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Trying Is The First Step To Failure

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January 29, 2009 – Comments (6)

Ah, the wisdom of Homer Simpson. Over the years, Homer has offered up such prescient one-liners as:

"Alcohol is the cause of..... and solution to ..... all of life problems."

or

"Boy, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is.... never try."

But my personal favorite is the title of this blog post, and its a lesson that Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, George Bush, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi, and now, Barack Obama have never learned.

Direct your attention to Dare's recent post about the latest "Government Boondoggle Package."

If we can somehow block out all the Red State / Blue State, Republican / Democrat, Conservative / Liberal bickering about the best way to stimulate the economy, we can discuss some fundamental questions that neither political party ever addresses.

In order to understand why Homer Simpson is smarter than your average politician and why, for instance, it would be better for them to get drunk and do nothing than try to "stimulate the economy," we must start by answering this: Why do humans act? Why does a human choose action over inaction? Why does a man rise from the couch and take to the streets armed only with his mind and his will? Why does a woman forego her family for hours, days, and years to build a powerful enterprise?

Humans act because they are never fully satisfied. Humans act because they are not content with their current state of affairs. The human that is content takes no action, at least no purposeful action.

"Action is purposive conduct. It is not simply behavior, but behavior begot by judgments of value, aiming at a definite end and guided by ideas concerning the suitability or unsuitability of definite means. . . . It is conscious behavior. It is choosing. It is volition; it is a display of the will." - Ludwig Von Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science

What type of action does the economy require in order to bring about purposeful ends? Only the type of action initiated by those who are not content with their current state of affairs. Those that are content with their current situation are likely not to act, or more specifically, not to act purposively.

With this understanding we can discern the fallacy of the current, and previous, economic stimulus packages. Let's use as an example Amtrak. As noted by the WSJ, Amtrak has failed to turn a profit in over 40 years yet is set to receive $2 billion of our money. From the perspective of human action, it is easy to see that the officers in charge of Amtrak do not suffer from a lack of contentment. Their livelihoods and jobs are secure, indeed prosperous, no matter the ultimate outcome of their operations. Without the need to improve their financial station the officials of Amtrak are not required to make judments of value, aiming at a definite end.

The concept of Human Action, more fully developed in Ludwig Von Mises' magnum opus of the same name, allows us to look beyond the superficial banter of the major news networks (government's giant keyboard.) Now we can debate the merits of all of the Economic Destruction Packages recently passed on whether or not the people employing the capital will be using it for purposeful action.  I assert that the answer is emphatically no.

In fact, armed with this knowlege, it is only scratching at the surface. Von Mises, and later Hayek and Rothbard, have made impressive arguments against all forms of government spending (Rothbard going full anarchistic in Power and Market, while Hayek in The Road to Serfdom, and Mises remained committed to representative government).

In summary, there should be no question of what government should do to fix the current economic crisis. They should simply follow the advice of Homer Simpson: drink heavily and do nothing.  Let those who are compelled to act do so. Allow those with the will to act do so. Allow the actors in the market economy: the consumers, the entrepreneurs, the investors, and the bankers make the subjective value decisions about the suitability or unsuitability of definite means. Allow these humans of action to live, succeed, and fail.

For these humans are you and I, and your brothers and sisters, and your family and neighbors. These are the ones who will act. These are the uncontented ones who will save the economy.

Regards,

David in Qatar

6 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On January 29, 2009 at 8:38 AM, DaretothREdux (41.99) wrote:

Thanks for the nod David. Feel free to post a link to your blogs on mine anytime you wish. I have no doubt that the majority of my groupies would find your blogs at least "equally" interesting ;)

And for anyone who wants to read Human Action or any other work by Mises, Rothbard, or Hayek they can all be found at Mises.org----for Human Action simply seach Human Action and click the link to download the full pdf.

