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Monday, 16 April 2012

Money and Value

It is a key principle in my text Personal Political Economy - PPE [see link from this blog] - that while value is a common noun in everyday speech, and to value is a verb that matters hugely to anyone who is contemplating selling a house or an antique cabinet, the search for a comprehensive 'theory of value' has been one of the most useless components of academic Economics. Sometimes a chapter heading on the lines of The Theory of Value appears in a textbook above an exposition of the idealistic, mechanistic, normative model of Supply and Demand that has only ever applied to any real-world situation by chance for a very short period in specific circumstances. The concept that the untrammelled operation of Supply-and-Demand would 'in the long-run' produce an equilibrium, under which the optimum distribution of the available resources would be achieved throughout the economy, is utterly impractical and unconvincing.

In examining what is the 'optimal' allocation of wealth, Economists have no concept of justice that they assume to underpin their value theory. Tutored in Economics, the contemporary pack of machine politicians present voters with promises that they will promote fairness, which boils down to a variant of the package of trivial changes in taxes and benefits that the civil service Grauniadistas consider to be feasible. Fairness is one of the woolliest slogans that can be devised; but in contemporary politics it is a descriptor of a mixture of policies that intrude into the economy, and divert the patterns of payments, to achieve social objectives that might satisfy naive concepts of 'justice'. The dogmas of Market Economics that drove politics in Britain and the USA from 1980 to 2008 are in direct conflict with the 'fairness' agenda, which implies increasing transfers of wealth from those who generate it to the mass of dependants of the state: requiring more taxes from the diminishing minority of the population who can be classified as 'productive', and more government activity. While the Obama administration has increased state spending, especially through benefits and by funding projects that would not attract market investment in current circumstances [if ever], the UK government is committed to containing government spending and - in particular - capping benefits. The US economic data appear to show modest recovery [but not enough to pay for the increase in borrowing]: the UK data show less certainty of growth and increasing state borrowing. Benefits have been restricted for many tens of thousands of people, who will experience real hardship, while spending on benefits in total is still increasing.

Tens of thousands of immigrants are admitted every year to the UK who have no prospect of employment, and often a positive intention not to work. These people are admitted as asylum-seekers and as 'family members' of settled immigrants and as 'students' [notwithstanding efforts by the underperforming UK Border Agency to stem the flow]. These new migrants, and the children of settled immigrants, increase the total cost of benefits plus social housing plus schools plus health care: while the government attempts to reduce the rate of increase in spending on all those services by reducing eligibility to indigenous British subjects, many of whom have become retired or redundant after a lifetime of taxpaying employment. The resentment that has built up is not simply directed at the Conservative-LibDem coalition; voters recognise that a Labour government would not depart significantly from these policies, whatever the windbags say in their tedious speeches where attacking the coalition is much easier than making convincing policy proposals.

Economists [who are still being over-produced by the bloated university system] are now finding employment as 'valuers' of medical treatments, environmental 'assets' and other assets and actions that nobody considers can be traded on a basis of market Economics. The Health service evaluates treatments by setting the improvement in patients' lifestyle, or the prolongation of their lives, against the price of the medicine and the wages of the staff who administer it and the estimated cost of space and supplies in the hospital. It is impossible to 'value' a human life, and it is mere charlatanry to purport to state a 'benefit' that is equal to, or superior to, the computed cost of the treatment. Similarly any attempt to state the 'value' of a clean river or pollutant-free farming in money terms is simply voodoo Economics since nobody ever would, or could, set a price on such 'benefits' that the public would be willing to pay. There are areas of life where most mature people would agree that those who want to consume a product should be free to do so if their earnings enable them to afford the price. There are many other areas, such as healthcare and the preservation of parkland, where the vast majority would agree that the cost should be met from taxation. Whether it is local taxation or national taxation, whether it falls on income or spending [or whether the taxation is disguised as levies on water companies or petrol sales, so that the consumers paying the tax do not even recognise it] it is a societal levy. The more that deluded politicians follow the Economists' advice to 'privatise' public assets, the more they promote either the degradation of the environment or of health care or of education or the concealment of taxes within the prices that people pay for the output of the privatised businesses. The whole thing is a con: and the proof of that is that there is no credible system for the valuation of the 'benefits' that can be claimed to offset the costs of providing these services. The outcome is diminishing credibility for politics.

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