Buy Nothing Today

Friday, November 24th, 2006

Once again this year I am celebrating Buy Nothing Day. For one complete day, I will buy nothing. I will not stand in lines, browse department store circulars, save $4.95 on a $19.95 toy I didn’t want anyway, and otherwise participate in our annual consumer frenzy. Instead I plan to sleep in, make love to my wife, maybe write a little, and wander around the park looking at birds and hunting for mushrooms (which I don’t have to pay for). Beats the hell out of a day at the mall.

The Economics of Plush Carpet at the Head Office

Monday, October 30th, 2006

It always amuses me when economists go out of their way to claim that economics is a science (more or less true) and that they base what they say on purely on the scientific principles and not value judgments (very often false). It’s especially amusing when they blow the science to get the value judgment they’re looking for. Here’s the latest example I’ve seen. George Mason economics professor Walter E. Williams attempts to explain why for-profit entities sometimes spend on unnecessary luxuries:

You say, “Professor Williams, for-profit entities sometimes have plush carpets, have juicy expense accounts, and behave in ways not unlike non-profits.” You’re right, and again, it’s a property-rights issue. Taxes change the property-rights structure of earnings. If there’s a tax on profits, then taking profits in a money form becomes more costly. It becomes relatively less costly to take some of the gains in non-money forms.

Actually taxes have little to nothing to do with this. There is a real economic reason for this behavior (as well as several psychological and sociological ones, but economists like to ignore those factors so let’s stick to the purely economic for the moment) and it has nothing to do with taxes. (more…)

Star Trek Economics

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

What Kelley L. Ross and Captain Ed have is a failure of the imagination when examining the economics of Star Trek:

Politically and economically, it operates outside of the realm of science fiction and into fantasy. Nothing in its universe explains how human society manages to build the massive ships that comprise Star Fleet, nor the brilliant technology that enables them. Who builds these things — and how and why? It’s all well and good to say that money no longer exists, but people have to be compensated in some manner — otherwise, the Star Trek society is based on benevolent slavery. The reference to “Imagine” is particularly appropriate; this view of human nature seems particularly flaccid, where all creative impulses have been subordinated and all enterprise has been discouraged, pun particularly intended.

Nonetheless, I think a little thought about the implications of the technologies that exist in the Star Trek universe indicates that the economy doesn’t have to be anything like the fascist state Ross envisions. In fact, it seems likely to be far superior to our own.