The following is the seventh paragraph of Barry Germansky’s op-ed Tea Party Heroes Ron and Rand Paul Make for a Bitter Brew, from earlier this year, interspersed with my rebuttals from within the last few days.
BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls’ default stance of misrepresenting the historical record also helps them peddle the absurd Austrian School idea to deregulate all private businesses and subsequently create a utopian free market.
HENRY MOORE: We have already dealt with the historical record, which you have ignored, but must you now ignore the point of science (economics is a social science, one for which there are many competing theories)? You are here misrepresenting the Austrian School of Economics. To quote Walter Block, “No, Austrian economists can’t oppose or favor anything. To say that they do is to violate the normative positive distinction. Austrians are limited to saying that a given policy will have thus and thus effects; they logically cannot say, qua Austrians, that a policy is good or bad, nor may they favor or oppose it, again qua Austrian economists. Certainly, they can do so as citizens, as ethicists, as philosophers, but economics per se is and must be value free, despite the fact that this stricture is all too often violated, as in the present case.”
So Austrians do not oppose or favor any policy, such as deregulation, privatization, “utopian” free markets, as Austrians. They may do so as libertarians, which many Austrian economists are in varying degrees, but not as members of the economics profession, regardless of the school they find the most useful. Why is adherence to the Austrian school or other free market theories, and to libertarianism often found in the same people? Emphasis on such things as individual choice and individual action, as well as the fact that utility (relative to societal norms) applied to knowledge gleaned from the scientific theory, and the morality of the philosophical/political theory often lead to compatible conclusions.
A general example would be where policy a leads to unintended result b, an Austrian neither favors nor opposes policy a in and of itself, rather its merit depends on whether result b is in line with the original intent of policy a and/or the societal norms that the policy derives from or is in reaction to. To the scientist, the policy and its result have no moral value relative to science, only relative to the purported intentions of the policy in question. To the philosopher, especially one coming from a framework that values liberty highly, the Austrian (though not as an Austrian) may oppose the policy (and favor alternatives) on those grounds, regardless of whether or not he favors or opposes them (or remains objective, in the case of science) on other grounds.
A specific example following these same lines would be economically interventionist policies that intend to increase homeownership rates because the societal norm is that home ownership is a worthy and valuable goal, which then have the result of decreasing homeownership or stopping the growth of home ownership in the long run, or that have myriad other unwelcome (by society, not necessarily the scientist, who is mostly an observer) effects that outweigh those results considered more positive. The Austrian that is also a libertarian might oppose these policies on the grounds that public policies favoring one group (generally socio-ecnomic, ethno-cultural, political, or regional) at the expense of others necessarily violates the rights of the those in other groups. I just described to you the Housing Bubble and ensuing economic crisis.
[It is sometimes observed that Austrian school luminary Ludwig von Mises, though libertarian in his conclusions, was very much a utilitarian/consequentialist, and when coming to conclusions about the moral worth of a policy, applied this to his scientific knowledge, rather than a deontological libertarianism apart from his scientific knowledge. This is somewhat true, taking into account semantics, but upon further study, when all is put into context, the label is somewhat of an oversimplification.]
Furthermore, your idea of regulation is arbitrary. Because there is a public policy and it is called a “regulation,” that automatically means it regulates? No. Often so called “regulations” create irregularities, and occasionally the blame for economic crises rests on their shoulders. The free market, on the other hand, is capable of regulating without the aid of government so-called experts. Markets can regulate themselves because each person only needs knowledge about a small portion of that which affects him, whereas central planners can not regulate markets because there are far fewer of them and by comparison the knowledge required is too vast for them to master, in a given point in time, let only keep tabs on throughout a large span of time. This is an overly simplistic way of looking at it, of course, but when one clearly can not even grasp this concept, up till now I hope, it is pointless to delve much further. Though I have attempted to do so here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls refuse to believe that deregulation caused the Great Depression and the 2008 recession, despite vast quantities of evidence to the contrary.
HENRY MOORE: There is hardly any evidence (it is certainly not vast) that deregulation caused the Great Depression or the 2008 Recession, unless of course we see deregulation (which is often cleverly misused to refer to not only deregulation, but regulation, reform, and combinations of all the aforementioned) as a mitigating factor (e.g., rapid deregulation of a sector accustomed to regulation can indeed cause “problems,”; a separate issue entirely is the fact that these “problems,” though painful for some, are necessary to liquidate malinvestments and to shift misallocations, and that without these temporary wounds reopening, worse infections would fester).
