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The Curse of the Ground – The Zeroth law of Economics

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Reagan exited office right about at the same time my generation came to this earth. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that we are all Reagan’s children. The idea of student politics, ideology, protests, communism, feminism, liberalism and so many other isms is so alien to our generation. Bill Gates is our God. Technology is our religion. Silicon Valley is our holy land. We dream of freedom and wealth, not equality and power. Except a for a few crazy souls like me, no one even cares about politics and economics. In short we are Happy. And that’s because we are Reagan’s children.
If you had not watched the video yet and wonder what I am talking about, please watch it first. After watching, think for a minute about what Reagan is trying to convey via the first anecdote.
Reagan rightly points out that Socialism has no respect for man’s soul. But the anecdote also points out another more fundamental flaw of Socialism – the fact that it arrogantly refuses to recognize the existence of “scarcity”. Now if we all lived in a garden of eden, the socialists might be right in asking why can’t everyone just have everything they might need. Actually that question would be meaningless for when food and clothing and shelter and all other material comforts are as abundant as air, why would anyone even feel the need for them? Do you feel the need to breathe? *. But alas we don’t live in a garden of Eden. Nature is not a sweet mother whose gifts we naughty children are refusing to share. The earth does not yield grains or throw out minerals on its own.  Nature is stingy. The book of genesis in Bible captures this in a profoundly meaningful verse

And unto Adam he said,Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife,and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it :cursed is the ground for thy sake ; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life ; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field :in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,till thou return unto the ground ; (Genesis 3:17-3:19)

God cursed the earth for Adam’s original sin. Ever since, man has had to toil on earth in order to survive. The garden of Eden was lost to him forever. If we are going to live, then we are going to have to earn the means to live. The idea that any one has a right to food, clothing or shelter just because he was born, makes no more sense than the right to own a yacht that Reagan is talking about. Yachts are scarce? Well my friend, so is food. If that were not true, Robinson Crusoe’s life would not have made for such a gripping read. Why the hell did he have to try so hard, if food grows on trees as the Socialists believe.
Now you are exaggerating. No one is so stupid as to not understand this simple fact, I hear you say. But believe me, refusal to consider this simple fact is behind most of our problems. Why do we have this never ending stream of rights – “Right to Food“, “Right to Education“, “Right to Health”, “Right to Internet” (Yeah you heard it right) ? Do we ever ask “But How?”, when our politicians promise us these? Do we ever ask who pays for it? Or do people believe that there is something called a Free lunch?
If you say that Socialists are not so stupid to fail to recognise scarcity, that leaves us with only one other explanation. They are evil. They want to live off others. They shamelessly lay claim to things that they played no part in creating.  But as Margaret Thatcher pointed out, there is a problem with this – “You eventually run out of other people’s money”. And that brings us to the second anecdote and why we all have a duty to stop the socialists. Like the chicken in that story, there are few people in this society who generate enormous wealth that benefits all of us. ( If it were not for Bill Gates, Computers would have remained locked up in laboratories with no one except some bearded unix gurus understanding them. Were it not for WalMart, shopping would not have become a hobby ). And when some stupid Robin Hood decides to rob these people and “help” the poor, he is essentially hampering the creation of wealth, without being of any use to the society himself. Who knows how many ideas were killed before birth due to India government’s sadistic controls prior to the 90s? Would the great technological revolution of the 80s and 90s have happened even earlier had the Reagan-Thatcher era arrived earlier?
Some economists pretend that taxes have no effect upon productivity. If the guy wants to earn more, let him work more. What is the harm in taxing him higher, he still ends up with more money than he had originally. So he will still work, they say. But men have even more complex needs than that simple chicken. To understand the logic behind why “Atlas” will shrug one day, we need to explore the concept called Opportunity cost. But let us keep that for another day. I leave you now with this thought from Mark Twain

Don’t go about saying that the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

Noted in Passing:
* You do feel the need to breathe, when air is in short supply, like under water or high altitudes. Then laws of economics will begin to apply to air too. Researchers living in such extreme conditions are forced to treat air as an economic good and manage their oxygen cylinders economically.

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Written by Surya

September 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm