Money Can’t Buy Me Fear

What follows is yet another economics lesson from The Simpsons.  The show has been on for nearly 30 years and is just packed full of tidbits like this:

Episode 11, Season 3 Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk (air date 5 December 1991) involves Mr Burns selling his plant to Germans and going into retirement.  Throughout the episode, Mr Burns’ retirement antics lead to public ridicule (in one scene, Burns is playing boccie with some other old folks.  He is barely able to throw the ball a foot, and the others laugh insultingly).  The culmination is when Burns and Smithers walk into Moe’s, where Homer and the other plant employees are drinking.  Homer had just been fired by the German plant owners and lashes out at Mr Burns.  The whole bar joins in mocking Mr Burns, and he leaves embarrassed.  Outside the bar, Mr Burns has a revelation: “What good is money if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?

Mr Burns learns an important lesson, one so often forget in conversations of wealth inequality and “the 1%.”  Money affords one no power.  Mr Burns is the richest man in town by far, and certainly wealthier than Homer, and yet that matters not one bit in their exchange.  Homer is able to cut Burns down to size without any fear of repercussions.  What can Mr Burns do?  Throw money at him?

Mr Burns’ power came from his owning the plant, not from his money.  As plant owner, he has power over his employees (to the extent they decide to work for him) and he has a legally protected (and connected!) monopoly, which affords him some level of power, but that is more due to political connections.  Strip those away, and Burns is powerless (even though he is richer.  He sold the plant for $100,000,000).

Money does not give power, inspire fear, or destroy individuals.

21 thoughts on “Money Can’t Buy Me Fear

  1. And, what kind of power does owning a plant give you? You can’t drop a bomb from a drone on a competitor. You can’t command thousands or millions of soldiers to kill your enemies. You can’t even threaten this type of destruction and violence if you own a plant or other business. Only government can threaten and use violence to achieve its ends.

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  2. Jon,

    This is a distinction without a difference. As you point out, owning the plant gave Mr Burns some power over his employees and his customers. When he sold the plant he traded that power for money.

    The person who bought the plant traded money for that power. So then, simply having money is not power, but money can easily be used to purchase power.

    If you have money, you can choose to use your money to purchase any number of forms of power. If you don’t have money those options are not available to you.

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          • Greg Webb,

            Yes, but they do have that power and you are not an anarchist even though you like to talk like one on the internet.

            In fact, you are one of those cronies lobbying the same government regulatory sector you used to work for for favors for the industry you used to regulate when you were a government regulator doing what you like to call “public service.”

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          • Greg Bigger Government,

            That is why government power must be limited…and was intended to be so by the founding fathers. It was the regressive movement that wanted to undo the limits of the Constitution.

            I am not an anarchist. It is funny how you always revert to making stuff up when you are losing an argument.

            No. I am a hardworking attorney who defends clients from the excesses of government power that regressives like yourself have unleashed upon the public….and all so you could protect cronies like Citicorp, Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo. And, you like to pretend you are a “liberal.”

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          • Greg Webb,

            Of course you are one of those rare attorneys who only “defends clients from the excesses of government power.” Just like the criminal attorney who only defends innocent clients. Exactly how many of your bank clients have you walked away from because they weren’t the victims of government excess? How many bank clients have you walked away from because they wanted some special treatment? Yes, we’re all sure you only take bank clients who need legal help because they put the public interest first. Now tell us another tale.

            It wasn’t that long ago you were calling Ron a progressive and an advocate of bigger government on this blog. I disagree with Ron about many things but he is honest and consistent and is a genuine anarcho-capitalist libertarian.

            Your writing style is so bizarrely impoverished and stilted that you can only respond with the same handful of insults regardless of how inappropriate they are. It’s no wonder you have already commented on this blog under three different names. Might be time for a fourth. Your act is getting old.

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          • Greg B. Government,

            Thank you for proving my point. You always make stuff up and engage in silly personal attacks when you are losing an argument.

