Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How the 'Conomist Got His Lump

THE 'Conomists' lump is a hideous hump
    They pedantically teach at the U.;
But uglier yet is the slump we all get
    When we swallow this muck that they spew.

Rudyard Kipling's "How the Camel Got His Hump" is a Just-So story. It is Just-So 'scrutiating cutesy, patronizing, colonialist and moralistic. Idleness is condemned and loyal obedience to one's master is extolled.

When the diligent dog, horse and ox complain to their master, man, about the slothful camel's shirking, man tells them they three "must work double-time to make up for it." You see, there was only so much work to go 'round (with the world so new-and-all) and if some of it couldn't be spread thin onto the camel, then that part had to be humped up on the other three. 

Dorning Rasbotham's confident assertion that "a cheap market will always be full of customers" is another Just-So story. Unlike Kipling's fable about the camel, Rasbotham's tale has become a staple of economic dogma. 

No evolutionary biologist would sneer at the general public for their lack of erudition regarding the fact that the camel's hump was "brought upon [his] very own self by not working." Yet that is precisely the refrain that economists repeat ad nauseum. Even economists who claim to reject the "unemployment is always voluntary" placebo are loath to repudiate the seductive cheap-market-full-of-customers creation myth and article of faith.

UPDATE: I have been informed in a comment that "a cheap market will always be full of customers" is "obviously and strictly true." Well, tell THAT to Squire Rasbotham, Mr. blissex. Dorning Rasbotham apparently didn't think it was so "obviously and strictly true" because he chewed up 18 pages of his pamphlet before getting to this supposedly obvious and strict truth.

Of course the Sandwichman suffers from the obvious and strict rhetorical disadvantage of actually having read the text in question. It is always much easier to assert things and claim they are facts than it is to present evidence and show how that evidence supports a hypothesis. (That is why we are doomed, DOOMED!)

For the edification of those who suppose they knows everything they needs to knows about Rasbotham's Theorem from its conclusion (without reading his pamphlet or knowing what his premises were) here is a brief recap of the argument:
  1. The interests of the poor should have the highest priority (after all, what would become of the rich if there were no poor people to till their grounds, and pay their rent?);
  2. There is not so great a difference between the real interests of the rich and the poor;
  3. Trade is a large and difficult subject that requires deep thought, long study, extensive reading and large experience to form a true judgment;
  4. Machines distinguish men in society from men in a savage state. There are many examples showing how machines invariably benefit people;
  5. All improvements at first produce some difficulty but many receive the benefit while only a few suffer, probably not much and hopefully not for long (they should be grateful for the opportunity to make a sacrifice for their fellow man);
  6. Trade will find its own level. Those thrown out of their old employments will find or learn new ones. Those who get a disproportionate gain will soon find many rivals and lose their temporary advantage; (take that, Bill Gates!)
  7. There is a disposition among people to be unduly alarmed by new discoveries;
  8. Even if machines (or globalization or the hypertrophy of the finance sector) are evils they are necessary evils. We might as well make the best of them;
  9. This would be a prosperous time for the poor, if only they weren't so inclined to carry their money to the alehouse;
  10. Anyone who disagrees with the above truths is a irreligious, conscienceless scoundrel; and (drumroll),
  11. That "there is only a certain quantity of labour to be performed" is a false principle.
  12. Because -- ta-da! -- a cheap market will always be full of customers!