THIS Was the Heart of What Hayek Warned Against in his ‘Road to Serfdom’

by Don Boudreaux on June 14, 2011

in Myths and Fallacies, Other People's Money, Seen and Unseen, Trade, Work

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Challenging George Will’s case against trade-adjustment assistance, Eric Salonen analogizes such assistance to compensation that government pays to people whose properties are taken by the building of a hydroelectric dam (Letters, June 14).  This analogy is faulty.  Unlike with land, almost no one has a property right to a job (we tenured professors being the unjustified exceptions to this sound rule) – for to have a property right to a job would be to have a property right to the manner in which other people spend their money.  Such a ‘property right’ spread across the economy would completely suffocate the economy’s competitiveness and dynamism and, thus, over time impoverish us all.

Moreover, Mr. Salonen’s analogy doesn’t answer the question posed by Mr. Will: Why should workers who lose their jobs because consumers start buying more imports be treated differently than workers who lose their jobs for any of the many other reasons, unrelated to imports, that workers lose their jobs?  Just as it’s unjust to force taxpayers to ‘compensate,’ say, the brewery worker who loses her job because consumers buy less beer from St. Louis and more wine from Sonoma, it’s unjust to ‘compensate’ the brewery worker who loses her job because consumers buy less beer from St. Louis and more wine from South Africa.

Donald J. Boudreaux

And further: Does Smith – by purchasing Jones’s services today – thereby commit to purchase Jones’s services tomorrow and into the future until and unless Jones releases Smith from such an obligation?  No.  And any reasonably informed Jones would not want such an arrangement because, as that Jones understands, if Smith knows that by hiring Jones today he cannot fire Jones tomorrow, Smith is less likely to hire Jones today (or, if he does hire Jones, Smith will do so only at a lower wag

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vidyohs June 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

The thinking you rightly criticize comes about because people are enculturated and heavily invested in the phrase, my job.

BTW, the last word in your last sentence desperately needs an e.

Gordon Richens June 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Indeed. Perhaps the failure of such people to distinguish between the concept of “my job” versus “my business” (or enterprise) is rooted in their failure to fully grasp the concept of property.

vidyohs June 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I sincerely believe that more than anything else it is the results of “stinking thinking”, to quote Zig Ziglar.

Only a rare few of your fellow Americans actually understand the reality of their position in the world of business.

We allow ancient stinking thinking to obscure the truth, we operate on enculturated reaction.

We never work for another man, we only work for ourselves, therefore no matter what you do to earn fruits of labor, it is your business, it is not a job.

There is only one category of business and that is service. I don’t care what you do to earn your fruits of labor you are doing it by providing service to a customer. The one who provides the best service he is capable of, with honesty, consistency, dignity and pride is a worthy in demanding a place at the table as anyone else, whether he be a gravedigger or a professor.

Yes, Americans are heavily invested in myths and it hurting us.

Stone Glasgow June 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Excellent post. I agree 100%

I find it continuously infuriating to realize that 99% of Americans have no idea what a “job,” really is. They have no idea that they are selling their time and labor, and that they own their own business, and that their “boss” is really their customer.

Sam Grove June 14, 2011 at 3:36 pm

People have an innate sense of entitlement to anything they become accustomed to, such as their job, a familiar shortcut, etc.

Too bad they don’t feel entitled to independence.

Mao_Dung June 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

In your case it really was less than a 100% job, so “ob” will do fine.

Mao_Dung June 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Sam, stop pimping for the leisure class. Why do you hate working folks so much? You shame yourself over and over again to the point that your face no longer blushes.

Ken June 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm


“Sam, stop pimping for the leisure class.”

Are you aware that the people with the MOST leisure time are poor people? Do you think Sam is pimping for them?


tdp June 15, 2011 at 12:40 am

Statistically proven. Those in the lowest quintile of income earners have the most leisure time, with their leisure time increasing. Those in the top quintile have the least leisure time and are seeing their work hours increase. They spend a much smaller percentage of their time on leisure activities ans are far more likely to work 70 hours a week or more.

