Armentano: Economic ignorance, on the left and right
As someone who taught college economics for 30 years, I assert that the current level of economic understanding is stunningly low, the worst I’ve ever seen.
Take the fossil fuel/climate change debate.
Contrary to the media spin, the crucial issue here is economics and not the data bickering of the climate scientists. The fact remains that coal, oil and natural gas are far cheaper and more reliable in dollar terms than wind and solar for generating power. Any forced substitution of wind and solar for fossil fuels, even at the margin, would raise the cost and price of just about everything and make us all poorer.
The only rationale provided for radical climate change policy is that an increase in carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere will, allegedly, lead to some global warming.
Some climate scientists accept that connection and some don’t; some think modest warming would be good; some don’t.
What we do know with reasonable certainty, however, is that carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen only from .03 percent to .04 percent in more than 150 years; in the same period, the average temperature has increased (are you ready?) less than one degree Celsius. And the Obama administration (and Robert Redford) assert that this is the most important issue facing humanity? Not likely.
Or take the minimum wage.
States and cities are rushing to mandate higher private-sector minimum wages even though the economic logic is that imposing higher wages on low-skilled workers increases unemployment or shuts down small businesses altogether.
Which is precisely what’s happening in San Francisco and in several other cities. No matter. Rich do-gooders, politicians and unions will simply turn a blind eye to the damage their policies produce and assert that their heart (but not, perhaps, their brain) is in the right place.
And then there’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, the new darling of the left/liberals who wants to impose his economic philosophy — welfare socialism — on America.
Apparently Bernie hasn’t noticed that bloated debt levels and widespread welfarism have been tried and failed just about everywhere (can anyone say Greece?) and that the problems he identifies in our own economy stem from regulation and crony capitalism, not the “free market.”
Again, no matter. Voters are so ignorant of economics and disenchanted with the evasive Hillary Clinton that they turn out in droves to hear Sanders rant his class-warfare economic nonsense.
But let’s not let the Republicans and their supporters off the economic-ignorance hook either.
All the Republican presidential candidates, and almost all of their potential supporters, hold the blatantly contradictory notion that the federal budget can be balanced and the national debt can be reduced while America maintains and, indeed, expands its military presence throughout the globe.
This is economically impossible and has never been accomplished in the history of the world.
The only example of severe budget cutting and debt reduction in our recent past occurred after World War II, when federal spending fell from $110 billion in 1945 to $45 billion in 1950. But this was accomplished only by massive reductions in defense spending, something Republicans and their supporters will never support.
Yet they continue to promise that, if elected, they will balance budgets and lower debt while (at the same time) they vote to fund a network of greedy military contractors and support hundreds of military bases abroad.
The Federal Reserve and its bankster friends have been inflating the money supply (“quantitative easing”) and keeping interest rates at near zero since 2009. That this policy has robbed seniors of their interest income and led to the creation of a massive “asset bubble” (in homes, stocks and bonds) that must eventually fall to Earth is almost beyond question; the only question is when.
Yet most Americans are blissfully ignorant of how financial markets really work and what reality has in store for them when the monetary madness ends.
Economic ignorance, like chickens, always comes home to roost.
Dominick T. Armentano is a research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford, and the author of “Antitrust and Monopoly: Anatomy of a Policy Failure.”