How the Good Intentions of a Left-Wing Economist Lead to Bad Results

By Con George-Kotzabasis May 19, 2016

The following is an unconsummated reply to professor Andrew Leigh’s lecture with the title, “Markets Monopolies and Moguls…” held at Melbourne University, on May 19, 2016. This was due to the chairman’s instruction that only a sprinkle of questions would follow the end of the presentation and there would be no debate

I’m overly distrustful of people who use scarecrows, in this case the “mogul” Richard Pratt, to make their argument. Moreover, it is a term associated with sinister practices and easily tantalizes and incites the feelings of the crowd to purge the evildoers. But more dismally it is wrong in your case, as it is an exercise in a fallacy of composition: Just because there are few rotten apples in the cart it does not mean that all apples are rotten. The unprecedented prosperity of capitalism was not engendered by rottenness but by the creative, innovative, and dynamic spirit of entrepreneurship.

The great economic historian, Fernand Braudel, depicts the shifts of capitalist centres and their entrepreneurial moguls, from Venice, Genoa, Antwerp, Amsterdam, London, to New York, spreading boundless prosperity to these metropolises and their environs by means of the ceaseless division of labour, international trade and the capitalist dynamic ethos of entrepreneurial creation. It was the sun-king of entrepreneurial capitalism that had pulled millions of people out of the sunless caves of poverty into the sunlit vistas of capitalist plenitude, heightening their standard of living, for the first time in history, on ever-higher plateaus.

(The scientific writer, Arthur Koestler, contends that the great discoveries of science were motivated by ambition, competition, and vanity, which happen also to be the inherent characteristics of capitalist moguls.)

You have mentioned a lot of negatives about “bigness” and market concentration but not the fact that they rather have a short life since there is no blockage of entry in a competitive economy to other entrepreneurs into these concentrated areas. One example, the entry of the innovative entrepreneur ALDI into the food-chain services and its reduction of the prices of its products in comparison to other chains, not only attracted many consumers to its stores but also forced the other two major super markets of COLES and WOOLWORTH to reduce their prices at the feel of the competitive pinch of the newcomer. Competition does not discriminate between big and small but it equally affects both.

But to deal with your argument that inequality should be a major consideration in competition policy, and regulating mergers and prices would be beneficial to the consumer. The competitive market in itself, without the need of regulation, spreads its cheaper products to an ever-greater number of consumers and therefore decreases inequality. The competition of Telstra and Optus is an example. The same applies to iPods. Ride a train, a bus, or a tram and you will see even the lower classes fully equipped with these cheaper gadgets of a competitive technology and once again the line of inequality is lowered down for the less wealthy consumer.

It is not the business of government to regulate mergers and pricing. This is the bailiwick of entrepreneurs who decide if such a merger will be profitable, whether it will be able to compete with an already established corporation producing the same product, and setting its price on such a level that it will attract consumers to buy its product en masse. Furthermore, as far as the regulation is close to the estimates and interests of the entrepreneurs it is superfluous; and as far as it is distanced from these estimates and interests, it is destructive. No businessman will invest his money in a venture where profit is unattainable. Hence, your regulation, that aborts the setting-up of a merger that would produce cheaper products for the consumer, by depriving the latter from having these goods, increases the inequality of the mass consumer. Not surprisingly, as often happens, good intentions lead to bad results.

Therefore, your proposal of government dirigisme as a panacea in regards to competition and regulation is inutile, fanciful, and fallacious, and more perniciously may turn out to be a destructive force.

