Intuitively Couterintuitive

Arguing that Economics is more intutive than usually presented, Bryan Caplan over at EconLog gives some examples of intuitive economic arguments:

1. Counterintuitive claim: Free trade makes countries richer, even if the other countries have big advantages like cheaper labor or more advanced technology.

Intuitive version:  We’d be better off if other countries gave us stuff for free.  Isn’t “really cheap”
the next-best thing?

2. Counterintuitive claim: Strict labor market regulation is bad for workers.

Intuitive version: Employers don’t like hiring people if it’s hard to get rid of them.  Suppose you had to marry anyone you asked out on a date!

3. Counterintuitive claim: Egalitarian socialism creates poverty… even starvation.

Intuitive version: If everyone gets the same share whether or not they work, you’re asking people to work for free.  People don’t like working for free, especially when the work isn’t very fun.  (This is my response to Sumner’s Great Leap Forward Challenge: “But how do we explain to school children that millions had to starve because of a policy that encouraged people to share?”)

4. Counterintuitive claim: Prices are determined by supply and demand.

Intuitive version: If the good were free, consumers would want a lot, but producers wouldn’t feel like making much.  If the good cost trillions of dollars, producers would want to make a lot, but consumers wouldn’t want to buy any.  In between there’s got to be a price where consumers want to buy as much as producers want to make.

Hayek

A great quote from F. A. Hayek (HT Will Wilkinson),

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible…The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.