The American dream is dead.
Not for everyone. If you’re reading this now, not for you. For some of us, it’s still possible to get ahead, have the perfect family and the house with the white picket fence — the whole shebang.
But for more and more people, the American dream is a pipe dream. Read on...
Did the Beverly Hillbillies predict the monetary crisis? What does Ireland's potato famine have to do with the collapse of the dollar? How did Joseph really save the Egyptians before the "Seven Lean Years"? Read on...
Yes, we have a lot of fun in our episodes of LFT. But sometimes we have to get back to our basics. And embrace a little… let’s call it ‘wariness’… in order to protect what’s ours. And, of course, help you do the same. Read on…
Are you a deflationist? Or an inflationist? No matter which way you believe the wind will blow, the truth is this: it’s up in the air. But, as Jim Rickards explains, there are things you can do to cover your assets, no matter which one wins the tug-of-war. Read on…
There are two things you shouldn’t do this Election Day: one, vote; two, buy gold. Why? Chris Campbell explores this and more in today’s Laissez Faire Today. Read on…
America has about 4% of the world’s population, yet houses 25% of the world’s incarcerated. What’s going on here? Chris Campbell digs deep into the industry to figure out the truth. While many blame the private prison industry, the real culprit, says Chris, begins right outside your door. Read on…
“While I heartily subscribe to your premise of pursuing one’s dream,” one reader, Donald J., wrote, “there are alternate perspectives worth considering.”[We’re listening… go on.]“Some wiseguy once said that life is what happens to you while you’re waiting for something better to come along. Milton put it a little more poetically in one of his […]
Want to get rich? Don’t listen to financial “gurus,” says Chris Campbell. In today’s Laissez Faire Today, Chris shares a Zen proverb and shows how understanding it is the only real way to get rich (and live a rich life). Read on…
Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In today’s Laissez Faire Today, you’ll learn about one FREE website that has the potential to not only keep your family safe – but also open your eyes to what’s happening in your own neighborhood. Chris Campbell has all the details. Read on…
All over the world, power is dying. The dictators and tyrants of the world are no longer able to wield it like they once used to. And they’re losing it to the “little guy.” Chris Campbell shows you how to be the king of your castle by taking advantage of this fact. Today, you’ll learn how to grab “power gaps” in the market and channel them into your product idea or project. Read on…
The fireflies along the tidal rivers of Malaysia show "feats of synchrony that occur spontaneously, almost as if nature has an eerie yearning for order." Chris Campbell tells you where else this might occur in the world. Also, new technology may revolutionize the agriculture industry and what we think of as a farm.
Jeff Davis is running for Governor in Hawaii and has an interesting campaign strategy. Also, what motivates hackers is revealed and the findings might surprise you. Finally, Ferguson is discussed in a new light. Chris Campbell has more...
When the government pumps trillions of dollars into the economy, they’re not actually printing the money. It enters as digital entries in banks across the country. It’s made the system fast, responsive, and, unfortunately, vulnerable. Now our money is no longer something we hold in our hands, but something that exists on a very susceptible network.
The so-called recovery is only built on debt and printed cash declares our own Byron King. In the long term, the only option for the government to continue financing it's operations is to print too many dollars. Money printing has it's limits, however. It's Byron's opinion that at some point, perhaps very soon, the government will have to turn to more desperate measures. Namely, capital controls. In the following featured essay, Byron outlines 4 probably ways the government will take your cash and one play you can buy through your broker to prepare today. Read on...
Americans expatriate because they want to get out of the country. Corporations expatriate for similar reasons. Clem Chambers explains...
