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The Cost Of Opportunity Lost

Everywhere we turn nowadays we see some new price tag for the fiscal mess we’re in – and it is almost always expressed in dollars. National debt is approaching $16 trillion at a rate of nearly $4 billion per day. Interest on the debt is approaching $4 trillion. And on and on.

Such mind-boggling numbers slake our unquenchable thirst for sensational news while conditioning us to accept whatever “solution” the author presents. For the most part, however, those solutions carry a far greater price tag – the cost of opportunity lost.

Lost opportunity cannot be expressed in dollars and cents; we can only surmise what lies down paths not taken. It can be no more than a game of ‘what if?’

In hindsight the game is often easy. What if I had sold the house and everything else I could to buy gold in 2001? I would have averted the housing bubble and come through the meltdown a very wealthy man. Those who did just that were few, however, little more than random chance would dictate. Sometimes, however, we will never know what might have been.

What, for example, might the thousands of firemen have created had not the railroads been forced to keep them on the payroll when diesel engines made their jobs obsolete? Almost certainly necessity would have led a few to invention.

When looking toward the future the game becomes even more difficult. The permutations of possible outcomes quickly grow limitless.

A position opens at a new firm making a revolutionary new widget and it offers a salary nearly double what I make today. For the near term I will most certainly benefit handsomely. But what if new technology emerges a few years down the road obsolescing the widget closing down the firm? What if jobs are scarce and I am forced to take on menial work? If my old position still existed, I would have been far better off staying put.

When we close one door, we leave countless others unopened. Endless opportunities are lost forever. That’s the problem with government regulation and economic fixes. The short-term outcome is reasonably clear, but the price we pay in lost opportunity is incalculable.

Obsolescence and extinction are the natural fodder of progress. Impeding them through regulation can only thwart real and lasting growth.

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