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American political culture always seems to be “celebrating” the anniversary of something, be it JFK’s assassination (we just passed the 50th anniversary of that sad event) or the signing of some (mostly bad) legislation. The latest political activity to be enshrined with an anniversary is the so-called stimulus, the $800 billion monstrosity passed five years ago ostensibly to “put America back to work.”
Not surprisingly, the New York Times has editorialized that any criticism of the spending bill — at least any criticism which says “too much” was spent — is a Republican “myth and falsehood.” Not only was the “Stimulus” a legitimate piece of legislation, sniffed the NYT, but it also:
prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (Where are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.
Like all examples of the Broken Window Fallacy, the spirited defense of this spending bill is based upon “accounting” methods that count the people hired through “stimulus” spending as “new jobs” but fail to note how others might have lost their own means of employment. Now, this was a bill that, among other things, had workers rolling sod into the grass median of I-68 (which is near my home) in an area where runoff collected from tons of salt thrown onto roads by state highway crews (our area receives a lot of snowfall). Not surprisingly, within a year, all of the new grass was dead.
I liken the “stimulus” to throwing a bit of lighter fluid onto a pile of soaking wet wood. The flames pop up for a few seconds, but then disappear as the effects from the fluid go away. (No, repeated douses of “stimulus” fluid do not ultimately gain traction and then lead to a miraculous economic recovery.)
If Beltway political culture permits any criticism of the Holy Stimulus, it is this: “the stimulus wasn’t big enough.” Intones the NYT: “The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed.”
The rest of the editorial is a compilation of near-plagiarism from Paul Krugman’s columns and blog posts, and it reflects how Keynesian anti-wogic works. The “logical” narrative goes as follows:
- “Enough” government spending during a recession will bring the economy to “full employment.”
- The economy is not at full employment.
- Therefore, there wasn’t enough government spending.
Should one question the Keynesian premises of this awful syllogism, the standard answer is: America had “full employment” during World War II. (Robert Higgs has thoroughly debunked this enduring myth.) But, then, so did Germany and the U.S.S.R., according to Keynesian standards, but no one envies what people there experienced!
The problem that occurs when one wishes to interpret the results of the Stimulus is not due to bad politics. To put it another way, Stimulus spending always will confer political benefits, given that the money is transferred from taxpayers to preferred political constituents. Those footing the bill include both present and future taxpayers, since they will have to pay later for the public debt incurred to pay for present stimulus spending.
I make this point because the stimulus always has been presented as a government action that improved general or overall economic conditions, as opposed to being a political wealth-transfer scheme. The NYT editorial drips with what only can be a religious faith in the whole system, as though politicians seeking votes are going to “carefully” construct a process that is aimed at making certain political constituencies better off — but at the expense of other constituencies.
In reality, the government-based stimulus is based upon bad economics or, to be more specific, one of bad economic logic. To a Keynesian, an economy is a homogeneous mass into which the government stirs new batches of currency. The more currency thrown into the mix, the better the economy operates. One only needs to read Krugman’s writings to see that belief in full bloom.
Austrian economists, on the other hand, recognize the relationships within the economy, including relationships of factors of production to one another, and how those factors can be directed to their highest-valued uses, according to consumer choices. The U.S. economy remains mired in the mix of low output and high unemployment not because governments are failing to spend enough money but rather because governments are blocking the free flow of both consumers’ andproducers’ goods and preventing the real economic relationships to take place and trying to force artificial relationships, instead. (Green energy and ethanol, anyone?)
Simply put, the stimulus could work only if it were directing factors of production from lower-valued uses to higher-valued uses as determined ultimately by consumer choice. If that actually were the case, then the government would not have to force consumers to use stimulus-funded ethanol and electricity created by wind power.
Austrians arrive at their position through logic, but logic that is based in what we already know about human action. Unlike Keynesian “logic,” the premises of Austrian economics are sound, so the conclusions derived from them also are sound. No wonder the Austrian position is banned from the NYT editorial page!
Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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William Anderson, an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, teaches economics at Frostburg State University. Send him mail. See William L. Anderson’s article archives.
