The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Dr. William C. Padgett is a retired optometrist who has been trying to bring an elderly care facility to Beaufort County, North Carolina, for over a decade.“Our senior citizens,” he laments, “are finding that it is difficult and in many cases impossible to find an appropriate long-term care facility locally.” Though he has received several […]
If you don’t have the angst out of your system concerning Wall Street banksters, Government Sachs, and the Affordable Care Act, settle in with Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia to make your blood boil one more time.Investors should be reminded of 2008 as they shrug their shoulders and put their money back in the stock market. The […]
What do 8 of the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. have in common?Aside from being able to fly in private jets, the common thread is that each of them has made their fortune thanks to a start-up.Let me explain…From tech titans like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (founders of Microsoft and Oracle, respectively), to […]
“Inequality is the defining challenge of our time,” according to President Obama. It’s certainly the topic of the day for Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and a whole raft of liberal pundits.But have you noticed that hardly anyone else is talking about it? When is the last time you heard a shoeshine person or a taxi […]
In December of last year, I left my career to travel the world for one year.My plan was to visit as many countries as possible on my Star Alliance Around-the-World ticket in the first nine months, then, for the remaining three months, return back to the country that most caught my eye and my curiosity.Nine […]
Economic history is primed to repeat in the nastiest of ways unless the government stops distorting the price of something we use every day.Every product, good, or service has a price, which is essential to rational decision-making. We use prices every day as vital data that guide us. Without true prices, prices not distorted by […]
A new survey from Harvard University found a large majority of young Americans do not believe the law will save them money, do not believe it will improve their health, and do not intend to sign up for insurance through the new exchanges.
Uh-oh!The new pope, Francis from the Pampas, has just warned us to beware the “tyranny” of capitalism.Each man worships his own gods. Some worship at the altar of Jesus of Nazareth. Some at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. The capitalists don’t bad-mouth Francis’ god. You’d think he would cut them the same slack.Bad-mouthing Catholicism […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
A president stands disgraced. Congress is scattering. Bureaucrats are baffled. Pundits are reaching. Industry is scared. Politicians are scrambling to do something, anything, to make it better. One political party is in meltdown and the other loving every minute of it, hoping to ride the calamity to electoral gains.The so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care […]
“Economics puts parameters on people’s utopias.”
Yes. That’s exactly it. That’s why the politicians hate economics. That’s why the media are so… selective in which economists they call on to talk about policy.
That’s why the economics departments in colleges are put down by the sociologists, philosophers, literature professors and just about everyone else who has romantic longings for a coerced utopia.
“The teachings of the principles of economics should inform as much on what not to do, perhaps even more than providing a guide to public action.”
That’s it again. Don’t control prices. Don’t socialize medicine. Don’t raise taxes. Don’t inflate the money supply. Don’t put up trade barriers. Don’t go to war. Economists just keep bursting people’s bubbles. And it’s because economists say these things that the ruling class wants them to shut up about.
It’s been going on for hundreds of years. Every generation for the past 500 years has seen the battle wage between those who want to use the power of the state to contort and distort the world to fit some daydream on one hand and the economists who have seen the futility in this manipulation and warn against it on the other.
The man who wrote those above words is Peter Boettke, economics professor at George Mason University. He is one of the nation’s leading producers of economists, having directed several dozen dissertations over 20 years and having spread his students to colleges and universities around the country and the world.
His new book, which ought to be read by every college student who secretly suspects that economics is not as dreary as they say, is Living Economics, just published by the Independent Institute. It’s a big book, but a luxurious read from Page 1 to 450.
The phrase “living economics” means two things: 1) economics is part of life whether we recognize it or not, and 2) economics is a living discipline, rooted in universal principles but always changing in nuance and application.
Professor Boettke’s purpose is to provide a guided tour through the profession as it is now and how he would like to see it changed. He does this by first explaining what got him interested in the science.
It turns out that he remembers the gas lines of the 1970s and recalls being amazed to discover that they were wholly manufactured by Washington policy. It was the price control of oil combined with inflationary pressures from bad monetary policy. Contrary to what the media mavens and politicians were saying at the time, it had nothing to do with producer greed, secret price manipulation or financial speculation.
