Economic Choices Have Long-Term Consequences

Published October 1, 2007

Bulls Don’t Blush, Bears Don’t Die
Barry Asmus
AmeriPress, 2006
365 pages, $44.50
ISBN 978-0970987327

In his new book, Bulls Don’t Blush, Bears Don’t Die, Barry Asmus presents a wonderful analysis of economic history and its relationship to environmentalism and other important societal concerns.

On the book’s early pages Asmus traces the development of economic principles from ancient times to the present. He covers the Greeks, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, the twentieth century U.S. economy, and much more. This sets the stage for his book the way a short feature film prepares us for the blockbuster feature at the local cinema.

The book then takes off like the beautifully lit, exotic opening of every James Bond movie. It literally becomes a page turner. Reading it becomes addictive as you begin to understand stuff about economics you gave up on long ago.

Success, Optimism

It is only the rare economist who really wants to let us into his world. Best of all, this book is about success and optimism. It is an antidote to your daily dose of print or TV news.

In the author’s opening cannon shot across our bow, he makes free-traders of us all with this statement:

“Free trade is at the top of most economists’ list of factors producing prosperity, growth, and opportunity. Trade is also the great civilizer. We exchange ideas when we exchange goods. Trade is a bridge, where traffic moves both ways. Rivals and customs are re-thought, diversities become advantages, superstitions cancel each other, and economic reason begins.”

High Productivity

In an early section on productivity Asmus brings us to an egg farm with 250,000 well-fed, healthy, and happy–yes, happy–chickens laying 200,000 eggs a day. The eggs are rolling automatically into cartons, onto pallets, then loaded onto trucks, all managed by two employees. As a result, a dozen eggs cost less than a gallon of water.

The capitalist achievement, Asmus says, is “not that it produces more silk stockings for Queens, or leather boots for Kings, but that it brings them both within the financial reach of the common man in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort.”

Productivity also makes life more humane. To pull people off farms, and to end the drudgery and backbreaking work of factory life, is simply a matter of allowing machines to work and people to think.

When James Watt invented the steam engine, Asmus says, “thousands of 10-year-old boys who had been hauling coal carts were now out of work. However, it did free them to do other productive things–like living to be age 11.”

Abundant Energy

Moving from tangible improvements in productivity to the digital information age that increases our collaborative capabilities exponentially, we see why inflation remains so low while energy costs continue to soar. Asmus optimistically summarizes it: “Technology of the future will create needs faster than it satisfies them. Jobs will be plentiful.”

I particularly enjoyed chapter nine, on “Energy, Honda, Hybrids, Hydrogen, and Other Solutions.” As an energy aficionado and editor of Wiley’s forthcoming Energy Encyclopedia, I found it satisfying to learn the author shares my conclusion that the world is not running out of oil or natural gas.

Easy discoveries may be a thing of the past, but new technologies for discovering oil will locate large untapped deposits as we ultimately begin a new era of nuclear power, which will ultimately allow us to develop a hydrogen-based economy. In the meantime, the good news is that we have absorbed higher energy prices without significant harm.

Good Intentions, Bad Results

In Chapter 11, your heart will start racing in anticipation of Asmus’ every word. I kid you not. Here is a sample:

“The growth of government in most countries did not happen because evil people had evil intentions. On the contrary, it happened because many good people had good intentions. Health care, welfare, government jobs, social security, government education, opera houses, recreation centers, public buildings, and food stamps are just a few of the good ideas for more government.”

But these good intentions rely on confiscation of others’ wealth. “The first problem is that government is doing good with other people’s money,” Asmus writes. “There is no end to the good that do-gooders will do with other people’s money.”

This is why no country can maintain a limited government for very long. People want less government, except when it benefits them, and when the government spends your money it never does so as wisely as you would do for yourself. Asmus says, “even the greatest miser spends money like a drunken sailor when it is not his own.”

Why Special Interests Prevail

The author explains with extraordinary clarity why government gets away with it all. Simply put, the average person has little self-interest in stopping particular programs because the out-of-pocket cost is small and the time, effort, and expense required to stop them are large. Those who benefit from a program, on the other hand, will expend much time, money, and energy to get it implemented.

As a result, the political process favors special-interest groups.

If you are a fan of The Heartland Institute’s points of view on education, health care, environment, and taxation, you will likely be delighted with Asmus’ common-sense assessments of the problems we face in these areas and the relatively simple solutions at hand.

This book is actually two books in one. The first part, described above, can serve as an economic policy textbook focusing on the important issues of the day. The second part explains in context what part one teaches about socialism and capitalism, the state of each of the world’s major national economies, how they got to be where they are, and what the future holds.

Please, do not hesitate to buy this book.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director for The Heartland Institute.