Another Open Letter to an Aggressive E-Mail Correspondent

by Don Boudreaux on August 3, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Dinner Table Economics, Hubris and humility, Other People's Money

Dear Mr. or Ms. WorkingAmerican:

In your e-mail – inspired by my account of my grandfather – you speculate that my late grandparents and parents would be “ashamed” of me were they still alive to see me (as you put it) “apologize for multinational corporations, the mega rich and other economic vermin.”  Unable to “fathom” how I “join ranks with the sworn enemies of poor and working Americans,” you speculate that I am “paid well” to be a “mouthpiece for the exploiters.”

In fact, because (as I gather you’re aware) my parents both died only very recently, I can report confidently that neither of them were ashamed of me.  Quite the opposite.  Save for my support of open immigration and my disgust at most of the ways the U.S. military has been used in recent decades, my public writings enjoyed the strong approval of both of my parents.

A true story: when my father was laid off from his shipyard job in the mid-1970s, a neighbor who came to my parents’ house for coffee one evening encouraged my mother to apply for Food Stamps.  I’ll never forget the look on mom’s face and her response.

Her face alternated between expressions of disbelief (that anyone would suggest such a thing to her) and anger (that anyone would suppose that she would stoop to living off of the dole).  “Jenny!” mom said firmly, “I don’t care how bad things get, I’m not about to apply for Food Stamps.  I’d be ashamed to use those things.”

And ashamed she (and my father, and my grandparents) would indeed have been.  It was shame sparked not from reading Milton Friedman or listening to Rush Limbaugh (neither of which they ever did); it came from the values that were instilled in them since childhood.

The world needs more people, like my parents and grandparents, who are ashamed to live off of government welfare.

So in fact, Mr. or Ms. WorkingAmerican, the values that you find so disagreeable in my writings are not values different from those of my parents; they are the very same values that guided mom and dad and that they passed on to their four children.  My parents would be ashamed of me if I were instead (to again use your word) a “mouthpiece” for all of those who encourage individuals’ dependency upon the state.

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Ike August 3, 2011 at 11:12 am

Them’s fightin’ words…

Rob August 3, 2011 at 11:16 am

All the bankers have been living very well off the dole for some time.

LowcountryJoe August 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

True. And politicians have, for many years, protected many banks from failure. But they may have just been getting in front of the backlash that would have occurred if an ‘important’ bank had been allowed to fail: can you even imagine the squeals of anguish that would have been voiced if some people were allowed to feel the economic pain of some of their decisions?

Emet August 3, 2011 at 11:25 am

Glad your mom said no Don. In a related story, my family qualified for free lunch when I was a kid and my parents were opposed to taking it as it was an afront to their ability to provide for their family. I remember my mom expressing that were were having hard times, but not considering us “poor”. To this day, she refuses to accept that definition of us during that time. She preferred (and prefers) “struggling”. Her perspective seems to be that if you are poor, you are blaming somone else for your curcumstance, but if you are struggling, there is hope that you can work your way out of it.

LowcountryJoe August 3, 2011 at 11:30 am

These people that troll here and write to you and who criticize you for your consistent championing of liberty and free markets; what’s their big problem with liberty and voluntary trading of property anyway? I just don’t get it.

Don Boudreaux August 3, 2011 at 11:31 am

Nor do I get it. And nor did my parents.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

They are brainwashed dimwits who worship at the altar extortion and brutality. The person who wrote that email to DB suffers just the right combination of immoral and stupid that makes him such an easily corruptible puppet for silver-tongued thugs.

Frank33328 August 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm

This has always amazed me too. There is a certain moral inversion that is not noticed by those opposed to voluntary action. I think ALL people, liberals, conservatives, Dems, Reps, Libertarians, etc, dislike being forced, e.i when they themselves are forced. What sets Libertarians apart is that they do not want OTHERS to be forced either.

kyle8 August 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm

The true mark of freedom is when you are ready to allow other people the right to live their own life, even when you don’t like them, or what they do.

Liberals can never do this everything they believe in is predicated on coercion. Conservatives are willing to allow it only on fiscal and a few other issues like what you eat, or how much you exercise.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Given that everyone wants to be left alone to THEIR OWN pursuits, the true mark of freedom is absence of hypocrisy.

kyle8 August 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Interestingly enough, that is not always true, there are some who would, in their fanaticism, deny themselves the things they desire just in order that YOU not have them.

Frank33328 August 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Kyle, what you say is true and I have met people that are willing to be forced as long as that assures that others are forced as well. I am not sure if this is more deplorable than the hypocrits who would deny YOU choice but not themselves……

brotio August 4, 2011 at 11:14 pm

While you guys are correct that there are exceptions, V V’s post is still accurate.

