Market Impeders and Market Inefficiencies
By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
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Even the most devout proponents of free marketry and hidden hand theories acknowledge the existence of market failures, market imperfections and inefficiencies in the allocation of economic resources. Some of these are the results of structural problems, others of an accumulation of historical liabilities. But, strikingly, some of the inefficiencies are the direct outcomes of the activities of "non bona fide" market participants. These "players" (individuals, corporations, even larger economic bodies, such as states) act either irrationally or egotistically (too rationally).
What characterizes all those "market impeders" is that they are value subtractors rather than value adders. Their activities generate a reduction, rather than an increase, in the total benefits (utilities) of all the other market players (themselves included). Some of them do it because they are after a self interest which is not economic (or, more strictly, financial). They sacrifice some economic benefits in order to satisfy that self interest (or, else, they could never have attained these benefits, in the first place). Others refuse to accept the self interest of other players as their limit. They try to maximize their benefits at any cost, as long as it is a cost to others. Some do so legally and some adopt shadier varieties of behaviour. And there is a group of parasites participants in the market who feed off its very inefficiencies and imperfections and, by their very actions, enhance them. A vicious cycle ensues: the body economic gives rise to parasitic agents who thrive on its imperfections and lead to the amplification of the very impurities that they prosper on.
We can distinguish six classes of market impeders:
What could anyone do about these inefficiencies? The world goes in circles of increasing and decreasing free marketry. The globe was a more open, competitive and, in certain respects, efficient place at the beginning of the 20th century than it is now. Capital flowed more freely and so did labour. Foreign Direct Investment was bigger. The more efficient, "friction free" the dissemination of information (the ultimate resource) the less waste and the smaller the lebensraum for parasites. The more adherence to market, price driven, open auction based, meritocratic mechanisms the less middlemen, speculators, bribers, monopolies, cartels and trusts. The less political involvement in the workings of the market and, in general, in what consenting adults conspire to do that is not harmful to others the more efficient and flowing the economic ambience is likely to become.
This picture of "laissez faire, laissez aller" should be complimented by even stricter legislation coupled with effective and draconian law enforcement agents and measures. The illegal and the illegitimate should be stamped out, cruelly. Freedom to all is also freedom from being conned or hassled. Only when the righteous freely prosper and the less righteous excessively suffer only then will we have entered the efficient kingdom of the free market.
This still does not deal with the "not serious" and the "personality disordered". What about the inefficient havoc that they wreak? This, after all, is part of what is known, in legal parlance as: "force majeure".
There is a raging debate between the "rational expectations" theory and the "prospect theory". The former - the cornerstone of rational economics - assumes that economic (human) players are rational and out to maximize their utility (see: "The Happiness of Others", "The Egotistic Friend" and "The Distributive Justice of the Market"). Even ignoring the fuzzy logic behind the ill-defined philosophical term "utility" - rational economics has very little to do with real human being and a lot to do with sterile (though mildly useful) abstractions. Prospect theory builds on behavioural research in modern psychology which demonstrates that people are more loss averse than gain seekers (utility maximizers). Other economists have succeeded to demonstrate irrational behaviours of economic actors (heuristics, dissonances, biases, magical thinking and so on).
The apparent chasm between the rational theories (efficient markets, hidden hands and so on) and behavioural economics is the result of two philosophical fallacies which, in turn, are based on the misapplication and misinterpretation of philosophical terms.
The first fallacy is to assume that all forms of utility are reducible to one another or to money terms. Thus, the values attached to all utilities are expressed in monetary terms. This is wrong. Some people prefer leisure, or freedom, or predictability to expected money. This is the very essence of risk aversion: a trade off between the utility of predictability (absence or minimization of risk) and the expected utility of money. In other words, people have many utility functions running simultaneously - or, at best, one utility function with many variables and coefficients. This is why taxi drivers in New York cease working in a busy day, having reached a pre-determined income target: the utility function of their money equals the utility function of their leisure.
How can these coefficients (and the values of these variables) be determined? Only by engaging in extensive empirical research. There is no way for any theory or "explanation" to predict these values. We have yet to reach the stage of being able to quantify, measure and numerically predict human behaviour and personality (=the set of adaptive traits and their interactions with changing circumstances). That economics is a branch of psychology is becoming more evident by the day. It would do well to lose its mathematical pretensions and adopt the statistical methods of its humbler relative.
The second fallacy is the assumption underlying both rational and behavioural economics that human nature is an "object" to be analysed and "studied", that it is static and unchanged. But, of course, humans change inexorably. This is the only fixed feature of being human: change. Some changes are unpredictable, even in deterministic principle. Other changes are well documented. An example of the latter class of changes in the learning curve. Humans learn and the more they learn the more they alter their behaviour. So, to obtain any meaningful data, one has to observe behaviour in time, to obtain a sequence of reactions and actions. To isolate, observe and manipulate environmental variables and study human interactions. No snapshot can approximate a video sequence where humans are concerned.
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