Thursday, July 24, 2008
Regarding "Bachmann, back from Alaska, urges more domestic drilling" (July 23): U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann doesn't seem to understand the subtle difference between need and want (describing the untapped Alaskan energy resources as a locked pantry filled with food while children go hungry). Perhaps a better analogy would be a locked medicine cabinet filled with morphine in a room full of addicts.
Let's tend to the real needs of our children and provide a livable planet for their future that doesn't involve destroying our environment.
The difference between want and need is a source of great confusion in economics. Needs are necessary; wants are optional. In The Economic Way of Thinking, Paul Heyne, Peter Boettke and David Prychitko suggest for statements of "needs":
- The average person needs eight glasses of water per day in order to maintain optimal health.
- All citizens should be able to obtain the medical care they need regardless of their ability to pay.
- A diabetic needs insulin.
- You need to read your economics textbook.
The authors point out that all decisions are made at the margin, that all the values that matter are those at the margin. When I'm watching a baseball game at home and Mrs. S says "Who do you love more, me or baseball?" I answer "At the margin, baseball. And you're blocking the TV."
Is a picture of an arctic scene equal to Area 10-02? Certainly not. But suppose I said you could have Area 10-02, another area of ANWR that has a very similar picture and no oil, or another area in ANWR and x billion barrels of oil. Is there no value for x that gets you to make that trade? I doubt it. I highly doubt it. If there are alternatives to oil, there are also alternatives to undeveloped land.
Scarcity is not optional; we do not live in a world where one can "tend to the real needs of our children" without sacrificing other goods for other people. People can provide for the "real needs" of pristine lands in a variety of ways, both public and private.
We call it the law of demand for a reason.
h/t: KAR, whose post is entertaining as well as educational.