Paging the great Bruce Yandle.

The FDA today imposed tighter restrictions on e-cigarettes.  Of course, the officious know-it-alls at that agency crow about their concern for the American people.  They insist that they are saving us and our children from all manner of problems and pains.  (Where oh where would we be without our shepherds?)

I’ve no doubt that some of these officious intruders into the affairs of others believe themselves to be noble and good, deserving of our thanks.  These people are public-policy ‘Baptists’; they intrude into our affairs not because they stand to gain materially but, rather, because they get a psychological high from ordering other people about for what they – the intruders – fancy to be the betterment of those whom they order about.  These intruders, in short, are arrogant parasites on other people’s freedoms.

But there might also be some bootleggers behind this latest do-gooding spasm in Uncle Sam’s long and sorry history of nannying his subjects.  As Georgetown University Medical Center’s David Levy said:

While e-cigarettes may act as a gateway to smoking, much of the evidence indicates that e-cigarette use encourages cessation from cigarettes by those people who would have otherwise smoked with or without e-cigarettes.

Indeed.  So if you own lots of shares of Altria or if you are a tobacco farmer or if you’re an oncologist specializing in treating lung cancer, sit back and light up a celebratory cigar.  Whether or not you played any active role in this latest nannying of the American people, the FDA likely has just boosted your net present value.

…..

Of course, the ultimate point is that it’s no one’s business what I ingest.  If I choose to run the risk of getting cancer or heart disease in exchange for the enjoyment I get from puffing tobacco, that’s my business and no one else’s.  And I extend to you the same courtesy.  As explained by the late, great Hank Williams, Sr.:

If I want to honky-tonk around to two or three,
Brother, that’s my headache
Don’t you worry ’bout me,
Just mind your own business.

For the record, I do not smoke; I’ve never smoked; I do not vape; I’ve never vaped.  And I don’t plan to take up either activity.  But one very real part of me is tempted to start puffing simultaneously on an e-cigarette and a tobacco cigarette just to defy the pretensions of the damnable bureaucrats.

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Lloyd Cohen, one of my esteemed GMU colleagues from over in the law school, eloquently, ably, and rightly defends – in today’s Wall Street Journal – the proposal to rename the GMU School of Law after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  The behavior of some other of my GMU colleagues – those who object to the renaming – is in contrast uncivilized, anti-scholarly, juvenile in the extreme, decidedly illiberal, ignorant, and brutish.  Yet this appalling behavior, which was on ugly display at a recent meeting of the GMU Faculty Senate, does have the advantage of further exposing the intolerant and hostile-to-reason core of “Progressivism.”  Here’s an irony-revealing slice from Lloyd’s essay:

As a member of the faculty senate, I attended this meeting and took the opportunity to defend the late justice from scurrilous and defamatory statements made against him by some of my fellow senators. They claim that the late justice made derogatory comments pertaining to race, gender and sexual orientation. In my own speech, I noted that they cited no specific examples despite Justice Scalia’s 30 years on the bench, and I read from his most-recent dissent, in the Obergefell v. Hodges case on same-sex marriage. Much to my surprise, several of my faculty colleagues interrupted me by calling for me to be prevented from speaking, a sad commentary on their tolerance for open debate and intellectual inquiry.

Despite the utter lack of evidence, the faculty senate swiftly moved forward with a nonbinding resolution condemning the renaming on the grounds that it would fail to create “a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of viewpoints.”

I myself am no great fan the late Justice Scalia.  He was, in my opinion, far too deferential to legislatures.  But as Lloyd correctly points out, that Scalia was a major and respected and illustrious American jurist cannot be doubted save by fools.  I will be proud to be a member of the faculty of a university whose law school bears his name.  I am not, however, proud to be a member of a university faculty that has in its ranks – thank goodness not in Economics or in Law – pea-brained and intolerant ignoramuses of the sort who oppose the renaming of our School of Law.

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Here’s a note to Cafe Hayek commenter Thomas Hutcheson, who objects to this “Quotation of the Day” featuring David Henderson:

Defending the FDA’s practice of prohibiting people from using drugs that it disapproves of, you write “With virtually zero information of the risks of millions of drugs and potential drugs, I’m not in a good position to act on my risk preferences.  I’m happy to delegate a large chunk of that to the FDA.”  Your defense of the FDA features at least three errors.

First, as commenter Jon Murphy points out, you in fact do have access to information about these risks.  Supplying you with such information is one function of physicians.  Another source of such information is retail pharmacies, each of which has incentives to learn about the products it sells and to share that information with consumers.  Pharmacies that offer accurate information will not only better protect themselves from lawsuits, they will develop a reputation for supplying accurate information and, thereby, will out-compete those that fall short at this task.

Second, even if your chance of becoming adequately informed about the risks of various drugs is small, the FDA’s chance of becoming adequately informed about your individual risk preferences is zero.  Because the latter piece of information is no less vital than the former to ensure that the medical treatment you receive is appropriate for you, consumers’ ignorance about drug risks is insufficient to justify FDA prohibition.

