An Anniversary of A Regrettable Movement

by Don Boudreaux on March 19, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Creative destruction, History, Technology, The Economy

2011 is the 200th anniversary of Luddism.  Hopefully one day protectionism will be embraced by no more than the small number of historically uninformed or deleriously romantic persons who today embrace Luddism.

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Ike March 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

Let’s celebrate by burning a witch!

SweetLiberty March 19, 2011 at 10:26 am

Yes, but only if she weighs the same as a duck.

W.E. Heasley March 19, 2011 at 10:50 am


Can we edit that line and in essense improve the line?

Yes, but only if she weighs the same as a muirgeo.

brotio March 19, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Let’s fix it one more time:

Yes, but only if she weighs the same as a muirduck. (HT: Vidyohs)

muirgeo March 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

From the link;

“Today’s banker-bashing and the clamour for “taming” the financial services industry bears some, but only some, resemblance to the Luddite movement of two centuries ago. ”

WHAT? No… banker bashing is a completely acceptable occupation. Jezz the modern banker and Wall Street Stock Jobber are certainly a lower form of life then any Ned Ludd. It’s more important to pay the Ned Ludd’s of the world a living wage than it is to allow the financial services industry to suck the blood out of the real economy like a Giant Vampire Squid.

Ike March 19, 2011 at 10:29 am

Okay, you *did* see the part where de Jasay said “BUT ONLY SOME” resemblance, right?

And that he’s talking about France, and not the US?

Sam Grove March 19, 2011 at 10:47 am

He thinks he grasps economics because he studied biology.
That’s why he insists that biologists are the real economists.

Methinks1776 March 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Please define “studied”.

muirgeo March 19, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I can do that… studied as in understands the subject well enough to make a very good living providing a real productive service to people and the economy.

John V March 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm


But who “gives” you your pay?

brotio March 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm

GB Sr had a regrettable movement, some forty-or-so years ago; inadvertently contributing to the Vacaville gene pool when a low-flow toilet didn’t provide enough water to evacuate the movement all the way to the treatment facility.

JohnK March 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm

The term “studied” takes on different meanings depending on if the context is “being taught” or “learning”.

I can imagine the muirdiot being taught things. I can’ teach my dog to sit.
I could never imagine the muirdiot learning anything.

Sam Grove March 19, 2011 at 10:45 am

Who is Jezz?

Ike March 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

I’m giving George the benefit of the doubt, that he meant “Geez.” The fast typing is likely indicative of how he skimmed the first couple grafs of that article.

Methinks1776 March 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm

That’s mighty big of you. I was going to chastise him for using such vulgar slang on this blog.

muirgeo March 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Should be jeez or geez or Jesus H Christ…..

Mesa Econoguy March 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Jezza is a British nickname for Jeremy or Jerry.

Sam Grove March 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

Industrialization gave more people a living wage than ever before. Ludd wanted to protect his enhanced income. Only fairly wealthy people could afford to buy Ludd’s product.

Mechanized and powered looms reduced the costs of making cloth enabling many more people to dress in real cloth rather than rags and skins.

Like Ned Ludd, you obviously haven’t considered the poorer folk in your assessment.

John V March 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm

“give people a living wage”

economic illiteracy is more ways than can be dutifully described.

What a twit. He doesn’t get it and never will.

muirgeo March 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm

OK John if people don’t get a living wage in your world what do they do? Starve? You’re good with that? Seriously what happens in your world?

John V March 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Once again,

your economic illiteracy is showing.

Do really think that that is what I mean? I’ve wasted enough time on you. I’m going to give much in terms of responses as long as you are going to continue to make an ass out of yourself.

You got LOTS of responses waiting for you. Better get to work, twit-brain.

LowcountryJoe March 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

It’s a living wage isn’t it? Those who don’t earn at least up to this wage end up perishing…and usually by week’s end before they’re able to collect their next paycheck. Pay attention, Ducktor; words mean things.

Methinks1776 March 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Hello, idiot!

Do you know what a “stock jobber” is? Please enlighten us.

JohnK March 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I’m not sure what a stock jobber is, but the muirdiot would most certainly fail the gom jabbar.

muirgeo March 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm

From Freedictionary; Stockjobber…. disparaging a stockbroker, esp one dealing in worthless securities.

