Feeding the 99% plus [updated]
Peter Schiff visits the #OccupyWallStreet crowd to debate capitalism with them, arriving under a banner reading “I Am The 1% … Let’s Chat.” “Schiff had plenty of takers,” recounts John Hayward at the Human Events blog.
The ensuing encounter is a master class on what happens when a serenely confident man, with full command of his facts, talks to a passionate mob of clueless wonders who don’t know a thing about their supposed cause, and don’t think they should have to… Schiff doesn’t just engage these people, he short-circuits them. You can see one or two of them making a visible effort to think, which they abandon after realising it’s easier to chant slogans.
Schiff’s basic point, which is grasped but dimly: capitalism does not need to be fixed it needs to be restored. But there is at least one point of agreement...
(At least he found folk to debate. Across the Atlantic it’s more a case of #UnOccupyLondon as it turns out the “occupation” is really by a bunch of empty tents. HT Phil S.)
Here’s something else the #OWS crowd (and most of today’s politicians) need to get to grips with: “What the protesters [and the politicians] do not realize is that the wealth of the one percent provides the standard of living of the ninety-nine percent… all of us, one hundred percent of us, benefit from the wealth of the hated capitalists. We benefit without ourselves being capitalists, or being capitalists to any great extent.”
Because, explains George Reisman, the vast majority of the wealth owned by the so-called “one-percent” is not held in the form of candy bars or champagne bottles, but in the form of the capital goods and equipment that produce the consumer goods on which we (and the protesters) all depend—capital goods that only come to represent wealth to the extent they are used to produce the goods and services people, in their capacity as consumers, really want.
The protesters have no awareness of this, because they see the world through an intellectual lens that is inappropriate to life under capitalism and its market economy. They see a world, still present in some places, and present everywhere a few centuries ago, of self-sufficient farm families, each producing for its own consumption and having no essential connection to markets.
In such a world, if one sees a farmer’s field, or his barn, or plow, or draft animals, and asks who do these means of production serve, the answer is the farmer and his family, and no one else. In such a world, apart from the receipt of occasional charity from the owners, those who are not owners of means of production cannot benefit from means of production unless and until they themselves somehow become owners of means of production. They cannot benefit from other people’s means of production except by inheriting them or by seizing them.
But in the modern world (at least, to the extent that the so-called “one-percent” are not simply milking government subsidies and bailouts, which is how Russel Norman, Bill English & David Cunliffe all seem to think business should work), all of us benefit from the private ownership of their means of production whoever owns them—just as long as the owners are left free to produce and innovate. We all get the benefit of their production, both as buyers of the products of those means of production, but also as sellers of labour employed to work with those means of production.
The wealth of the capitalists, in other words, is the source both of the supply of products that non-owners of the means of production buy and of the demand for the labor that non-owners of the means of production sell. It follows that the larger the number and greater the wealth of the capitalists, the greater is both the supply of products and the demand for labor, and thus the lower are prices and the higher are wages, i.e., the higher is the standard of living of everyone. Nothing is more to the self-interest of the average person than to live in a society that is filled with multi-billionaire capitalists and their corporations, all busy using their vast wealth to produce the products he buys and to compete for the labor he sells.
Nevertheless, the world the protesters yearn for is a world from which the billionaire capitalists and their corporations have been banished, replaced by small, poor producers, who would not be significantly richer than they themselves are, which is to say, impoverished. They expect that in a world of such producers, producers who lack the capital required to produce very much of anything, let alone carry on the mass production of the technologically advanced products of modern capitalism, they will somehow be economically better off than they are now. Obviously, the protesters could not be more deluded.
This is not just hyperbole. The world the protesters yearn for (and which the politicians are only to eager to deliver) is one in which multi-billionaire capitalists and their corporations are increasingly and ruinously shackled. We have everything to lose by that, and only the chains of penury to gain.
We are all better off by multi-billionaire capitalists and their corporations not being shackled; not being stolen from (or subsidised); but instead being left free to produce, free to innovate, and of course free to fail. Indeed, our very well-being depends on the freewheeling production and creative destruction of capitalism. History itself shows that this is so:
This can be seen in the fact that today, the average worker works 40 hours per week, while a worker of a century or so ago worked 60 hours a week. For the 40 hours he works, the average worker of today receives the goods and services comprising the average standard of living of 2011, which includes such things as an automobile, refrigerator, air conditioner, central heating, more and better living space, more and better food and clothing, modern medicine and dentistry, motion pictures, a computer, cell phone, television set, washer/dryer, microwave oven, and so on. The average worker of 1911 either did not have these things at all or had much less of them and of poorer quality.
If we describe the goods and services received by the average worker of today for his 40 hours of labor as being 10 times as great as those received by the average worker of 1911 for his 60 hours of labor, then it follows that expressed in terms of the amount of labor that needs to be performed today in order to be able to buy goods and services equivalent to the standard of living of 1911, prices have fallen to two-thirds of one-tenth of their level in 1911, i.e., to one-fifteenth of their level in 1911, which is to say, by 93 1/3 percent.
The problems in recent years have not been due to the rampant running amok of multi-billionaire capitalists and their corporations, but the opposite: the running amok of regulators, subsidisers, bailout merchants and money printers—all of them keen to shackle winners, subsidise losers, and print more of the same collapsing currencies whose printing led us directly to world disaster. Concludes Reisman,
Thus, however ironic it may be, it turns out that virtually all of the problems the Occupy Wall Street protesters complain about are the result of the enactment of policies that they support and in which they fervently believe. It is their mentality, … and the government policies that are the result, that are responsible for what they complain about. The protesters are, in effect, in the position of being unwitting flagellants. They are beating themselves left and right and as balm for their wounds they demand more whips and chains. They do not see this, because they have not learned to make the connection that in violating the freedom of businessmen and capitalists and seizing and consuming their wealth, i.e., using weapons of pain and suffering against this small hated group, they are destroying the basis of their own well being.
However much the protesters might deserve to suffer as the result of the injury caused by the enactment of their very own ideas, it would be far better, if they woke up to the modern world and came to understand the actual nature of capitalism, and then directed their ire at the targets that deserve it. In that case, they might make some real contribution to economic well being, including their own.
Read Reisman’s thorough critique of the economic fallacies behind the #OWS movement:
- How a Highly Productive and Provident One Percent Provides the Standard of Living of a Largely Ignorant and Ungrateful Ninety-Nine Percent – G E O R G E R E I S M A N ‘ S B L O G
Labels: OccupyWallStreet etc