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Friday, May 28, 2010

TimeMoney Is MoneyTime

The adage, "time is money," has it exactly backward; in truth, "money is time." I've previously briefly touched upon what I mean by this. In this post, I mean to explore the idea a bit deeper.

But first, I wish to share with Gentle Reader a very good recent (and conceptually related) post by 'The Deuce:' Government stimulus disproven... yet AGAIN
A trio of Harvard economics researchers have discovered, to their surprise, what those of us not drinking the socialist/Keynesian Kool-Aid have known forever - that government "stimulus" actually damages the economy rather than stimulating it:
Recent research at Harvard Business School began with the premise that as a state's congressional delegation grew in stature and power in Washington, D.C., local businesses would benefit from the increased federal spending sure to come their way.

It turned out quite the opposite. In fact, professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval, and Christopher Malloy discovered to their surprise that companies experienced lower sales and retrenched by cutting payroll, R&D, and other expenses. Indeed, in the years that followed a congressman's ascendancy to the chairmanship of a powerful committee, the average firm in his state cut back capital expenditures by roughly 15 percent, according to their working paper, "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?"

"It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman's state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending," Coval reports.
Will those "scientific" socialists, now that we have this study demonstrating the harm that socialism does, accept the evidence before them and change their ways? No, of course not. This is hardly the first time socialist economics has been empirically disconfirmed. The economic failure of socialism has been demonstrated every single time it's been tried, but that doesn't stop foolish people from clamoring for more government-run healthcare, government-run education, and more and more government spending on whatever suits their fancy. At the end of the day, Leftism is a dogmatic religion. It was never adopted for empirical or rational reasons, and those who follow it will rarely drop it because of empirical data or rational analysis. Socialism has absolutely no rational or empirical foundation whatsoever, and still they believe.

It's easy to see why simply throwing government money around can't stimulate anything, if you just step back and think about it a little bit.

Wealth is not the same thing as money. In and of itself, money is worthless, just metal trinkets or pieces of paper (or even just bits on a computer). Wealth actually consists of goods and services that people want and need. Another way to say it is that wealth is goods and services that there is a popular demand for, and yet a third way to say it is that wealth is those goods and services that improve peoples' quality of life. The value of money derives entirely from one's ability to trade it for actual wealth. If, say, tomorrow prices suddenly went up so much that a loaf of bread cost a billion dollars, or every time you made some money Uncle Sam took all of it away before you could spend it, your money would be worthless, because you could no longer trade it for stuff you want and need.

As should be intuitively obvious then, when the government prints cash and throws it at states and various pet projects, it is not creating wealth. Increasing the amount of metal trinkets and green pieces of paper does not just magically increase the available amount of the goods and services that people want. In fact, while the government could invent a potentially unlimited amount of money, the amount of wealth that a society can potentially have has a hard upper limit, because it relies on the ability and manpower of the population to produce it. The key to a successful economy is to maximize the amount of actual wealth generation - the production of goods and services that people want - thus maximizing the overall quality of life (ie wealth) of the society.

Government spending, however, does the exact opposite of that, which is why it harms the economy rather than helping it. By definition, when the government spends some money on a project, it is spending that money on stuff the government wants (or thinks that people should want) rather than on stuff that people actually want.

When the government pays 1000 people to dig 1000 holes in the ground and fill them back up (to borrow from Keynes own absurd example), it is not creating wealth. There is no demand for 1000 re-filled holes. Nobody wants them. An un-hole in the ground doesn't improve anyone's quality of life. But such spending is worse than a mere waste of time, because if those 1000 people weren't digging holes for the government, they could be spending their time doing something else - practically anything else - for which there was actual demand. So by paying people to do things for which there is no demand, the government actively diverts society's most valuable resource - manpower - away from wealth-generation, thus actively inhibiting the economy from reaching its wealth-generating potential.

And, of course, where does the government get the money for such wealth-diminishing projects in the first place? It either taxes it from productive, wealth-generating citizens, or it prints it outright, which diminishes the existing value of wealth-generating citizens' existing monetary possessions, and is actually just another way of taxing them indirectly. So either way, the government diverts monetary resources away from wealth-generating people to pay potentially wealth-generating people not to produce wealth. So government "stimulus" actively inhibits the economy by diverting both money *and* manpower away from activities that create wealth and improve quality of life, and towards activities for which there is no demand.

So it's hardly surprising that, as this study shows, companies in states that got more federal money "retrenched by cutting payroll, R&D, and other expenses". The whole reason that companies spend money on R&D in the first place is to increase consumer demand for their products and services, and that becomes moot when the government is paying them to *not* meet consumer demand. And why wouldn't they cut payroll? The reason companies hire more people in the first place is that they want to expand in order to meet customer demand... which is moot when the government is paying them *not* to meet consumer demand.