Third, you have “virtually zero information” on the details of the motives and of the decision-making environments of the politicians who oversee the FDA and of the FDA’s staff.  Remember, these people – nearly all of whom are strangers to you, just as you are a complete stranger to them – have the power not only to determine the fortunes of the producers who must plead for their approval but also to make life-and-death decisions for you and millions of other individuals.  What reason have you to suppose that your lack of information about the risks of being subjected to the diktats of strangers in Washington (all of which you are forced to obey) is less dangerous for you and your family than is your lack of information about the risks of various drugs (none of which you are forced to consume)?

Sincerely,
Don

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… is from page 99 of my colleague Dick Wagner’s latest, just-published book, Politics as a Peculiar Business:

The entitlements of the welfare state can be summarized by Herbert Hoover’s aphorism: “a chicken in every pot.”  True, this is quite small an entitlement, but would be easy enough to multiply the level of the guarantee.  In his address on the battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln recognized that the first American constitutional document entitled Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and nothing more.  Chickens in pots and other entitlements came later.  Perhaps the most significant quality of the theory of economic equilibrium is its explanation of the interconnected quality of all economic activity within society.  Whatever statement that is made in the context of a product [output] market implies come complementary and consistent statement about the factor [input] market that would render sensible that statement made about the product market.  Therefore, an entitlement program that offers a chicken in every pot would require an equivalent statement that promised a period of servile labor to staff the chicken farms necessary to put chickens in pots.

Here’s a short video that summarizes the important message of Dick’s new book.

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Last night at the American Enterprise Institute, Deirdre McCloskey and George Will had a fascinating and important discussion.

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Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Matt O’Brien writes that “Venezuela, by all rights, should be rich.  As we just said, it has more oil than the United States or Saudi Arabia or anyone else for that matter” (“Venezuela should be rich. Instead it’s becoming a failed state,” May 4).

As Mr. O’Brien’s report itself shows, however, a people’s wealth is not determined by the quantity of raw materials that happen to exist within those people’s political jurisdiction.  Instead, a people’s wealth is determined by how well their institutions and their attitudes encourage market-directed trade, commercial innovation, and entrepreneurial risk-taking.  If such activities are encouraged, wealth for the masses is produced; if such activities are discouraged, the masses remain impoverished.

Witness rich Hong Kong, which has few natural resources yet buzzes with the busy-ness of capitalism.  Likewise, witness Tucson.  It’s in a literal desert and yet its people are among the richest on earth.  The prosperity of Hong Kong and Tucson proves that a free and innovative people produce great wealth by shipping and trucking in from around the globe whatever resources are useful for improving their living standards.  Such resources need not be originally located within their political jurisdictions.  In contrast, the poverty of Venezuela and Nigeria proves that the existence of resources within a people’s political jurisdiction does nothing to enrich those people if in their attitudes they scorn commercial activity or through their government they severely obstruct the operation of free markets.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercator Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

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Program on the American Economy and Globalization

by Don Boudreaux on May 4, 2016

in Trade

I’m pleased and very proud to post this announcement here and to be part of this new Program at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center – a Program that has never in my lifetime been as necessary as it is now with the ascendance of populism and mercantilism on both the political right and left.

– Don
…………

Mercatus Center to Launch
Program on the American Economy and Globalization

Daniel Griswold to Join Mercatus as Senior Research Fellow, Co-Director of Program

Arlington, VA—The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is pleased to welcome Daniel Griswold as a Senior Research Fellow and co-director of a new Program on the American Economy and Globalization. The program will officially launch the week of June 20, when Griswold joins full time to serve as co-director with Mercatus board member and senior fellow Donald Boudreaux.

“The Program on the American Economy and Globalization will focus on some of the most important economic issues in the world today,” says Mercatus Center General Director Tyler Cowen. “Dan and Don bring decades of experience studying the positive effects that trade, migration, and capital flows bring to economies around the world.”

Griswold currently serves as President of the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones. He previously served as the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies. Boudreaux is a professor of economics at George Mason University and the author of the popular economics blog Cafe Hayek, where he regularly makes the case for consumer freedom.

“The Mercatus Center has long enjoyed a reputation as a world-class institution that applies social science research to pressing problems facing the country and the world,” said Griswold. “That is why I am delighted to join Mercatus, and why our new program is so important and timely: trade, migration, capital flows, and consumer freedom are all under attack today. We will study the ways that people are freely choosing to reach across political borders to connect with each other, and how restrictions on that freedom affect these individuals and their families, as well as the larger economy.”

“Our peer-reviewed research will study how individuals freely interact in the global marketplace,” added Boudreaux. “We will explore the benefits of consumer freedom and sovereignty, and how current border controls and special interest regulations are impacting real people worldwide.”

About the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas—bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems.

A university-based research center, Mercatus advances knowledge about how markets work to improve people’s lives by training graduate students, conducting research, and applying economics to offer solutions to society’s most pressing problems. Founded in 1980, the Mercatus Center is located on George Mason University’s Arlington campus.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 4, 2016

in FDA, Health, Hubris and humility

… is from page 277 of David Henderson’s 2002 book, The Joy of Freedom:

The FDA may have some expertise when it comes to drug safety and efficacy, but on the only issue that matters – your trade-offs between various risks – you are the expert, and the FDA’s scientists are rank amateurs.

