Real economics learned from farming

Rodney Hide recalls what he learned about economic reality in Bedford truck:

I see how men work, and how a good day’s work satisfies them. I get to know machinery and how a big job is steadily chipped away until it is all done.

I learn that there are no boring or useless jobs, that the bigger the challenge, the greater the satisfaction when it is all done.

I learn what it is to do a day’s work and to drink a cold beer with men after a hot and dusty day. And I learn economics.

The farmers grow the wheat, the flour mills make the flour, and the baker makes the bread. I see the entire production chain in a truck with my dad.

Our job is to get phosphate to the fertiliser works, the super to the planes, the wheat to the mill, and the barley to the brewery.

No one organises it. But the entire production chain is tightly synchronised by prices. I see the farmers figuring out what to grow based on expected prices and the cost of things. I see the trucking firms figuring out the best way to get the produce to market.

No one can sit back in Wellington and plan it all. They don’t know what my father knows, which is the best way to town to beat the cops, the paddocks that get you bogged in winter, and how to get that old Briggs & Stratton motor on the auger kicked in the guts on a cold morning.

The price system enables each of us to use our best abilities to do our job while invisibly co-ordinating our actions to ensure they mesh to produce to best effect what people want.

Years later, I sat at the feet of Nobel Prize winners being taught economics. It wasn’t a dry and crusty subject to me. It was a living, breathing subject that I had learned criss-crossing North Canterbury in a Bedford truck.

I got to see first-hand the total failure of centrally planned economies. They fail because they never allow the likes of my father to get the job done. Prices are set by central committee, not the interaction of free people pursuing their own happiness. The prices are wrong and, as a result, their economies planned chaos. . .

This is part of a tribute to his father who died last week.

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