Saturday, December 12, 2009

Understanding what wealth, money, debt, and property really are, and why Austrian economists end up being nearly entirely wrong about everything.

Economics is difficult to understand because it's simply another area of human behavior. And human behavior is almost entirely impossible to understand, both in the individual and in the group. Patterns emerge, of course, but the patterns can lead you to horrifically wrong conclusions, both about what is really going wrong and what to do about it.

So, to the point:

What is wealth?
What is money?
What is debt?
What is property?

It turns out that all four are instances of the same type of thing: Social contracts. They are all social contracts. There is no "objective" standard for any of these things--they all depend on mutual understanding of social conventions. They do not, in fact, exist in the "real world". They exist only in the minds of people.

You might object, "but when I own a house, the house exists." And this is true--the house, as an object, exists. But your ownership exists only in your mind and the minds of others. It's a contract between you and other people. It's not really just one contract--it comprises a group of hundreds of other contracts, written and unwritten, some of them actually contradictory.

There is no first principle that looks at any model of social contract and proves "this is always right" and "this is always wrong", because the proof itself depends on yet more social contracts. The first principles of Austrian economics (or any Enlightenment discipline, in fact) are not first principles at all, but observations built upon other social contracts that people don't dare recognize as equivalent in type to all the others.

So now that I unloaded that on you, here is what I might suggest: What if what you learned about the nature of the these four expressions of social contracts is, in fact, a lie? What if the rules you had to live by concerning these things were different than they were for a chosen elite?

Wouldn't you be more than a little pissed off? Of course you would. And why do you think you can solve these things by saving and buying gold?

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