Always wanting to hear the viewpoints of those who disagree with me, I always watch Bill Maher’s show when I get a chance. Typically, I end up asking myself the same question every time, “Why the hell am I even watching this?” The reason I get so frustrated is Bill Maher states his opinions as if they have only reasoning behind them. You know, Bill Maher, the guy who says people that believe in God are idiots and don’t believe in reason. As most free market advocates would point out, Bill Maher too has a religion. That religion is statism, and it is based on faith, not reason.
Here is an example from this weeks round table discussion, which had a NY Times columnist, Andrew Ross Sorkin, conservative, S.E. Cup, and libertarian, P.J. O’Rourke (Am I using too many commas?) when discussing the Tennessee firemen standing watching a guy’s house burn down.
It’s crazy that we have for-profit healthcare. As crazy as it would be if we had for-profit fire departments or for-profit police departments. I didn’t expect people to take that and go the other way and make the fire departments for-profit. I’m saying none of them should be for-profit. – Bill Maher
I thought this was a t-ball for O’Rourke. Surely an intellectual libertarian like O’Rourke would hit this one out of the park. He’d explain how profits benefit society, they aren’t a bad word, and every government service should work “for-profit”. Not even close. O’Rourke seemed more like he had tourettes, shouting out stupid statements in an attempt to be funny. Unfortunately for him and his fellow libertarians, he wasn’t even funny, as the weird looks by the other panelists pointed out.
So what is it that Bill Maher doesn’t seem to get about profits? I mean, he’s obviously such a logical guy since he’s an atheist. He just goes where logic, proof and reasoning take him. Well, let’s lay out the proof and reasoning. Obviously, Bill Maher won’t be reading my little ole’ blog, so we’ll just do it for grins and giggles.
As I’ve stated in a previous post, the Tennessee fiasco had nothing to do with the free market. It was still government run, and the government could care less about profits. They don’t need no stinkin profits. They got the guns.
Next let’s analyze the common criticism of all lefties, profits. Aaaahhhh, profits! What is it about profits that are so evil, and why do liberals not get that profits are what drive our civilization forward?
Profits are nothing more than what results from trading one item for another freely, where both parties agree that the item they are getting is more profitable to them. For example, if I produce a bag full of apples in my back yard, but I can only eat a quarter of the bag, it would be profitable for me to trade them. Another person may have made flour, but can only eat so much bread. They would find it profitable to trade some flour for my apples. We both then can make apple pies. It was profitable to both of us.
As every economics book will tell you, this is how trade begins, but it gets very difficult to trade when you have to track down people all the time that want apples or flour. Instead, you trade them for money. Money is no different than the other commodity in the previous example, except it is accepted by everyone. The reason I traded some apples for the flour is I more highly valued the flour than I did the apples. The other side valued the items the opposite way. This does not change when money is introduced. Say I sell my apples for a dollar each. I obviously value that dollar more than my apples. The person buying the apples values the apple more than his dollar. We both profited.
Now that we’ve laid out what profits are, what role do they play in an economy? Profits are what tell entrepreneurs what society wants and needs. They basically tell entrepreneurs, “Hey, we need more resources on this demand, and we are willing to reward you for it.” Let’s say I’m producing my apples and I decide to trade them. It cost’s me 25 cents to produce each apple. When I take it to the market, I find the going price is $1. Obviously, that is a pretty good margin. Society is telling me that they demand more apples, and they are willing to reward me quite handsomely for it. Now, because I have unlimited wants, what am I going to do with a return like that? I am going to direct my resources at producing more apples. Other competitors will see those profits and start making apples in order to get in on the action. After all, society obviously wants more apples.
What happens next? Eventually more supply is brought on the market, which decreases what society is willing to pay for the apples. Unless something increases demand at the same rate as supply, prices will drop. If the cost to produce the apple remains the same, then the profits will decline as well. What is this decrease in profits telling the producers? It’s telling them that they are approaching the point where they are making enough of what society is demanding in regards to apples at the given price. Eventually, if they don’t change something and prices continue to fall, profits will work their way to zero and then turn into losses. What is the loss telling the producers? It’s telling the producers that the given product is being produced too much at the given price. Society would rather he direct his resources elsewhere to provide them with what they value more than apples.
The entrepreneur then does one of two things. They will either try to lower their costs, which will increase their profits and give them more market share, or they will move into another product or service, where the profits are larger, which tells them people want resources directed there.
If they find a way to lower their costs, say by inventing a machine or improving their production techniques, they will lower the cost of production. This will drive out competitors who aren’t as productive, because they won’t be able to lower prices as low as our innovative entrepreneur without taking losses. They will then leave and go into a more profitable business given their resources. The profits or the lack their of, told this business that society doesn’t want what it’s offering at this price and instead would prefer them to use their resources where they can be more efficient than they were at producing apples. Society is basically saying, “Look if you want us to reward you, you have to produce something else.” Now think about this, and you’ll see how this creates prosperity. One entrepreneur innovates, which allows him to lower price and maintain profits. The other cannot, so slowly the innovators takes more market share. Society still gets the apples they want at the given price, but as the less efficient apple producer moves into producing something else, they are now getting apples plus the new product or service. If price was driven down to 25 cents, which forces one producer to lower production cost and another out of the production of apples, society now is then getting one apple plus 75 cents of another product for the same dollar they originally spent on apples.
Now, if they can’t lower cost, they will not be able to continue producing the same level of apples. This is a good thing. Society is telling them, “We don’t need more apples given the cost to produce them.” They will instead direct resources to where society wants as our less competitive producer above had to do. They may continue to produce apples but only to the point of it being profitable. Their excess resources will be diverted to a more profitable venture. Society is telling this entrepreneur, “Look, we want apples, but we don’t want all these apples given the cost. Please give us other products.”
I’m getting a little long here, and hopefully not being too confusing, but now ask yourself how does this take place without profits, which means the government takes it over. The government has no competition to drive down price or encourage innovation. It has nothing to tell it that it is using it’s resources efficiently, or to tell it what society really wants at a given price. This is what leads to the proverbial $600 toilet seat and Big Dig boondoggles.
Now, as one pro-government advocate told me, resources are never really wasted. Really? What does this $600 toilet seat really mean? Remember our example of apples and flour. $600 would constitute $600 worth of production, in our example apples. That $600 of production, what many people are given for their entire week of production (their paycheck), is exchanged for a toilet seat instead of being exchange for $10 worth of production, which is more along the lines of what it should cost. Is this wasteful? Of course. It would be like me trading 600 apples (if apples are $1/each) for a toilet seat that should only cost 10 apples. Instead of being able to buy other products totaling $590 in production, meaning another $590 in production took place, I only got $10 in production. Does this sound like resources are being put to their best use to increase the amount of production in an economy? It is production that makes prosperity, and it is PROFITS that direct producers to produce what society wants, what society deems best for society, not our corrupt overlords.