In fact, it is more accurate to blame regulations. I use the term loosely (but nowhere near as loosely as some use the term “deregulation”) to refer to such things (during the 2008 Recession) as the Federal Reserve’s Dual Mandate of price stability and low unemployment, manipulation of interest and exchange and tax rates, price controls, implicit bailouts (this is the type of regulation most commonly ignored by progressive-types griping about the so-called “repeal” of the Glass-Steagall Act, which often bears the brunt of the blame for the 2008 Recession), the Community Reinvestment Act and related or similar laws, the financial actions of certain Government Sponsored Entities, and the exacerbation of the ensuing problems with things like explicit bailouts, stimulus, and Quantitative Easing.
BARRY GERMANSKY: Following the Great Depression, when FDR introduced strict, compartmentalized regulation of the marketplace, the United States enjoyed a forty-year period of virtually uninterrupted growth, transforming the country into a superpower.
HENRY MOORE: The growth was not the result of any regulations, it was the result of a reinvigorated post-world war private sector, which had been stifled by the Hoover and Roosevelt economic and foreign policies in the 1930s and early 1940s. Without these policies the boom would have been that much sooner and by the time in question that much bigger. This is part of the reason the US became a superpower (it already was prior to the Great Depression, but after World War Two, increasingly so), but just as significant was what occurred with World War Two. The United States was comparatively insulated from the world wars in terms of structural damage. So it recovered from them more readily than the other superpowers, those in Europe and Asia. The competition, even that from the other supposed superpower, the Soviet Union, simply did not compare.
BARRY GERMANSKY: Then, when Reagan took office in the 1980s, he was aided by Alan Greenspan and company to remove the historically-proven regulations.
HENRY MOORE: The regulations were not historically proven. They led to the end of Bretton Woods in 1971, and the regulations imposed because of that (which were diminished some by Carter, Reagan, and Volcker), including wage and price controls, and the slow unravelling of the currency, both of which were major factors in 1970s Stagflation.
A lot of the regulations that Reagan got rid of were not just FDR’s. Some of them were also Nixon’s. Paul Volcker (under Carter and Reagan) actually did more to deregulate than Greenspan (only briefly under Reagan, more closely associated with Bush Senior, Clinton, and Bush Junior) ever did. A lot of Reagan’s policies, including deficit spending were the opposite you make them out to be. Supply-side economics is not the same thing as free market economics. Any “economics” that puts too much (i.e., artificial) emphasis on either the supply side or the demand side (or on both as they are not mutually exclusive) is liable to create distortions. It is true that supply drives demand, but this does not mean supply should be propped up in any way by government. For the record, supply-side economics is subtle corporate welfare (as opposed to that which artificially prop up demand which is things like wage and price controls and welfare for the poor) and has been practiced by every administration and Congress going back for decades, including FDR, often in combination with more policies aimed at propping up demand.
Greenspan’s policies were far from free market reforms. For a former proponent of the gold standard and follower of Ayn Rand, he had comparatively little to show for it in his actual policies, often moving in the opposite direction.
BARRY GERMANSKY: This helped big businesses make more profits while sending the rest of America into the gutter. This culminated in the 2008 recession.
HENRY MOORE: So is it deregulation or profit that causes recessions? Which is it? Didn’t small businesses get profits too? And didn’t some wages go up in real terms? And weren’t the wages that didn’t go up start on that trend before Reagan and Greenspan? What is it about profit (or deregulation) that sends “the rest of America” to the gutter? Is it that some of these new profits are not in fact new, but simply the same profits but less of them stolen through taxation? In other words, is the reason that some of these Americans were no longer permitted to live off of someone else? If you want a policy to blame for making the middle class poor and the poor desperate, look at things like minimum wage laws, which take the bottom rungs off the employment ladder; unsustainable lines of production encouraged by an elastic currency and cheap credit; dependence on high priced foreign cartel energy sources because the Executive Office, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and public rent seeking special interests don’t want the United States to access her own abundant natural resources; and outsourcing caused by high tax rates, onerous regulations and managed trade. Those are your culprits.
BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls are able to ignore all of these historical events because they treat their personal ideology as more credible than primary evidence. This is a big no-no for any serious historian.
HENRY MOORE: You mention few, if any, actual historical events, and virtually no reliable evidence. Mostly personal ideology and vague platitudes. And hardly any context to accompany them. You are not a serious historian. Neither are most of the people you have been reading or listening to. You are all certifiable laughing stocks. You and your arguments have no credibility whatsoever.