In a 2009 article, the Huffington Post went into considerable detail about the number of people with PhD degrees in economics employed by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. This is the government’s branch of the Federal Reserve. It is not one of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks, all of which […]
The U.S. dollar is the dominant global reserve currency. All markets, including stocks, bonds, commodities, and foreign exchange are affected by the value of the dollar.The value of the dollar, in effect, its “price” is determined by interest rates. When the Federal Reserve manipulates interest rates, it is manipulating, and therefore distorting, every market in […]
The game of speculation is the most uniformly fascinating game in the world. But it is not a game for the stupid, the mentally lazy, the person of inferior emotional balance or the get-rich-quick adventurer. They will die poor.– Jesse Livermore, How to Trade in StocksThe trouble with capitalism’s guardians is that they have no […]
John Foust, a Democrat running for the 10th congressional seat in Northern Virginia, is — like Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other state Democrats — gung-ho to expand Medicaid. His wife’s position is, shall we say, a bit more nuanced.Foust has slammed his opponent, Republican Del. Barbara Comstock, for her opposition to expansion. He has spoken […]
The midterm election season is upon us, and it’s a tossup whether the Republicans will win the Senate, or if President Obama, seemingly oblivious as conflict flares up around the world, will, through his continuous campaigning, keep Harry Reid in his majority leader seat.The only thing we know for sure is that sociopaths will be […]
Alexander Hamilton was America’s first Secretary of Treasury under President George Washington. When he first entered office in 1789, America was an agricultural nation of just 4 million still broke from its financially costly victory over the British Empire in the Revolutionary War.The states had accumulated relatively massive debts to finance that war, which mostly […]
A great technology solves a problem that we didn’t know we had. It makes us aware of deprivations we didn’t know existed until we discover the new thing. Once discovered, we can’t go back.People in the 1950s, for example, never missed the smart phone. They were pleased to have a phone at all. But today, […]
Fifty years after the 1929 crash, a group of money managers and investment thinkers put together a collection of essays looking back at that experience. The result was a distillation of some pretty fine investment wisdom. Timely, I think, to review now.One of the contributors was Arthur Zeikel, then with Merrill Lynch. The title of […]
Although the mainstream media have turned its attention away from the wreckage of Obamacare, don’t think for a second that all is well.As the politicos in D.C. focus their attention on the midterm elections in November, now is a great time to study, prepare, and seek out the most affordable, accessible, and highest quality options […]
Turn on the tube and economic ignorance seems to be everywhere. There is constant shilling for more government. Business is demonized. Man is said to be trashing the environment. “Workers and women are oppressed” is the constant mantra.And members of the clueless media nod their heads in unison.Only John Stossel has provided the fresh air […]
In early July 1944, delegates from 44 countries gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. A three-week summit took place, at which a new system was agreed to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the Second World War.The U.S. was already the world’s commercial powerhouse, having eclipsed the British […]
In the minds of many people around the world, including in the United States, the term “capitalism” carries the idea of unfairness, exploitation, undeserved privilege and power, and immoral profit making. What is often difficult to get people to understand is that this misplaced conception of “capitalism” has nothing to do with real free markets […]
Some people are saying it is just what the doctor ordered. Others are saying that the cure is worse than the disease.The Affordable Care Act? Reengagement in Iraq? Tea Party bullying in the GOP?Not this time. Just as protracted in the corridors of Congress and the White House is the debate over the proposed reform […]
I’m at dinner and the hostess serves me pie for dessert. I gobble it up. Then the hostess says, “Would you like another piece?”
I politely decline.
In her head, she is thinking “he hates my pie,” but this is totally wrong. I love her pie, especially the first piece. But the second piece has slipped from A to B in my preference ranking, and “no pie” has moved from B to A. I’m not making a judgment on the whole stock of goods, I’m choosing based on my perceived value of the incremental unit. This is a gigantic difference.
“So you don’t like my pie enough to have a second piece?”
“No, I absolutely adore your pie. When I had the first piece, it was the most important thing in the world, and I went wild for it. But when you offered the second piece, I evaluated it as an independent unit of pie. I still love it so much! But eating it is B — not A — on my internal preference ranking. If the option to decline the pie were not present, I would eat it and be overjoyed. It just so happens that what economists call the marginal utility of the second piece is lower than the first, too low to be a point of action for my choosing person.”
“I see. You hate my pie!”
What’s going on here? The hostess doesn’t understand this idea of marginal utility as I do.
Having been steeped in this topic now for the better part of a week — all in anticipation of the release of Philip Wicksteed’s Common Sense of Political Economy — I can see why two generations of economists, from the 1870s-1910s, were in a total meltdown frenzy over the concept of marginal utility. This is an idea that can save the world.
I have a theory that if you understand it, you will be more civil. More friendly. More subtle and understanding. You will understand yourself and those around you better. It underscores the sheer complexity of human decision-making and shows why governments are utterly incapable of wise management of the world.
The discovery of marginal utility was to this generation as significant as the discovery of flight, electricity, and the theory of evolution. It was a paradigm shift, an insight that changed everything.
Until that time, economists puzzled about the value of stuff in terms of its total value to society. Water is pretty darn valuable. We have to have it to stay alive. Everyone wants it. Why, then, is it so cheap to buy, even as fripperies like lace and diamonds are so expensive? Does this mean that something is wrong with the world that needs fixing?
No, the prices are determined by the marginal choice given an accessible stock of resources. That may sound like a simple point, but it has profound implications.
What these economists discovered was that value is determined not by the total stock of a good or its perceived value to the whole of society. Value is determined by the incrementally consumed unit, one choice at a time. We rank our preferences from A to infinity, but at any one time, we can only choose one. We go for A, but if that is not possible, we shift B to A, and if that is not possible, we shift C to A. At any one time, we are only choosing one thing. We choose on the margin.
The ultimate book on marginal utility theory comes out this Friday in the Laissez Faire Club. It’s the book that has absolutely possessed me this week, which is why I can’t stop talking about it. It is Philip Wicksteed’s Common Sense of Political Economy. Club members get it for free.
Here is another example of marginal utility in action.
The girl says to the guy, “It’s not you; it’s me.” The guy thinks, I’ve heard that before; she doesn’t like me. But it turns out the girl is right. She does like him. She truly does. But the romance takes time and energy, and she would rather spend her time posting on Pinterest. Pinterest is A on her personal preference ranking. B is the guy. The guy doesn’t make the cut.
