For the U.S. Congress, news media, pundits and much of the American public, a lot of economic phenomena can be explained by what people want, human greed and what seems plausible. I’m going to name this branch of economic “science” wackonomics and apply it to some of today’s observations and issues.
Since July this year, crude oil prices have fallen from $147 to $64 a barrel. Similarly, average gasoline prices have fallen from over $4 to a national average of $2.69 a gallon. When crude oil and gasoline were reaching their historical highs, Congress and other wackoeconomists blamed it on greedy oil company CEOs in their lust for obscene profits. But what explains today’s lower prices? The only answer, consistent with wackonomic theory, is easy: Oil company CEOs have lost their lust for obscene profits. Or, maybe, since many of these CEOs are getting up in years, they might have begun to heed Matthew’s warning (19:24), “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Speaking of CEOs, there’s the “unconscionable,” “obscene” salaries they receive, in some cases over $10 million a year. Wackonomics has an easy answer for these high salaries: it’s greed. However, CEOs don’t have the corner on greed. There are other greedy people we don’t scorn but hold in high esteem. According to Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list, Oprah Winfrey receives $275 million, Steven Spielberg gets $130 million, Tiger Woods $115 million, Jay Leno $32 million and Dr. Phil $40 million. I need to talk to these people and learn their strategy. I’ve been making every effort to get that kind of money. I go to bed greedy, dream greedy dreams, awaken greedy and proceed through the day greedy. Despite my heroic efforts, it’s all been for naught; I earn a pittance by comparison.
Wackonomics can help us understand what some people call the income distribution.
The logical extension of wackonomic thought is that the unequal or unfair distribution of income is the handiwork of a dollar dealer who distributes dollars. The dollar dealer might deal one person a million dollars a year while dealing most others a mere pittance like $10, $20 or $30 thousand a year. Thus, the reason why some people are wealthy while others are poor is because the dollar dealer is a racist, sexist, a multi-nationalist, or just plain mean. Economic justice requires a re-dealing of the dollars, income redistribution or spreading the wealth, where the government takes the ill-gotten gains of the few and returns them to their rightful owners. Wackonomics might have a greed-based explanation for income inequality. There is a pile of money called income and greedy people got there first and took their unfair share. Similarly, economic justice requires a redistribution of income.
Wackonomics isn’t just practiced by the uninitiated. This year’s Nobel Laureate, Princeton University Professor Paul Krugman, after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, gave one rendition of wackonomics in his column “After the Horror,” New York Times (9/14/01). Krugman wrote, “Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack — like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression — could do some economic good.” He went on to point out how rebuilding the destruction in New York and Washington, D. C., would stimulate the economy through business investment and job creation. For practitioners of non-wackonomics, this reasoning doesn’t even pass the smell test. If Professor Krugman’s vision is correct, and extending his logic, the terrorists would have made an even larger contribution to our economic well-being had they been able to fly a plane into the White House and destroyed buildings in other cities.
Wackonomics isn’t all bad. There’s an upside to it. It spares people the bother of having to understand the complexities of the world.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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