It’s only an anecdote, but Yasafi is the most-totalitarian of the patrons of this Cafe, and also the biggest hypocrite. YOU need to reduce your CO2 footprint. YOU need to forgo profit if you’re in the health care profession. Yasafi conveniently exempts himself from those admonitions.

John Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 11:30 am

Those “Americans” are working all right, in getting a hold of our wallets.

Notice their emphasis on their tribal affiliation, which by default, can only mean that they stand against what/who is not “American”.

GP Hanner August 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

Well said.

Slappy McFee August 3, 2011 at 11:40 am


Just in case this was a member of my family (with whom I have shared many of your posts) I will apologize on their behalf. Their anger and scorn is usually aimed only at me.

Don Boudreaux August 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

This person (who used a gmail account) left no identifying marks, apart from his or her nom de plume and ignorance both of economics and of my family.

JBS August 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

Love it.

GrizzlyAdam August 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

My great-grandpa came to the United States from Italy with nothing. He was able to work and save enough to start his own deli (in New Orleans, Don, you may know the place…). The deli still exists, and is still owned and operated by the family. He never once asked for a government handout or assistance.

Krishnan August 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

Wonderful – and typical of so many stories. But I imagine there will be a fraction who will refuse to believe you – since to them, simply hard work is not sufficient – they cannot accept the fact that the US has been the world’s magnet BECAUSE of the fact that ANYONE can make it here.

Don Boudreaux August 3, 2011 at 11:58 am

What’s the deli’s name?

GrizzlyAdam August 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

The Central Grocery.

Rick Hull August 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I was sure you were going to say Domileses

Dick Fitzwell August 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Central Grocery has been around for a long time and it’s still family owned. Is that the one? Great…now I’m craving a muffuletta!

GrizzlyAdam August 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Indeed. The muffuletta is the god of sandwiches. :)

Dick Fitzwell August 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Yes it is. Well worth my 45 minute drive to Decatur Street.

Krishnan August 3, 2011 at 11:53 am

These are some of the standards people like that use to pass judgement …

If you were ever poor, you cannot criticize any “war on poverty”
if you were ever poor, it was because of evil corporations
if you are not poor, it is because you stole from others
if you are educated, you prevented someone else from being educated
if you are not educated, it is because of the evil society
if you work for a state supported institution, you cannot support free markets and free peoples
if you are a physician and are not a cancer researcher, you cannot talk about cancer
schools are poor because there is insufficient money
if you criticize politicians who want to “do good” you are heartless and evil and a “mouthpiece”

In short, there is nothing you can say or do to convince some.

Ayn Rand understood that the only way to convince such people is to let them feel the full effect of their own policies, ideas (Atlas Shrugged). Only when the “exploiters” stop working and creating, they will understand where the motive power comes from.

I sure wish we can let the Democrats and other Big Spenders ratchet up the spending to say 10 trillion dollars and increase the tax rates to double what they are today and impose a wealth tax and confiscate everything that anyone has … That this was tried AND it failed would be irrelevant to them – since “the right people” did not run those socialist/communist countries. The problem is that while we strive for a free market system, we know that there are many crony capitalists and that there are many who have gotten rich through stealing. Thus, the redistributionists can always point out to some egregious example and say “See? We do not have a free market system and Government power is used to enrich some at the expense of others” – Statistical arguments about how the economy has fared INSPITE of obvious examples of thieves and charlatans is irrelevant to them. Since there will always be at least ONE thief and charlatan, they would claim that we will NEVER have a “free market” system and so will demand that everyone suffer by imposing their ideas.

As I said, there is nothing we can say to people who hold onto a belief system that allows forcible takings and distributing. Nothing.

EG August 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I kind of agree with you. People don’t often change their behavior until they feel the consequences of their behavior. And this government, and the people of this country, are not going to change their behavior until they feel the pain. But it may take 40 years for them to feel the pain…and I don’t want to be of retirement age by the time money grabbers stop taking my money to feed grandma, supposedly.

Maybe the best thing that can happen is that our credit limit is bumped down enough.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm

“In short, there is nothing you can say or do to convince some.”

That will always be true. Such vicious thieves will always be among us. Imagine how much easier it would be for us to defend against them if we (including most libertarians) didn’t wish to create for them an nationwide monopoly of violence force.

norman August 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

Don, don’t be ashamed. The reason I read your blog is to get your take on the situation. Cafe Hayek is one of the most interesting, educational, and logically consistent “free market” sites I’ve seen. I wonder how you have so much time to post as much as you do. Thanks a million!
As for whiningly socialist e-mailers, either they haven’t gotten your message or they think they’re going to change your mind through guilt.