Or maybe not. Maybe A is Pinterest but B is getting school work done. C is practicing piano. D is watching The Wire. E is making biscuits. F is Snapchatting goofy images to her friends. Finally we get to G, which is “date this guy.” She really does like him, and if A-F were not options, she would be all about dating him. But A-F are possible realities. Jumping in the preference ranking from A immediately to G would be an error that would diminish her total happiness from what it otherwise might be.
You see how marginal utility clarifies human decision-making? It means that we don’t think and act in black-and-white terms. It is not love or hate, embrace or reject, go for it or spit it out. We make decisions on the margin within the context of a wonderfully complex and infinite array of choices that are ultimately hidden from the view of others.
It is this hidden aspect that feeds the paranoia that leads people not to think about marginal utility.
A friend invites you to his wedding. You say that you would love to go, but you have a work meeting you must attend that very day. You really want to go, but you can only do one thing at a time, and protecting your career at this point seems gigantically important.
Your friend understands. For now. But then the wedding comes, and you are not there. The picture album comes out, and you are nowhere to be seen. The memories are beautiful and exciting, yet you are not part of them. Over time, your friend begins to think: Hey, I thought he was a friend, but he ditched my wedding with some lame excuse. He must not be the friend I thought he was. I hate him.
This happens all the time. It happens because people do not think about marginal utility. It is not constantly in our minds. That’s hardly a surprise, because it took humanity 500,000 years to discover it. In scientific terms, it is a fairly recent discovery. It will probably take another few hundred years before the concept is emblazoned on our hearts. Meanwhile, those who get it are better at navigating life.
We begin to understand that just because our friend doesn’t go the movie with us doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to go to the movies. He really does want to go. The problem is that the desire to go to the movie ranks slightly below the top item on the list, and we can only choose one item at a time.
The commercial implications are gigantic.
Let’s say you open up a donut shop. You sit there day after day trying to sell them. Over the course of a month, not one donut has sold. You conclude that people don’t want your donuts — a conclusion that at first seems entirely reasonable.
But actually, it is wrong. There is a whole community out there, thousands of people, who have preference rankings in their heads. If you had access to them, you would see thousands of people walking around with the idea of donuts, donuts, DONUTS, swirling around in their heads. They live and breathe DONUTS. It’s the first thing they think about in the morning and the last thing they think about at night.
So what’s the problem? Why aren’t they buying your donuts? The problem is that each one of them has one other thing that they are thinking about more. They want to get to work on time. They worry they are getting fat. They want to save money. They are interested in playing on their smartphones and drive right by your place. Whatever it is, it is preventing them from actually acting on their donut obsession.
What is your job as a donut entrepreneur? You have to figure out a way to crawl into their heads and replace whatever their choice A is with what might be their B choice. You have to switch the top two preferences. If the donut preference is G, you have to do better than bump it up to the B slot. There is only one slot in which donuts win: A. That’s when the bell rings. So you struggle and struggle to push and push that lower preference to the higher preference.
How do you do this? You can lower your price, increase your quality, offer different flavors, or whatever, but none of this actually accomplishes the task. Why? Because no one knows you are doing this! What you have to do is get into their heads. You have to market. You have to sell. You have to advertise. You have to create buzz through social media. Whatever you do, the goal is clear: Get donuts to the A slot.
That means you have to ramp it up. Maybe a bit of a nudge is all that is necessary for some people. But some people are not enough, and you don’t know that for sure anyway. You have to really win this one. So you ramp it up. If you are iPhone, you promise that everyone can be a movie producer. If you are Southwest Airlines, you promise vacation bliss. If you are Nike, you promise a new way of living. And so on.
Is this manipulative? Not in any way. What you are doing is trying to persuade people who WANT donuts anyway to actually take the step to spend money and make them part of their lives. You are helping people realize and act on their real desires, leading them to make an exchange to toward mutual betterment. You win. They win. Everyone wins.
Back to the example of the girl who says, “It’s not you; it’s me.” What should the guy do? He should realize that he might only be one tiny preference ranking below number one. He should accept that this could be temporary. He should immediately get to work thinking about how to ascend the ranking from B to A. To be on the safe side, he should be particularly amazing just in case he has to move from G to A.
In order to understand this process, you need to understand marginal utility. This is the concept that makes sense of how the world works. This is the notion that sheds light on the whole mystery of human decision-making. This is the idea that unlocks the mysteries of human interaction.
Small and great evils in the world have come from absolutism, the belief that there is only one way forward, and that if that way is not what you choose, that makes you the evil enemy. Governments think this way. They don’t think on the margin. A world of billions of people acting and thinking based on marginal utility is too complicated a notion for them. So they decide to just ignore it all and divide the world between us and them.
On the other hand, if you think in terms of marginal utility, you realize that the whole world is built in tiny steps as an extension of a complex decision-making process that is ultimately subjective, and that bringing people together can never come through force, but only through small acts of persuasion, one person at a time. Through the lens of marginal utility, we see the beautiful orderliness of anarchy.