Or to sum it all up, this study ought to be unsurprising to anyone who hasn't completely ignored the observable results of socialism for the past 100+ years, or who understands that waving a magic wand can't make houses, and TVs, and cars, and clothing, and food, and masseuses, and everything else people want just appear out of thin air. But none of it will stop the socialists from believing.
Of course, neither 'The Deuce' nor I are saying that setting and holding government spending at $0.00 will make us all infinitely wealthy. I expect that not even the insane persons at the borderlands between libertarianism and anarchism would assert that.

Rather -- given human nature and the reality of the world -- while government is a necessary evil, it remains a multi-facetted evil. And, government does not (and cannot) directly and positively create the good which derives from sound/moral government; rather, whatever good does come of government is generated negatively, by the suppression of the worse evils of lawlessness and anarchy and wickedness.

So, some level of government is necessary, else civil society cannot exist. But, by its nature, government must always act as a brake on the wealth-generating capabilities of civil society. Government cannot generate wealth, but can only consume it. And, trying to use government to "create jobs" or "stimulate the economy" not only consumes wealth, but actively destroys it via what is called "lost opportunity costs."


Money is time

As 'The Deuce' points out, money is not wealth, but rather at best it represents wealth. At worse, say in Weimar Germany or in present-day Zimbabwe, money becomes a sort of anti-wealth, similar to anti-matter, in that the money-generation of the government acts to destroy the existing wealth of the host-society.

A society's wealth is the total of goods and services that the society generates and/or has stockpiled from the prior generation of goods and services. Notice: the consumption of goods and services does not add to a society's wealth any more than it adds to an individual's wealth. The consistent consumption of more wealth than generated leads to the emotional illusion of being wealthy, but it is, in fact, an indicator of poverty; or, at best, of declining wealth (as in the case of retired persons living off the wealth they have stockpiled during their working years).

While the ultimate point of wealth-generation is to consume it, consuming wealth necessarily destroys it. Thus, when a society consistently consumes more wealth than it creates, it must, in the end, end up in poverty -- all the gold and silver brought back to Spain from the New World ended up sinking Spain into centuries of poverty; for the gold was not wealth, and it was not used as leverage for the generation of new wealth but rather was used to subsidize the consumption of more wealth than the society was generating. And, over time, this led to the society generating less wealth than before the influx of gold and silver. Need it be pointed out that the United States has been doing something very similar for a long time?

As we've seen above, at one level of analysis, wealth is the total of goods and services that a society (or individual) generates and/or has previously stockpiled. But, at a deeper level of analysis, an individual's or society's real wealth is the capacity for future generation of goods and services. That is, at this deeper level of analysis, wealth is not really the goods and services themselves, but is rather the time and effort of generating goods and services.

As individuals and as societies, it is time which is our ultimate currency. We expend time to generate (and to consume) goods and services; and, of course, we also expend time to generate and "consume" the intellectual and spiritual goods and services we need once our physical needs are met.

It is in coming to this deeper level of understanding the true nature of wealth that we grasp that the adage "time is money" is a false statement of shallow materialism/consumerism, and that, in fact, "money is time." For, while money represents goods and services, goods and services represent time.

Update (2010/06/17):
'The Deuce' has further comments which Gentle Reader may wish to read.

7 comments:

The Phantom Blogger said...

You may like this.

Peter Lorre's speech form the John Hudson film Beat the Devil, "Time . . . time," Lorre says. "What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook."

Leroy said...

I agree, money is time. Money is limited in what it can truly provide us with whereas time can ultimately provide all. Well said!

Unfortunately too many of us sacrifice time for money, we need to get the balance right.

MK said...

Interesting post, some of it was over my head but i understand what you are saying and it's right. Government is basically stealing for the unproductive to continue what they shouldn't be doing.

Unfortunately, far too many out there think that government money is just that, government money and not money it stole from others who worked for it.

And you're quite right about leftism being a dogmatic religion, i also find that leftists are a lot like muslims.

Leroy said...

MK, in what way do you find leftists to be a lot like muslims?

Rupert said...

My offer still stands Idiot

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

Ilion,
Spot on, as usual.

Whatever else happens at Harvard, it is rarely ever higher education. I'm enormously glad that, after all these years, someone there has discovered that Keynesianism is a decadent and destructive fantasy. Better 70 years late than not at all.

What do you think of George Gilder's notion that real wealth resides in mind and is captured momentarily in matter until some other mind comes along and figures out how to capture it in matter in a little better way? That is, mind is what takes previously worthless bits of inanimate matter, figures out, say, how to turn sand into microchips and gets rich for doing it. Then someone else figures out how to use other bits of matter for the same purpose, but with more efficiency, effectiveness or utility.

Best, MB

Ilíon said...

I've not seen it put that way, but I agree. Thanks.