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“Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.
In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of man to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.” – Henry Hazlitt – Economics in One Lesson
Saturday was the first day since a double shot of snow and ice storms hit the Philadelphia metro area on Monday and Wednesday I had a chance to drive around Montgomery County and witness the devastation firsthand. Over 750,000 homes lost power at the height of the ice storm on Wednesday and over 100,000 remained without power this past weekend. The mainstream media has become such a farce and propaganda machine for vested interests, it is essential to verify with your own eyes everything they report as fact. Their purpose is to entertain the consciously ignorant, exaggerate threats to keep the low IQ multitudes fearful, and function as mouthpieces for the ruling class. Deceitful corporate executives, mendacious government apparatchiks, and oblivious teleprompter reading media talking heads have been utilizing cold weather as an excuse for every poor earnings announcement, horrific employment report, and dreadful decline in retail sales. It certainly has nothing to do with decades of stagnant household income, awful monetary and fiscal policies, or the consequences of Obamacare.
We have become a delusional state dependent upon fallacies to convince ourselves our foolhardy beliefs, ludicrous economic policies, corrupt captured political system, and preposterously fraudulent financial system are actually based on sound logic and reason. Some fallacies have been perpetrated intentionally by the ruling class to manipulate, sway and deceive the populace, while others have been willfully employed by millions of techno-narcissistic iGadget addicted zombies as a substitute for thinking, reasoning and taking responsibility for the course of our nation.
You have men who constitute the unseen true ruling power of the country making a conscious and intentional effort to peddle fallacies to the masses in order to manipulate, mold, and corral them in a manner beneficial to the ruling power, financially, politically, and socially. The ruling class has been hugely successful in their capture of the public mind, creating a vast majority of the willfully ignorant who desperately grasp at fallacious concepts, beliefs, and storylines in order to avoid dealing with reality and being accountable for their actions and the actions of their leaders.
The fallacy being flogged by government drones and the legacy media about companies not hiring new employees because it has been cold and snowy during the winter is beyond absurd, except to someone who lives in the cocoon of Washington D.C. or regurgitates words processed on a teleprompter by paid minions of the ruling class. If you live in the real world, run a business, or manage employees, you understand weather has absolutely nothing to do with your decision to hire an employee. An organization takes weeks or months to hire employees. They don’t stop hiring because it snowed on Wednesday or the temperature was below normal. The contention that hiring has been weak for the last two months due to weather is outlandish and based upon flawed logic and warped reasoning. It is so illogical, only an Ivy League economist could believe it.
The other fallacy being pontificated by retail executives in denial, cheerleaders on CNBC and the rest of the propaganda press is weather is to blame for terrible retail sales over the last quarter. Again, this argument is specious in its conception. The retail executives use weather as an excuse for their failure in execution, hubris in over-expanding, and arrogance in pursuit of quarterly earnings per share and bonuses. CNBC and the rest of the Wall Street media pawns must provide lame fallacies for the corporate fascists regarding our downward economic path or the masses my wake up to reality. Protecting and expanding the wealth of the parasitic oligarch class is the one and only purpose of the corporate media.
Think about whether cold and snow in the winter will really stop purchases by individuals. If you need a new shirt for work or a pair of sneakers and it snows on Wednesday, you will wait until Saturday to make the purchase. Groceries will be consumed and replenished whether it is cold and snowy, or not. If an appliance or car breaks down, weather will be a non-factor in the new purchase decision. The proliferation of on-line retailing allows everyone to shop from the warmth of their homes. If anything, bad winter weather often spurs stocking up of groceries and the purchase of items needed to contend with winter weather (salt, shovels, coats, hats, gloves). Only an asinine spokes-model bimbo on CNBC could non-questioningly report the press release excuses of retailers. Critical thinking skills and journalistic integrity are non-essential traits among the propaganda mainstream press today.
