How Governments harm trade

The following paper, entitled "How Governments Harm Trade" (see link at the bottom), is a paper in which I explain the principle behind why in most cases the free market works best when governments do not interfere in the prices society engenders by the laws of supply and demand. Those prices, I will argue, reflect human choices played out on a day to day basis, and are the soundest bottom-up basis on which economies are organised, not the top-down organisations that politicians impose on us.

The free market is the aggregation of billions of choices, wants, needs and desires going on in the world at any one time, all in the form of mutually beneficial transactions. Naturally, as you'd expect, such a system is far too complex and dynamical to be mapped to a set of simple ordinances and decrees, and that is the basis on which so many regulations are frequently problematical to the agents involved in trade.

I will show how value is created in every societal transaction for both agents by the combination of consumer surplus and producer surplus. Consumer surplus is the difference between what the consumer pays and what he would have been willing to pay, and producer surplus is the difference between what producers are willing and able to supply a good for and the price they actually receive. I also explain how the mutual value attained by both agents in those free exchanges is much closer to an optimal outcome than when politicians impose their will on the transactions.

As this paper will also show, the main regulations one ought to be opposed to are ones that artificially interfere with prices and the information-carrying signals they exhibit. Two examples are price floors and price ceilings. A price ceiling is a form of legislation by the government that says the price of x must not go above their ceiling price. A price floor is a form of legislation by the government that says the price of x must not go below their floor price. I will show how both these legislations negatively interfere in the market process, and how frequently both parties (buyers and sellers, employers and employees, landlords and tenants) are made worse off by these price controls.

On the issue of when it is good or bad for the state to be involved in the free market, I use quite a simple and obvious formula. It is this: the state should only involve itself in our transactions when there is a net benefit to society from this involvement. That is, when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

When stated like that, I would think it is hard to find a sane person who disagrees with that proposition. The odd thing about society, however, is that it is full of people who would find little trouble agreeing with the idea in its above propositional form, but who quite comfortably hold numerous beliefs that depart from the above logic. It is this societal anomaly that will be unpacked.

To read the full paper click here.