It's Our Economy, Not Yours, Stupid

Like many libertarians, I lose interest quickly in politics, watching partisans of the Coke party argue why they are so much different than the Pepsi party.  You don't have to watch the whole farce for very long as a neutral observer before you see the same people taking the opposite tack on an issue than they did a few years earlier, only because their guy is in office, so now its more OK than when the other party's guy was doing it.

But I do read a few political blogs from both sides, just to keep abreast of what is going on.  This weekend, both sides managed to irritate me over the same issue.  First, Kevin Drum, from the left, railed on what he called "the GOP economy," complaining that the economy has grown without increasing median wages (note he carefully avoids "total compensation," which has gone up.)  Then Captains Quarters wrote from the right that "The economy continues its growth under the stewardship of the Bush administration."

George Bush does not run the economy.  George Bush does not even make day-to-day decisions that affect the economy.  He has made a few major moves that have economic consequences, with the positive effects of tax cuts probably mostly offset by unrestrained deficit spending, random protectionist acts and new bloated government services.  Bill Clinton, while we have to credit him for NAFTA (see below), was not responsible for the incredible economic expansion of the 90's.  In fact, neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have ever held a job where they produced anything. 

All of which is fine - I am not accusing president's of somehow falling down on the job.  I am merely stating what I thought was obvious.  Wealth is created by the actions and the minds of hundreds of millions of people, to whom the occupant of the White House is largely irrelevant except insofar as the President  substantially increases or reduces the artificial burden of efficiency-sucking government mandates, reporting, and taxes.

I will go into more depth on this in my annual tax day post, but I am increasingly confident of my theory of wealth creation.  Wealth is increased as two things happen:

  • More individuals are more free to (and more likely to) question established beliefs, either scientific (e.g. the earth-centric universe), social (e.g. racial prejudice) or business (e.g. primacy of mainframe computing).
  • More Individuals are more free to act in their own self-interest to pursue the results of their insights and to keep for themselves the proceeds of their efforts.

Since the 1970's, we have seen an explosion in the global economy, which has greatly increased the number of people working on any given economic problem.  For example, instead of just people in Detroit and Germany thinking about how to design and produce cars, we have folks in Japan and South Korea and even China and Brazil questioning the established wisdom from Detroit.  This has resulted not just in better, more affordable cars, but in production and supply chain management techniques that have made nearly every industry you can name more productive. 

Whenever such a change occurs, there are conservative (lower-c) forces that try to halt them.  The Church used its power for a time to resist the heliocentric view of the solar system.  Southern states used Jim Crow laws to resist post Civil War racial and social reforms.  And any number of groups wanted (and still want) to slam the door on the global economy.  Many countries in Europe went down this path.  What has saved the US from the same low-growth fate they have in Europe (and Japan) is that the government, and Bill Clinton in particular, at a critical time resisted the technocratic urge to have the government "do something" about the economic changes flowing from globalization.  Some wanted protectionism, while some wanted a more active hand by the government in "choosing winners" in the economy, like it was perceived that Japan had.  Bill Clinton resisted resisted these voices, most of whom were powerful in his own party, and in fact doubled down on globalization by pushing NAFTA.  For this act of vision, Clinton should be credited, but I still wouldn't call it "his" economy.