Revealing the truth about pitiful employment growth and dreadful retail sales would destroy the fallacy of economic recovery stimulated by the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve and fiscal policies of the Federal government. The ruling class must perpetuate the myth that central bankers pumping $3.2 trillion of debt into the veins Wall Street banks and Obama dumping $6.7 trillion of debt onto the shoulders of future generations in order to cure a cancerous disease created by debt, has revived our economy and cured the disease. The unseen governing class cannot admit their traitorous actions have impoverished the working middle class, destroyed small businesses, depleted senior citizens of their savings, and warped our economic system to such an extent that recovery in now impossible. If the ignorant masses were to become sentient, the ruling class would become lamppost decorations.
After discovering water pipes at my rental property had burst due to the extreme cold weather and witnessing the widespread damage caused by the mid-week ice storm, I immediately thought how overjoyed my favorite Keynesian, Ivy League, Nobel Prize winning, New York Times scribbler, Paul (destruction is good) Krugman must be. All this destruction and devastation will be a tremendous boost to the economy according to Krugman and his ilk. This intellectually deceitful, morally bankrupt, despicable excuse for a human being spoke these words of wisdom three days after the 9/11 attacks:
“Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack – like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression – could even do some economic good. So the direct economic impact of the attacks will probably not be that bad. And there will, potentially, be two favorable effects. First, the driving force behind the economic slowdown has been a plunge in business investment. Now, all of a sudden, we need some new office buildings. As I’ve already indicated, the destruction isn’t big compared with the economy, but rebuilding will generate at least some increase in business spending.”
He had expanded his broken window beliefs to broken buildings, broken nations, and a broken people. You can’t keep a cunning Keynesian down when they need to propagate discredited fallacies in order to feed their own ego and promote foolish debt fueled spending by government, consumers and corporations as a solution to all economic ills. It makes no difference to a statist like Krugman that Frederic Bastiat had obliterated the preposterous notion that destruction and the money spent to repair the destruction was a net benefit to society, 164 years ago in his essay – That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen. Bastiat’s logic is unassailable. Only the most highly educated Princeton economists don’t get it.
Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”
Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.
Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.
But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”
It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.
I wonder whether the myopic focus on only immediate impacts and inability of ideologues to understand unintended consequences is premeditated or just erroneous reasoning. The broken window fallacy can now be extended to broken limbs and burst pipes across the Northeast. Huge trees have been toppled, limbs and branches are strewn on the properties of homeowners across the region, homes and businesses have been physically damaged, and power outages wrecked profits at small businesses. Society has gained no benefit whatsoever from the mass destruction wrought by these storms. Thi
s weather induced ruin exposes GDP calculations as useless and misleading regarding the true economic health of the nation. The hundreds of millions in destruction will not be factored into the GDP calculation, but the spending by homeowners and businesses to remove downed trees, fix broken roofs, replace burst pipes and clean-up debris will be factored positively in the GDP calculation. The inevitable politician response will be increased government spending to repair damage to infrastructure. This will also be additive to GDP. Krugman will get a tingle up his leg.
CNBC’s Cramer & Liesman will rave about the unexpectedly strong GDP in the first quarter as proof the economy is doing great. The fallacy that GDP growth and stock market gains are beneficial to the average American will be flogged by the propaganda press at the behest of the ruling class until the last vestiges of national wealth are confiscated by the oligarchs. In the real world, the destruction caused by the harsh winter weather will not benefit society one iota. GDP will reflect the immediate short-term seen impact of the cleanup and repair of property damage. GDP will ignore the unseen opportunity costs which were lost and the long-term consequences of expenditures made to put property back in the condition in which it started. Destruction does not create profit, except in the Keynesian world of Krugman and his Ivy League educated sycophant cronies.
There are 2.5 million households in the Philadelphia metro area. There are hundreds of thousands with trees down, pipes frozen, gutters smashed, roofs leaking and electrical infrastructure damaged. An individual homeowner with a couple of large trees down will need to pay $500 to $1,000 for a tree service to remove the debris from their property. Considering the median household income in Montgomery County, PA is $75,000, that is not an insubstantial sum.
