Updated: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism

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Economist Robert Murphy, Ph.D., a delightful capitalist PIG, has joined Barely A Blog’s A-List with this debut essay. He’s selling something, of course.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism
By Robert P. Murphy

When my book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism (Regnery, 2007), first came out last year, Ilana graciously invited me to plug it here on her blog. As is obvious, I rudely dragged my feet in getting this promotional article to her—but hey, at least the publisher sent her a free copy of the book. You, dear reader, will get no such treatment—unless you tell me you have a popular blog and might favorably review my book. (What do you expect from a capitalist pig?)

As its title suggests, the The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism tackles the popular myths of the alleged evils of an “unregulated” market economy. I show that on issues ranging from labor unions to anti-discrimination laws to financial speculators, the conventional wisdom about the supposed necessity of government oversight is exactly backwards. The market in theory should be able to handle all of these potential problems, and then I also show how in history the market really has performed up to snuff.

People have “learned” that white people on the whole benefited from the existence of slavery, that the free market caused the Great Depression, that the New Deal got us out of it, that the War on Poverty reduced poverty, and that Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts led to huge deficits. But as I show in my book, these historical “facts” are obviously wrong.

On some issues, I merely summarize defenses of the market economy that other popular economists (such as Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell) have given. On other issues, I offer the wisdom of the Austrian School of economics, providing insights from Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

And then on a third set of issues, I broke new ground, to the best of my knowledge. For example, in one chapter I explain the benefit of derivatives markets and financial speculation in a depth that I haven’t seen used elsewhere. The true fan of the free market will probably gain the most from reading these sections.

A basic understanding of derivatives markets, such as the market for oil futures, is crucial to guide citizens through the upcoming months. Right now politicians are promising to regulate or even ban institutional funds from investing in oil futures. To understand the ramifications of such meddling, you must first understand the role that futures contracts play in allowing producers and consumers to plan more confidently because they are inoculated against oil price movements. For example, a car manufacturer might produce more vehicles if it can hedge its exposure to gas prices through purchasing oil futures (which go up in value when oil prices rise).

What is particularly ironic about this case is that, if the punitive politicians get their way, then the average Joe has been deprived of one of his most basic defenses against skyrocketing gasoline prices. Yes, Joe Sixpack is getting killed at the pump, but at least his retirement has (say) a 2% allocation in a Commodity Index. If that type of position is soon rendered illegal, then Joe Sixpack will have to start trading in the oil futures markets himself if he wants to offset the harm of rising oil prices. Oh wait, I forgot—since he would want to do such trading electronically, he might have this option thwarted too once the regulators close the “Enron loophole.” Gee thanks, guys.

The problems don’t stop there. If large potential buyers are chased from the market, then it becomes less liquid. This is exactly what all the financial analysts have said regarding the credit crisis: nobody knew how to value a counterparty’s balance sheet because its mortgage-backed securities didn’t have any price. Because the market for such “toxic” derivatives had completely dried up, everyone was stuck with their contracts. They couldn’t alter their holdings at a convenient price. What had once been very liquid like an ounce of iron was suddenly illiquid, like an expensive piece of art.

Yet if everyone can see the downside of a shallow market in mortgage-backed securities, why in the world would we want to force such a fate on the oil futures market? If certain rich people think oil prices are going up, they will find somewhere in the world people who will field such wagers. The price of oil will still move in response to speculators. But the benefits of futures markets will be reduced, because the market will be shallow. Producers and consumers of oil would be much more willing to rely on oil futures contracts if they knew they could unload them on a dime without suffering a huge price cut. Without large institutional funds to “pick up the slack,” day-to-day fluctuations in the oil market will lead to wilder price swings.

The operation of futures markets is just one of the topics I cover in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. There are plenty more issues, including the space program and seatbelt regulations, where I restore the free market’s good name. Once you buy a copy for yourself, you will then arrange for copies to be mailed to your six closest friends who either love or despise the free market.

Robert P. Murphy has a Ph.D. in economics from New York University and is an economist with the Institute for Energy Research. IER has recently released a study exonerating speculators from the charge that they have caused massive hikes in oil prices.

Updated (June 27): We have been fortunate to have the Doctor on Call. Many thanks to Bob for taking the time to reply to readers. Now go do the right thing; buy Bob’s book.


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7 thoughts on “Updated: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism

  1. Joe Allen

    If I understand you, there are two types of participants in the commodity futures markets: hedgers and speculators. If the speculators are regulated out of business, the market will dry up due to lack of liquidity and likely re-emerge elsewhere, probably London. Without a domestic futures market, prices would become more volatile, ultimately making the industry less efficient and therefor making the commodity more expensive. Am I right so far? So McCain AND Obama say these evil speculators that provide liquidity and stability while absorbing risk must be stopped because they might provide both consumers and producers of oil a way to limit their downside exposure and losses.

    We are so screwed.

  2. Steve Stip

    Sounds like a good book. I don’t have to be sold on the benefits of economic liberty but I do insist on honesty. The black eye capitalism gets is, IMO, the result of the dishonest banking system it is built on. I hope this book addresses that point.

  3. Bob Murphy

    Thanks for the comments so far. Yes Joe Allen, you paraphrased it correctly, and yes I agree “we are so screwed.”

    Steve Stip, I’m not sure exactly what you mean. But I do say that the Fed (or more generally, government interference in money & banking) is responsible for the boom-bust cycle, and that a 100% reserve system based on gold would work just fine.

  4. Steve Stip

    Dr. Murphy,

    Thanks for your response. It sounds like your book addresses my concern. But, I am puzzled. Do you not think fractional reserve banking dishonest? Just the history convinces me of that.
    I’ve read Murray N. Rothbard’s book The Mystery of Banking. That book alone convinced me of the dishonesty of the system.

    I don’t necessarily believe we need a gold system. Just, as you say, get government out of the money business.
    Of course, the usual laws against theft and fraud should be enforced.

  5. Alex

    Wow, it’s nice to see Robert Murphy on here! I bought one of his books on market anarchism – a fascinating read, and I used to correspond with the fellow.

    These days I prefer to stay away from anything having to do with economics or liberty.

    Problem is, it doesn’t matter how smart and knowledgeable I am. The country is run by idiots – and by idiots, I’m not necessarily talking about the pundits in our political parties. I am talking about the average american.

    The average American is an idiot. He also controls the levers that manipulate who is in power.

    In college, I’m learning quickly that Statism has engulfed the ideas that are taught.

    I guess I shouldn’t be so negative, and I don’t want to discourage the purchasing of what is likely to be a very good book. But I have to ask; why bother?

  6. Bob Murphy

    Steve,

    I certainly agree that our present system was put in place through fraud and coercion. I think it’s theoretically possible for there to be fractional reserve banking in a pure libertarian society, but it might not be profitable. (I.e. the banks’ customers might insist on 100% reserves if the government isn’t stacking the deck.)

    ========

    Alex,

    I’m not sure I understand you. If the country weren’t full of idiots who vote for professional liars, then my book would just be a curiosity. But in the present environment, we need to educate as many people as possible. So that’s why you should buy 7 copies. :)

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