Lost opportunities can have far reaching consequences. Our society routinely destroys economic opportunities as a matter of policy. This includes immediate discouragement of economic activity via tax disincentives and regulatory obstacles as well as lost capital investment and innovation. And it includes actions that grant protected status for monopolists, a steady by-product of the regulatory state. Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek posts a letter from a reader and his own thoughts on these points. From the letter:
“California has 3,754 wineries and they provide good wines for customers, jobs for employees, profits for owners, and fun places to visit. Imagine if Prohibition had never ended or if regulations were such that a mere five wineries produced all the wine for the entire country. Who would have known what we would have been missing?”
The damage of such policies goes on and on, and the negative effects compound with the passage of time. But those effects are seldom visible when policies are made. We never observe the bounty of the counterfactual when a new plant or shop isn’t built, a new shift isn’t added, a new company isn’t formed, a price increase isn’t discouraged by competition, or when inventions and discoveries aren’t made. From Boudreaux:
“The unseen includes also, and more importantly, the greater and better and completely different goods and services, the newer and safer and less-resource-intensive ways of production, and the more full prospects for human flourishing and the heightened hopes and the improved and expanded life-style options that human creativity – unleashed by free markets and governed by open competition and private property rights – makes possible.”
Technology and the advance of knowledge is a process that builds upon itself. The achievements of recent decades were impossible for us to have imagined beforehand, but much more might have been possible. Looking forward, the opportunities lost to today’s stultifying policies will become more staggering as the decades pass, losses much greater than we can imagine today.