Trickle Up Economics

The political left wing has long tried to cast doubt on the fairness, and even the efficacy, of free market capitalism by branding it as a "trickle down" system. This epithet is meant to show how the middle and lower classes are dependent on scraps of wealth that happen to fall from the buffet table of the rich. This characterization of an unfair and inefficient system has helped them demonize policies that lower taxes (if they also extend to the wealthy) and reduce regulation on business.

To correct these supposed problems, they have long called for policies to redistribute wealth or for government to inject funds directly into the economy. Either mechanism puts money into the hands of everyday consumers who they claim to be the true engines of economic growth. They believe that consumer spending lies at the root of the economic pyramid. When people spend, business owners are able to sell more products, hire more workers, and reap more profits. In essence, they believe in a system of "trickle up" economics, whereby prosperity flows upward from government into the lower and middle classes and ultimately to the upper class.

But as usual, they have it exactly backwards. The savings that they find so unproductive is actually the foundation upon which the economy rests. Nothing can be consumed until it is produced. The act of spending is meaningless without something to buy. The savings of the rich forms the capital that funds business investment which increases productivity. The more that society produces, the more that can be consumed. The key here is the supply, not the demand. The grass that feeds the zebras comes from seeds, not rain. Capitalists provide the surplus seeds that are planted.

Demand always exists and does not need to be stimulated by cash redistribution. 21st century Americans are no more desirous of cell phones than their parents were. But in 1980 cell phones were in very limited supply and were therefore very expensive. They were the trophy possessions of the super-rich. The reason why they are now as ubiquitous as key chains is not that government stimulated demand, but that industry figured out how to supply them far more efficiently. The supply satisfied the demand. Investment in the telecom sector, which came from real savings of Americans, allowed for that increased productivity.

In this example, the savings of the wealthy and the innovation of entrepreneurs combined to create a huge benefit for society. Call it trickle down if you want, but it would be more honest to simply call it effective. This is the system that built this country. Relying on trickle up will surely destroy it.


1 comment:

  1. It's sobering, and a little frightening, to realise how few people are significant net contributors to society. The typical wage earner in the private sector is probably borderline, and the vast bulk of those in 'public service' would be on the negative side of the ledger. It's only a small percentage of the private sector actors who generate the bulk of the wealth that makes our money worth anything.


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