To me its anyone of the mass of people who make a living “legally” stealing wealth from the productive economy while adding nothing of value to it and often in fact actually reducing the effectiveness and productivity of the economy.

John V March 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Aren’t you embarrassed at how many responses you are ignoring over the past few threads while spewing more crap in new tangents?

You can retreat all you want. People see it.

Mesa Econoguy March 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm

That’s mighty insightful of you, Gallbreath.

Trouble is, you have no idea what economic productivity and value addition are.

LowcountryJoe March 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

You’ve just described a great many of the people in the very industries where you place so much of your faith. Now for some questions that you’ll never answer:

- Which group of stockjobbers are you leaning towards voting for in the next election?
- Are there any interesting new papers that the Stockjobber Panel on Climate Change has put out lately?

Methinks1776 March 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Oh. I see that, as with all words in the English language, you have assigned your own special meaningless meaning.

Daniel Kuehn March 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Because it’s always healthy to see shades of gray…

…there’s a literature out there that notes that the Luddites are better characterized as advocates of what has come to be called “industrial democracy”, rather than outright opponents of technological progress. It was questions of the control of technology that concerned them, not technology itself. Not that that makes much of a difference for people, but I thought it was interesting.

The same with the mercantilists. The simple history says they wanted to build trade barriers… if you read them, though, it’s more of a monetary disequilibrium argument (not unlike those that Steve Horwitz makes) and they were much less sanguine about protectionism than we normally characterize them as being. The political leaders of the time embraced protectionism whole-heartedly, but the mercantilist economists raised serious concerns, and when they did advocate it it was not because they thought money was wealth, but because they had a monetary disequilibrium understanding of economic stagnation.

Methinks1776 March 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

“Because it’s always healthy to see shades of gray…”

Even when there aren’t any….

John V March 19, 2011 at 2:53 pm

You have quoted a little more.

I’ll leave the grey shading comment alone for now.

muirgeo March 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Of course you do. You guys hate gray.

John V March 19, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Uh, hem….

Stop Trolling.

You have a lot of real answers to you still awaiting a response. You have no idea what I meant to DK. Go find something useful to do…like answering people when they respond to you before lighting more fires.

Sam Grove March 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm

What is gray but a mix of black and white.

Don Boudreaux March 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Daniel: Have you read Jacob Viner’s essays on the mercantilists? You should.

Daniel Kuehn March 20, 2011 at 12:56 am

I have not. I’ve gotten a great deal out of William Grampp’s work on mercantilism, and Joseph Dorfman’s (Murray Rothbard’s dissertation advisor, I believe) work on American colonial mercantilists. It’s amazing – when you actually take the time to read what the mercantilists wrote – how much modern commenters attribute the actions of contemporary rulers to mercantilists themselves. British rulers were protectionists, so its inferred that the dominant school of thought was also fundamentally protectionist. It’s a surprisingly misleading inference.

Then again, it shouldn’t be surprising. Every idiot thing any left-of-center politician does these days inevitably gets ascribed to Keynesians. I’d imagine several centuries from now students of economics will have trouble differentiating one from the other.

This isn’t to say that mercantilists were always right, but in many ways they were wrong for the right reasons. And they have more in common with even the Austrian monetary disequilibrium theorists (Horwitz, Yeager) than they do with, say Ricardo.

What does Viner cover?

Methinks1776 March 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

Every idiot thing any left-of-center politician does these days inevitably gets ascribed to Keynesians.

You’ve been saying that for a while. Which idiot things (they are so plentiful) in particular do you think are incorrectly ascribed?

I don’t know why you seem so resistant to the fact that no matter what Keynes may have actually said, the politicians will take that as carte blanche to do what they want. Theory and practice.

Steve Horwitz March 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

To defend DK for sec:

There is a very bad tendency among libertarian types to equate “Keynesian” with “economic theories and policies I don’t like” or at least “if it involves more gov’t, it must be Keynesian”. This argument makes people who engage in it look silly.

Keynesianism is NOT a set of policies, but a set of theories about how the economy operates. Yes, those theories might imply a variety of policies, many of which involve more government intervention, but it’s the theory not the policy that makes it “Keynesian.”

As an example, toward the end of his life, Keynes was strongly anti-inflation, yet we hear too many people referring to the Fed’s expansionary policies as being Keynesian simply because they don’t like them (rightfully so, IMO) when it’s not at all clear that they are “Keynesian.”

