The long-awaited Marvel movie Avengers: Endgame is upon us, and with it comes Thanos, the most formidable opponent the Avengers have ever seen. In the last Avengers installment, Thanos devastated both the team of superheroes and the world. He lives by the philosophy that a species (in this case, humanity) is better off with half of them gone. But Thanos is not original in his philosophy. His actions follow a long intellectual tradition that begins with Malthus and leads us now to Paul Ehrlich.
By Casey Ward | United States
In today’s world of identity politics, there are many views on how the world should be run. During this debate, however, scarcity is often ignored when calculating the opportunity cost of different policies.
Scarcity and Post-Scarcity in the Modern World
The best example of ignoring scarcity in our time is universal healthcare. Essentially, the supply of healthcare is less than the demand for it. While we all agree that everyone should have access to healthcare, the fact remains that we cannot provide such a system without violating someone else’s rights.
This means that the only way universal healthcare can actually work is if we lived in a post-scarcity society, which will likely never happen. Since the universe, as far as we know, is finite, we cannot have infinite resources.
Scarcity, Capitalism, and Communism
However, if we factor for scarcity, it becomes clear that communism vs capitalism is a fool’s choice. If you boil it down, the main desire of communism is that the workers collectively control the means of production. In a free market system, individuals privately own the means of production in search of a profit. Capitalism is naturally voluntary, and over time, lowers prices to all individuals. On the other hand, when universal healthcare forces the creation of price ceilings, the market is thrown out of equilibrium. This, as a result of scarcity, creates a shortage.
Take, for example, medishare or any other voluntary cooperative. It is jointly run by its members in order to reach a mutual goal. With a group incentive of paying off medical bills, each individual is able to thrive. Yet, they do so without giving up their rights.
On the other hand, coercive social programs offer no incentive for success. For instance, the state prohibits people on disability from having another income source. By providing a service, but requiring no contribution, government cannot cover the demand with enough supply. The same is true with all modern safety nets. Social security costs more than what is being put in, and thus, supply cannot cover demand.
Is Post-Scarcity Possible?
Anarchists often leave out this important factor of scarcity as well. This is why Elon Musk’s utopian post-scarcity anarchism will never work. Post-scarcity is not achievable since it neglects two very important and rather scarce items, time and energy. Both are vital to our life, but neither are infinite.
We all seek a longer life and yet extending our life is painstakingly slow. The few results we do see are miniscule, compared to the age of the universe. Even if we did find the cure to our mortality, we would die. It would just come at the eventual day when the stars burn through their fuel, leaving us without energy.
“When I can build anything I want whenever I want it, there’s no real point in using force to maintain control over a surplus.” -Human Iterations
Post-scarcity solving the need for a surplus, (as Iain M. Banks describes in his series called “The Culture”) is Musk’s eventual utopian goal. However, this simply will never occur, even in an immortal world. If someone knows that the universe is dying, they would stockpile materials to prolong the inevitable a little longer.
At the end, that would nullify any post-scarcity attempts. Without a doubt, the two most important things to our survival are going to disappear. All ideologies must address scarcity, but how we do so could change the world. The choice comes down to the market. Do we allow nature to take its course and seek an equilibrium? Or, is it justifiable to allocate some resources to benefit a group of people at the expense of others? Only the former recognizes the equal rights of all.
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By John Liu | USA
Last year, Phoenix surpassed Philadelphia as the 5th largest city in the US. I live in Houston, Texas, where it is the 4th largest city in the US, and that got me thinking, what makes a city a city. What is the minimum population required to be a city? What is the classification of a city? What makes some cities so special?
Before we talk about cities today, let’s talk about what it means to be a city and places before the Industrial Revolution. Merriam-Webster defines a city as a place where people work and live and cities are bigger than towns. This definition is very vague and does not specifically states the criteria for a city. In order to be a city, the minimum population needs to be around 1,500 to 50,000. That is just the minimum population. Size is not all; it also has to have some kind of political importance. Cities also have taxes in place to help support the local government.
So what makes Houston a bigger and more complex city then, let’s say, West, Texas?
First, proximity to water. The ten biggest cities by population in the USA are located next to a water source. It has always been the best way to trade goods because it is so cheap to transport the goods. Today, shipping is still the cheapest method of hauling enormous amounts of goods. It is also a transportation station. Back in 1892, Ellis Island was the best way to get to the US and by the time it closed in 1954, 12 million immigrants called the United States home. Many Asian immigrants made it to the US via San Francisco and there is a strong number of Asians in this country.
Secondly, food and potable water. It is our basic need that has to be achieved and you cannot survive without water after three days. So getting to a water source is important. There is also food that you can get from the water like fish.
The third aspect is resources. This is probably the most important reason why cities are where they are at. Most major cities are not located in the mountains because they are far away from a water source. (with the exception Denver; they are located near the rocky mountains because it has a large amount of silver in its deposit and minerals that are crucial). These cities need resources to sustain themselves.
Lastly, the jobs and affordability. The Sunbelt area, where Houston is located, is one of the fastest growing cities along Phoenix, is one of the most affordable areas to live and it is an area where most elders want to spend their days after they retire. But why do so many people still live in North, especially that San Francisco and New York City is so pricey to live? Both of these places have a lot of jobs to offer. In Houston, we have the largest medical center in the world so many scientists and doctors live over here. In San Francisco, it is the tech giants like Twitter that many tech geeks live over there.