The homeowner did not anticipate this expenditure and will react by not dining out, taking a shorter vacation, not buying that new couch, or not investing in their small business. A landlord who has to repair busted pipes will incur added expense, resulting in less profit. Less profit means less taxes paid to the state and federal government, exacerbating their budget deficits. The landlord will defer replacing that old air conditioner for at least another year. Multiply these scenarios across the entire Northeastern United States and you have the long-term negative financial implications outweighing the short-term boost to GDP.
The Keynesian fallacy of increased economic activity being beneficial is annihilated by the fact homeowners and business owners are left in the same condition as they were prior to the storms, while the money spent to achieve the same property condition was not spent on other goods and services that would have truly expanded the economy. The fallacious government engineered GDP calculation will portray destruction as an economic boost. Keynesian worshiping economists and government bureaucrats observe this tragedy as only between two parties, the consumer who is forced to repair their property and is denied the pleasure of spending their money on something more enjoyable and the tree service company who experiences a positive impact to their business. They exclude the appliance store, restaurant, or hotel that did not receive the money spent on repairing the property. It is this third unseen party who is left out of the equation. It is this third party that shows the absurdity of believing destruction leads to profit and economic advancement. The national economic output is not increased, but highly educated government drones and Wall Street captured economists will point to GDP and disseminate the fallacy.
This leads us to government in general and the fallacy that government spending, government borrowing, and government programs are beneficial to society and the economy. Legalized plunder of the populace through income taxes, real estate taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, cigarette taxes, license fees, sewer fees, tolls, and a myriad of other ass raping techniques is used to subsidize crony capitalist special interests, the military industrial complex, faux wars on poverty, drugs and terror, a failed public education system, vote buying entitlement programs, and a tax code written to benefit those who pay the biggest bribes to the corrupt politicians slithering around the halls of congress.
Government is a criminal enterprise designed to take from the weak and powerless while benefitting the connected and powerful. The government extracts the earnings of citizens and businesses at the point of a gun and redistributes those funds to special interests; funding boondoggles, wars of choice, foreign dictators, and the corporate and banking interests who control the puppet strings of Washington politicians. State organized and legal plunder designed to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else is the delusional fallacy permeating our cultural mindset today.
President Obama declared my region a disaster area, allowing for government funds to supposedly help in the cleanup efforts. Again, the fallacy of government intervention benefiting society is unquestioned by the ignorant masses. Local and State governments are required by law to balance their budgets. The never ending progression of storms and record cold temperatures has already blown the winter storm budgets of transportation departments across the region. Gaping potholes are swallowing vehicles and will need to be repaired.
Government spokespersons and politicians tell the public not to worry. The government will come to the rescue, even when the funds officially run out. They won’t react the way a family would react to a budget overage, by cutting spending in another area. We have had mild winters in the recent past when the winter road budgets were far under. Did the government set aside this surplus for winters like the one we are currently experiencing? Of course not – they spent it on some other boondoggle program or useless shovel ready bridge to nowhere. Government politicians and their lackeys do not look beyond their 2 year election cycle.
The government budget overages due to winter storms will show up in the GDP calculation as a positive impact. A snowplow pushing snow to the side of the road and a crew filing a pothole has put the roadway back into the condition it was prior to the bad weather. The roadway is exactly the same. The money spent could have been used to pay down debt, fund the government pension shortfalls which will overwhelm taxpayers in the foreseeable future, or be given back to citizens to spend as they choose. There has been no net benefit to society.
No government spending provides a net benefit to society. Every government program, law, regulation, subsidy, tax or fee gives rise to a series of effects. The immediate seen effect may be favorable in the eyes of myopic politicians and an ignorant populace, but most government intervention in our lives proves to be fatal and unsustainable in the long-term. Whatever short-term benefits might accrue is far outweighed by the long-term negative implications on future generations. All government expenditures are foisted upon the public either through increased taxation or state created surreptitious inflation.