ArgosyJones June 17, 2011 at 1:39 am

Yes, think of it! Homeless beggars have 100% leisure time. They have so much they can spare an hour or two to stand in line to get into a hotel each night.

It’s enough to make me green with envy.


Methinks1776 June 14, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Who does not aspire to the leisure class, Mao’s Dung? Who aspires to toil? Nobody.

Gordon Richens June 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I’m not inclined to equate independence with leisure.

Sam Grove June 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm


Mao_Dung June 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm

You had a government ob once, that you stumbled and fumbled your way through. But you are selfish and couldn’t care less about anybody other than yourself. Now, you’re just a ultraright-wing rabble-rouser.

vidyohs June 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Cao Dung, the patty of this blog! In muirduck we have our village idiot, and in Cao Dung we have the court jester, the entertaining fool.

I am selfish, and you are a thief. Which of the two does more factual damage to society. I’ll answer that. The thief.

I can be selfish and never take a thing from anyone, whereas you as the thief will always harm society. Just the way it is Cao Dung.

Slappy McFee June 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I don’t know, I kind of like the lower wag.

The Troll June 15, 2011 at 12:04 am

Apparently Mao_Dung forgot what happened when he was gang-trolled last night. Any post after 8 was someone else using his name.

PrometheeFeu June 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I don’t see how tenure is different from other employment arrangements. Just like all employment contracts, it only binds those who have agreed to be bound by it. I assume that if your employer broke his side of the deal, he and only he would be liable for some sort of penalties. The trade-adjustment program binds a third party (or actually hundreds of millions of third parties) to compensate one party to that contract.

PrometheeFeu June 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I think the healthcare debate is actually the most flagrant such slippery slope example here. (And I actually am a supporter of single-payer) You should read this blog post: (Listening to the actual arguments is actually very interesting) The argument of the government is that the government can force you to buy health insurance because emergency rooms are required to provide care. Of course, the judges pointed out that congress requires ERs to provide care, so they asked if according to that theory, congress could just mandate that a producer provide a good or service to anyone who asks for it and then depend upon that to force the purchase of that good or service. The government answer: Yes.

Let me clarify the government position: Congress can pass laws that give itself more authority as long as they are kind of clever about it. Forget limited government, it was a joke.

tdp June 15, 2011 at 12:29 am

You should totally read my posts on his June 6 entry about single payer healthcare.

Chucklehead June 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Jobs are not the property of the worker, or employer. They are the property of the consumer.

Mao_Dung June 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm


Shidoshi June 14, 2011 at 5:19 pm


I would like to know what your occupation is. Were your parents union workers? I don’t get it.

What would you do in nature to survive? Would you somehow expect prepared food to enter your mouth? Prepared shelter to build itself? If your answer is no, why should it be any different in your life as it is today?

Ken June 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm


Pretty sure Dung is a high school student based on some of his previous comments, plus his overall lack of maturity. In other words, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t support himself with any job.


Stone Glasgow June 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm

A job is a process.

People sell their time (labor) to others who purchase it at an agreed upon price (wage), and the act of actually doing a job is simply fulfilling a contract.

Saying “I lost my job,” is the same as a restaurant owner saying “we lost a customer.” In both cases the person purchasing a product, be in labor or food, is under no obligation to continue.

A restaurant sells food. A worker sells labor. Same thing.

W.E. Heasley June 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

“Trade Adjustment Assistance is an example of how we, as a nation, recognize our moral obligation to look out for those who bear the brunt of unintended but unavoidable adverse consequences of government policy”.

“For example, the decision to build a hydroelectric dam, while benefiting the surrounding communities…..” – Eric Salonen

Among the fistful or errors, Eric is making the classic error [or purposeful error] of government equaling society.

DG Lesvic June 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm

These are things that have been said here many times before, and while they bear repeating, somewhere amidst all this intellectual recycling couldn’t we find a moment or two for something new?

