I read a recent article here about marginal utility and I immediately thought of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Donald Trump, Thomas Sowell, and baseball. The news is filed every day with references to marginal utility on which we base many opinions, preferences, and decisions.


Every spring, each team’s manager surveys the players available to him. On very good teams there might be 20 out the final 25 players that he knows will be on the team when the season starts. His quandary is finding the marginal utility in five players to place him on the team even though he knows that the marginal utility of players he sends to the minors may rise as the season progresses.

For pitcher, he needs to see which pitchers might be better suited for starting games and which might be better suited for relief. In all cases, it’s usually important to have a mix of right-handed and left-handed pitchers but it is normally more important for relief pitchers. So a manager might choose a left-handed pitcher who is great against left-handed batters for situational utility. For a left-handed pitcher who is “not as good” as a right-hander who doesn’t make the team, it could come down to his marginal utility perhaps twenty to forty times during the season.

A manager of a contending team knows that an entire season can go down the drain but for a single out in a single situation. In some situations, the marginal utility of one pitcher might make the difference between winning and losing a playoff spot, a playoff game or series, or the World Series itself. The home run that Bobby Thompson hit was on a bad pitch, a ball, but it was the kind of pitch Thompson liked. In retrospect, Ralph Branca’s marginal utility in that at bat against that hitter was zero.

Thomas Sowell

I’ve been reading Basic Economics. In the context of Liberty, we should cherish our freedom to choose the marginal utility of any good or service. It is the cumulative decisions as to the marginal utility of the things we use and pay for that determines their price and their value to the economy, the country, and, indeed, to the world.

An economy run by the government cannot succeed because the government, by which we mean the people who work in the government, doesn’t have the same incentive to consider the marginal utility of any decision it makes. Government bureaucrats don’t have to consider the utility of their decisions at all. By failing to consider that their decisions actually occupy a place on a continuum of utility, government bureaucrats are inevitably doomed to make decisions based on other factors, none of which take utility into account.

The War on Poverty was initiated over fifty years ago because the government saw that some people are poor. Poverty is always a relative term; if a family cannot afford a week in Disney World, are they poor? The War on Poverty diverted trillions of dollars which, had they circulated according to the marginal utility decisions of hundreds of millions of people, would have reduced relative poverty far more than it has been reduced. And the government’s observation of the relative utility of maintaining failed policies or quitting them is almost always to maintain them because to quit them may cost the bureaucrats their jobs.

Donald Trump

The segue into politics and politicians leads us to the Donald Trump phenomenon. While many felt that Trump was too buffoonish, too vulgar, too inexperienced to be President, his marginal utility far outweighed Hillary Clinton’s utility to be President. Donald Trump may be the living embodiment of the term “marginal” but he still should have been favored by freedom-loving people. Now, it is anti-reason to criticize Trump just because he’s Trump. Every statement or decision he makes should be examined for its own marginal utility.

Hillary Clinton has been shown numerous times to have lied for no apparently useful reason so we could have expected her to lie to us for no apparently useful reason. She has been shown to revel in the pain she has caused people such as the way she demolished a young teen girl who had been raped by a man Clinton was defending whom she was sure had actually raped the girl. She has been shown to cheat as when she was fired from the Nixon impeachment team for unprofessional actions. Hillary Clinton has been shown to be amazingly secretive as when she ran the team that put together the first comprehensive socialized medicine, promising transparency and delivering the exact opposite.

So her marginal utility to freedom-loving voters should have been zero.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (or Zen for short)

The big question posed in Zen is: How do we know what could be a possible cause of something to happen? Without a mechanism for at least eliminating almost 100% of all possible causes, we would be unable to make any decisions at all. Robert Pirsig calls the a priori aspect of any observation Quality but for our purposes, we can call it marginal utility.

Our ability to eliminate almost all consideration of the marginal utility of any decision including purchase is what makes an economy work, whether it’s run by free people or by government diktat. We need to focus on just the two or three aspects of a decision before we decide to pay or not pay for a good or service. This brings us back to Dr. Sowell, who speaks about how we decide in which way to use resources that, indeed, have other uses.

Our resources actually have almost an infinite number of uses but we always eliminate nearly 100% of them from consideration before deciding. Government micro-managers never have to do that a priori process of elimination which is how we get so much good money thrown after bad through undying government programs.

It also points to the most demonstrable reason why Hillary Clinton was the worse choice against even Donald Trump: her value system raises the marginal utility of things in ways that no freedom-loving person could possibly agree with.

The Marginal Utility of Baseball

There are good reasons why baseball is the best team sport of all and the argument from marginal utility directs us to them. That’s a subject for another article.