So as cities continue to grow, the futures of millions are on the line finding jobs in these big cities and continue to grow the local urban economies of America.
By Mason Mohon | USA
It comes up in every single debate. We see it every time we are arguing with a communist or another sort of lefty. The right-wing proponent will throw out instances like Venezuela, the Soviet Union, and other catastrophic failures of socialist economies. This is followed by the response from the left-winger that either those were not real communism/socialism, or that there are factors that the right-winger fails to realize. In reality, both of these arguments are really bad. We cannot throw out death counts and assume they are causally related to the institution of socialism. What must be explored is economic law, and we need to look at what sort of incentives a socialist economy creates, and whether or not it is compatible with human actors.
In this article, socialism and communism will be used interchangeably because they both fit the definition of a planned economy.
We must first look into how we are supposed to study economics. The beginning of all economic thought comes from logical deductions coming from the action axiom. That is, we begin all economics with the axiom that man (human) acts. It is why Mises termed his magnificent economic treatise Human Action, and it is the starting point the Austrian School of economics comes from. This article is not to explore all of the warrants behind this line of thought, though. For an in-depth explanation of praxeological reasoning, I recommend the “Chapter Zero” of Chase Rachels’s book A Spontaneous Order, which is written by Will Porter and titled Epistemology and Praxeology. Within it, it is explained why we begin here and has refutations of the opposition.
What is important, though, is that we deduce economic law logically, not through reflecting upon history. This is not to say that history is not important, for it can prove itself to be an important tool in many instances, but all too often will people interpret history one way, which goes directly against logical deductions, one example being the second industrial revolution. Economic law cannot be deduced from history, it can only be reflected on and compared.
What this means to the present situation is that it goes directly against what it means to be a student of economics to say that “the Soviet Union had starving people, and because of that socialism/communism must lead to starvation.” We cannot use a historical example as an economic law. Rather, we must look to what economic law says and the reasoning behind why it says what it says. Once we have done this, then we may say that socialism is causally related to starvation and mass death. It is simply not enough to make claims about historical repetition.
Now, we may look at the economic issues with socialism. The argument will take its form in three planks: how socialism will cause misallocation, how socialism will incentivize people to produce, and how socialism will incentivize people to climb society.
In the first place, we must look at why socialism causes misallocations. These misallocations are the causes of the shortages of food and resources we associate with socialism. It is often objected that instances where this misallocation did occur, it was “not real socialism” or “not the right brand of socialism.” The problem is that misallocations will occur in any instance where the factors of production are no longer privately owned, which is the defining characteristic of socialism. In any economy, to determine whether or not an entrepreneur or producer is engaging in fruitful, efficient, and socially productive action, they must engage in economic calculation. This is the action of seeing whether or not their initial investment has created a profit or a loss. If an entrepreneur or producer discovers they have suffered a loss (people are not buying what they are providing), they discover that it is not good for resources to go where they are putting them. In a socialist economy, no economic calculation can exist, because market prices are nonexistent. Because of this, there is no way to discover whether or not resources are going to the right places. With something like food, it is extremely important that we figure out if it is going to the right places. To read more into how entrepreneurs serve society, I recommend this article.
Now that we have established the economic law proving socialism to misallocate resources, we can look at history and the world around us to see this being reflected. Socialist commonwealths across the globe have fallen apart. It is why there was no food in the Soviet Union, and it is why Venezuela failed to properly utilize its oil, resulting in profound economic decline. Some economies may seem to be socialist and successful, but those are instances in which we are either misunderstanding what their economy is, or they are purely surviving off of luck, meaning enough resources to keep the country from collapsing have been delegated, but there is no way to know what kinds of losses this is and will be producing without economic calculation.
Furthermore, we must look at the incentives to produce that are produced by a socialist economy. In Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s critique of socialism in his book Democracy: The God That Failed, he explains the ways wealth can be created within an economy. There are three, the first of which being mixing your work with untouched land. The second is to produce the good by combining or changing resources, and the third is by transferring a good through voluntary and contractual means. If the ownership of all assets is assigned to the collective (or the state), then individuals who mix their work (or homestead) with land, individuals who produce, and individuals who exchange lose their incentive to create wealth, because anything they create they will not own, for the collective (or the state) shall assume ownership. The cost of performing fruitful tasks is raised, and those that do not act productively still benefitted, increasing the incentive to not work (to each according to his need).
Moreover, we must look at the paths available to people to get to the top of society. In a capitalist free-market society, the best way to climb to the top is by starting a business and serving consumer needs. As Dr. Hoppe said, if one “wants to increase his wealth and/or rise in social status, he can only do so by better serving the most urgent wants of voluntary consumers through the use he makes of his property.” Clearly, the way to raise your own social status in a private property order is to serve others, making selfishness ultimately selfless. A socialist order stands in stark contrast, for to rise one must appeal to the collective or whoever elects people into the state. Doing this promotes cutthroat dirty politics, and it forces one to rise through “promises, bribes, and threats.” This has clearly been reflected throughout the world of big government and socialism, for Soviet Union leadership was given to whoever could stab the most people in the back in the end.
In conclusion, it is important that we know the causes of socialist terror. It is not logical or economically sound to make quick assumptions about starvation in the past and claim socialism and communism are failures. Rather, we must make praxeological economic deductions from the basis that man acts to determine whether or not socialism will work. The results are in strong opposition to socialism, which causes misallocations, laziness, and dirty politics. In the end, the results are catastrophic, and history only stands to prove.