Saturday, November 29, 2008

Who's to blame for our economic situation? I blame Star Trek!

In a free market environment, people try to better themselves by finding ways to create value for others. That is, they create something, be it a product or a service, that is of more value to someone else than it is to them. Then they trade. Some ideas succeed. Some fail. It's an evolutionary process of natural selection that brings to market the things people most want at prices they're willing to pay.

In the United States today, we increasingly look to the government to provide the things we want. We also look to them to take the pain away from trying and failing. We've subverted the evolutionary process. Even politicians who once championed capitalism and limited government have gotten on the bandwagon. The government now owns stakes in banks, insurance companies and soon, the auto makers. In exchange for the cash infusions, government will have a say in how the companies are run, who they hire, what they produce and how much they'll make. There is no longer a debate as to whether or not the government should ensure everyone gets health care. There's just some disagreement as to the terms. Worrying about the national debt is not even on anyone's radar in this new paradigm.

How did we get here? Well, I blame sci-fi, at least in part. Science fiction has the ability to stir our imaginations. Some of the nifty devices used on shows like Star Trek have actually been produced and are in every day use (automatic doors, "communicators"). There have been many positive influences. But one thing most every popular science fiction drama has in common is a view of the future built by the government. Nobody uses cash in Star Trek. Everyone simply does their duty and is happy to do it. We see the dozen or so folks who get to go on the occasional adventure, but I can't help but wonder about the other 400 who simply do their jobs, day in and day out, and never get paid. All their needs are met by the Federation. Once in a while a "capitalist" type will appear on an episode, but they are backward, goofy, greedy and usually ugly comic relief.

The Stargate series is no better. The government is engaged in inter-gallactic trade and diplomacy on the taxpayers dime. Not only does the general public not know anything about it, they have no direct access to any of the benefits or technology. Yet the government forces that carry on this clandestine operation are the heroes.

There wasn't much mention of the common man in Star Wars, outside of the bar scenes, but there again the main characters who were engaged in private commerce were depicted as selfish, greedy, unreliable and eventually saw the error of their ways.

We have been sold a vision of a Utopian future without free markets, without capitalism, without the free association of independent individuals. Of course the message is subtle and packaged with lots of explosions and drama sprinkled with comedy, but it's there and it's effective.

We are reaching for Never Never Land; a future that will never come to pass because the fact is that an economic system based on resource allocation determined by an elite group, even a democratically elected elite group will never achieve the efficiency and genius of a system based on resource allocation by the cumulative effects of free individuals making voluntary decisions in a free market.

If we truly want to go where no man has gone before, we're not going to get there in a government chartered bus.