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Monday, April 16, 2012

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Saving the X Industry

Our aim here is not to trace all the results that followed historically from efforts to save particular industries, but to trace a few of the chief results that must necessarily follow from efforts to save an industry.
It may be argued that a given industry must be created or preserved for military reasons. It may be argued that a given industry is being ruined by taxes or wage rates disproportionate to those of other industries; or that, if a public utility, it is being forced to operate at rates or charges to the public that do not permit an adequate profit margin. Such arguments may or may not be justified in a particular case. We are not concerned with them here. We are concerned only with a single argument for saving the X industry—that if it is allowed to shrink in size or perish through the forces of free competition (always called by spokesmen for the industry in such cases laissez-faire, anarchic, cutthroat, dog-eatdog, law-of-the-jungle competition) it will pull down the general economy with it, and that if it is artificially kept alive it will help everybody else.
What we are talking about here is nothing else but a generalized case of the argument put forward for parity prices for farm products or for tariff protection for any number of X industries. The argument against artificially higher prices applies, of course, not only to farm products but to any product, just as the reasons we have found for opposing tariff protection for one industry apply to any other.
But there are always any number of schemes for saving X industries. There are two main types of such proposals in addition to those we have already considered, and we shall take a brief glance at them. One is to contend that the X industry is already “overcrowded,” and to try to prevent other firms or workers from getting into it. The other is to argue that the X industry needs to be supported by a direct subsidy from the government.
Now if the X industry is really overcrowded as compared with other industries it will not need any coercive legislation to keep out new capital or new workers. New capital does not rush into industries that are obviously dying. Investors do not eagerly seek the industries that present the highest risks of loss combined with the lowest returns. Nor do workers, when they have any better alternative, go into industries where the wages are lowest and the prospects for steady employment least promising.
If new capital and new labor are forcibly kept out of the X industry, however, either by monopolies, cartels, union policy or legislation, it deprives this capital and labor of liberty of choice. It forces investors to place their money where the returns seem less promising to them than in the X industry. It forces workers into industries with even lower wages and prospects than they could find in the allegedly sick X industry. It means, in short, that both capital and labor are less efficiently employed than they would be if they were permitted to make their own free choices. It means, therefore, a lowering of production which must reflect itself in a lower average living standard.
That lower living standard will be brought about either by lower average money wages than would otherwise prevail or by higher average living costs, or by a combination of both. (The exact result would depend upon the accompanying monetary policy.) By these restrictive policies wages and capital returns might indeed be kept higher than otherwise within the X industry itself; but wages and capital returns in other industries would be forced down lower than otherwise. The X industry would benefit only at the expense of the A, B and C industries.

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