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#2) On January 29, 2009 at 9:31 AM, outoffocus (22.86) wrote:

The problem is, the people want action.  The people dont realize that government action will only make things worse. The elected officials got where they are on the premise that they would act. Its a catch 22 for the politicians.  If the politicians had run on the premise of not doing anything, the probably would have been stoned to death.  The question for the Fools is, how do you get the message out to a largely uneducated masses that all this government intervention is harmful? How do you quiet the mass media long enough to get the truth out?  How do you prove that the spending is destructive when you have no tangible evidence of it?  I really do feel sorry for the current administration, because when the consequences of all this mass intervention come to head, they will take all the blame for it. Yet had they did nothing they would have been impeached.   This is a sad state of affairs we are in.

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#3) On January 29, 2009 at 9:31 AM, outoffocus (22.86) wrote:

The problem is, the people want action.  The people dont realize that government action will only make things worse. The elected officials got where they are on the premise that they would act. Its a catch 22 for the politicians.  If the politicians had run on the premise of not doing anything, the probably would have been stoned to death.  The question for the Fools is, how do you get the message out to a largely uneducated masses that all this government intervention is harmful? How do you quiet the mass media long enough to get the truth out?  How do you prove that the spending is destructive when you have no tangible evidence of it?  I really do feel sorry for the current administration, because when the consequences of all this mass intervention come to head, they will take all the blame for it. Yet had they did nothing they would have been impeached.   This is a sad state of affairs we are in.

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#4) On January 29, 2009 at 12:26 PM, seland (< 20) wrote:

The comment about Amtrak is pointless; the same thing is true of your local fire department and park board: It hasn't turned a profit ever and never will, its managers are secure in their jobs and aren't motivated by profit or innovation, and it can absorb any amount of money you choose to provide it. Yet almost everyone in a community will agree that (a) having a fire department and a parks system is a good thing for the community, and (b) citizens are willing to dun themselves through taxes to pay for them.

The issue with any of these--Amtrak, or any of the rest--is whether the funds they request can be deployed effectively for their chartered purpose, and whether the use to which they are in fact put is the use likely to return the greatest benefit, per dollar, of the rational choices before them. (Peanut farmer subsidies and earmarked bridge projects are something else entirely.)

Those answers to those questions promise useful real-world information. The philosophical speculation doesn't.

With Amtrak, the answers suggest that managers have squandered available capital in unproductive applications (e.g., high speed train follies in the northeast which have achieved a 1% market share and a 30% load factor, but cost billions and require $750 million a year in subsidy) while ignoring real growth opportunities elsewhere (western long distance trains, for example, have 60-70% load factors and produce five times the market share, revenue and passenger miles of output per dollar of federal support than the eastern corridors, but get zero capital support from management). That's an argument to reallocate capital, or replace management, not abolish the enterprise.

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#5) On January 29, 2009 at 12:49 PM, whereaminow (< 20) wrote:

We have walked down this road before seland and I thank you for your interest in this discussion. Human action is not a philosophy. It's a maxim. Humans act purposefully in order to increase satisfaction. There is nothing philosophical about that. Applying it to real word events takes only following the logical outcome based upon that realization.

The issues you describe, the fire dept and parks projects, have also been discussed in other posts. However, I am going to blog more about this in the near future. I will re-present the economic calculation problems that make government planning impracticable in the long run (unless you view chaos as an outcome that should be considered practical). 

Finally, note that for every single government service you can point to, if consumers demanded it, entrepreneurs would supply it, if it were legal for them to do so,

David in Qatar 

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#6) On February 25, 2009 at 4:10 PM, nzsvz9 (< 20) wrote:

David,

I know this thread is old, but just getting to read your blogging, and I feel compelled to add to it, in kinship. I wish we could have lunch together, perhaps even in the underground caefteria beneath Taggart Transcontinental.

Based on your comment "Humans act because they are never fully satisfied. Humans act because they are not content with their current state of affairs. The human that is content takes no action, at least no purposeful action."

Here's an Ayn Rand quotation for you:

Dagny: "What is the most depraved kind of man?"

Fransicso: "The man without a purpose."

Thanks for the postings (I am moving through the rest now ...) they are the kind of lunchroom talk I can't seem to find around here anymore.

Known by my dog as nzsvz9

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