In a newsletter published in 1970, economist Murray Rothbard wrote, “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”
This is an oft-quoted platitude within circles of libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics.
Today, we are seeing the embodiment of Rothbard’s fears. The woeful state of economic understanding has reached a critical mass. Economics has taken a back seat to issues deemed more important. What’s worse is that when economics is discussed, millennials tend to lean socialist.
I have a vested interest in seeing economics and sound money flourish as I work in the field. Yes, I believe that tying a nation’s currency to gold keeps government spending in check. This is hardly professional bias though, as we all have a vested interest in seeing economics and sound money championed, many just don’t recognize it. This piece is aimed at anyone with a vested interest in maintaining a standard of living higher than that of the depression-era breadline vagabond. Economics transcends race, gender, and political identification.
Let’s begin by examining the first of two reasons that good economics is paramount.
Good Economics Is Important Because We Are Seeing a Rise in Bad Economics
Despite the corruption and backhanded actions of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to win the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders experienced a meteoric rise reminiscent to that of Ron Paul’s, whose 2008 presidential campaign trained his supporters’ focus on economics. Paul championed policies in the spirit of economists that I personally revere: Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Nobel Prize Laureate Friedrich Hayek, among others.
Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign had an equal but opposite effect. From teenagers to senior citizens, many loved Sanders’s critique of the broken system that favors the wealthy and stifles the poor. His “solutions” are abysmal, yet despite the countless examples of current (and more importantly, collapsed) socialist-Marxist/Leninist calamities, a self-described socialist found a foothold in the United States.
The revolution inspired by Sanders is anti-intellectual. The “economics” that stemmed out of the Sanders campaign was not economics at all. His school of economics was built on people shouting about their feelings and promoting egalitarianism for the sake of egalitarianism.
Good economics is grounded in axiomatic truths and empirical facts about the world around us. Sound money keeps governments and central banks (called the Federal Reserve in the US) from endless money printing and devastating inflation. Yes, that means the government won’t be able to provide every service that one desires. That is a good thing. Government is the bastion of inefficiency and the epitome of waste. Strictly from an economics standpoint, the market is far better suited at providing products and services.
The espousal of socialist policies in economics is dangerous and irresponsible. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much intellectual firepower to write off socialism as wildly inefficient. But it does take some. Socialism falls apart quickly when one understands the economic calculation problem, which explains the importance of prices based in subjective value in a free market system and explains how centrally planned economies, devoid of market prices, are doomed to suffer from inefficiencies in the form of widespread shortages and surpluses. Without these rudimentary economic blocks, “free college, health care for everyone, and massive taxation on the 1 percent to pay for these policies” sounds desirable.
We must learn, though. We must strive for intellectual growth. We must take the lessons we’ve learned from history and apply them to the word we live in today: socialism does not work. Socialism kills. (Even Scandinavian socialism isn’t as great as socialists say it is).
Socialism has been proven to be a terrible economic policy repeatedly. At some point, the value of human lives outweighs the desire for a politician to conduct a social experiment on how quickly he or she can rid their country of any and all valuable resources. That point is now. We must understand that socialism is an exercise in futility and inefficiency. Understanding good economics kills off the allure of central planning that continues to be peddled by politicians on the left. In fairness, understanding good economics helps wade past the bad economics posited by the right as well.
For a multitude of reasons, it’s a good idea to take a politicians’ statements with grains of salt. As far as economics goes, economist Thomas Sowell said it better than I ever could.
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
Sound economics based in sound money policies make it possible to eat reasonably priced meals because inflation tends to be lower in countries that practice these policies. Sound money policies make enacting socialist policies difficult. Understanding fundamental economics is the lynchpin to cultivating an environment conducive to having meaningful debate on other social issues. Which brings us to the second reason why economics is crucial.
Economics Is the Most Important Social Issue of Our Time
We should start by understanding that economics is a social issue. In fact, economics is the social issue. No issue influences individuals (read: all the individuals) within a society more than its economic practices.
Living in the United States in 2017 means exposure to all sorts of social issues including – but not limited to – same sex marriage, police brutality, safe spaces, drug legalization, and firearms ownership. To be sure, these issues are important and should be examined with sober eyes. But the issue of economics supersedes this list and every other list.
I believe consenting individuals should be allowed to do whatever their hearts desire so long as they aren’t violating the rights of another. I stand in solidarity with those who favor legalized same-sex marriages. I stand with those who want to see marijuana legalized nationwide and those who want to own automatic weapons.
But herein lies the danger of ignoring economics at the expense of other issues: Being “allowed” to smoke marijuana legally seems insignificant when a loaf of bread costs a month’s salary and your loved ones are dying of starvation, doesn’t it? I concede the subjective nature of this evaluation, but if I had to choose between the legality of same sex marriages and economic stability, I would choose economic stability without pause. Not because I don’t value personal freedom to do as one wishes, but because I understand that with economic stability comes the ability to fight another day for other issues.
Brazil, according to Bloomberg, was the second-worst economic performer of 2016. The other side of the coin is more uplifting: Brazil recognizes same-sex unions; allows same-sex marriages; allows adoptions by same-sex couples; allows individuals who identify as LGBT to serve in the military; and so on. Brazil’s removal of the proverbial shackles on homosexuals to live as they see fit is a big win for personal liberty, undoubtedly.
But one can’t help but wonder if the married same-sex couple in Brazil suffering from the terrible economic policies enacted by their country thinks, “13.2 percent of our entire country’s population is unemployed. That’s close to what the US faced between 1930-1931 as the Great Depression destroyed their economy. We can’t afford to feed ourselves or our family and we’re subjected to danger and crime as others are desperate to obtain food and money. But hey, at least the government recognizes our marriage!”
Greece is another example of the result of poor economic policies. Riots and crippling tax hikes to pay for irresponsible economic policies are commonplace in Greece, but hey, at least small amounts of cannabis have been decriminalized, right?
I don’t mean to belittle the importance of issues such as these. But as millennials, as members of the citizenry, and as people with a stake in the economic health of the nation we inhabit, our efforts are often misplaced. Sound economic policies should be pursued with at least the same amount of fervor as the myriad issues that don’t potentially end in economic collapse, death, crime, and general hysteria.
America finds itself on the cusp of revolution, but not necessarily the kind you might imagine. The revolution we are headed towards is an intellectual one. Good economics lies at the heart of this revolution.
Without good economics, we are powerless against the abuses of the Federal Reserve, the central bank that intentionally devalues the money in your bank account while it finances foreign wars and domestic programs that the government wouldn’t have the means to pay for otherwise. Without good economics, we are defenseless against the bad economic policies that lead to extreme levels of pillaging that socialists lovingly refer to as taxation. Without good economics, we subject ourselves to tangible, real-life danger and lose the opportunity to bring about the changes we wish to see.