Thursday, October 2, 2008


An article written by Rothbard in 1969, that everyone should read today.
There are, however, some critical problems in the assumption that the market economy is the culprit. For "general economic theory" teaches us that supply and demand always tend to be in equilibrium in the market and that therefore prices of products as well as of the factors that contribute to production are always tending toward some equilibrium point. Even though changes of data, which are always taking place, prevent equilibrium from ever being reached, there is nothing in the general theory of the market system that would account for regular and recurring boom-and-bust phases of the business cycle. Modern economists "solve" this problem by simply keeping their general price and market theory and their business cycle theory in separate, tightly-sealed compartments, with never the twain meeting, much less integrated with each other. Economists, unfortunately, have forgotten that there is only one economy and therefore only one integrated economic theory. Neither economic life nor the structure of theory can or should be in watertight compartments; our knowledge of the economy is either one integrated whole or it is nothing. Yet most economists are content to apply totally separate and, indeed, mutually exclusive, theories for general price analysis and for business cycles. They cannot be genuine economic scientists so long as they are content to keep operating in this primitive way.

But there are still graver problems with the currently fashionable approach. Economists also do not see one particularly critical problem because they do not bother to square their business cycle and general price theories: the peculiar breakdown of the entrepreneurial function at times of economic crisis and depression. In the market economy, one of the most vital functions of the businessman is to be an "entrepreneur," a man who invests in productive methods, who buys equipment and hires labor to produce something which he is not sure will reap him any return. In short, the entrepreneurial function is the function of forecasting the uncertain future. Before embarking on any investment or line of production, the entrepreneur, or "enterpriser," must estimate present and future costs and future revenues and therefore estimate whether and how much profits he will earn from the investment. If he forecasts well and significantly better than his business competitors, he will reap profits from his investment. The better his forecasting, the higher the profits he will earn. If, on the other hand, he is a poor forecaster and overestimates the demand for his product, he will suffer losses and pretty soon be forced out of the business.

The market economy, then, is a profit-and-loss economy, in which the acumen and ability of business entrepreneurs is gauged by the profits and losses they reap. The market economy, moreover, contains a built-in mechanism, a kind of natural selection, that ensures the survival and the flourishing of the superior forecaster and the weeding-out of the inferior ones. For the more profits reaped by the better forecasters, the greater become their business responsibilities, and the more they will have available to invest in the productive system. On the other hand, a few years of making losses will drive the poorer forecasters and entrepreneurs out of business altogether and push them into the ranks of salaried employees.

If, then, the market economy has a built-in natural selection mechanism for good entrepreneurs, this means that, generally, we would expect not many business firms to be making losses. And, in fact, if we look around at the economy on an average day or year, we will find that losses are not very widespread. But, in that case, the odd fact that needs explaining is this: How is it that, periodically, in times of the onset of recessions and especially in steep depressions, the business world suddenly experiences a massive cluster of severe losses? A moment arrives when business firms, previously highly astute entrepreneurs in their ability to make profits and avoid losses, suddenly and dismayingly find themselves, almost all of them, suffering severe and unaccountable losses? How come? Here is a momentous fact that any theory of depressions must explain. An explanation such as "underconsumption" — a drop in total consumer spending — is not sufficient, for one thing, because what needs to be explained is why businessmen, able to forecast all manner of previous economic changes and developments, proved themselves totally and catastrophically unable to forecast this alleged drop in consumer demand. Why this sudden failure in forecasting ability?

Go read the whole thing. Learn something today.

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