And before telling me again how ignorant I am, my wife wants you to know that that’s her job.

Methinks1776 June 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm

DG, you ignorant bastard (your wife can have the night off now), read some history. There is nothing new. The same crap is recycled over and over in the context of new circumstances.

The only thing that changes – and usually always for the better – is what humans innovate. All the more reason we must always defend our ability to do so.

DG Lesvic June 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Sorry, but you’re going to have to do better than that if you want to fill in for my wife.

I’ve just lost all respect for the Gulag.

Methinks1776 June 14, 2011 at 10:42 pm

No way I can compete with 50 years of experience, man :)

vidyohs June 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm

I pulled my ancestors papers and looked at them again, Og and Mog both said you were right. Good job!

vidyohs June 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

The reason things like this need to be recycled is that not everyone gets it on the 1st cycle, or the 2nd cycle, or the 3rd, or the 4th, and some like muirduck, Cao Dung, and DK never get it.

It is boring at times, but necessary as we all benefit when another one gets it.

DG Lesvic June 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I agree completely. I wasn’t asking for the new to the exclusion of the old, just that the new not be excluded, that there be a place for that, too. Is that asking too much?

vidyohs June 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Can’t argue with that my man, not at all.

DG Lesvic June 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm

You’re the exception.

Stone Glasgow June 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I’ve never seen a liberal-minded person come to understand the nature of economics and freedom unless they are relatively young and have not yet been indoctrinated into the Collegiate Fraternity of Douchey Keynesian Idiocy.

Yffudcm June 16, 2011 at 6:19 am

Stone: I am that exception. I was born into a liberal family, raised liberal, dutifully voted Democrat, until 1994 when I decided they weren’t liberal enough, and then in the year 2000, I caught an interview on NPR with Harry Browne. Within a few years I was calling myself a “libertarian leaning liberal.” Shortly after I turned 40, I took to calling myself a libertarian, and now, I am probably something like an anarcho-capitalist.

Of course you did say “relatively young” so I still might not qualify as the exception to your observation.

tdp June 15, 2011 at 12:01 am

I keep looking for your letters in The Post but they never seem to get published. You should put a notice up if they publish something of yours. They’re probably intimidated or want to protect the reputations of their op-ed writers.

Dan June 15, 2011 at 1:18 am

They know him. WSJ printed one, recently. They receive hundreds and hundreds of comments per day on different articles, as does WSJ. Thank goodness, for WSJ, or else I would be left with AZ republic. Terrible paper. They print Eugene Robinson, whose articles are typically laden with race or claims of discrimination. He sees race on all issues. An elected official chose Cod for dinner over Perch…… Mr. Robinson will likely say it was due to the persons racist attitude.

bob June 15, 2011 at 12:37 am

cool post

Mao_Dung June 15, 2011 at 12:37 am

bioupuobh opirhopi pfiojpio

BCanuck June 15, 2011 at 2:21 am

I agree with George Will and Don on trade adjustment assistance. The hydro electric dam analogy is weak. But to play the fools advocate, could it be argued that a sudden imposition of a trade agreement resulting job losses is NOT the equivalent of a innovation or changing consumer preferences. It is different in two ways: 1) it is a distinct government action and therefore there is an easily identifiable source of the dislocation and 2) it is an action that exposes the workers to ‘unfair’ foreign competition where there is no (or low) safety standards or minimim wage. These factors are foreign government policy. It is a foreign government’s fault and not a consequence of everyday market actions. It is a ‘special’ case because the dislocated workers are, in effect, up against a foreign government. Public funds are justified to defend against the foreign government’s actions (or non-action).
I realize its not that compellimg but that’s the best I can do.

The REAL justification is that it benefits the typical Obama and Democratic voter more than it benefits a typical GOP voter. It really just plain old politics/vote buying. I’m waiting for the day when a politician just stands up and justifies such a program in so many words saying “this program is good because it rewards my constituency and I will get credit for this action from my constituency. It helps my job security and increases my political power. In short, it’s good for me.”

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