LowcountryJoe August 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

The reason I read your blog is to get your take on the situation. Cafe Hayek is one of the most interesting, educational, and logically consistent “free market” sites I’ve seen.


vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

To instill guilt, he’d first have to have written something true. At best those words evoke pity for the mental handicap of the writer.

Jack of Spades August 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I suspect WorkingAmerican doesn’t read this blog very much. If she or he had, it would be difficult for your correspondent to square your alleged peddling for multinational corporations with your repeated calls that the government stop granting special favors (tariffs, subsidies, barriers to entry against competitors, etc) to these sameself corporations. I’ve long been puzzled by the claims that tariffs help the typical American. The explicit effect of tariffs is to raise the prices of American consumers, in order to protect these corporations. Regardless of the goal of the policy maker, what tariffs accomplish is to enrich corporation profits by creating artificially high consumer prices. Argue for tariffs if you so choose, but don’t present your argument as “sticking up for the little guy” – it favors the rich and raises the little guy’s prices.

Tom August 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Jack, Let’s not commit economic and financial suicide for ideological reasons.

I too have a distaste for tariffs. But we have a very real problem that we need to acknowledge and then try to develop a remedy.

It is necessary to look it systemically to see it. With our current tax systems in The United States, the B’Jesus gets taxed out of both the goods and services that are produced domestically either for export or to be sold in our own retail markets. On the other hand, competing imports from other countries, regardless of what they are and where they are coming from, are taxed very lightly relative to those things that are produced in the U.S. Our domestic producers must be able to better compete for shelf and floor space in their own retail stores as a prerequisite for the recovery and growth of our economy. If not tariffs on imports, then we need another tax device that would have a “leveling” effect.

Though I have never been a proponent of it, the consumption based so-called “Fair Tax”, could be structured in a way that it would truly be “fair” in the equal way that both domestically produced goods and services and competing imports are taxed.

Many–if not most–countries who have a value added tax have structured the VAT in a way to provide retail price avantage to things that are produced in their own countries while using the VAT as a de facto tariff that is levied on imports. But they don’t call it a tariff so politicians in other countries tend to ignore the fact that their producers are being screwed.

Evan Gould August 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Simple (simplistic?) solution. No tarriffs, with massive reductions to taxes on domestically produced goods and services.

Gordon Richens August 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“,,,you speculate that I am ‘paid well’ to be a ‘mouthpiece for the exploiters.’”

Sounds like an example of projection. Maybe the “g” in the “gmail” account used by the likes of WorkingAmerican actually stands for “government”.

Counterpoint August 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I am curious whether you share your parents’ view on food stamps. After having money taken by government, how is it wrong to try to get some of it back?

Don Boudreaux August 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Your question is a good one, and the answer to the general query isn’t as easy as it seems to be at first blush. But to answer your specific question, I emphatically DO share my parents’ view on Food Stamps. I would be too ashamed ever to use them; seriously, I’d prefer to beg honestly on the streets, if matters ever became so desperate for me, than to be on the government dole.

norman August 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Don: Don’t be ashamed at accepting food stamps. As a bona fide American taxpayer you are entitled to all legal government benefits, of which food stamps are one. So if under the law you are qualified for food stamps then accept them in good faith. There will come a time when you don’t need them and will become a faithful taxpayer again. If the US Congress and the American People did not want food stamps they would abolish the food stamp laws and discontinue food stamp taxes.

Krishnan August 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm

being “entitled to all legal government benefits” does not seem sufficient – yes, I imagine someone who is responsible for minor children and if it were NOT for food stamps they would die of starvation – then yea – and that would imply that there are simply no jobs available to make a living – but it is through creating such “legal government benefits” that we have created a dependent state.

Assume for a minute that there are NO food stamps, NO welfare, NOTHING – People who are responsible will do WHATEVER needed to be done to take care of themselves and their families – I am convinced that it is BECAUSE of such programs (that may mean well) that we have encouraged people to feel entitled to help even if they are able bodied and of sound mind …

Thomas Sowell has written extensively about the change in the black family structure and how welfare and other programs have destroyed it – in the name of protecting it …

norman August 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I can’t see any difference in government food stamps and government roads or libraries. It’s just your opinion of what you want the government to do. If the US Congress and the American Public don’t want food stamps, they can repeal food stamp laws and taxes. If they don’t want libraries then repeal library laws and library taxes. Unfortunately not everyone is fully satisfied with our country as it is, but things will evolve with time. Maybe we’ll have a libertarian utopia.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm

“It’s just your opinion of what you want the government to do.”