            You incorrectly equate criminal law with administrative law. But, even in criminal law, defendants are accorded the timeless principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” My clients do not have to worry about that. I just guide them though the bizarre and byzantine labyrinth of government regulation to they can “follow the rules.” It is true that many of them are unnecessary, but they ask my help in making sure they comply.

            “genuine anarcho-capitalist libertarian”

            That is a nice string of contradictory words. Can you figure out why?

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          • Greg B. Government,

            If you want to understand “libertarianism,” then you should read “Libertarianism: A Primer” by David Boaz.

            David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, an American libertarian think tank. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, published in 1997 by the Free Press and described in the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas.” He is also the editor of The Libertarian Reader and co-editor of the Cato Handbook for Congress (2003) and the Cato Handbook on Policy (2005). He frequently discusses such topics as education choice, the growth of government, the ownership society, his support of drug legalization, and the rise of libertarianism on national television and radio shows.

            If you read this book, or any of the others written by David, I assure you that you will actually understand libertarianism and won’t have to make stuff up about it….except to further your regressive ideology.

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          • Greg B. Government,

            Jon Murphy wrote eloquently and accurately about anarchy recently. Let me quote his words so you might understand why I am not an anarchist either:

            “Anarchy, that is the absence of rulers (not rules!), is a very attractive institutional arrangement. It would be the ultimate state of freedom for humanity. . . .I am highly sympathetic to their cause. However, I am not an anarchist for the simple reason of property rights. Property rights, which are the key to exchange and prosperity, cannot exist in anarchy.

            . . .

            In anarchy, how would rights be legitimized and enforced? A standard answer is through agreements: I build my home on a plot of land, you build your home on a neighboring plot, and we both agree where our boundaries will lie. An outside arbitrator can resolve any disputes (provided both parties accept the legitimacy of the arbitrator).

            That’s all well and good, but what about competing claims? Let’s go back to our earlier example. You and I have our separate agreements. Unbeknownst to us, another neighbor is concluding an agreement with a person which gives him a title to land which encapsulates elements of our lands. Naturally, this would lead to some kind of conflict, which will revolve around the answer to the question: whose claim is legitimate? Is our claim legitimate because we concluded our agreement first? Is our neighbor’s claim legitimate because her family has hunted on that land for generations? It’s a tricky question with no right answer. The situation may be able to be resolved with an agreement (like before) but it provides us no clear answer on what a legitimate claim is. In fact, since any two claims would need to go to some kind of arbitration, a person could easily game the system: with no clear delineation of what makes a title legitimate, a person could claim rights for all kinds of things and, when challenged, leave with some kind of payment, whether or not he had a reasonable claim in the first place. I strongly suspect such a system would lead to anarchy without rules.

            Without some kind of uniform understanding of property titles (what makes a claim legitimate), property rights aren’t worth anything. There needs to be some uniform standard, agreed upon by all*, that determines who owns what and documents such claims (to prevent fraud and make it easy for newcomers to see ownership). Furthermore, to prevent defection or gaming, this standard would need to be enforced. Whatever body develops and enforces these titles is, in a literal sense of the word, a government; they govern property rights.

            At this point, I want to be perfectly clear: I am not arguing property rights originate with a government. In our above example, we see the rights originate from natural use (hunting) or from contract between two people. In other words, property rights derive from natural use of the property (the use of its resources), or from contractional use. Neither of these were created by the state, simply legitimized and enforced according to the will of the participants.

            Property rights are a deep and confusing issue spanning multiple disciplines: economics, law, political sciences, history. The writings in this post will not, indeed should not, be accepted by everybody. This is merely my explanation on why I am not an anarchist.

            *When I say “agreed upon by all,” I am using the phrase in the Rousseau/Buchanan sense: members of a group are presumed to agree to the conditions under which they live so long as they 1) have freedom of movement and 2) dwell within its borders.”

