Those unfamiliar with the specifics of Austrian economics are often suspicious or critical of its rejection of complex mathematical models. Mises refutes these objections and explains the basis of this reasoning in Human Action, and I won’t go into the exact specifics here. The basic premise is that models rely on historical data, and historical data cannot tell us anything conclusive about what will happen in the future. As they say in every investment prospectus, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Correlation does not imply causation. Economics cannot be compared to the physical sciences because controlled experiments where variables are isolated are impossible. Many economic statements start with “all other things being equal,” but in the real world of acting individuals, all other things are NEVER equal.
So, during the “debates” the candidates take historical observations and somehow, both spin historical facts to suggest different conclusions. Romney says “The economy sucks, it’s Obama’s fault.” Obama says “It’s getting better, but to whatever extent it does suck, it’s Bush’s fault.” Because there can be no controlled experiment, we cannot conclusively assign fault either way, therefore such arguments are irrelevant. Economics is derived logically from axioms, not from historical data.
I present this as background information to the specific issue I’d like to address, the question of “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
The politicians keep asking us this. The Romney camp wants us to answer no, the Obama camp wants us to answer yes. Realistically speaking, for many people the answer will be no and for many others the answer will be yes. The relevant question should of course be, “To what extent has the quality of your life been affected by the policies of Barack Obama?”
I would venture to guess that for the average American, the specific policies of the President are a statistically insignificant factor in the quality of life someone enjoys. Personally, I AM better off than I was four years ago. I’ve been promoted at work since then, so I make more money. I was able to relocate closer to my friends and family, so my social life has improved. Of the more money I’ve made, I’ve saved more, so my net worth has increased. I’ve continued my education, both in formal terms (close to finishing my degree, which will increase my earning power), and in informal terms (four years ago, I couldn’t have told you what “Austrian economics” is and didn’t know anything about libertarianism other than that they want to legalize weed).
From those facts, can someone logically conclude that I should vote for Obama? That would be insane. None of those things had anything to do with Obama. I would guess that 99% of someone’s quality of life is dependent on their actions as an individual and fate/luck/random chance/God. Depending on your personal philosophy, you will think those two factors impact you in different ways. Of the 1% I am leaving left over for politicians, I would say the Executive branch of the United States Federal Government specifically is probably only responsible for about one-tenth of that. That’s .1% that Obama has affected whether your life has improved or not.
Of course, this is all pure conjecture on my part. It is absolutely impossible to prove to what extent the President of the United States affects the quality of your day to day life. And that’s the point. It is entirely possible for someone’s life to improve in spite of Obama’s policies, not because of them. Conversely, it’s entirely possible for someone’s life to get worse even if Obama does a great job.
This is significant because the very notion of this being an important question is a subtle form of state-worship. The unspoken implication behind the constant parroting of the question is, “The President is the main factor in determining how good your life is.” This is an obvious lie, and it needs to be exposed as such. It’s the type of propaganda you might expect to be taught in re-education camps in North Korea, that Dear Leader is directly responsible for your own personal success and happiness.
It is time to stand up and wholly reject this line of questioning. The next time someone asks you if you are better off than you were four years ago, demand they justify why we’re using a four year period, and insist that you are better or worse off due to your own choices, or due to luck, and not due to the inept sociopaths aspiring to rule the world.