I first became aware of the law of gravity as a small child when I pedalled by tricycle off the porch and crashed into the yard. Gravity was of course operating all along, whether I was aware of it or not.
Economics is a lot like that. Many people who are completely unaware of economics sometimes discover it the same way I discovered gravity, through some personal or national crash.
Liberals especially tend to think up all sorts of good things we want -- a "living wage," "affordable housing," "universal health care," and an ever-expanding wish-list of things that everyone should receive as "rights" -- with little or no awareness of the economic repercussions of turning that wish list into laws.
In many cases, items on their wish list have already been turned into laws in other countries and in other periods of history, but there is remarkably little curiosity as to what the actual consequences were in those countries and times.
People who want the government to control the prices of pharmaceutical drugs seldom, if ever, raise the question of what actually happens in places and times when government has controlled the prices of pharmaceutical drugs. Canada and other countries do it. What consequences have there been?
One major consequence is that Canada and other countries do not create nearly as many of the new life-saving pharmaceutical drugs as the United States does. These other countries live off the results -- the medicines -- produced by the enormously costly research that "obscene" pharmaceutical profits finance in America.
Those who want us to imitate those countries do not confront the inescapable fact that we cannot all live off somebody else -- in this or other things. Somebody has to pay the costs.
Prices are not just arbitrary numbers plucked out of the air or numbers dependent on whether sellers are "greedy" or not. In the competition of the marketplace, prices are signals that convey underlying realities about relative scarcities and relative costs of production.
Those underlying realities are not changed in the slightest by price controls. You might as well try to deal with someone's fever by putting the thermometer in cold water to lower the reading.
What Sowell is saying so clearly and forthrightly is that no matter how you feel about it, REALITY EXISTS. This is a shocking revelation for many people, who have come to believe that what they happen to feel strongly about at any given moment trumps that objective reality that lurks around out beyond the confines of the self.
I feel it is true, therefore it is true.
One example of the application of this philosophy from CBS Rathergate escapades last year is here. If you listen to Mary Mapes today, you will be listening to a person who has become angry and bitter because what she felt was true (and still feels to this day) has been rejected by people more in touch with reality than she is. Fortunately, this is quite a few people.
In a previous post where I discussed feelings, countertransference and reality, I wrote:
A person's visceral response to another individual is usually based on mostly unconscious factors that are in play in the responder's life. To make an assessment of the gut feeling's appropriateness, the contents of the unconscious must be explored and brought to the conscious level and considered. Those unconscious internal conflicts can easily mask the inappropriate aspects of the feelings, making them worthless as a means of understanding the external world.
Taking this kind of action as a method of checking and understanding one's own feelings is a process called "insight" or "self-awareness". Some people do this quite naturally and honestly. Some learn in therapy or when they are in crisis. But if insight is absent then one's feelings have the potential to do great harm --both to one's self and to others.
Some unconscious factors, or psychological defenses, that can make one's feelings untrustworthy are: 1) the person you are responding to has become symbolic of someone else in your life (displacement, fantasy, or perhaps distortion); 2) focusing on one particular aspect of a person, you ignore other, more objective data that are available to you about the person (denial); 3) you place your own unacceptable feelings onto the other person--e.g.,I'm not an angry person, -- he's an angry person! (projection or full-blown paranoia).
The truth is that there are countless ways that unconscious processes within ourselves can distort our responses to others and to reality itself.
Growing up and attaining maturity requires that we take a moment to consider such factors playing a role in our emotions before we act on those emotions. If we come to know ourselves and understand our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, limitations and secrets; then our emotional responses to people or to the world can be very valuable tools to help interpret the world. But they are only tools, and if not used wisely, they can do more harm than good. Feelings cannot be used in a court of law--for good reason. And they are not ultimate truth in the court of reality, either.
Sowell applies the same idea to the court of economic reality. Your feelings might tell you that you don't like to pay high prices, but they will ultimately have to come to grips with the reality behind the high prices. Your feelings tell you to help the poor; but you can't escape the reality that many government programs throughout history to help the poor have backfired and ended up victimizing the poor instead. Just because these programs make you feel good, doesn't mean that they work to end poverty. And just because you feel strongly about them doesn't mean they are good. In this, as in many other areas, good intentions merely pave the way to hell or worse.
When you make all these kind of decisions based solely on your feelings, one way or another, reality will simply come back to bite you.
Of course, if the overiding goal is just to make yourself feel better--rather than to actually accomplish anything of substance in the real world--then the Democratic Party and the Left is for you. Enjoy!