September 13, 2008

Shoveling fuel for a runaway train

I have finished reading Brian Czech's Shoveling fuel for a runaway train. In this book Czech calls for "a steady state revolution in public opinion" in the United States. This would consist of scorning the habits of the top one-percent wealthiest people in the US, which he calls the liquidators of North American grandkids' natural capital, and praising the poorer eighty percent, which he calls the steady staters. For some reason that Czech does not explain, if and only if the wealthiest North Americans adopt the frugal way of life of the "steady staters" the grandkids will enjoy abundant natural resources in a clean, beautiful environment.

I have selected three passages from the book to illustrate Czech's economic views.
Male fish were summarily tossed to the floor, sloshed by the ship's movements into the bilge pumps and back out to sea as a sort of ichthyological hamburger. Females were treated the same, except that their egg sacs were taken prior to tossing. We had hit the peak of spawning, and while it lasted, supply and demand called for this type of wanton waste. This was my firsthand introduction to the "invisible hand" of the free market. (Page 7)
Having grown up in the United States, and not in some communist country, it is remarkable that he thinks he first experienced the action of the invisible hand - which requires well-defined property rights - among the fish of the Bering Sea.

The second passage is also about the functioning of markets and the invisible hand. Criticizing the use of prices as a gauge of resource scarcity Czech writes:
[I]f extractors and wholesalers knew that resources were becoming scarce, they would raise prices. Yet how would they know? Presumably not based on prices, since they were the ones responsible for raising those. (Page 70)
And this is the third passage:
Classical, neoclassical, and Marxist economists have all agreed on the matter; capitalism systematically makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. (Page 154)

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