The only opinion involved is what justifies the use of violence against innocents. Your threshold, I see, is lower than mine.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

“As a bona fide American taxpayer you are entitled to all legal government benefits”

There are people who make moral judgments. Then there are lawyers. Which are you?

“If the US Congress and the American People did not want food stamps they would abolish the food stamp laws and discontinue food stamp taxes.”

Collectivist illogic would be amusing if it weren’t so destructive.

Jeff neal August 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

DB doesn’t care if he’s legally entitled; he is self-sufficient, i.e. he is a free man. He’d rather they stop taking X% of his income and let him live his self-sufficient life as opposed to being entitled to the “charity” of the ruling class.

They are not charitable, they are slave-masters. Qualifying for their beneficence requires bowing at their altar, behaving their way and giving up one’s life and freedom. NO

Henri Hein August 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm

A few years ago I lost my job and stayed jobless for almost a year. Several friends asked me if I was taking unemployment. I always answered no, and the exchange revealed a certain gap between us, as they had a hard time understanding it. Although they knew me well enough to ask the question. One of them said that he and his family were “proudly” taking it when he lost his job (he was being humorous).

Counterpoint August 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Thank you for the response Don, much appreciated. Of course you are correct, it is a bit of a tricky question, and I suppose more of a moral/philosophical one than an economic one. I certainly respect your personal view but do wonder why accepting food stamps should be considered any more unacceptable than collecting social security benefits, for example.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm

The statists so saturate society and distort markets with their stolen loot and violent protections, that you cannot reasonably escape it. However, knowing that what is stolen from you is, in fact, stolen and spent, you realize that whatever you take from the state is stolen from others. You cannot walk in this world without dirtying your shoes. However, you can make a choice not to join the ranks of the extortionists by demanding or actively supporting such looting of others. In spite of the starry-eyed political optimism of some American democracy advocates, that is probably all you can do.

So one useful moral dividing line between Americans is the one between those who demand government support, and those who don’t. That is a choice each of us can make. And it is a litmus test each of us can use when judging others.

norman August 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I guess “statists” are persons who believe government revenues should be spent differently than you believe. Unless you believe in a totally stateless world? Maybe it would be okay for the government to deliver the mail? Is there anything you believe the government should do?

Krishnan August 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm

“statists” are (IMO) those that believe that GOVERNMENT can do anything to an individual … No, it is not just about spending – but it is about taking and spending …

To quote Milton Friedman – there is a need for limited government – and what has happened is that it has grown to be limitless – and so now a threat to individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness

And no, the food stamp program is not like roads/bridges – and no – government “mandating” that cars have brakes is not the same as government “mandating” air bags and seat belts

rbd August 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm

norman: yes, the government should produce and service all those things that the private sector cannot, which is virtually nothing.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I believe everyone should be able to do anything they want, except employ offensive violence against innocents.

And mail? Are you kidding? There is NO excuse for the government being involved in that service. You might as well have the government deliver pizzas. It would take 1 day to write a total USPS privitization bill, and save about $8 billion. A complete no-brainer.

But you are missing the point of my post. Whatever those things that YOU don’t like the government doing, you cannot reasonable live and keep your hands clean. The government is far too big and the effects are too pervasive. You can, however, choose to not become an advocate for it. That is where your ability to make a moral choice lies.

PoliteEdward August 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm

My (quite possibly wrong) impression of vikingvista is that he/she does support a totally stateless world.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I resent being called a “he/she”. ;^)

brotio August 4, 2011 at 12:51 am


You’re likely correct about V V. Also note that many of us here accept Nock’s differentiation between state and government, and are vehemently opposed to the former, but will reluctantly accept a strictly limited version of the latter.

You might enjoy reading Our Enemy the State, by Albert J Nock.

Dan H August 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

My girlfriend immigrated here from Moldova (part of the Old Soviet Union). She applied for what she thought was a work-study program, but it was actually a scam in which a visa agency in Eastern Europe defrauds students and essentially solicits $3000 (which is more than the per capita income in Moldova) from the students in return for lining them up with a work-study visa, a summer job, and a place to stay. Well, they got her a visa and then dumped her here. No job. No place to live. No acquaintances. $75 US in her pocket. She worked her tail-end off cleaning hotel rooms and selling sunglasses at the mall, no less than 75 hours per week between the two jobs. She never accepted a single penny from the government. When I met her, she had more money in the bank than I did.

