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Economists have long used two assumptions—(a) that humans are highly rational and informed, and (b) that humans act in their own self interest—to design policies. What are the benefits of these assumptions and what are the limitations? Should we continue to approach…
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of the of the History & Political Science Submitted Answers to Essay Questions Economists have long used two assumptions—(a) that humans are highly rational and informed, and (b) that humans act in their own self interest—to design policies. What are the benefits of these assumptions and what are the limitations? Should we continue to approach policy using these two assumptions?
Both economics and philosophy have since the earliest times tried to prove that humans are highly rational and caring beings. The 20th century has been one of relative peace, with the decline of mercantilism and the spread of British style liberalism. The implementation of Adam Smith’s ideas of a free market economy, where the invisible hand would determine how, what and how much to produce in what quantities was a radical concept, as was his assertion that saving is better than consumption, giving rise to a capitalist economy. It was supported by David Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage as the basis for international trade and exchange. Modern societies depend on elected leaders and thinkers as they try to find solutions to our communal problems and bring a sense of order and belonging to our daily lives. This involves the formulation of policies that are in the public interest. In fact the degree of evolution of society can be traced to the quality of its laws, policies, procedures, ethics and morals that define and perpetuate its existence. A qualifying criticism that can be leveled against policy makers is that they tend to act in their own self interests rather than in the public interest. In other words, power tends to corrupt the best of individuals as they tend to seek what is best for them rather than society at large. F.A. Hayek saw these deficiencies in the mechanism of socialist economies as well as a capitalistic system. He argued that it was liberalism that needed to be included in the system to make it work better (Hayek, 23). Ronald Coase would interject that social costs would also enter into the equation of deciding the price of a good, as few entrepreneurs or capitalists have the capacity or talent to produce goods themselves (Coase, 12).
The answer to this quandary would therefore lie in public and private watchdogs, professional and private agencies that make it their duty to point out the good and bad points of evolving laws and policies- much like a Board of Governance in a modern organization. The only caveat is that they should be answerable to no one but society at large. If we truly acted principally in the public interest and not just our own, we would soon realize that working in the best interests of society will eventually elevate both our individual and national character. I for one would definitely agree that public policy should be approached in this way.
2. The price mechanism plays a key role in Friedman’s arguments about the benefits of capitalism. According to Friedman, the price mechanism is the best way to make economic decisions on the grounds of both efficiency and morality. Do any of the other theorists we have read this semester provide compelling arguments to the contrary? What are those arguments, and which—if any—do you find most convincing?
A basic premise of modern economics is that value is determined by the price we pay for a good or service. In other words, price is what determines value. Going deeper into the concept of value, we see that it emerges from the concept of scarcity. Free goods are those that are freely available in society, like the air we breathe, and therefore do not demand a price. Economic goods on the other hand are scarce and it is the demand for them which in turn derives from their possible uses that determines their price or value at a specific point in time.
In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the Gold Standard was abandoned. Modern economies though not always backed by gold, state that the issued currency is a thing of value because the Government has deemed it so. In other words, value is given by a social convention of general acceptability as much as by its marginal utility. Both Hayek and Bohm Bawerk have ridiculed the efficiency of Government in its efforts to maintain economic stability, evidenced by the financial crises we have seen ever since finance and capitalism has ruled economic activity.
While Friedman would argue that the price mechanism is the best determinant of value in a capitalist economy (Friedman, 39), Charles Lindblom would state that both politics and economics are inexorably linked and that one cannot be approached without stepping on the other. In other words, policy changes should be made in the public good through the evolutionary process of muddling through. Capitalists are hardly moralists- they cannot be trusted to make decisions in the best interests of society because they have their own interests at the uppermost- to get the best returns on their capital and entrepreneurship abilities at the lowest cost to themselves using labor, land, machinery and other technologies (Lindblom, 214). Both issues of morality and efficiency are controlled by Government watchdogs and interest groups lobbying for popular decisions. Thereby Lindblom contends that we are limited by our choices. Politics even in the so-called enlightened economies can best be regarded as a group of oligarchic elites that compete and bargain with each other for what is to be decided. Although the present market system has many failings, it is the only mechanism being allowed by the political system that decides how economic questions are to be answered in a democratic setup.
Works Cited
Coase, Ronald H. The Firm, the Market and the Law. University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.
Hayek, Friedrich A. The Road to Serfdom. University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.
Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition. University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.
Lindblom, Charles. The Market System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It. Yale University Press, 2002. Print. Read More
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