Lest you think this problem only arises with Keynesianism, the same can be said of the phrase “public good,” which is treated as a synonym for “something provided by government” which it most definitely is not.

John V March 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Dr. Horwitz,

I think we all know what you are saying. But to defend methinks for a sec, I think people here simply equate policies based on Keynesian theories…closely or loosely…to Keynesianism. It’s just short hand.

Moreover, I think Daniel is overgeneralizing a bit on that remark and giving the appearance that that is what he is generally seeing here. And he isn’t.

Methinks1776 March 20, 2011 at 1:23 pm


I know, but thank you for saying it in such clear way.

In this case, DK needs no defense. I don’t think he’s wrong. I wanted to know which idiocy he would point to specifically as inconsistent with Keynes.

Is there a tendency to call all government intervention Keynesian? I don’t think Obamacare, for instance, is being called “Keynesian”, so I don’t think libertarians think that “if it involves government, it must be Keynesian”.

However, in his General Theory, Keynes does advocate for a lot of government involvement because, he claims, competitive markets will never fully utilize resources without the help of government and government should do “whatever it takes”. This is good news indeed for those in government. They take it as Carte Blanche to enact whatever stupid policy best suites them personally. So, I guess it’s not that difficult to understand why so much government intervention is now mistaken for Keynesianism.

Is that technically incorrect? Sure. But, who in their right mind expects something that must churn through the political process not to be perverted? Thus, the first sentence of my second paragraph. Daniel seems to take a much more charitable view of government actors.

Methinks1776 March 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

“Keynesianism” = Keynesian.

Sam Grove March 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I thought that policies prescribed by “Keynesians”, as based in Keynesian theories, might legitimately be called “Keynesian”.

Whenever I hear Keynesian, I think of monetary policies pursued to get the economy going when it is thought to have slowed too much, and little else.

Daniel Kuehn March 21, 2011 at 5:38 am

John V – “Moreover, I think Daniel is overgeneralizing a bit on that remark and giving the appearance that that is what he is generally seeing here.”

Didn’t mean to give this impression at all, John V, and I’m not sure what I said that could have given this impression. It’s not unknown here of course, but I did not mean for you to think that it is what is generally seen here.

Daniel Kuehn March 21, 2011 at 5:40 am

John V -
Usually when I have complaints about Cafe Hayek commenters, I’m not shy about directly accusing them! There’s no need for you to take something personally that I don’t make personal :)

Sam Grove March 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Here I thought the “Keynesian” charge was usually in reference to monetary stimulation/adjustment.

You used to complain of too frequent use of “socialism”, not realizing that it’s our shorthand for “political management of resources”.

Methinks1776 March 21, 2011 at 8:39 am


Instead of wasting time taking offense at Joh V’s remark, why not just spend the energy to tell us which idiot thing you think is improperly ascribed? That would actually serve to inform.

Methinks1776 March 21, 2011 at 8:40 am

…and I realize you don’t mean to say that it was necessarily a mistake made here.

yet another Dave March 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Every idiot thing any left-of-center politician does these days inevitably gets ascribed to Keynesians.

Looking past the hyperbole, surely you agree Keynesians desire to have government intervene in markets in certain ways. To intervene in these ways, politicians must have the power to do so.

Since government action is inevitably political, and since political action frequently results in doing “idiot things” why is it not reasonable to attribute the idiot things to those who sought to give the idiots the power to do them.

Think of adults allowing young children to play with loaded firearms. We blame the adults when somebody gets shot, not the children. [For the dense readers of this blog, the adults represent Keynesians, the children represent politicians]

Daniel Kuehn March 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I think our disagreement on this shows in the particular metaphor you choose. Yes, we blame adults when they let children “play with loaded firearms”. But that’s a lot more irresponsible than adults who supervise and teach kids how to use loaded firearms. When you are responsible in letting kids use guns, inevitably there are going to tragic accidents. That’s just part of life. But that’s a very different situation. Saying we oughta have a constitutional republic that intervenes on certain issues is very different from saying that the politicians should have a free for all. You are stacking the deck with the analogy you choose.

