Re: BOOK: The Mystery of Capital

From: Peter C. McCluskey (
Date: Wed Oct 24 2001 - 10:57:24 MDT (Amara Graps) writes:
>I'm sorry that you didn't make it the Extro conference this year,
>Brian. You would have seen Mark Miller highlight this book in his
>presentation. What may or may not have been obvious in his talk is
>that Mark's present focus of his work is to implement some of the
>aspects from this book (as well as his own related ideas).

 Mark's description of de Soto's ideas was somewhat biased by the
solutions that Mark is trying to sell. Mark has a good anarchocapitalist
idea for how to securely transfer property rights.
 That may solve part of the problem that de Soto describes, but the evidence
that de Soto presents strongly suggests that a more fundamental part of the
problem is that landowners cannot keep their property without continuously
occupying it. Enabling banks to take title to a piece of land won't help much
if the bank needs to send an employee to house-sit until they can sell it.

>It is difficult for libertarians to tell people 10 years after the
>"Fall of Communism" why those people's (in former communist countries)
>lives are not significantly better now. For me personally it's sad,

 De Soto may have identified the most important problem facing the
typical poor person in latin america, but that appears to be only
a small part of the problems that face nations that are trying to
recover from the effects of Stalinism.
 Mancur Olson's book Power and Prosperity does a better job of describing
the worst problems afflicting formerly communist nations (and provides a
few hints about why China is recovering much faster than Russia). The degree
to which communism eliminated the use of market prices for resource allocation
meant that over a period of decades, much of the Soviet industry became
not merely inefficient, but came to actually subtract value from the
economy. He reports the surprising observation that many newly started
Russian enterprises categorically refuse to hire anyone who has worked
for a state enterprise in the same industry. Apparently the skills that
those workers have learned make them worth less than unskilled workers
in a free market, and those state enterprises only remain in business
because of their lobbying skills.
 This is a very different effect from the more normal problem of the
government distorting market prices, which prevents some desirable
transactions from happening, but generally doesn't prevent the most
valuable economic transactions or produce activities that subtract
value from the economy.
 Olson's book also includes an interesting argument that Stalin's actions
were not a bad ideology run amok. He argues that once in power, Stalin
abandoned important parts of Marxism and adopted policies that were
carefully designed to maximise Stalin's wealth (at least the wealth
that he could control over a decade or so after gaining power; his
policies probably wouldn't have maximised the wealth he could have had
if he had remained in power for 50 years, but then he probably knew he
wouldn't be in power that long).
 Power and Prosperity isn't as thoroughly supported by empirical research
as I would like, but it is thought-provoking.

 De Soto's book has some interesting things to say about the history of
the American west. He presents some good evidence that vigilante justice
involved as much fairness and due process as the government's justice,
and that much of the homesteading that the government takes credit for
enabling happened before the government passed homesteading legislation.

Peter McCluskey          | Free Dmitry Sklyarov! | 

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