October 11, 2006

A few thoughts from the 2006 Nobel Prize winner for Economics

Dang! Edmund S. Phelps can write:
Dynamic Capitalism
Entrepreneurship is lucrative--and just.

There are two economic systems in the West. Several nations--including the U.S., Canada and the U.K.--have a private-ownership system marked by great openness to the implementation of new commercial ideas coming from entrepreneurs, and by a pluralism of views among the financiers who select the ideas to nurture by providing the capital and incentives necessary for their development. Although much innovation comes from established companies, as in pharmaceuticals, much comes from start-ups, particularly the most novel innovations. This is free enterprise, a. k. a. capitalism.

The other system--in Western Continental Europe--though also based on private ownership, has been modified by the introduction of institutions aimed at protecting the interests of "stakeholders" and "social partners." The system's institutions include big employer confederations, big unions and monopolistic banks. Since World War II, a great deal of liberalization has taken place. But new corporatist institutions have sprung up: Co-determination (cogestion, or Mitbestimmung) has brought "worker councils" (Betriebsrat); and in Germany, a union representative sits on the investment committee of corporations. The system operates to discourage changes such as relocations and the entry of new firms, and its performance depends on established companies in cooperation with local and national banks. What it lacks in flexibility it tries to compensate for with technological sophistication. So different is this system that it has its own name: the "social market economy" in Germany, "social democracy" in France and "concertazione" in Italy.

Dynamism and Fertility
The American and Continental systems are not operationally equivalent, contrary to some neoclassical views. Let me use the word "dynamism" to mean the fertility of the economy in coming up with innovative ideas believed to be technologically feasible and profitable--in short, the economy's talent at commercially successful innovating. In this terminology, the free enterprise system is structured in such a way that it facilitates and stimulates dynamism while the Continental system impedes and discourages it.

Wasn't the Continental system designed to stifle dynamism? When building the massive structures of corporatism in interwar Italy, theoreticians explained that their new system would be more dynamic than capitalism--maybe not more fertile in little ideas, such as might come to petit-bourgeois entrepreneurs, but certainly in big ideas. Not having to fear fluid market conditions, an entrenched company could afford to develop radical innovation. And with industrial confederations and state mediation available, such companies could arrange to avoid costly duplication of their investments. The state and its instruments, the big banks, could intervene to settle conflicts about the economy's direction. Thus the corporatist economy was expected to usher in a new futurismo that was famously symbolized by Severini's paintings of fast trains. (What was important was that the train was rushing forward, not that it ran on time.)

Friedrich Hayek, in the late 1930s and early '40s, began the modern theory of how a capitalist system, if pure enough, would possess the greatest dynamism--not socialism and not corporatism. First, virtually everyone right down to the humblest employees has "know-how," some of what Michael Polanyi called "personal knowledge" and some merely private knowledge, and out of that an idea may come that few others would have. In its openness to the ideas of all or most participants, the capitalist economy tends to generate a plethora of new ideas.
You do not have to be a student of that dismal science to know exactly what Edmund is saying. Awesome writing and it sure sucks to be Europe right about now. Go to the site to read the rest of the article, I only excerpted the first 30% or so... Posted by DaveH at October 11, 2006 8:53 PM
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