Your gun analogy is good for making another point. Anyone who advocates certain intervention should take account of the mistakes associated with the intervention, but it doesn’t mean we identify every mistake with their views. I, with libertarians, believe strongly in gun rights. I think the state should play a very minimal role in the regulation of guns. Basic licensing and that sort of thing doesn’t bother me personally, but I don’t think there should be any real restrictions on ownership itself. The fact that I think that and that libertarians think doesn’t make me culpable for inappropriate use of guns, though. I have to take the risk of inappropriate use into account when I formulate my position on gun control, but it still doesn’t make sense to say “Daniel Kuehn was OK with that shooting spree” or “yet another dave was OK with that shooting spree”, even if we both support the gun rights that might have enabled it. In the same way, you can’t redefine Keynesianism as being supportive of anything politicians do simply because Keynesianism makes certain accomodations for politicians.

And ultimately, what politicians end up screwing up on has more to do with the political structure of a state than Keynesianism itself. I support Keynesianism practiced in a constitutionally constrained republic, precisely because I see real risk in political overreach. But Keynesianism can also be practiced in dictatorships, democracies, etc. Political overreach is a risk in all of these, but that’s more a function of their political framework than it is of Keynesianism.

Daniel Kuehn March 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Libertarians, of all people, should not be using this argument you use. Libertarians of all people know that leaving someone with the authority to do something is not the same thing as condoning everything that that person does with that authority.

Methinks1776 March 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm


The difference between Keynesian intervention and owning guns is that you can choose to own a gun. While there’s a certain probability you will be shot if others have guns, it is not the certainty that being subjected to Keynesian policies is Keynesian policies will be imposed on everyone by the state. Nevertheless, your approval of Keynesian policies does not extend to non-Keynesian policies which are improperly ascribed. No problem.

So, which idiocies are improperly ascribed?

Methinks1776 March 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Libertarians of all people know that leaving someone with the authority to do something is not the same thing as condoning everything that that person does with that authority.

Nobody is saying that. It is precisely because these people cannot be trusted that we are reticent to engage them to make important and personal decisions for us. Can you not understand that?

yet another Dave March 21, 2011 at 4:34 pm


The first part was the answer I expected from you, but I think you miss the point. You think politicians can be effectively supervised given the power to implement Keynesian policies. They can’t. Also, I do not “redefine Keynesianism as being supportive of anything politicians do simply because Keynesianism makes certain accomodations for politicians.” I’m talking about responsibility, not supportiveness – not a subtle difference.

The inevitable result of ceding the authority required to implement Keynesian ideas is political overreach (nice euphamism) – it’s embedded in the reality of politics and politicians. To think otherwise is at best hopelessly naive, ranging through completely stupid to willfully evil. Therefore those seeking to grant such authority have some responsibility for the overreach. That was the point of the analogy that Methinks got and you did not.

If you ever grasp what I’m saying you’ll understand why Keynesianism (even if the theory were 100% perfectly correct, which it is not) is anti freedom and a horrible scourge on humanity.

LowcountryJoe March 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

Because it’s always healthy to see the upside in destroying other people’s property and prolonging inevitable technological advancements — advancement that will benefit everyone long-term — simply because, in the short term, some [of a great many] will be briefly displaced. That kind of understanding is as charcoal gray as it comes.

indianajim March 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm
Per Kurowski March 20, 2011 at 9:04 am

@Anthony de Jasay: “it would not be surprising if the present standards of about 8 per cent of a bank’s ‘risk-weighted’ liabilities being their own capital, were gradually raised to 10 or even 12 per cent.”

The above is a perfect example of how this financial crisis has not yet been understood by the regulators who caused it. In the week, March 2011, Lord Turner of the UK even went so far as to say “security can only come with 15 to 20 percent capital requirements”

To begin understand what happen it suffices to know that the 8 percent capital requirement has been more than enough to cover for what was officially perceived as being risky, like whatever was BBB rated. What went wrong, as it always does, is what was officially perceived as not risky, like whatever was rated AAA, and for which the regulators only asked for 1.6 percent in capital… which of course drove up the returns on capital for banks on investments in officially perceived “no-risk” areas… and so they went and crashed themselves in the Potemkin ratings the market built in lieu of the real AAAs which we all know are extremely scarce.

Super Probiotic March 21, 2011 at 5:51 am

The Luddites were a social movement of English workers in the early 1800s who protested — often by destroying textile machines — against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution that they felt threatened their jobs. The movement, which began in 1811, was named after a probably mythical leader, Ned Ludd.

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