Friday, March 06, 2009

Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom: Now More than Ever

During the Great Depression the size of government grew exponentially and many believed that the United States had lost those essential principles that made this country the most prosperous on the face of the earth. It was during this time that an organization was formed, called the American Economic Foundation (AEF), and they put together the following “Ten Pillars”* to remind Americans what works in an economy. If people wondered if a policy was good and beneficial to everyone concerned, than it would stand the test of these Pillars.

In the 1990s, I was a Senior Fellow at AEF and I conducted seminars in the former Soviet Union about these principles and how they could be a guiding light to that region that suffered from decades of Communist totalitarianism. Today, we are about to slip into a command economy of our own where the government will seek to be in charge of all things. Today, with the Obama Administration, this country needs to be reminded of these principles now more than ever. You are going to see these principles frequently in my blog, in the Price of Business pages, and on the radio. These principles are a guiding light towards a free economy.

1. Nothing in our material world can come from nowhere or go nowhere, nor can it be free: everything in our economic life has a source, a destination, and a cost that must be paid.

Simply put, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has a cost regardless of promises from politicians.

2. Government is never a source of goods. Everything produced is produced by the people, and everything that government gives to the people, it must first take from the people.

Recently, 25 percent of Americans who were asked in a survey how the government pays for its programs said it was because the US "has its own money." Those people need to be familiar with this Pillar. The bailouts we have seen cost plenty and will have a profound impact on our economy.

3. The only valuable money that government has to spend is that money taxed or borrowed out of the people’s earnings. When government decides to spend more than it has thus received, that extra unearned money is created out of thin air, through the banks, and, when spent, takes on value only by reducing the value of all money, savings, and insurance.

Much of the new spending we have seen by Obama (and Bush) is being financed by fiat money (essentially counterfeit) and will result in rampant inflation. Other parts of the spending will be paid for by future generations. Finally, some will be paid by foreign governments who invest in such debt (making us dependent on regimes, like China).

4. In our modern exchange economy, all payroll and employment come from customers, and the only worthwhile job security is customer security; if there are no customers, there can be no payroll and no jobs.
Labor unions have long tried to create an economic world that is detached from reality. If labor wants job security, they must accommodate customers. There is no other way to assure long term job stability.

5. Customer security can be achieved by the worker only when he cooperates with management in doing the things that win and hold customers. Job security, therefore, is a partnership problem that can be solved only in a spirit of understanding and cooperation.
Unions often want an adversarial relationship with business, but job security can only come if the two are partners pursuing customers together.

6. Because wages are the principal cost of everything, widespread wage increases, without corresponding increase in production, simply increase the cost of everybody’s living.

An example of this is minimum wage. When it goes up, so do prices, and if the job isn't worth the wage, it will be lost. This solves the mystery as to why minimum wage increases are both rare and devastating.

7. The greatest good for the greatest number means, in its material sense, the greatest goods for the greatest number which, in turn, means the greatest productivity per worker.
Production is the best way to keep an economy strong, and those who participate in it growing financially. The best way to encourage productivity is for a government to keep the costs of production as low as possible. This is done through a stable money supply, low taxes, and few regulations.

8. All productivity is based on three factors: 1) natural resources (NR), whose form, place and condition are changed by the expenditure of 2) human energy (HE) (both muscular and mental), with the aid of 3) tools (T).

This is straight forward enough. These three factors make up the totality of the economy. As a formula, this is seen at NR + HE x T = Man's Material Welfare.

9. Tools are the only one of these three factors that man can increase without limit, and tools come into being in a free society only when there is a reward for the temporary self-denial that people must practice in order to channel part of their earnings away from purchases that produce immediate comfort and pleasure, and into new tools of production. Proper payment for the use of tools is essential to their creation.

Tools are the only one of these that can increase without limit. An example of this is agriculture, which was the dominant industry in the late 1700s and early 1800s, with the majority of our population working in that area. Today, the number who work in it are in the single digits and the abundance of food could not be greater. Tools are what have changed everything.

10. The productivity of the tools--that is, the efficiency of the human energy applied in connection with their use--has always been highest in a competitive society in which the economic decisions are made by millions of progress-seeking individuals, rather than in a state-planned society in which those decisions are made by a handful of all-powerful people, regardless of how well-meaning, unselfish, sincere and intelligent those people may be.

The genius of the many individuals when it comes to economic prosperity is always greater than the few or even the majority that would impose its view of "fairness" on the economy. This is the "invisible hand" that Adam Smith spoke of so eloquently in his The Wealth of Nations.

These Pillars are factual, logical, and without a political agenda. They provide excellent benchmarks on what works in the economic system. Pass this tool on to others who are trying to figure out the headlines and let freedom ring!

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

*An internationally accepted working paper developed by The American Economic Foundation

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Blogger AnnieH said...

EXCELLENT piece. This is a perfect combination of common sense, hard work, old fashioned values and conservatism that our Nation was in fact founded upon and we would thrive and succeed again if would simply embrace these very principles!!! Reagan did it and he took office to a horrible mess too! personal responsibility, my friend!!great piece!!

Annie Hamilton

10:11 PM  

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