The Darwin Economy
November 4, 2011
By Sinclair Soul
Cornell University Economics professor and New York Times columnist Robert H. Frank has published the book The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good. Right up front I’d like to stress that this is NOT a review of that book, but simply an examination of its main thesis. This, according to Frank, is that “taxes on activities that harm other people are not bad things.” He takes on Adam Smith’s theory of the “invisible hand” which states that competition advances the common good by channeling the prime mover of self-interest. Instead, he advances Darwin’s argument that individual and group interests often conflict and can lead to “arms races” which can cause a harm to the “group” which surpasses any individual advantage. As a solution to combat this “Darwin Economy” Frank advocates special sur taxes on “harmful” activities.
In a recent television interview, Frank cited elaborate “coming of age” parties for kids as an example of something which does not promote good either individually or collectively. He advocates that the excess government revenue from taxing such activities would make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. Wow! Where do I start?
First, what is original about this idea? There have been “sin” taxes on things such as tobacco products for years. As have there been excise taxes on hotels, luxury taxes on yachts, and a whole slew of local and state taxes on everything from the type of occupation you have to simply “occupying” a residence for people such as traditional housewives. This spaghetti system has done little to nothing to advance “the public good” especially in light of unaccountable, extreme spending by government at all levels.
The bigger point is the philosophical contradiction put forth here. Most leftists and Darwinists are appalled at the very mention of “intelligent design” in conversations about the big picture. To them, to believe in such a fable shows one’s ignorance of science and reality. But when it comes to economics, these same people advocate much intelligent design rather than just letting nature (in this case, free markets) take its course.
Now, I don’t mean to get too critical here. After all, I do enjoy and applaud fresh ideas, especially during the economic mire we’re caught up in. But all Frank has really done here is elevate class warfare to a new art form all while ignoring the countless examples through history when similar schemes to legislate morality have gone woefully wrong. Additionally, there is a dose of Ivy-League-New York-Elitist to top it all off. He is so sure in his solution that he predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics and adds “I don’t know how anyone on either side could be against this”. Really, Mr. Frank. Shall I enumerate the ways?
Sinclair Soul is a championship-level background singer and now political columnist for BigBlueBullfrog.com. His column, “The Soul of the Nation” thoroughly examines the state of American politics and culture from a Soul perspective.