Krishnan August 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Most who come to the US are driven to succeed … and know that, if they work hard at it, they have a good chance to succeed and “make it” … The vast majority of illegal aliens are like that – they go to extraordinary lengths to escape their native environment and come to the US to find a job, any job that will pay them … and yes, I suppose they are exploited by some/many – and I suppose there are those that are parasites – but mostly, they come to the US to work to support themselves and their families – AND (more importantly) they are willing to work for wages that the employers seem willing to pay – and no, simply jacking up wage rates to make such jobs attractive to US citizens will not change anything substantially …

If you want to hear stories about the US – and how the US is really viewed by people around the world – talk to immigrants who are here and worked hard to come here …

The story is touching … am not surprised she made it and doing well … the day the US ceases to be a magnet for humanity, is the day we will cease to be a great country

EG August 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Thats very common amongst East European immigrants. We don’t exactly expect the government to provide us with anything of worth, because our own experience with governments has been that they can’t provide anything of worth. But, unfortunately, with time a lot of us change to be good old Americans, just like everyone else.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm

That is an amazing story. What is even more amazing, is how common that story is with immigrants. A woman near and dear to me gave up a highly competitive university enrollment in her home country to come here at age 18. She had $100 in her pocket, did not speak English, and had no car. She walked out her door, entered the first restaurant she came upon, and indicated she wanted a job washing dishes. That wasn’t long ago. A 4.0 GPA triple major with an ivy league graduate degree later, and she’s now a vice president at a major multinational corporation negotiating $100 million deals.

What sense of love of country I have left, is fueled by such stories of immigrants.

Dan H August 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

On a lighter note, a marriage proposal is just around the corner for her, and knowing this, she told me “not to waste money on a ring” but to instead “save the money or invest it” and get her something cheap to wear on her finger.

But actually, with the way the market is, a nice diamond ring would be a good hedge against inflation. ;-)

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm

You’re a lucky man. The best women are from that part of the world. Take it from me, you’re in for a happy life.

Methinks1776 August 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Hooray! Another one. When Mr. Methinks and I got married we were both immigrants, young and poor – just starting out on Wall Street in a closet passing for an apartment. I refused a ring (I threatened him with severe consequences if he went against my wishes). I couldn’t imagine any happiness coming from a silly rock when our financial future was so insecure. We got two simple bands for under $100 and eloped. Wedding costs: less than $200. Spending a lifetime with the Magnificent Mr. Methinks: priceless. Diamonds couldn’t compare (although, I was eventually marched into a jeweler to get one).

I wish you much happiness.

For what it’s worth, my friend’s father is a diamond dealer in Antwerp and he’s been doing a brisk business in diamonds to non-jewelers for just the reason you mention. The added benefit is it’s a very compact way to take a lot of money out of the country should the need arise. But, they tell us we shouldn’t worry about silly old confidence, eh?

brotio August 4, 2011 at 12:53 am

Congrats, and best wishes!

Krishnan August 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

Excellent – Please add to the gene pool … So, we may all benefit (!)

Greg Webb August 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Congrats, Dan H! Many blessings to you and your intended.

Recently, my girlfriend insisted on my “not wasting money” on an engagement ring as well. It was such a sincere and refreshing view that I actually bought a more expensive one. She accepted and loves the ring. Also, she is not originally from the United States and says that most Americans do not know how well off they are.

Krishnan August 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm

And to you (!) …

Most americans who do not venture out of their little corner of the world or read little about what the rest of the world is doing or travel to distant places – truly have NO IDEA how special the US of A is. I hear often from loonies about how the USA is the “most racist” “most cruel to poor people” or “just evil” or some such – extremes that are the exact opposite of what this country really is … In a sense, they abuse the US of A with words (and sometimes with deeds) since they cannot do that to the countries/nations that ARE actually racist, evil and such … Since the US is still strong and believes in the concept of free markets and free peoples, it draws the ire of some who hate it because it is good …

We are truly exceptional in many ways – as a nation of immigrants, as a nation that believes that people should be free to pursue their goals and be whatever they want to be. Oh yes, we have done our share of stupid and senseless things – to ourselves and to others in the world, but overwhelmingly, we have been a powerful force for good – and a magnet for humanity.

Greg Webb August 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I absolutely agree! And, once you meet real people in other countries (i.e., not the greedy and brain-dead political elites) you find out that they love America and Americans. The only times that I heard any America hating I was in the company of politicians, professors, and media people in London, Rome, Ankara, and Athens. And, I remember an employe in a small hotel in Siena telling that the hotel offered CNN in English, but warned me that CNN lies.

Invisible Backhand August 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm

More Americans using food stamps than ever before: 45.8 million

And each and every one of them a moral failure, according to the self-congratulations club that is Cafe Hayek.

