the notion of what Murray Rothbard coined decades ago, “Whatever the government tells you, just believe the opposite.”

We can conclude that welfare doesn’t make anyone well, socialism comes at an unbelievable cost and The Great Society was anything but great. Bernie Sanders aspires to the young who think of him as some wise, kindly old truth-teller. But, how wise is it to ignore long term consequences of well intentioned ideas? How kind is it to ensnare millions of Americans in a system of dependency? Honestly, how truthful is it to distort the facts to fit one’s own ideology?

Time Our Most Scarce Resource

The recent passing of Nobel Laureate Gary Becker had me reflecting on some of his work. Specifically, his thought on how time is our most scarce resource. In his Nobel lecture he begins by explaining that economics impacts more than just the financial decisions that people make. Economics, when properly applied, allows the student to study the outcomes of almost all areas of our lives. He continues to expound that no matter how efficient production methods may become, how many new stocks of resources we discover or how much technology enables mankind to prolong his life, our time on this planet is always limited. There are always only 24 hours in any given day and only so many years for any individual to realize the outcomes of his decisions. Becker concludes that there will never be Utopia, for time will always be scarce.

In his book, Human Action, Mises explains in Chapter 1, Section 5 that the theory of acting man and the temporal state of his action are inseparable. The person who takes on an action distinguishes the time before the action, the time the action has absorbed and the time after the action has been finished. All action is temporal and changes the current state in which the actor finds himself in at each stage of the action. With each step in action, through time, the acting man is changing his condition from disutility towards a state of utility. He strides to make himself better off. All of this costs resources and that requires the economizing of time.

Economizing Time: Rationality and Irrationality

Before Gary Becker postulated his discovery of time’s scarcity, Mises stated in Human Action,

“Even in the land of Cockaigne man would be forced to economize time, provided he were not immortal and not endowed with eternal youth and indestructible health and vigor. Although all his appetites could be satisfied immediately without any expenditure of labor, he would have to arrange his time schedule, as there are states of satisfaction which are incompatible and cannot be consummated at the same time. For this man, too, time would be scarce and subject to the aspect of sooner and later.”

Praxeology is the economic study of human action. It assumes certain a priori truths of acting man and employs them into a causal-reality based theory. People choose action to improve their current condition in exchange for a better state of affairs. This, in turn, requires the expenditure of scarce resources. People are subject to the passing of time. We are born, mature, grow old and die. Unlike other scarce resources, time is always temporal. Once time has passed, you cannot get it back. If an individual chooses wrongly and looses money in an investment, he can always attempt to earn more money. He cannot earn more time. Once the now is in the past it remains there. It is imperative therefore, that acting man economize his time.

Many economists attempt to impute logical rationality into human action. This is where praxeological rationality should be implemented. They make the attempt to describe irrational choices by stating, if “a” is preferable to “b”, and “b” to “c”, then logically “a” is preferred to “c”. So, if the actor chooses “c” over “a” then he is acting irrationally. As Mises pointed out, no two actions are synchronous. One action may effect future actions and thus change valuations. The mistake is by relying on logical rationality which determines consistency by the principles of non-contradiction. This should be reserved for the thinking man. Praxeological logic determines constancy of action. The subjective value scale may change with each subsequent action. Someone decides to build a house on a hill, overlooking the valley rather than in the valley where it may flood or in the city where it’s noisy. As the construction begins it is discovered that the ground isn’t stable enough for that type of structure on the hill. The actor may choose to move the house to another location or build a different type of structure. The econometric positivist equation would yield an irrational outcome if the builder moved the location.

The positivist couldn’t capture the variable of changing conditions and subsequent valuations. Praxeology tells us that actions change as conditions change because of it’s causal-reality foundation. It may be rational to prefer “c” to “a” and build the house in the city where the fear of collapse and flood are avoided. Praxeologically, he remained constant by rearranging his resources and building the house. As simple as this example may be, remember that the government is full of such “economists.” After Hurricane Katrina, brand new mobile homes were left to rot in muddy fields because the government couldn’t calculate changing conditions in Louisiana during the aftermath. Or, look at Solyndra. Although it wasted some $535 million, the government is still headlong on its nonsensical quest to subsidize solar energy, regardless of market or technological conditions. The list is almost endless.

Rationality and constancy are two different things. Human action constantly prefers the more valuable to the less valuable. Action is also temporal. Each action may bring about a change in valuations and thus different subsequent action. The time required to bring about each action may be short or long term, fleeting or over the length of years. Scarce means are valued accordingly and are employed to bring about desired ends.

Valuing Time: Time Preference

The condition of scarce resources to meet unlimited wants leaves us in the situation of which we must constantly choose which of our wants we will seek to satisfy. The scarcity of time forces us to choose whether we will take the day off or go to work. We cannot do both at the same time. We cannot spend the same dollar on two different items. As stated previously, praxeology tells us we cannot perform two actions at the same time. Either I sleep in or I go to school.

