Sunday, June 10

Zero Sum Games

Paul Rubin's article on human evolutionary opposition to immigration and trade is another piece of absurd logic proving economics professors are insulated by academia. His argument is based upon the idea that our brains have evolved according to a "zero sum" mentality; resources gained for one community means those same resources are denied to a separate community. The development of this type of evolutionary thinking makes perfect sense. For example, two villages live by one well. If my village’s boundaries include the well, your village no longer has any water. Your village now faces two pragmatic choices: wage a war against my village in an attempt to take the well, or trade some commodity for water.

Now, hair-brained economic purists would gleefully declare that the optimum level of efficiency would require your village to trade for water. In a perfect trade or immigration model – given two goods – the country with the lower opportunity costs in the production of one good will trade with the country that has lower production costs in the other good. According to most economists this is a logical, rational argument to which I respond, bullshit.

I understand many forms of trade are uneven. The U.S. has free trade agreements with a number of countries, yet we still provide subsidies to farmers, and our aerospace industry, in addition to import quotas on various Chinese goods. I cannot think of one case in which trade ceases to be a zero sum game. When jobs in this country are sent abroad, those jobs cease to exist here in the U.S. The only way these now unemployed workers will improve their lot is through training programs, or by developing new skills. Seeing as the unemployed are no longer receiving incomes, the government has to step in by either providing unemployment checks, or funding re-training programs. Is this an example of efficiency in trade?

Life as we know is a zero sum game on all levels. As life is created, life ends. In Mr. Rubin’s perfect trade world, everyone pays the exact price that matches his or her level of utility. What happens when one wants to pay a steep discount, or better yet, nothing at all? The whole system falls apart at the seams. Call me a pessimist, but “rising above” evolutionary thinking is illogical (Maybe even proving his point). We are pre-programmed to look after our communities and ourselves. Unless we evolve to become altruistic peaceniks, life will always remain a zero sum game. And the idea that America has risen to this challenge and lowered its barriers to outsiders is pure hilarity.

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