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          • As Jon Murphy said, “Whatever body develops and enforces these titles is, in a literal sense of the word, a government; they govern property rights.”

            If an HOA develops and enforces these titles (with limitations that the owner may not sell to someone based on race or height), it is a government. And, one cannot be an anarchist if one supports government over the property rights of the individual. The individual may sell his or her property to whomever he or she wishes without regard to the wishes of 545 tyrants 1500 miles from home or 50 tyrants who live in the same neighborhood as you do.

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          • Greg

            If you are referring to a previous overly lengthy discussion at this blog between you and Ron on the role of a HOA, I seem to recall that Ron made some really good points on the subject and you consistently missed the boat by not understanding the nature of a voluntary association of homeowners, and what rules and restrictions those homeowners might mutually agree to apply to themselves and the conditions they might impose on transfers of property rights to new owners.

            As for anarchists, my understanding is that they reject the authority of any top down, coercive government, but have no problem making voluntary agreements among themselves for mutual benefit, which they expect all members of the agreement to honor. Enforcement methods, of course, would be described and incorporated as part of the agreement.

            You are correct that this is a form of government, just as any voluntary organization may establish some form of government to which members voluntarily and unanimously consent, but that’s something quite different from the coercive monopoly state governments we usually describe with that term.
            .

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          • Greg H,,

            No. Roh H. (and apparently you as well) consistently failed to understand was that an HOA — as Jon Murphy correct noted — is a form of government that is, in Ron H’s hypothetical, is taking property value from an individual home owner by limiting demand for his or her home by imposing arbitrary limits as to who may buy his home. Will the HOA make up the price differential if a black person offers $300,000 for his home, but the highest offer from a white person is only $250,000? Of course not. And, forcing a homeowner to take substantially less for his or her home without compensation is not voluntary. Just ask any homeowner forced to take less for his or her home.

            As Jon Murphy said, “Whatever body develops and enforces these titles is, in a literal sense of the word, a government; they govern property rights.” Thus, one cannot claim to be an anarchist and say an HOA (a governing authority) has the right to limit demand and possibly higher prices for his or her home. If that is explicitly spelled out in the original agreement with a guarantee from the HOA to compensate the individual, then you may have an argument. Otherwise, you are just using a government body to unjustly deprive an individuals of the right to the true value of his or her home.

            No. Governments often start as voluntary associations but then turn into coercive monopoly governments where they deprive citizens of property rights all for the so-called “common good.”

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          • Let me repeat the following important point:

            As Jon Murphy said, “Whatever body develops and enforces these titles is, in a literal sense of the word, a government; they govern property rights.”

            If an HOA develops and enforces these titles (with limitations that the owner may not sell to someone based on race or height), it is a government. And, one cannot be an anarchist if one supports government over the property rights of the individual. The individual may sell his or her property to whomever he or she wishes without regard to the wishes of 545 tyrants 1500 miles from home or 50 tyrants who live in the same neighborhood as you do.

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          • Greg H,

            Thank you for not name calling or making insults instead of arguments supported by facts. I am not sure why Greg G or Ron H prefer that silly and nasty style of discussion. I do not appreciate it although I can certainly give it back as necessary. The whole point of these forums is to facilitate discussion and understanding among opposing viewpoints. As Jon Murphy also correctly noted:

            “Anarchy, that is the absence of rulers (not rules!), is a very attractive institutional arrangement. It would be the ultimate state of freedom for humanity. I have many friends and there are many intellectuals I respect who are anarchists, and I am highly sympathetic to their cause. However, I am not an anarchist for the simple reason of property rights. Property rights, which are the key to exchange and prosperity, cannot exist in anarchy.”

            I believe the same as Jon. I am highly sympathetic to anarchy and believe it is the ultimate state of freedom for humanity. But, for the same reason as Jon stated, I am not an anarchist.

            Cheers!

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