Maybe hiring a hypothetical night watchman would be cheaper
February 3, 2015 § 10 Comments
The “night watchman” is actually a canonical example in debate over usury. For some reason supporters of usury tend to think that night watchmen don’t do anything actual. But a night watchman clearly does something actual, or else his activities would be just as valuable – and he would get paid just as much – if he sat at the bar down the street drinking beer rather than manning his post. But he actually does provide a deterrent to thieves by his actual presence, his actual vigilance actually does prevent theft when theft is attempted, and his actual witness to what happens helps in actual investigation and prosecution even if an actual theft is successful.
As I mention in the Usury FAQ, modern supporters of usury tend to suffer from a kind of anti-realist materialism. So every time I use the word “actual”, they hear “physical”. If anything non-material is actual, in their confused view, then everything non-material must be actual.
So opportunity costs – profits intentionally foregone by an investor in hypothetical investments that he did not actually make – are as “real” to the modern mind as the protection provided by a night watchman.
While it is doubtless true that my editorial choices could be improved and perhaps even are atrocious, I cannot explain things to people until they reach the point where it is possible for them to understand what I am explaining. I really have to leave it to others to determine how much of the incomprehension on the subject is because of my editorial incompetence and how much is because of the incapacity of certain readers to understand. But I am working on the editorial end of it all the time.
Finally, it would be a mistake to conflate incomprehension with genuine disagreement. On this subject, as on many, there is far more incomprehension than there is comprehension accompanied by genuine disagreement.