Shell Game

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The human brain, they tell us, evolved over millions of years of beings living in small, hunter- gatherer bands. Groups of individuals who learned to share the spoils of the hunt or the fruits of the gathering had more surviving offspring than bands that allowed some of their group to starve. Groups in which individual creativity found new sources of nourishment and shared its knowledge with the whole band had more survivors than bands in which such knowledge was not shared.

So they tell us that this is why we evolved the innate sense that we ought to share – as well as a gut that tells us this is a zero-sum game. Libertarians, who want to float capitalist, invisible-hand policies are forever running aground on the shoals of our primitive hunter-gatherer brains.

But perhaps we can use those same sensibilities to defeat Keynesian economic nonsense. Archeological evidence tells us that hunter-gatherers traded with one another. Inland groups used relatively rare objects such as seashells as a medium of exchange. Burial sites far inland have such shells. We can all imagine living in such a hunter-gatherer band. And we can ask ourselves whether monetary or fiscal stimulus would make us better off. Would a sudden influx of seashells within one band make the band richer? Absolutely not! Clearly what is needed to become richer are more goods and services – not more objects of exchange.

Can you imagine an early Keynesian in an isolated, hungry band of hunter-gatherers suggesting that if every- one just passed their shells around faster, they’d all be better off? Or how about the taxes idea? “Listen, guys. Everyone gives me some shells. Then I give most of those shells back to everyone, so we11 all be better off.” Like that’s gonna sell? Everyone should be able to understand, even with our primitive brains, that what makes us wealthier is producing more goods and services, not monkeying around with the medium of exchange, or redistributing it. And goods and services are produced in the private sector, not the sector that taxes and redistributes.

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