Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bastiatian wisdom from Megan McArdle

Megan McArdle dispenses some Bastiatian wisdom about opportunity cost, and does it with compassion, here.
But it doesn't matter. These vital towns, where generations of people lived happy lives and raised fat, burbling babies to a middle-class adulthood, are all dying. Should the government save these places too? Shall we support Eastman Kodak indefinitely, whether or not it can produce a product anyone wants to buy? And Xerox, and Carrier, and a thousand companies you've never heard of? Shall we make it illegal to make a better product than American corporations? Why not just ban new products that make old ones unprofitable?

To do that, we'll have to take the money from other people, in other cities. Other businesses will not get the capital that we give to dying firms, so they won't expand. Some other families, not yours, will lose their homes because their business failed, or have to move away from home in order to get jobs because their area is in the doldrums. Meanwhile, everyone in the country will be slightly worse off, because we've shifted limited economic resources towards products they demonstrably do not want.


Moreover, it wouldn't be right to save it by destroying someone else's business, killing someone else's town. That's the choice we are facing. At its heart, economics is not about money; it is about resources. Every dollar sent to Detroit buys a yard of steel, a reel of copper wire, an hour of labor that now cannot be consumed by a business that actually produces a profitable, desireable product. It's not right to strangle those businesses in order to steal some air for the dying giants of an earlier day.

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