Economics is the new American religion. Disagree with the mainstream narrative surrounding it, and you’re a heathen needing quick conversion. No longer is it seen as a social science requiring unbiased scrutiny: it’s about giving people what they think they want, no matter the cost.
And the cost they take in doing so is a big one: people’s prosperity.
I recently sat down with Dr. Peter Boettke, professor of economics and philosophy at George Mason University, to discuss what needs to happen to reverse the problem of people turning “to politics for a sense of truth,” as he puts it. He explains the problem this way: “When my truth is not being listened to, my only recourse is to impose truth on others who are peddling in falsehood.”
He’s correct. This desperate need to control is what leads to the government being placed on a pedestal as the Almighty solution rather than being viewed as a tool to preserve liberty. And there’s a need to use economics to tradeoffs of proposed solutions. When people aren’t allowed to disagree concerning economics and more policies are pushed on them as gospel, Americans are left with less opportunity for accomplishing extraordinary things.
Instead of getting caught up by culture concerning economics, we need to return to the four pillars as defined by Boettke that substantiate this social science and contain the basis to achieve prosperity.
Pillar One: Truth and Light
The truth is that we live in a world of scarcity. This reality sheds light on the truth that because of scarcity, we must make tradeoffs to attain our goals. For most, this looks like trading your scarce time to work and earn money for scarce goods. Many today argue that not everyone can work or should be required to do so, which leads to petitioning Capitol Hill to pass policies that reduce the need to work.
Lawmakers can pass one policy after another, but that will never change the inherent “dignity of work” as Boettke puts it. And respecting people’s agency gives them dignity.
Pillar Two: Beauty and Awe
We live in a world of spontaneous order. In every century, it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring to see how voluntary activity results in the spontaneous order that leads the way to the formation of global markets through which we thrive today.
To achieve this phenomenon, it’s essential that individuals are empowered to work and contribute to society. Governmental policies that impose economic barriers cannot produce the same orderly result that emerge when people are permitted to achieve their hopes and dreams through a system of free markets and limited government.
By latching onto the cultural ideology that the government and not the individual must work to solve all economic woes, we move further away from personal responsibility and deeper into the crippling dependency mindset. A mindset that convinces people they are powerless instead of possessing the tools required to flourish.
Pillar Three: Hope
Economics gives us hope of changing our circumstances. Through capitalism and entrepreneurship, we can have hope in civil society as the first resort while the government is the last resort in reducing poverty by encouraging long-term self-sufficiency.
This was one of the major downfalls of governments across the country in 2020.
By shutting down the economy and deciding which businesses were essential, small business owners and entrepreneurs were sidelined, leaving them fewer opportunities and less hope of climbing out of the government-imposed economic crisis. And less hope for those locked into their road to serfdom.
Pillar Four: Compassion
Economics at its core takes compassion on the impoverished and disadvantaged, seeking to lift them up. “It’s not about making the wealthy better off but about how we can lift up the poor [so that] the poor get richer even faster than the rich get richer,” Boettke explains.
If people understood economics under these four pillars, rather than viewing it as a list of technicalities with which to police people, more progress would prevail.
Governmental barriers imposed in our lives may be in popular demand but they are not the proposed solution among the American entrepreneurs fueling the economy. As Matt Ridley writes, “Innovation is the child of freedom and the parent of prosperity.”
When seeking economic solutions for the nation, the path forward should be about how best to provide opportunities to let people prosper by removing barriers, respecting individual agency, and allowing hope and compassion to be cultivated in communities. That’s achieved by enhancing and preserving liberty through limited government and a flourishing civil society. Otherwise, we’re destined to fail the lessons of economics.
Originally posted by Econlib
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.