By Kyle | April 1, 2009
A very interesting blog by an economics professor named Scott Sumner relays this point from Cato’s Will Wilkinson about why people (liberal people, by which I mean statists) can’t think rationally about economics. Our brains didn’t evolve in a way conducive to understanding a non-zero-sum-game. In other words, we’re hard-wired to think that if you are getting richer, it is somehow costing me. Hating the rich was once rational. That primal feeling remains, for some. The Democratic party should give credit where it is due for the foundations of their economic philosophy: to Fred Flintstone.
Because of the social nature of hunting and gathering, the fact that food spoiled quickly, and the utter lack of privacy, the benefits of individual success in hunting and foraging could not be easily internalized by the individual, and were expected to be shared. The EEA [i.e. Stone Age] was for the most part a zero-sum world, where increases in total wealth through invention, investment, and extended economic exchange were totally unknown. More for you was less for me. Therefore, if anyone managed to acquire a great deal more than anyone else, that was pretty good evidence that theirs was a stash of ill-gotten gains . . . Our zero-sum mentality makes it hard for us to understand how trade and investment can increase the total amount of wealth. We are thus ill-equipped to easily understand our own economic system.
Sumner, by the way, calls himself a “right-wing liberal,” which sounds like a pretty nifty term.