Price Versus Cost

by Walter E. Williams via LewRockwell.com

Suppose you buy a gallon of gas for $3. How much did it cost you? You say, “Williams, that’s a silly question. It cost $3.” That’s where you’re mistaken, because there’s a difference between price and cost. To prove that price and cost are not the same, consider the following. Suppose you live and work in New York City and routinely pay $15 for a haircut. Imagine you were told that there’s a barber in Boise, Idaho, who can give you the identical haircut for just $5. Would you start going to the Boise barber? I’m betting you’d answer no because even though the price is cheaper, the cost is greater.

We might think of price as the money that’s actually given in exchange for the transfer of ownership. When you purchased the gallon of gas, you simply transferred your ownership of $3. What the gas cost you is a different matter. One way to determine the cost of a gallon of gas is to ask yourself what sacrifice you had to make in order to have $3 to buy it. Say that your annual salary is $75,000. Your total federal income tax, state income tax, local taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes come to about 35 percent of your salary. That means that in order to purchase the $3 gallon of gas required that you earned about $4.60 in order to have $3 after taxes. That means a gallon of gas costs you $4.60 worth of sacrifice. But that’s not so costly as it is to a richer person – for example, someone earning a yearly salary of $500,000. He has to earn more than $5 before taxes in order to have $3 after taxes to purchase gas.

If taxes only concealed hidden costs of what we buy, we’d be lucky, but taxes are destructive in another hidden way. Suppose I want to hire you to repair my computer. Having the work done is worth $200 to me, and performing the work is worth $200 to you. The transaction occurs because we have a meeting of the minds. Suppose Congress imposes a 30 percent income tax on you. That means that if you repaired my computer, you would receive not $200, what it was worth to you to do the job, but instead $140 after taxes. You might say the heck with repairing my computer; spending time with your family is worth more than $140.

You might then offer that you’d do the job if I paid you $283. That way, your after-tax earnings would be $200 – what doing the job is worth to you. There’s a problem. The repair job was worth $200 to me, not $283. So it’s my turn to say the heck with it.

This simple example demonstrates that one effect of taxes is that of destroying transactions and hence jobs. But politicians have what economists call a zero-elasticity vision of the world. In other words, they’re fool enough to believe that people will behave after taxes are levied just as they behaved before and that the only effect of a tax is to bring in more revenue. Of course, a more flattering assessment is that politicians are not fools and know that their actions destroy transactions and hence jobs but they don’t give a damn and only care about revenue.

Here’s a question: Would you and I, as well as our nation, be better off if you repaired my computer and I gave you $200 in cash and we agreed not to report the transaction to the agents of Congress? I’d answer yes and no. Yes, because there’d be more transactions, more jobs and greater wealth. No, because we’d be criminals.

Taxes are necessary to fund the constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government. If Congress spent according to its authority under Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution, taxes wouldn’t be any more than 5 percent of the gross domestic product, as it was between 1787 and 1920, as opposed to today’s 20 percent.

May 13, 2013

Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.

Copyright © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

The Best of Walter E. Williams

About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
This entry was posted in Austrian Economic Theory, Taxation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Price Versus Cost

  1. paulbrodie says:

    I feel like my eyes were just opened a little more. I don’t consider myself to be ignorant to the world around me, but I never thought about prices and costs in this manner before. I like this perspective. Thank you.

    Like

    • Paul, if you liked this then I’d bet you are a budding Austrian Economist. Check out our professional site at http://www.mises.org. It is the only sensible approach to economics and is based on logic (deductive reasoning where is no chance for error provided the premise is correct and the logic is sound) and not inductive reasoning where there is ALWAYS some chance for error (as with the Keynesian economic modlers that currently rule the economic world–and have it in the worst mess ever in recorded human history.

      Like

      • paulbrodie says:

        Any status as an economist would have to be “budding” as it isn’t something I’m very familiar with, the study of economics, that is. I do like what I’ve read, and I will check out the link you provided. I’m always looking to expand my understanding and find new perspectives. If it provides practical knowledge then the more people who find out about it the better off we all are. Thanks for the link!

        Like

  2. sally1137 says:

    Reblogged this on Tin Foil Hat Book Club.

    Like

  3. Gunny G says:

    Reblogged this on NOW BLOG THIS ~ GUNNY.G: AMERICAN ! and commented:
    GyG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  4. phynedyning says:

    The computer guy fixes your computer for $200 on the condition that you give $83 worth of groceries to some poor mook living under a bridge. At tax time you’ll get to deduct only about $21 of your $83.

    Aren’t crime syndicates fascinating?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s