Economists call this type of choice an opportunity cost. Following along the line of marginal utility, the actor will choose the most valued action first at the cost of the second action. In our example, we chose to go to work at the cost of taking the day off. Because action is not synchronous, we couldn’t perform both actions at the same time. We had to choose, according to our value scale, which action was the most valued and postpone the second.

Each individual value scale considers the actor’s time preference. The actor can place present as well as future goods on his value scale. For example, he may prefer two shirts next month as opposed to one shirt this month. Because of time preference, an individual will always prefer the same quantity of a good sooner rather than later. Another person may find more utility in having two shirts this month and only one shirt next month. Here, an opportunity arises for an exchange, where the first individual can sell one shirt with the other’s promise to provide two shirts in the future. The exchange rate between present and future goods is known as the pure rate of interest. It is determined by the actors’ time preferences just as any other price is determined.

We find the pure rate of interest throughout so-called “time markets.” Usually in the form of loans, but also in the price spread of producing a good and then selling the good in the market. The capitalist provides a service by advancing time to those who own the factors of production. He restricts his consumption of money (savings) and provides money (present goods) in exchange for future goods. Because present goods exchange for future goods at a premium, the capitalist who invests in a particular process ends up with more capital funds than he started with. The capitalist’s return is not due to the productivity of the inputs, but rather present goods are subjectively preferred to future goods demonstrated by the owners of production factors paying him interest on his investment.

Time and Money

We often hear the adage, “You either have money or time. You can’t have both.” This is true, in a sense, when it comes to the wage earner in the labor market. When a worker “sells” his labor to an employer he is really selling his time. He promises to perform a certain amount of labor in a determined amount of time or to perform a certain skill in a determined time. Even if the worker is paid in accordance with units produced (piece work) he must expend his time to produce the units. Salaried employees must also expend their time to perform their duties. In exchange for the time, the employer agrees to pay money wages or salaries. We run up against the individual’s value scale yet again in determining just how much time (present goods) will be spent in return for a paycheck (future goods). Everyone who participates in the market is a capitalist in his or her own right. Albeit, the time differential between the entrepreneur and the laborer may be different, essentially, they both are investing their present goods for future goods. Both goods are scarce. Each one must give up something scarce in exchange for something more valued. For the worker it’s time, and for the entrepreneur it’s both time and money. Undeniably, time preference plays a role as well.

Uniquely, the capital investor can actually use his money to “work” for him, thus freeing up his time. The worker must use his time in exchange for money, the investor can use his money, which earns him a return, in exchange for time. The key is that the investor must have the savings required to allow the time for a return on investment in the distant future. The risk assumed by the entrepreneur is a loss on investment which includes the loss of time. The wage earner gets paid whether the finished product sells or not. The auto workers at Ford still got paid to produce the Edsel. Labor is time paid, not risk taken.

Conclusion

Time is, in fact, our most scarce resource. What we choose to do with our time fully depends on our individual value scales. Texas University Professor Daniel Hamermesh has studied the scarcity of time for almost twenty years and says that prosperity has come at the ever growing expense of time. As societies become more prosperous, time decreases. He suggests that perhaps people should consider trading in some prosperity for more free time.

One glaring issue is that for many people, time is a substitute for capital. They only have their time to exchange for money in order to maintain a desired standard of living. You’d be hard-pressed to find a worker who wouldn’t gladly shorten their work week in exchange for the same amount of wages. But, as the central bankers continue with the delusion of our purchasing power through inflation, more time will be spent to maintain current living standards. Since the 1970s, families have been employing the time of both spouses to keep up with diminishing purchasing power and increasing tax burdens. There is still only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and so on. The limited time of two people is not keeping up with inflation to maintain that middle class dream. Families are having to rely on consumer debt to keep their heads above water. This isn’t how capitalism is supposed to work. As innovative production methods are introduced, workers are supposed to become wealthier and have more free time (leisure). Through increased productivity, producer goods are supposed to become less and less expensive (deflation). Central banking and central planning is interfering with individual time preferences. We must conclude that a debt based fiat currency system is not compatible with free market capitalism.

Time, like all scarce resources in this economic system, is becoming harder to come by for the average citizen. Many have thrown in the towel and have gone on the government dole. Others are struggling with two or three part-time jobs, family life and maybe some sleep. Retirement has become a lost dream. The choice between money or time is ever slipping away. The solution is simple, free people

making free choices in a free market. Freedom is the solution. Freedom will bring more free time. But, like time, freedom is also a scarce resource.

Source material:

The Economic Way of Looking At Life, Gary Becker

Human Action, Ludwig von Mises

Man, Economy and State, Murray N. Rothbard