Dan H August 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Yes. They are a moral failure. Read my post above. My girlfriend had less opportunity and came from a grinding poverty no one born in America could ever know. And she never accepted anything from the government. And she loathes any able-bodied person that accepts handouts.

EG August 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm

A “moral” failure? I don’t pretend to go into morals, or particularly care for them. But think of it this way: the more money the government puts out there in its outstretched hand, saying “who wants some?”…the more people are going to come forth and want some.

IE, its no longer a “needs” program, its a free for all. So of course the numbers are going to grow, and the growing numbers are going to be used as justification for getting more money ad infinitum.

LowcountryJoe August 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Hey, Visible Strawman:

There are some people who were either born profoundly disabled or, through no fault of their own, became disabled through someone else’s negligence [someone else who didn't have the means to pay restitution]. Certainly there are not 45 million people that fall into this category. For those that are not in that category, it has to be a failure of some type. Go on, let’s here you defend this.

Gordon Richens August 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Do you mean that they are a moral failure of your experiment in socialism?

EG August 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

“The world needs more people, like my parents and grandparents, who are ashamed to live off of government welfare.”

That was a long time ago. These days, the amount of money you can grab from the public is a point of pride. One time my jaw almost dropped to the floor when I heard someone, a bit older than me in fact, calmly and happily explaining to me what a great thing it was that he was able to…literally…buy a house on student loans! Despite his MBA, he didn’t quite comprehend the fact that him taking out student loans to live off, because he spend all his money to buy a house, was the same thing as buying a house on student loans. But this was a point of “pride” for him (needless to say which political side he falls under).

Welfare, medicare, student loans, hybrid car subsidies, NPR subsidies (oh how the Leftists drool whenever NPR is brought up!). Pick your poison. People today pride themselves on how much they can take out of others.

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm


While you’re responding to baseless attacks upon your character, you might want to respond too to Greg Webb’s repeated assertion in these spaces that you don’t care about economic truth and truth.

Greg Webb August 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Yes, Don, please let me know if I have ever said that you do not care about either economic truth or just plain old, the truth.

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm


Why do you have to ask Don anything?

I thought you could read his mind.

Greg Webb August 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Great retort, DG….burn! LOL!

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Here are Greg’s own words,

“Don Boudreaux did not respond because he knows you all too well as he has seen you despicable and disingenuous behavior for a long time on Cafe Hayek. He knew that you would not keep your promise, and, when you did not, he decided not to waste his time on someone who is merely trying to prove to himself that he is smart. ”

So, Greg could read Don’s mind. And, this, according to Greg, is what was in it Don could have responded to Lesvic, and defended his philosophic position against Lesvic’s (and Mises’ attack) upon it, but chose not to do so because of some bad feelings he had about Lesvic, that what mattered to him was not economic truth and error but Lesvic.

It actually went further than that. The object of our inquiry was not truth but falsehood. That was the default assumption. If you intended it to be otherwise, you had to say so at the outset. Otherwise, you were guilty of changing the rules in mid-stream.

There was not, however, the same burden upon falsehood. You did not have say at the outset that that was your object. It was understood to be so, and that we must stack the deck in its favor.

And when that dastardly Lesvic refused to play by the rules and tried to change them in mid-stream, to re-assert the primacy of truth, Don, that sterling defender of falsehood, gave him the silent treatment he deserved.

And that wasn’t saying anything bad about Don, for it was saying that he was just like Greg himself.

But, to Greg, that wasn’t saying anything bad about Don, for it was saying that he was just like Greg himself.

I submit that the finest man in economics today is nothing like the worst.

John Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I wonder what type of wine he was drinking. If it was a good one, I’d forgive him.

Greg Webb August 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm

John, it was an excellent wine! I only wish the conversation had been better. Poor DG! You just gotta love him! Bless his heart!

Greg Webb August 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm

DG, you quoted me as saying, ““Don Boudreaux did not respond because he knows you all too well as he has seen you despicable and disingenuous behavior for a long time on Cafe Hayek. He knew that you would not keep your promise, and, when you did not, he decided not to waste his time on someone who is merely trying to prove to himself that he is smart.” Yep, I did. You implied that he did not respond because he could not answer your after-the-fact conditions to your unconditional promise to “leave Cafe Hayek never to return” once Don provided you with your requested example. So when are you going to “leave Cafe Hayek never to return”?

