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The candidates for Mayor in last year’s election in North Adams, MA spent a record amount to secure their position. Here are some questions and thoughts for y’all.

  1. The report indicates that the two candidates, combined, spent $133,468 on the election. This is just the direct money cost. Just think of all the time that each of these candidates and their supporters spent on the election. Think of what productive work they could have been doing were it not for attending rallies, posting flyers, writing Op-Eds, arguing about who is a more effective looter, …
  2. The incumbent Mayor lost, having spent almost $77,000. What does he have to show for those expenditures? What does North Adams have to show for those expenditures? The answer is nothing. Compare that to what happens when two competitors in a market process try to attract business. They compete by producing things of value and they compete by figuring out ways to deliver their good or service more efficiently. In either case, someone on the other end of that transaction always wins. Furthermore, even for the producer that “loses” all of the effort that went into competing for my business is not wasted. Someone, somewhere captures it. This is easier to see if we think about a world of barter. In a world of barter, the only way to buy something from someone else is to make sure you produce something of value that you can trade it for. So, if you and your neighbor both covet that wicker basket that the merchant down the street is making, what do you have to do? Each of you would set upon the task you are good at. Your neighbor may make a nice sweater. You might make some dried fruit. Each of you tries to persuade the wicker basket baker to trade you for your product.

    Suppose your neighbor “wins” the competition. In this case, he gets the basket and the basket maker gets the sweater. That trade, itself, is positive sum. Each would not have traded unless each was made better off. Taken by itself, that is a marvelous result of competition and trade. But market processes do one better. What of the person that “loses” the competition for the wicker basket? Is he poorer? No, in fact he (and society) is richer by exactly the amount of value he created by making the dried fruit. Either you can eat that fruit, or exchange it for some other good and service that you value. In other words, market competition is positive sum.

  3. Compare this to political competition. In each transaction (independent of the competitive process), there is no guarantee that both parties gain. Who are the parties here? In this case, the voters of North Adams as the “buyer” and the candidates as the “seller.” Do the voters really value the existence of the mayor? Did they have a choice to not have a mayor? I think not. It is a forced transaction which by definition has to be suboptimal.
  4. In addition to the political transaction being forced (i.e. not freely chosen), the transaction that people are being asked to participate in is one where there is nothing of economic value being created. Governments cannot produce anything without first extracting resources from somewhere else.
  5. But the major issue should be, why so much money spent just to secure a position that supposedly is a “public interest” position? Clearly, the amount spent in the process has to be proportional to the gains to be had from becoming Mayor. Is the salary so good that people are willing to pay to get the position? If that is the case, then it seems to me that the salary should be reduced so that we do not have to waste resources to get people into the position. After all, how many people spend $76,000 just for the chance to hold down a job? I understand all the arguments you might make opposing such an idea, I am merely raising the notion that even if not the salary, there must be some other characteristics about the job that people find SO appealing that they would spend thousands of dollars on just to get.
  6. What is that thing? How about power? How about showering gifts and favors and special privileges on your friends? Anyone who lives in Berkshire County knows the worst kept secret in the world that it is the most cronyistic place in America. But think about power and status competition. That is zero sum. And many behavioralists and leftists argue that zero-sum status competition (where I get pleasure not from how rich I am, but only from the fact that I am richer than my neighbor) is justification for taxing the heck out of incomes at the high levels. Then why do these same looters not also run around arguing for us to tax the heck out of people who obtain positions of power and status. After all, the satisfaction Mayor Barrett gets is that he lords his thieving influence over me and everyone else. And since some people are always going to have more influence than others, allowing people to compete to acquire it via the political process is wasteful. So that spending should be taxed. Actually, optimally, the accretion of power should be taxed. Why is it not? Because those in power are looters with no moral backbone. They like to dress up their anti-market biases in the language of market failure and fairness, they like to dress up their pro-power biases in the language of the “public interest” or “the people,” they like to dress up their envy of the productive class and the naturally talented in terms of technocratic efficiency – but at base, what it all really is, is naked thirst for power, and a naked hatred of free people and markets. Let’s finally call it what it is.

If you think I am crazy, ask yourself this question. How many people who have come to hold pro-government, statist, Socialist, Marxist views came to hold them through a deep reading of Marx, and the communitarian socialists who preceded him? I can count them on one hand among the people I know. Then how is it that people come to hold such views? I can only think of envy, hatred, jealousy, and avarice as explanations, despite the pragmatic preachings of those who hold such looting tendencies.

One Response to “Negative Sum Competition”

  1. Harry says:

    It’s North Adams, so what do you expect? Bill Bennett?

    I don’t have enough hands to count all the people I went to college with, not to mention half of the people I played thumper with at Amherst, who qualify as pro-government statist commutarian socialist-Marxist-progressives.

    This clearly is the disadvantage Wintercow suffered by playing football, not counting the disadvantages any Holstein would have, unless she were playing on the line. Wintercow is fortunate not having to suffer the philosophical vicissitudes of the ’60’s and early ’70’s.

    It is yet refreshing to find an open, inquiring mind in Academia today.

    Remember, every day in every way, the days are getting longer.

    And about that “deep reading” of Marx — Tommy Chong has all there is to say on that subject, as in, “This is really good s—.”

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