Three Widely Believed Economic Fallacies

Steve Horowitz:

The Fallacy of the Zero-Sum Game

The first of these fallacies is the belief that market activities, especially exchange, are zero-sum games. Zero-sum games are those in which the total gained from playing the game is zero. So, for example, if each of five people playing poker buys into the game for $100, there is only $500 to be won.

. . .

We see this misperception of markets in a variety of forms. At the most general level, the belief that the rich get rich by impoverishing others is a species of zero-sum thinking.



The Fallacy That Order Requires Design

The second fallacy is the belief that economies require someone or some group to design and/or control them. Often this belief is linked to an argument from complexity: only a simple economy could be left to its own devices. Complex, advanced economies like those across most of the globe require human monitoring and regulation to function properly.

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The flaw at the heart of this fallacy is that it ignores the idea of spontaneous or undesigned order.


The Fallacy that Consumption is the Key to Growth

The final fallacy is the belief that consumption is the source of economic growth. This belief is widely held by everyone from the citizenry at large up through economic journalists and politicians. We hear it every time the economy enters a recession and begins to recover. Pundits declare that consumers need to start buying things to generate a recovery, and reports about the latest data on consumer spending make the headlines.

. . .

In fact, consumption expenditures vary the least as economies go through booms and busts. The component with the greatest variation is private sector investment. If anything is needed during a recovery, it is more investment by the private sector, not more consumption.

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The heart of the fallacy, however, is that consumption consumes things! When we consume goods and services, we destroy their value by using them up. Consuming food does not create anything valuable, it eliminates something valuable.

Excellent work. Read it.


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