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McCloskey in Romania

by Don Boudreaux on May 4, 2016

in Economics, Growth, Video

This just-published video is of the great Deirdre McCloskey speaking last year in Romania.

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Happy Days – Not

by Don Boudreaux on May 3, 2016

in History, Myths and Fallacies, Standard of Living

Although Douglas Rushkoff had by page 16 of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus already given me enough reason to anticipate that the remaining 229 pages of this new book would be a stream of little more than historical errors and economic misunderstandings, when I first read the following line on page 16 I honestly thought, mistakenly, that Rushkoff was being facetious or ironic:

For a happy couple of centuries before industrialism and the modern era….

“Happy”?  “Happy?!”  What does Rushkoff mean?  He explains a few lines later (pages 16-17, footnote excluded):

The [pre-indusrial] bazaar was a peer-to-peer economy, something along the lines of eBay or Etsy, where attention to human relationships and reputations promoted better business.  There was no middleman, no central platform through which exchanges were conducted, except for the appointed time and place of the bazaar itself.  Since people transacted back and forth, all sorts of interdependencies developed that in turn fostered more and better commerce.  Pete the wainwright bought oats from Joe the oat seller, who needed to provide a good product not simply because he wanted to keep a customer but because he needed good wagon wheels.  To give Pete bad oats meant risking more than future business; it meant that the craftsperson making Joe’s wife’s wagon wheels would be sick on the job.  This was a bound community of commerce, where transactions were informed by a multiplicity of values.

Rushkoff goes on to celebrate the charms and wonders of guild restrictions that reduced the competitive pressures faced by producers.

And then, according to Rushkoff, this happiness was destroyed by capitalism – an economic institution invented by Renaissance monarchs (!) to keep the uppity “craftspeople” in their place.  The monarchs contrived this blind-growth-obsessed institution by chartering monopolies (!) at which “craftspeople” were forced to seek employment.  “Instead of selling their wares, people now sold their hours” (p. 18).

It was never really about efficiency anyway: industrialism was about restoring the power of those at the top by minimizing the value and price of human laborers.  This became the embedded value system of industrialism, and we see it in every aspect of the commercial landscape, then and now (pp. 18-19).

…..

Where to begin?  As documented by all serious historians of the era, the living standards of ordinary people before the industrial age were wretched compared to the living standard after industrialism took root.

When I read the above-quoted passage in Rushkoff’s book I thought ‘He obviously hasn’t read Fernand Braudel or Deirdre McCloskey.’  (Or, for that matter, Joel Mokyr or the Gieses or T.S. Ashton or William Manchester or Angus Deaton or …. the list is long.)  But later in the book Rushkoff cites the very volume by Braudel that I had in mind, The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century (1981).  How Rushkoff can have read Braudel’s excellent work of history and then go on to describe the couple of centuries prior to the industrial age as “happy” is more than a bit befuddling.

As Braudel (among many others) documents, most pre-industrial people slept on the straw-strewn dirt floors of cramped huts beneath roofs made of thatch and with no indoor plumbing, artificial lighting, or air-conditioning.  Farm animals were brought into the huts to supply heat for the humans.  Famines were common.  Everyone – including those happy craftspeople – were at high risks of dying from bacterial infections or, worse, suffering the death of their children from the same.  Their diets were dreary, monotonous, and not very nutritious.  (I quote Braudel here from memory: “Diets consisted of gruel, gruel, and more gruel.”)

Each of these people, the ordinary run of the lot of them, lived on the equivalent of just over three 2016 U.S. dollars per day.  Today, conservatively estimated, an ordinary American lives on about $110 per day.  You can do the math.  But you don’t have to do it.  Just ponder the enormous reduction in unhappiness that comes naturally from parents confronting a dramatic reduction in the risk of having to bury one or more of their children, or from women confronting a dramatic reduction in the risk of dying from giving birth, or from everyone having a practically 100 percent chance of living a (long) lifetime without ever once having to worry about literally starving to death or contracting small pox.

Ponder the happiness of knowing that anesthesia exists for medical patients.

Rushkoff – if his new book is any indication – is unaware of such sources of happiness.  For him, the fact that none of us today interacts personally, “peer-to-peer,” with “craftspeople” who supply all of our needs is an evident problem that signifies a dysfunctional economic system.  (Says Rushkoff: “While mass production disconnects workers from skills and the creation of value, mass marketing now disconnects workers from the people they’re serving.  Mass-produced products may have lost their handcrafted quality, but they made up for it with consistency” [p. 19].)

I’ve a serious question: Who are the target readers for books such as Rushkoff’s?  Are people really so historically ignorant, so benighted by the absurdities and illogic of localism, or so mindlessly entranced whenever they read words such as “craftspeople” or “artisanal,” that they find in books such as this one ideas and arguments worthy of serious consideration?

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