I rest on my oars: Your turn now

 

 

 

The Search of Neuroscience for the Quintessence of Economics

By Con George-Kotzabasis—October 03, 2014

A reply to “of markets and minds” –by professor Peter Bossaerts

Melbourne University Magazine

Economics is the application of scarce means for the attainment of countless abundant ends. Since all ends cannot be fulfilled because of the scarcity of resources, human choice selects those ends that are more needful or pleasurable to man than those that are less so. The attainment of those more needful ends is a result of human action. These ends, however, are the fruits of the future and the inevitable uncertainty that is riveted upon it. Therefore human action is always speculation based, however, not upon the throw of the dice but upon ratiocination. Furthermore, actions are determined by the value judgments of individuals i.e., the ends they are eager to attain. These valuations differ among individuals due to the different circumstances and living conditions of these individuals and to the variable desires and wishes that emanate from the plethora of their personalities. There is no constant relationship between these valuations, as they emanate from the different wishes, desires and caprices of an umpteenth of individuals, and are therefore beyond the bailiwick of science to measure them; what scientific method could measure with precision the capricious longings of man and the uncertainty that surrounds his existence?

Professor Bossaerts’ attempt therefore, to identify and control the ‘cells’ of the economy and finance and the complex interactions that determine their course by the scientific method of neuroscience for the purpose of rationally directing the process of the economy to a more beneficial path, is in vain and is bound to fail. Science measures constant relationships in the controlled experimental environment of the lab but cannot measure uncontrolled innumerable variants that determine, in our case, the process of a free market economy. The search, therefore, of finding the inexorably elusive quintessence of the economic process by the tools of the hard sciences, though a laudable task, is purblind, as it cannot see nor understand that science is incapable of measuring the measureless.

The endeavour to supplant and redress, on the one hand, the imperfections of the free market economy, and on the other, the failures of government dirigisme to regulate and direct the economic process of the free market to a more optimal state, by the powerful algorithmic tools of science, will be found to be another futile attempt to direct the economy from a central command post, this time by the methods of neuroscience and not by an omniscient cabal of socialist planners.

In an imperfect and uncertain world, the free market economy will proceed and move by trial and error and continue to spread its benefits to mankind. But the intervention of man’s reason and understanding will substantially diminish the errors by increasing their correction in time by the power of man’s imagination and ratiocination.

The Gravitational Force that Pulled European Nations into a Black Hole

As the superb and strong statesmanship of Antonis Samaras is pulling decisively Greece out of its economic crisis, I’m republishing this piece that was written in the midst of 2012, for the readers of this blog.

Government intervention always wills the good and works the bad.

By Con George-Kotzabasis

The European Union’s sovereign debt crisis was neither an act of fate nor an act of a free self-dependent man but an act of deluded ideology whose sails were blown by the long-lasting winds of government dirigisme, i.e., intervention, and welfare dependency. Once again it was the work, the social engineering, of the bien pensants in the form of a state directory of planning that would put a floor of security for the masses and protect them from falling into abject economic privation that was always, according to their thinking, the omnipresent and inevitable result of the unjust, harsh, and unequal regime of the capitalist competitive free market. The trouble was that this floor was made out of straw and at the first jump of an economic crisis–whose seeds were planted by government intervention,  loose monetary policy and low interest rates–would open a gaping hole through which this security would disappear and drown in a massive pool of unemployment and poverty.

The Eurozone’s one dimensional foundation of monetary union without banking and fiscal union could not sustain the European edifice in the long run with the differentiating regime of taxes, social benefits, and pensions that existed among its constituent states. The proliferation and prodigality of unsustainable Entitlement Economies, which have been the characteristics of the welfare states of Europe especially in the south, could not have been continued without cracking the economic underpinnings of the Eurozone. Also, the European Central Bank’s enabling of low risk premiums on interest rates of government debt, encouraged Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Ireland to go on an orgy of borrowing and overspending. The inevitable outcome was a stampede of budget deficits that were unsustainable and the eventual loss of all credibility in the financial markets that the afflicted States would be able to pay back their debts and thus the shutting out of the latter from the global financial lending pool.

Since no private person would hazard to lend money to states lassoed in sovereign debt the only alternative left was for the richest countries in the Eurozone, such as Germany, to become the lenders and continue to finance the former for their economic survival. But such help would be given under very severe terms encapsulated in strict Memoranda to the receiving countries with the stipulation that the latter would adopt and implement stringent austerity measures that would decrease substantially government expenditure, would restructure and reform their economies making them more competitive, and privatizing public enterprises, whose inefficiency and lack of a diligent working ethos can only be sustained by a continuous expensive staple of government subsidies.

