Psychologist Barry Schwartz (or the Paradox of Choice fame) pens in an interesting opinion on how to think about economics as a competition between efficiency and friction (and offers a quasi-defense of Mitt Romney's role at Bain Capital in the process).
It may seem heartless to worship efficiency at any cost, including lost jobs and decimated communities, but it is important to understand that increased efficiency is the only way a society’s standard of living will improve. If your company raises your pay without becoming more efficient, it will have to raise its prices in order to pay you. This is true of all companies. And if all companies raise their prices to allow for higher wages, you will end up just running in place, with your higher wages exactly matched by the higher prices of the things you buy. It is only if your company and others find a way to pay you more without charging more that your living standard goes up.On friction:
ALL these examples tell us that increased efficiency is good, and that removing friction increases efficiency. But the financial crisis, along with the activities of the Occupy movement and the criticism being leveled at Mr. Romney, suggests that maybe there can be too much of a good thing. If loans weren’t securitized, bankers might have taken the time to assess the creditworthiness of each applicant. If homeowners had to apply for loans to improve their houses or buy new cars, instead of writing checks against home equity, they might have thought harder before making weighty financial commitments. If people actually had to go into a bank and stand in line to withdraw cash, they might spend a little less and save a little more. If credit card companies weren’t allowed to charge outrageous interest, perhaps not everyone with a pulse would be offered credit cards. And if people had to pay with cash, rather than plastic, they might keep their hands in their pockets just a little bit longer.
Life is not as predictable as driving. We don’t always know where we’re going. We’re not always in control. Black ice is everywhere. A little something to slow us down in the uncertain world we inhabit may be a lifesaver.