Reed This

by Don Boudreaux on November 18, 2006

in Foreign Aid, Hunger

My friend Larry Reed, President of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for  Public Policy, is one of the most energetic and able activists for a free society.  The New York Timesyesterday and today — profiled Larry’s important work.  (I believe that these links are free.)

Two things of special note.  One is this comment, from yesterday’s report, about people such as Larry who understand the power of markets to create widespread and lasting prosperity:

“Their philosophy encourages selfishness and greed,” said Iris J. Lav,
who runs the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative, a network of 29 liberal
state-level groups organized in part as a countervailing force. “If you
have problems, they don’t care — just too bad.”

Of course, this accusation is nonsense.  We market advocates might be mistaken, but it’s an old and shop-worn — but still galling — allegation that we "don’t care."  People, such as Ms. Lav, who level this accusation cannot seem to see beyond the immediate and the visible.

It’s interesting that few people would accuse Ms. Lav of not caring, despite the fact that, if we market advocates are not mistaken in our analyses, the policies that she endorses will lead to more and deeper poverty and hardship.

It’s much easier — and probably more viscerally gratifying — to accuse those with whom you disagree of moral failings than to grapple with the content of their arguments.

The second thing to note is from today’s article: I cannot understand why Jeffrey Sachs seems to learn nothing from the works of William Easterly and Peter Bauer.  If Africans are to become prosperous, they’d better follow the lead of James Shikwati rather than that of Professor Sachs.  (Africans can also learn a thing or two from my wife’s recent work there.)

Easterly, by the way, recently defended Hayek from Sachs’s utterly misinformed reading of The Road to Serfdom.  Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of Bill’s superb essay:

Scientific American, in its November 2006 issue, reaches a "scientific
judgment" that the great Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek
"was wrong" about free markets and prosperity in his classic, "The Road
to Serfdom." The natural scientists’ favorite economist — Prof.
Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University — announces this new scientific
breakthrough in a column, saying "the evidence is now in." To dispel
any remaining doubts, Mr. Sachs clarifies that anyone who disagrees
with him "is clouded by vested interests and by ideology."


Mr. Sachs is wrong that Hayek was wrong. In his own global antipoverty
work, he is unintentionally demonstrating why more scientists,
Hollywood actors and the rest of us should go back and read "The Road
to Serfdom" if we want to know what will not work to achieve
"The End of Poverty." Hayek gave the best exposition ever of the
unpopular ideas of economic freedom that somehow triumph anyway,
alleviating far more national and global poverty than more fashionable
Scandinavia-envy and grandiose plans to "make poverty history."

Tonight at dinner (at a Liberty Fund conference on property rights) I’ll raise a glass to the memory of Milton Friedman and Peter Bauer, to Bill Easterly, to James Shikwati and June Arunga and Karol Boudreaux and Larry Reed and to everyone working to slay the superstitious belief that force, rather than freedom, is creative.

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John R November 18, 2006 at 11:34 am

To add to Sachs' synopsis of OECD data, I looked at theirs on population growth and immigration. (I was tickled pink – oops, maybe the wrong color here – to find the tables downloadable as spreadsheets.) Over the past 10 years, population growth of 6 Anglophone countries (including Ireland ?) was 1% per year and that of the Scandanavian countries 0.36%. Net migration over the same period was 4.5 per 1000 population for Anglophones and 1.9 for Scandanavians. First thought, of course, was that if it was so much better in Scandanavia, how come the immigration rate is less than half that of the Anglophones? On the other hand, might not the population dynamics by themselves explain both the difference in average income and poverty rate.

Kent Gatewood November 18, 2006 at 11:41 am

I guess we all have a special book. While I really enjoyed the Friedmans' tv series, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago is mine. This life changing examination of the consequences of the communists search for social justice has forever made me more than suspicious of those like Ms Lav.

Sean November 18, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Hmm…somehow, for Sachs, looking at a bunch of numbers caused by a very high number of variables, most of which can't be controlled for, is now "science". And he even included a "poverty rate" of varying standards as well as a surely false "unemployment" rate (for example, Sweden's true unemployment rate is probably twice that reported). Also, why not throw in places like Japan and South Korea as low-tax areas….oh yeah, might mess up your little "R&D % of GDP" data line.

Mike Linksvayer November 18, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Wow, I am deeply embarrassed for Sachs, and for SciAm's editors.

You should know about

Stormy Dragon November 18, 2006 at 4:07 pm

I used to be a subscriber to Scientific American back in the 80's and 90's, but as time went on, the political bias in their articles became increasingly blatant. I stopped subscribing when they crosses the line into presenting publishing pseudo-scientific stuff like the Sach's article. It appears they haven't changed much since I left.

Sad to see such a venerable magazine reduced to such a state.

Brad Hutchings November 19, 2006 at 2:59 am

Example 182,361 of "Conservatives are evil, liberals are stupid". Apologies for lumping you in with the conservatives. Embrace being evil. It makes the argument so much easier.

Henri Hein November 19, 2006 at 3:45 am

This is mind-numbing.

"The evidence is now in "

Mr. Sachs has only now discovered emperical evidence in the social sciences?

"Friedrich Von Hayek was wrong"

Hayek attacked socialism, not welfare.

One of the things about the Scandinavian countries that is often overlooked is that they have a strong tradition of property rights, going back further than even Englands. Their commitment to a freemarket economy was never in serious question.

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