If I Were A Shill for Industry….

by Don Boudreaux on March 13, 2008

in Myths and Fallacies

In this recent blog-post at “Notes,” I and my fellow GMU bloggers such as Bryan Caplan, Tyler Cowen, Arnold Kling, Alex Tabarrok, and, of course, Russ Roberts were said to “seem to be shills for industry.”  Actually, I really like the full quotation, so here it is:

If we were to judge by the internet, then the most influential economists in the world are the George Mason economists of Marginal Revolution, Cafe Hayek, and Econlog.

These guys seem to be everywhere. I don’t like them much — they seem to be shills for industry, and just plain lazy. (Consider Kling’s offhand comment that dogs impose more of a burden on the environment than SUVs, without any research.) They aren’t exactly mainstream, either, but their views are fairly stereotypical.

This accusation of seeming to be a “shill” for industry prompted me to write this column, published today in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  Here’s a key paragraph:

If I were a shill for industry…I would oppose free markets. Free markets, after all, are markets open to competition that invariably keeps the profits of existing firms from remaining excessive and, often, even bankrupts firms once thought to be invincible industry leaders. Existing firms almost all deplore competition in their industries. They seek government regulations that hamstring rivals and potential rivals. And, of course, firms are forever pleading for “protection” from foreign competition.

I just wrote a book (“Globalization“) in which I make a strong and principled case for completely free trade – not free trade sometimes, for some firms, under some circumstances, with some qualifications, but free trade always, for all firms, under all circumstances, and with no qualifications.

Whether my book’s case for unalloyed free trade is correct or not, it is surely not the sort of book that causes the heads of many corporate CEOs to nod in eager agreement. The typical reaction of business people whenever they hear or read me make my case for genuinely free trade is to say something like, “Professor Boudreaux, you don’t understand the peculiarities of my industry.” And then each executive launches into a laundry list of excuses for why Congress should protect his industry from foreign rivals.

If I were an industry shill …

• I’d express agreement with these self-serving claims and do my best in my writings and speeches to make a case for “fair trade,” or “balanced trade,” or “trade that’s in our national interest” — but never for free trade.


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