THE FINAL WORD BY TIM WORSTALL

How to get what you want

The reason markets work is exactly because they allow people to try all sorts of weird stuff unadulterated by what educated and sensible people think should happen

I am what is known as a “neoliberal,” and proud to be so too. Unlike many other political or economic orientations I do have at least a modicum of facts on my side in this debate. It's entirely true that if we had government by the omniscient and omnipotent then the world could be a better place. It's just that we can regard the 20th century as an experiment in whether those who reach the position of ruling us can be regarded as either of those. The claims of state power in East Germany did not lead to the revelation of greater wealth than existed in West Germany in 1989 after all.

But, to put such snide comments aside, we have an example here in Bangladesh of how the government simply isn't the way to organize life. Yes, we all know there are some things that must be done and which can only be done by the government. But restricting -- the neoliberal position -- the government to only those things does lead to a richer world.

The example is AroundMeBD. This is something that stems from the village of Shimulia, over in the west. Now, you may well know more about this than I do, in the sense of having a more detailed knowledge of it. But the point I want to make is that the government would never, ever, have created something like this. 

For those who don't know this is a YouTube channel. Which features the good folk of Shimulia cooking vast feasts of food according to the age-old traditions of that village. Vast is the word too, one recent episode shows the cooking of well over 100kg of tuna, the food preparations regularly feed hundreds.

Now, the cuisines of rural Bangladesh are not quite my thing -- no doubt to my detriment. But let's back up a little and think about this from an economic point of view.

We face a certain problem. Technology advances, what is possible to do changes. It's also true that what it is that people want done also changes -- fashion and culture do change over time. So we have this constantly expanding universe of what can be done meeting changing tastes of what it is desired that is to be done. Our task is to try to match up what can now be done against what people would like to be done. 

Now there are some who think that the peoples’ representatives can decide that. Or that bureaucrats shuffling paper in offices can plan all of this. And then we meet reality. 

I'm sure that Shimulia is an absolutely delightful place. I'm also sure that it's not particularly different from many other places in Bangladesh, even the sub-continent as a whole. So, which politician or bureaucrat would have hit upon the idea of a cooking show from there? 

Don't forget, the things that have made this possible are the rise of the internet, internet advertising (that's where the revenue comes from to buy 100kg tuna fish), cheap cameras, and pure, unadulterated happenstance. Liton Ali Khan thought, well, why not? Started loading videos up to YouTube, they caught on and here we are -- 50 duck cookery shows. That this is all related to Shimulia is merely where Khan's contacts and relations are. 

This is what a free market economy allows people to do. Try something. Nearly all of those experiments fail. It doesn't work, no one wants it, it costs more than folk will pay for it. But it is through precisely this process of trial and error that we find those things that do work. What is it that adds value to this life we’re all leading? What is it that makes us richer? 

Markets allow us to explore that new envelope of the possible faster than any other socio-economic structure. That's the real reason that markets make us richer. Which is why I am a neoliberal.

Now, you could tell me that you're absolutely certain that a properly planned economy would also create a YouTube channel with 4,000,000 subscribers watching the entrails of 14 goats being cooked in some village out in the wilds over by the Sundarbans. Sure, you could tell me that. But you've not got a hope of making me believe it.

The reason markets work is exactly because they allow people to try all sorts of weird stuff unadulterated by what educated and sensible people think should happen. Well, OK, the real reason they work is because often enough the things that people want are the weird things that educated and sensible people working in offices can't even think of, let alone think should happen.

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