You said, “So, Greg could read Don’s mind. And, this, according to Greg, is what was in it Don could have responded to Lesvic, and defended his philosophic position against Lesvic’s (and Mises’ attack) upon it, but chose not to do so because of some bad feelings he had about Lesvic, that what mattered to him was not economic truth and error but Lesvic.” No, I countered your silly implication that he did not respond to your after-the-fact conditions because he could not answer them. I said he choose not to. Who would not chose to respond to you since you never mean what you say. Also, you compare yourself with Ludwig von Mises by taking his comments out of context to beat up anyone who falls into your silly straw man trap. The reality is that Mises was arguing against those who would use mathematics and the other sciences to say they could precisely predict human behavior. You are misusing his quotes to argue against the value of mathematical economics to the study of economics. Mises is right and Lesvic is wrong. BTW, Don was right too because you cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who does not mean what he says or keeps his promises.

You said, “It actually went further than that. The object of our inquiry was not truth but falsehood. That was the default assumption. If you intended it to be otherwise, you had to say so at the outset. Otherwise, you were guilty of changing the rules in mid-stream.” Now what does this have to do with your making a simple promise to “leave Cafe Hayek never to return” if someone provided you with an example of mathematical economics? Perhaps, you should let the thorazine wear off before replying.

You said, “There was not, however, the same burden upon falsehood. You did not have say at the outset that that was your object. It was understood to be so, and that we must stack the deck in its favor.” How come statists always say things were “understood” to be so whenever they want to weasel out of their promises.

You said, “And when that dastardly Lesvic refused to play by the rules and tried to change them in mid-stream, to re-assert the primacy of truth, Don, that sterling defender of falsehood, gave him the silent treatment he deserved.” DG, you are not dastardly. You are, however, despicable and disingenuous for making such a silly promise in the first place and not keeping it when the only condition was fulfilled in the second place. I won’t go into your demeaning your wife and children to protect that fragile ego of yours.

You said, “And that wasn’t saying anything bad about Don, for it was saying that he was just like Greg himself.” I do understand this silly comment. It makes no sense. But, you are making a great case for your incoherent and illogical behavior.

You said, “I submit that the finest man in economics today is nothing like the worst.” I submit that Don Boudreaux is a fine economist who complied with your requested example. Now, please fulfill your promise to the patrons of Cafe Hayek.

Don Boudreaux August 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Please stop it, you two.

I don’t want DG to leave the Cafe. While I find his rants on methodology to be both wrongheaded and tiresome, I’m not offended by them.

And DG, I find Greg to be a marvelous contributor to the conversation here at the Cafe.

So stop the cat-fighting!

Dan H August 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm

“Please stop, ‘you two’”

You can tell Don is a father. ;-)

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm


After having my character impugned by Greg, I’m not sure how to take your statement. May I take it to mean that you find no fault with my character and conduct but only my opinions?

If that is not the case, and you, like Greg, find fault not just with my opinions, but character and conduct, may I be permitted to defend my honor?

Don Boudreaux August 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm


I have no reason to suspect your honor. (Don’t know why you’d even suppose that I might even possibly be impugning it.) I simply find the sniping between you and Greg to be unwarranted and unproductive.

Greg Webb August 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Okay, Don. I will ignore DG’s comments.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Who is DG?

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm

To all the Gregs here:

Out of respect for our host and benefactor’s wishes, let’s call a truce. But understand that if you break it, there won’t be another. He has asked for and is entitled to peace in his house. And if you agree to it, I shall not be the one to break it. But, if attacked again, as before, I reserve the right to self-defense that I am sure he would not deny me. I am going to be as broad minded about this as I can. You may impugn my intelligence, learning, or sanity, but not my character and honor.

That I will not permit.

And, now, if we’re through with the distractions from it, could we ever get back to the issue, mathematical economics?

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm

And apropos of Don’s “equation of exchange,” there was no better rejoinder than that of Henry Kaufman in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

Since “history never exactly repeats itself…the real challenge is to identify what is differen in the current situation from the past. Mathematical equations based on historical data are unable to make such judgments.”

And it was Prof William Allen, “of Allen and Alchiam fame,” whom you mentioned above, who said to me that, though he was the chairman of the department, he didn’t know what they were talking about when he went from one classroom to another.

And that is how mathematics has improved economics.

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Quoting William Allen, I meant to write

from one classroom and one speciality to another

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm

What, nothing to say when you can’t just snipe at someone?

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 10:01 pm

And, by the way, Greg, is it just everyone else who whines, or do you ever do so, too?

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 10:35 pm

What’s the matter, fellas; cat got your tongues?

How come no one has pointed out yet that I twisted Mr. Kaufman’s words and that all the honest people know that he was really speaking in favor of mathematical equations?

DG Lesvic August 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Why is it that once the discussion got back to economics itself, these people have had nothing say?

Could it be that that has been the problem all along, and that their ad hominems were just a cover-up for that?

Just what other than their usual Ya, me toos and personal put-downs have been their great contributions to economics?

