The Sex of Economics
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor, 20 August 2012Most life on earth gets generated by sexual reproduction. There is also reproduction in the economy, as well as the economic intercourse of trade, which constitute the sex of economics.
The concept of economic reproduction is emphasized in the Marxian school of economic thought. In Marxist theory, the conditions for production are continuously re-created as a circular flow. The concept of the circular flow of both goods and of factor-inputs was first developed by the French economists of the 1700s, who called their theory of natural economic laws “Physiocracy.” The factors or categories of inputs are land, labor, and capital goods.
In Physiocratic thought, production has a “net product,” a surplus that comes from the land. The surplus is a gain beyond the costs of production. Economists have identified several types of surplus, including the consumer and producer surplus, but the latter is misnamed, because in a competitive industry, the surplus that comes from production is mostly land rent, as known by the Physiocrats and the Classical economists, but forgotten by today’s neoclassical paradigm.
In human life, the enjoyment of sex is a natural consumer surplus, a gift from nature. Believe it or not, this consumer surplus can generate land rent, as does all consumer surplus, because people prefer to live in locations with a larger total consumer surplus than a place with a lower surplus, and this increase in locational demand generates land rent.
In Physiocratic thought, when some of the net product or rent surplus is invested in productive capital goods, that generates economic growth. Marx called this “expanded reproduction,” production beyond what is needed to replace depreciated labor and capital goods. The Physiocratic model was put to productive use in Japan during the latter 1800s and in Taiwan after 1950 to generate rapid development, but the chiefs of government in the U.S., Europe, and Japan have spurned this, the only way out of their economic malaise. The economies of the developed world have lost their sex drives -- expanded economic reproduction there has ceased.
Although Karl Marx derived his theory from Physiocratic and Classical thought, he shifted the source of the production surplus, from land rent to the wages of labor. That is a fatal error in Marxian doctrine. Modern economics recognizes correctly that competitive labor has no long-run surplus; for if there were a surplus, that attracts labor into that industry, which drives the wage down until the surplus is eliminated. In contrast, the supply of spatial land cannot expand, so the surplus that is rent stays there.
Because ordinary labor has no surplus, the taxation of wages is deadly. When wages are taxed, the worker is no longer able to buy the product of his own labor. The public goods and subsidies provided by government cannot make up for the loss due to taxes, because the taxes include the excess burden of reduced surpluses, plus the spending waste from fraud and inefficiency. The taxation of labor and the capital goods produced by labor constitutes economic birth control. Taxes on production are an economic contraception that reduces economic reproduction.
In the Austrian school of economic thought, capital goods have a time structure based on the rate of interest. The goods of “lower order” have a high turnover, a short period of production. For example, a store selling perishable goods has a turnover of only a few days. If the firm borrows funds to pay for the inventory, the debt can be repaid very quickly from the sale of goods. Thus the rate of interest for a one-time loan matters very little.
In contrast, a tree that requires 40 years to mature has a long period of production, a very slow turnover. Investment in such “goods of higher order” is very sensitive to the interest rate, since the alternative is to buy bonds that pay the prevailing rate of interest. When interest rates rise, there is more investment in lower order capital goods, and when interest rates fall, there is more investment in higher order capital goods, principally in real estate development.
Therefore, the reproduction of capital goods is not just a matter of investing in more goods, but also of the right balance among the various turnover levels of capital goods. The right balance can only be determined by the natural free-market rate of interest. Since today the transaction rate of interest is manipulated by central banks such as the U.S. Federal Reserve, today’s economic reproduction is distorted. Taxation and subsidies also distort the sex of economics, reproduction and economic intercourse. The distortions have created inflation, recessions, and chronic high unemployment. Government intervention has stifled economic reproduction.
Note how the global economy now hangs on the meetings in the European Union on what to do about the excessive government deficits and debts, or the actions of the Federal Reserve, or on the fiscal policy debates in Congress. Everybody wants to know the tax policies of the candidates for President. These are symptoms of a very deep economic disease which are destroying the private enterprise that developed the developed world. Very few people understand the requirements of economic reproduction, even though these principles were discovered long ago by the Physiocrats. The French economists of the 1700s gave the world the term “laissez faire.” As the Chinese sage Lao Tzu wrote, the world can run on its own. Optimal economic reproduction requires what Henry George called “true free trade.” And as the Physiocrats recognized, true free trade requires the elimination of all tax barriers, with public revenue based only on the surplus from production, land rent. Just as many cultures have negative attitudes on human sex, the cultures of the world are now biased against the healthy sex of economics. Many people want government to redistribute and intervene. Then they blame religious and ethnic minorities for their troubles. As the Beatles sang in their song Revolution, “You better free your mind instead.”
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2010 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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