We have a country built on a Himalayan mountain of fallacies. We are a short-term oriented people who only care about our present situation, giving no thought about long-term consequences of our policies, programs, laws or actions. Critical thinking skills, reasoning abilities, and a basic understanding of mathematical concepts appear to be beyond our grasp. We’d rather believe falsehoods than deal with the harsh lessons of reality. We choose to experience the severe penalties of burying our heads in the sand over using our God given ability to think and foresee the future consequences of our irrational choices. We suffer from the ultimately fatal disease of ignorance, as described by Bastiat.
This explains the fatally grievous condition of mankind. Ignorance surrounds its cradle: then its actions are determined by their first consequences, the only ones which, in its first stage, it can see. It is only in the long run that it learns to take account of the others. It has to learn this lesson from two very different masters – experience and foresight. Experience teaches effectually, but brutally. It makes us acquainted with all the effects of an action, by causing us to feel them; and we cannot fail to finish by knowing that fire burns, if we have burned ourselves. For this rough teacher, I should like, if possible, to substitute a more gentle one. I mean Foresight.
It’s a big country and one fallacy doesn’t fit all. Some fallacies are committed purposefully by evil men with evil intent. The Wall Street financial elite, big corporations, big media and their politician puppets fall into this category. Other fallacies are executed by people whose salary depends upon the fallacies being believed by the masses. Middle level bankers, managers, journalists, and bureaucrats fall into this category. And lastly you have the willfully ignorant masses who would rather believe fallacies than look up from their iGadgets, Facebook, and Twitter and think. The thing about fallacies is they eventually are buried under an avalanche of reality. If you listen closely you can hear the rumble of snow beginning to give way on the mountaintop. Fallacies are about to be crushed and swept away by the real world of consequences.
“Wall Street had been doing business with pieces of paper; and now someone asked for a dollar, and it was discovered that the dollar had been mislaid. It was an experience for which the captains of industry were not entirely prepared; they had forgotten the public. It was like some great convulsion of nature, which made mockery of all the powers of men, and left the beholder dazed and terrified. In Wall Street men stood as if in a valley, and saw far above them the starting of an avalanche; they stood fascinated with horror, and watched it gathering headway; saw the clouds of dust rising up, and heard the roar of it swelling, and realized it was only a matter of time before it swept them to their destruction…
But it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”
Upton Sinclair – The Moneychangers
Signs of collapse?
I came across the pictured ‘sign’ on the way to dropping one of my daughter’s off at a friend’s house this past weekend and while it may not be an obvious indication of the coming societal collapse it portends to the poor planning that often accompanies complex (and not so complex) projects.
Some twenty-five years ago I witnessed a similar planning fiasco in my native London, Ontario, where a bike path was placed beside a busy east-west corridor; the only problem for cyclists was that there were posts located in the middle of the path every so often.
More recently, I wrote about a related incident in which a number of young trees were planted along a major north-south route in York Region, Ninth Line (see this) only to be removed and discarded a number of months later to lay a gas pipeline in the ground.
A conspiratorial view would be that such ‘miscalculations’ are actually planned to extend the work required and, thereby, increase the costs/profits. Others might contend that such events are an unintended consequence of positive changes; some things need to be ‘destroyed’ in order to ‘create’, similar to the ‘broken window’ fallacy that suggests an economy can be lifted through ‘creative destruction’ (this is the unfortunate view some warmongers also hold).
A major concern, however, should be the amount of energy wasted through such incidents. It’s bad enough that we are rapidly depleting precious, nonrenewable resources through major construction projects that ignore many of the long-term conundrums we are rapidly rushing towards. We are seeing massive infrastructure projects that continue to be based upon a belief that our current transportation systems are also the way of the future. Nothing is likely to be further from the truth (see this and this).
I often believe we are ‘pushing in the wrong direction’ as Donella Meadows laments in Thinking in Systems: A Primer: “…a clear leverage point: growth. Not only population growth, but economic growth. Growth has costs as well as benefits and we typically don’t count the costs—among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction and so on—the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth! What is needed is much slower growth, very different kinds of growth and in some cases no growth or negative growth.The world leaders are correctly fixated on growth as the answer to all problems, but they’re pushing with all their might in the wrong direction,…leverage points are frequently not intuitive. Or if they are, we too often use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve” (emphasis added).