It appears - because it has been the case for twenty years - that every problem is solvable...that no matter how badly the world economy slumps there is a pain-free way out of it. Once the realization dawns that there is not, and that the pain will be severe, the question is posed that has not really been posed for twenty years: who should feel it?
The problem with gross domestic product is the gross bit. There are no deductions involved: all economic activity is accounted as if it were of positive value. Social harm is added to, not subtracted from, social good. A train crash which generates £1bn worth of track repairs, medical bills and funeral costs is deemed by this measure as beneficial as an uninterrupted service which generates £1bn in ticket sales.
The oldest problem in economic education is how to exclude the incompetent. A certain glib mastery of verbiage-the ability to speak portentously and sententiously about the relation of money supply to the price level-is easy for the unlearned and may even be aided by a mildly enfeebled intellect. The requirement that there be ability to master difficult models, including ones for which mathematical competence is required, is a highly useful screening device.
We got rich by violating one of the central tenets of economics: thou shall not sell off your capital and call it income. And yet over the past 40 years we have clear-cut the forests, fished rivers and oceans to the brink of extinction and siphoned oil from the earth as if it possessed an infinite supply. We've sold off our planet's natural capital and called it income. And now the earth, like the economy, is stripped.
Our hopes of avoiding the fate which threatens must...[be to make]adjustments that will be needed if we are to recover and surpass our former standards...and only if every one of us is ready to individually obey the necessities of readjustment shall we be able to get through a difficult period as free men who can choose their own way of life. Let a uniform minimum be secured to everybody by all means; but let us admit at the same time that with this assurance of a basic minimum all claims for a privileged security for particular classes must lapse....
Most of us have no sympathy with the rich idler who spends his life in pleasure without ever doing any work. But even he fulfills a function in the life of the social organism. He sets an example of luxury that awakens in the multitude a consciousness of new needs and gives industry the incentive to fulfill them.
It is irrelevant to the entrepreneur, as the servant of the consumers, whether the wishes and wants of the consumers are wise or unwise, moral or immoral. He produces what the consumers want. In this sense he is amoral. He manufactures whiskey and guns just as he produces food and clothing. It is not his task to teach reason to the sovereign consumers. Should one entrepreneur, for ethical reasons of his own, refuse to manufacture whiskey, other entrepreneurs would do so as long as whiskey is wanted and bought. It is not because we have distilleries that people drink whiskey; it is because people like to drink whiskey that we have distilleries. One may deplore this. But it is not up to the entrepreneurs to improve mankind morally. And they are not to be blamed if those whose duty this is have failed to do so.