Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The pot at the end of the garbage rainbow: Trash-sorting

NAFN Á MYNDLast night I was watching the highly politically incorrect 'Penn and Teller Bullshit'. This program was about recycling. I'm not going to cover what was said in the program; recycling does not make any economical sense and we are not drowning in garbage etc. There is this one quote that I want to focus on. This is very interesting and quite telling in how absurd arguments can get, when someone tries to defend one economic fallacy or another. This is what Neil Seldman said, but he is the President of something called the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

"That's what we call the pot at the end of the garbage rainbow, that's where the fifteen to twenty dollar an hour jobs, with health insurance etcetera, makes people able to make a decent living through recycling".

This is amazing, he is telling us that if the government takes away our money (I say our, since recycling is subsidised in every country with active recycling programs) only to create shitty jobs. The government destroys many jobs due to high taxes and inches many people closer to poverty, and then creates lousy jobs instead.

The argument that this Neil makes is not something new. Once more I quote Frédéric Bastiat, this time from one of his best work, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, where he responds to a similar argument as above:

Now, if I am not mistaken, no sooner will the author of the proposal have descended from the platform, than an orator will rush up and say:

"Discharge a hundred thousand men! What are you thinking of? What will become of them? What will they live on? On their earnings? But do you not know that there is unemployment everywhere? That all occupations are oversupplied? Do you wish to throw them on the market to increase the competition and to depress wage rates? Just at the moment when it is difficult to earn a meagre living, is it not fortunate that the state is giving bread to a hundred thousand individuals? Consider further that the army consumes wine, clothes, and weapons, that it thus spreads business to the factories and the garrison towns, and that it is nothing less than a godsend to its innumerable suppliers. Do you not tremble at the idea of bringing this immense industrial activity to an end?"

This speech, we see, concludes in favour of maintaining a hundred thousand soldiers, not because of the nation's need for the services rendered by the army, but for economic reasons. It is these considerations alone that I propose to refute.

A hundred thousand men, costing the taxpayers a hundred million francs, live as well and provide as good a living for their suppliers as a hundred million francs will allow: that is what is seen.

But a hundred million francs, coming from the pockets of the taxpayers, ceases to provide a living for these taxpayers and their suppliers, to the extent of a hundred million francs: that is what is not seen. Calculate, figure, and tell me where there is any profit for the mass of the people. Frédéric Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy: What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

The French in the 18th century where a lot more civilized than people today. Now we reduce the employment of thousands of people to sorting through garbage, an activity that is only reserved for the most poor in the third world.

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