These austerity measures, however, whose formulators have been the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, the so called Troika, are forcefully rejected by the people of those countries who for decades have been inured to the social and economic comforts and benefits engendered by the reckless spending of their governments, and are refusing to accept any cuts to these benefits even when some are aware that the latter can no longer be provided since the governments’ coffers are empty and the convenience of funding these benefits by borrowing, as they have done in the past, is no longer available due to their nation’s sovereign debt. Moreover, these austerity measures initially had not being complemented with policies of economic development and thus led to the worsening of the economic conditions of those countries that adopted them, such as Greece, leading to unprecedented massive unemployment by the closure of large and small business enterprises and to the smashing of the middle class which is the cornerstone of free societies.

This situation is dangerously engendering the fragmentation of social cohesion in those countries and giving rise to political parties of the extreme right and left, coming out of the foam of waves of violent demonstrations that imminently threaten democracy. A latest illustration of this danger are the attacks by petrol bombs and other incendiary devices by hooded youths of anarchists and extreme leftists in Greece against the homes of outspoken journalists, offices of the governing coalition of New Democracy, Pasok, and the Democratic Left, and the burning of Bank’s ATMs. And of particular significance are the attacks on journalists, which are a blatant violation of free speech and a sinister attempt to intimidate them from expressing their opinion about events and criticizing politicians of Syriza, the official opposition, of whom obviously the fire carrying mobs are its ardent supporters.

This will be the tragic legacy of European big government and its ill-considered, indeed, destructive intervention in the processes of the free market that for at least two centuries have delivered prosperity and an unprecedented increase in the standard of living of the masses; as the socialist politicians from Francois Mitterand to Jaques Delors–the architects and enforcers of the European Monetary Union that forced Germany to succumb and pay the price of the unity of west and east Germany as demanded by France–and their present disciples of  etatisme are in the process of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, i.e., the unimpeded free market, and by doing so unconsciously and unwillingly are generating and  unleashing the brutal forces of fascism and leftist directorates of totalitarianism on the landscape of Europe.

To avoid this slide to the hell of totalitarianism only the rise of statesmen who “can act beneath heaven as if they were placed above it” is consummated. The fiscal and balance of payments crisis can only be remedied by substantial cuts in government spending and the euthanasia of big government, and by the privatization of debt ridden public enterprises–that are the last strongholds of obtuse and doctrinaire unions– and by the freeing of private enterprise to pursue profit by competition and entrepreneurial creativity and dynamism, respectively. These ‘bitter’ remedies can only be administered by statesmen of the calibre of Lee Kuan Yeu and Antonis Samaras. The latter, indeed, might not only be the progenitor of the Greek Renaissance but also the paradigmatic leader of other European politicians to imitate for their own European Renaissance. The Newtonian apple that will stop the European ‘discord’ that currently threatens the demise of the EU will fall to the gravitational force of such statesmanship.

Hic Rhodus hic salta

 

No More Free Suntans in Sunny Greece

By Con George-Kotzabasis

As Drew correctly states none of the classical liberal economists, Smith, Mises, Hayek, and I would add in this brilliant constellation Mill, Bawerk, and Schumpeter, ever argued that the free market was perfect and “market failure” was inconceivable. On the contrary they argued that the three cardinal principles of the free market were imperfect knowledge, uncertainty, and risk. How could any rational and economically literate person accuse the classical liberal economists of contending that the free market were free from market failure, when their whole argument was premised on the above three principles? Moreover, they did argue, that market failure could be cured mainly by the ‘elixir’ of the free market, and not by unqualified and ubiquitous government intervention.

It is the critics of the free market that engendered the ‘straw man’ of the perfect market so they could knock it down easily without any effort of critical thinking, which of course they lacked, and replace it with the socialist planning nostrums or, a la Kervick, with the hybrid panacea of the “mixed economy,” whose avatar was and is modern Europe, and which presently is at the threshold of economic bankruptcy. The sun is still shining in sunny Greece, but there are no more free suntans for its denizens.