Controlling Americans through Price

A couple of articles today: one on the potential for cheap shale oil to reshape the world in ways beneficial to America, and the other against cheap beer. Of course one of the first acts of the re-elected administration was to try to limit shale oil development.

Barack Obama said that 'under his plan, electricity prices would necessarily skyrocket.' Of course the health care bill requires Americans to buy a level of insurance that most cannot afford, to be subsidized by government. There's a general mode here: making Americans poorer, more dependent on handouts, and to make things that Americans want more expensive as a way of reducing their consumption.

It's all about control, of course.

UPDATE: Another good example: do you wish Americans ate less meat? How about just "ate less"? The answer is ethanol!


Ymar Sakar said...

You can either see your children and grandchildren live as slaves in America, although pampered house slaves for some, or you can kill as many evil doers as you can and hope their blood reinvigorates the Republic.

Still waiting for something called "elections" and "politics" to fix all the stuff that solutions would fix faster.

E Hines said...

Still waiting for something called "elections" and "politics" to fix all the stuff that solutions would fix faster.

Generally, the fast solutions provide ephemeral and improvident results. The longer lasting ones generally come from the slower, more deeply reaching, solutions.

Exceptions to these exist, but they're rare. The general response to Obamacare, eliding the facts about this disaster as it unfolds, illustrates. This was a solution that "fixed faster," it was rammed down our throats in the immediacy of the moment, and it remains hated and resisted. The TARP "bailout" and its follow-ons, the Stimulus Bill of 2009 and Dodd-Frank, are additional examples.

"[E]lections" and "politics", the struggle for our nation's soul, is a generational thing, and progress will not be monotonic. But the outcome will be longer lasting. Patience, grasshopper. [g]

Where you been, Ymar?

Eric Hines

Eric Blair said...

How many evil doers have you killed, Ymar?

We want to keep a tally.

Texan99 said...

Grim, I sometimes get the impression you think of prices in the same way that you think of natural rights.

Grim said...

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by that, but I do think there's an important liberty component to prices. When the government acts to artificially raise prices, they reduce the liberty of Americans in a practical way.

Different people have different ideas about the good life, but one description that I'd expect to enjoy wide support would include a life that involved access to good food and beer, and the freedom to travel and see the natural beauty of the country that we inhabit. If the government is manipulating prices in a way that denies people access to that kind of life I see no reason to regard it as morally neutral behavior, whether they are doing it to reward corporate donors and destroy small farmers who might compete with them (ethanol) or simply to try to force us to live as they would prefer (cheap beer, artificially high prices on gas and electricity).

I wouldn't take that as far as manipulating the market in the other way -- subsidies to gas and beer prices, for example, strike me as bad as well. But they strike me as bad for substantially the same reason: subsidies eventually distort the market so that you have shortages, and once again access is reduced in a practical way.

E Hines said...

The only moral price is the price at which free men agree to exchange their labor, goods, and/or services in accordance with their own imperatives. This also, as it happens, is the economically most efficient price.

When government interferes with that--whether from good intentions or bad--they reduce that freedom.

From that alone (although the economics of the matter are suboptimal, also), subsidies, loopholes, tax credits, taxes themselves are immoral. They all, individually and severally, act to distort what should be freely arrived at pricing. Taxes are a necessary evil in order to get government the funds needed to do the things for which we hired it. The rest are wholly unnecessary.

Eric Hines

E Hines said...

One more thing: the "natural right" is our right to pursue our happiness. Freely arrived at pricing is an implementation of that right in a civil world.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

"an important liberty component to prices" -- that's pretty much what I meant.

As usual, I see the problem in terms of control of resources. Prices are a signal, a message that's supposed to carry useful information about the balance between supply and demand. Government can affect prices in roughly three ways, all of which put noise in the signal. First, it can tax transactions. That's not really a price issue, just a blatant use of punitive power to discourage particular kinds of transactions, but it gets confused with price because the government is dishonest about the tax.

Second, it can glom onto a resource and monopolize it, then set prices by fiat.

Third, it can freeze prices by fiat, as in anti-gouging legislation or Medicare reimbursements, which of course only crashes supply.

The liberty issue, for me, is the right of people to set prices among themselves, according to their own views of the relative value of all the goods and services they have to buy or sell. I don't see any sense in talking about the right to particular things at the price the buyer thinks is reasonable. Why privilege the buyer over the seller? Prices make no sense unless both are satisfied with the deal, without coercion between themselves or from some outsider.

Grim said...

That sounds like three of us saying almost the same thing, except that I regard it as morally wrong for the government to engage in manipulation of this sort because it harms the liberty of the people (as opposed to your non-moral 'noise in the signal' model, where it is sort of undesirable but not immoral).

I'm not sure, though, that I can see anything political as non-moral: as we have discussed in reading the Politics, politics is really an outgrowth of ethics. Both are about the good life: the ethics is about how to live happily and virtuously, and the politics is about building a system that defends that capacity. Thus, an important question for any political act is whether it supports the virtues of a free citizenry and the happiness that attends them, or whether it tends to undermine those things.

E Hines said...

...control of resources....

But that's one of the things government is exerting when it manipulates prices--by whatever mechanism. It's either limiting or mandating access to the resource through price manipulation.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

It's not that I don't believe it's wrong for the government to create noise in the signal. It's that I think the noise is a mere by-product of what the government is actually trying to do, which is worse: it is trying to exert force to ensure that people (or at least favored classes of voters) get what they'd like at the price they'd prefer. Alternatively, the government is trying to deprive people of something without coming right out and confiscating it. Essentially, it is asserting the right to dole out the good and withhold the bad, arrogating to itself the task of allocating resources. Not only are governments peculiarly inefficient at that process, they should never be given the power that is required to control the process centrally.

People have no natural right to consume whatever they'd like at the price they like, and no government should help them believe they do. That most Americans now are accustomed to having more food and shelter than we strictly need for happiness or welfare is a result of prosperity, not a right to consume, and prosperity comes from free markets, not entitlements.

Joseph W. said...

Government can affect prices in roughly three ways, all of which put noise in the signal...

I think you've left out a big one -- inflation, which is the Everclear of "noise in the signal." Though the rest of what you say applies there too, extremely so. (The government is depriving you not of specific goods but of your savings in this case; and isn't trying to get you to buy specific things of its choosing, but to "spend more in general" in the hopes of making its own economic record look good...)

So, yeah, better make that four of us saying the same thing.

MikeD said...

The Hall has covered this admirably. This is nothing more than "do-gooder-ism" where our social betters have determined that they need to exercise more control over the things they think are "bad" to keep us poor dumb plebes from hurting ourselves. The one thing in Tim Heffernan's article that he glosses right over is personal choice and responsibility. He writes gravely of the horrors of "efficiency of supply" that keeps booze cheap in England and all the social ills that spawn from it. He writes that "the market in Great Britain is rigged to foster excessive alcohol consumption", as if the market is a person forcing alcohol down the throats of poor unsuspecting Britons. He elides right over the fact that it is individuals buying, consuming, and over-consuming the product. No "market" forces them too. Nor is it a fault of the cheap prices that alcohol is consumed at all. Humans are not robots programmed to ingest whatever is cheapest, in as much quantity as they can afford.