Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Thomas Sowell discusses the supposedly "complex" dynamics of supply and demand:
Is there anything complex about the fact that with two countries-- India and China-- having rapid economic growth, and with combined populations 8 times that of the United States, they are creating an increased demand for the world's oil supply?

The problem is not that supply and demand is such a complex explanation. The problem is that supply and demand is not an emotionally satisfying explanation. For that, you need melodrama, heroes and villains.

It is clear that many people prefer to blame President Bush. Others prefer to blame the oil companies, who have long been the favorite villains of the left.

Politicians understand that. Numerous times they have summoned the heads of oil companies before Congressional committees to be denounced on nationwide television for "greed," with the politicians calling for a federal investigation to "get to the bottom of this!"

Now that is emotionally satisfying, which is the whole point. By the time yet another federal investigation is completed-- and turns up nothing to substantiate the villainy that is supposed to be the reason for high gasoline prices-- most people's attention will have turned to something else.

Somehow, people have come to equate "heroism" with indulgent self-righteousness and appeals to victimization; and "villainy" with market forces. It is a formula that is tried and true in political circles, particularly on the political left, but all politicians these days suffer from the malady.

But what are "market forces"? And what is "supply and demand" all about? They are about millions of individual actions; the behavior of each and every person going about their daily business, pursuing their own happiness--for good or ill-and making choices.

In short, the marketplace is the ultimate democracy. "Supply and demand" is simply the description of the simple laws governing how that marketplace works in reality, i.e., the real world. When those millions of individuals pursuing their own happiness run up against reality--i.e., when something they want very badly is in short supply because many others also want it very badly--they have two choices: they can adjust their behavior to accommodate this reality (e.g., decide they don't want it after all; or pay the going price). The clever collectivist, whose happiness is having power over others sees a way to personally profit from this choice, and offers a third alternative to those seeking to avoid reality. He or she becomes the "heroic" politician who, telling the masses what they want to hear, assures them that, "It's not YOUR fault! You are the victim of a vast, evil capitalistic plot. YOU don't have to change YOUR behavior at all--YOU can have your cake and eat it too.... I will heroically confront the forces of greed and profit and YOU won't have to deal with any consequences of YOUR behavior. Vote for ME because I'm on YOUR side!"

This is what passes for heroism these days: finding new and creative ways to avoid reality; exploiting and empowering the inner 'victim' of people who don't want to deal with the real world by changing their own behavior.

I know all about this because I deal with people like that every day in my profession. They don't want to change their behavior, they want a pill to make themselves feel better so they can keep on doing what they have always been doing no matter how destructive or irresponsible or counterproductive it is.

Today's politicians scramble all over each other to make the most outrageous and unrealistic promises for their particular brand of feel-good pills. Funny how they denounce pharmaceutical companies for doing the same thing they do--except the politicians do it on a much larger and far more destructive scale.

And the side-effects of the politician's feel-good pills almost always result in those dreaded unintended consequences that make a bad situation far worse. From the clever politician's perspective, however, this is good because they can continue to find some greedy profiteering bastard somewhere--or, even better, their political opponent--to blame for the even worse situation.

Of course, it goes without saying that instead of recognizing the problem is their own behavior and their denial of reality, the statist will continue to insist that more regulation, more government, more telling people what to do and how to live their lives is the solution to all problems.

They are players in that good old Marxist melodrama, which gives people the choice of belonging to either the oppressed group (victimhood can be yours!) or the [evil] oppressor group.

Notice how politicians--particularly those on the political left--regret nothing, they renounce nothing and take no responsibility for the fact that their lovely policies don't work and their promises are empty. If their policies don't work; if people suffer more because of them; it's not their fault because they "meant well".

And, as they play out this little melodrama, reality continues to exist anyway.

But they are 'heroes' who promise 'hope' and 'change'.

Siggy notes:
A real hero is someone who acts out of concern not for him or herself, but rather, for the consequences his or her actions have on others. The fireman, policeman or average Joe goes into a burning building because in doing so, the consequences of those heroic efforts will impact the life of another. The real hero does not see him or herself as noble or as especially different. Rather, they see themselves as doing what needed to be done, no more and no less.

There is another kind of hero, with a very different motivation, best exemplified by the hard leftists. They act- or rather, pretend to act or demand that others act, with little or no concern about how the consequences of their efforts will impact others. The ‘heroism’ they focus on is centered around themselves. The see themselves as better or special.

Gagdad Bob goes even further in his explanation:
Among other things, the upside-down education of the left emphasizes rights over duties, self-esteem over self-transcendence, and the antihero over the hero, since the former is the authentic nihilist who sees through the sham of hierarchy, eternal values, and first principles. The left worships these monsters because only they have the courage — i.e., violence — of the leftist’s absence of convictions (see here for example).

A hero, on the other hand, is only heroic to the extent that he risks life and limb for something transcending himself. Since transcendence doesn’t exist for the secularist, the hero must therefore be an idiot or a manipulative liar — as the left regards, say, General “Betray Us.” This is why masturbatory leftism and fruitless cynicism go hand in gland.

But the crowds will always cheer for the hero politician who panders to their narcissism and tells them they don't have to make any changes to accommodate reality; who promises them everything for nothing...forever; and who awakens the powerful victimhood within.

As Sowell notes in closing, "If you want cheering crowds, don't bother to study economics. It will only hold you back. Tell people what they want to hear-- and they don't want to hear about supply and demand."

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