That’s what did it for him. He realized that economics is woven into every aspect of our lives. It is inescapable. When the market is allowed to work, beauty and growth results. Humanity flourishes. When markets are truncated and hobbled, people suffer.
Then he realized how little public understanding there is of economics. And he realized that he could play a role in changing this. He has. His students are now teaching other students in six different Ph.D.-granting institutions, among dozens more institutions.
Here Boettke reflects on the decision to make economics his vocation. Economics as a reality in our world will exist whether there are people around to study and explain it or not. As a discipline, it was very late in developing, mostly during the High Middle Ages. And it came about precisely to elucidate the way the world works in order to prevent kings and other big shots from using force to interfere with its mechanisms.
As Boettke puts it, “We do not need to understand economics in order to experience the benefits of freedom of exchange and production. But we may very well need to understand economics in order to sustain and maintain the institutional framework that enables us to realize the benefits that flow from freedom of exchange and production.”
What follows this beginning material is a plunge straight into the core of what economics teaches. Boettke chooses a very engaging path. He tells the story through a series of intellectual biographies of the economists he most admires. We read about his teacher Hans Sennholz, about Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard (his chapter on Rothbard is particularly celebratory). He covers James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock. Perhaps the most-interesting sections are the ones that find “Austrianness” in unusual places — in the work of Kenneth Boulding, for example.
In contrast to most books on economics, this book is very warm and humane. He goes all out to describe economics as the science of human choice in the real world. The prose matches his intellectual sense. We are spared the usual academic pomp and the absurdities of trying to cram people and their spontaneous decisions into mechanical models. He never talks down to his readers. This reader found no showing off, no strutting around, no defensiveness or bickering. The prose and line of thinking are open and generous.
It’s no surprise that the Austrian School is at the core of the narrative. This figures into his choice of biography, of course. And it informs the whole of his worldview, accounts for why he is able to write about real-world problems and explains the failure of planning in such lucid terms.
At the same time, Boettke cautions: “The main thing that makes someone an Austrian is not the willingness to identify one’s work with that label, but the substantive propositions in economics that an economist identifies with.” With this in mind, he shows that Austrian ideas are very more widespread that one might suppose.
In general, Boettke attempts to show that the profession has lost much of the arrogance that it practiced from the 1930s through the 1970s. While methodological positivism and mathematical hubris still exist in form, he attempts to show that the old ways have shifted toward a greater emphasis on institutions and human choice. He detects the rise of a certain humility in the profession, which has made way for a broader and more-eclectic approach that includes even radical libertarians like Boettke himself.
A book like this will provide anyone vast insight into what economics has to offer the world of ideas. It is an excellent overview about what is great and what is awful in the profession today. But even when he criticizes, there is no anger; instead, there is conviction that openness and frankness is the best path to finding truth. I can’t think of a better good for an economics major to have on hand when the lecture content begins to depart from reality.
As for the author himself, I can’t add to what Israel Kirzner has already said (and I’m almost certain that Kirzner has never written an endorsement this over-the-top:
Living Economics is in many ways a remarkable book. The volume luminously reflects the amazing breadth of professor Boettke’s reading, and the deep and careful thoughtfulness with which he reads. But the true distinction of this volume consists of more than the profound economic understanding and wealth of deeply perceptive doctrinal-history observations that fill its pages. Its distinction consists in the delightful circumstances that these riches arise from and express Peter Boettke’s extraordinary intellectual generosity and unmatched intellectual enthusiasm — rare qualities that have enabled him to discover nuggets of valuable theoretical insight in the work of a wide array of economists, many of whom are generally thought to be far away from the Austrian tradition, which Boettke himself splendidly represents. Boettke’s prolific pen is dipped, not in the all-too-common ink of professional one-upmanship, but in the inkwell of an earnest, utterly benevolent — and brilliant — scholar, seeking, with all his intellectual integrity, to learn and to understand.
Many others have said the same: Bruce Yandle, Richard Wagner, Steve Hanke, Randall Holcombe and dozens more. As you read through the tributes, you realize that these are more than coerced blurbs. Boettke has managed to make economists themselves re-excited about what they do. He will do the same for you, and help you appreciate the creativity, courage and sheer adventure associated with this grand craft that elucidates the workings of our world like no other.