Ken August 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm


Let’s see if I understand this: Don puts up a post about a person attacking his character and impugning his parents. In the process, Don reveals intimate details about his family history and a touching story of success in the truest sense of the American dream.

And from all this somehow you’re able to draw the conclusion that this is all about you and the petty squabbles you have here in the comments section? Way to class the place up.


DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 12:28 am


I’m sorry if you don’t get it.

But, to get right to the point, do you have anything to say about economics?

Ken August 4, 2011 at 12:51 am


It is you who don’t get it. It’s sad and pathetic. Hopefully, one day you will feel a little dignity and understand that the post wan’t an opportunity for you to air petty grievances, while ignoring the economic lessons of the post.


DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 1:36 am


Perhaps I was a little too snotty with you.

You have accused me of making myself the issue. But it was not I who did so, but Greg. He said that the issue was not economics, but me, my bad character. Even were I willing to turn the other cheek, and resume the discussion without any defense of myself, Greg would not allow that. For no one, he said, could possibly want to discuss anything with so desreputable a character as myself.

And, so, to able to uphold my philosophical position, which no one else was doing, I had to uphold myself. Do you think I have enjoyed this discussion of whether or not I was the lowest thing on two feet? As I am sure you can well imagine, it has not been fun. For myself as for most of us here, economics is fun. Win or lose the argument,we win, for at least we learn something. But, there are those who can’t stand the learning, for they can’t stand the losing, and their fear and hatred of anyone winning far surpasses their fear and hatred of any socialist dictator or mass murderer.

That’s all that this has been about. And you have to decide which side you’re on, the economists’ or anti-economists’.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 1:46 am

And while you’re at it, Ken, I’m sure Don won’t wind if you take this opportunity to attack my economics. For he loves learning too, and won’t put any limits on it. So, teach.

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 2:06 am

Oh, for the love of God, man!! You are acting as if you are trying desperately to convince your significant other to stay after she……. I presume…… Guess could be a ‘he’…… I… Er,er……….. Anywhooo, ……. After she informs you she is leaving…… And she pretty much is already gone……
Have some self respect, man…… Let it go.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 2:55 am


I assume that was directed at me, but, as usual, not at my economics.

And so yet another demonstration that you great minds can attack me but not my economics

I’ll take that.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 3:08 am

How long is this going to go on? Are we never going to get to the economics, to anything but reassuring one another, to the only thing that will do any good, challenging one another to be better, sharper, and stronger for the real battles ahead.

Who is your real enemy, those who want to enslave or liberate you, and want you to be all that you can be or less?

As Mises said, “Economics…is a challenge to the conceit of those in power. An economist can never be a favorite of autocrats and demagogues. With them he is always the mischief-maker, and the more they are inwardly convinced that his objections are well founded, the more they hate him.”

And whether they are emperors at Versailles or Oxford and Cambridge, and the teachers or the students who want to shine, and can’t stand another outshining them.

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 3:12 am

Can’t get to your economics with your incessant ranting about Mr Webb.
Once you are done complaining and no longer insistent on everyone acquiescing to your opinion on negating mathematics from economic discussions, than I shall comment on your economics.
Maybe, your right. Maybe, your incorrect.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 3:14 am

Haven’t read every word here but skimmed through most of it and all I saw was Ya, me too. And that’s probably about 99% of the comments here.

No wonder you people can’t stand anyone who says Not me too.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 3:21 am


How does my ranting keep you from discussing economics?

It sure doesn’t keep you from discussing me.

You wrote that you will discuss my economics once I am through challenging you to do so.

OK, I’m through challenging you, so go ahead and do it.

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 3:41 am

On what?
Are we in another drop of economic activity? Yes! Have been.
What is likelihood of the Fed and Obama to try and inflate our currency more? Very likely.
What are the costs to my late interaction on Internet discussing economics when I need sleep?
Has the Obama supported policies put forth by Congress and implementations of rules and regulations by his unelected bureaucratic dictators been having a huge negative effect on our economy? Yes!
Was FDR an adulterer, bully, and put forth Econ policies that had negative effects on the economy? Yes.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 5:20 am


Since you’re leaving it up to me, here goes, the still unresolved issue that started this whole brawl, mathematical economics. I had issed a challenge that I have been issuing for years, to show me an example of it.. And, just as a gimmick, like a carnival barker’s, to make it more intriguing, I said that I would leave the Cafe forever if anyone could do so. Don took up the challenge with the purported example of the so called equation of exchange. I responded with an argument against it and with a statement by the greatest economist of all time, Mises, backing me up. And with no further response from Don nor anyone else, I concluded that the challenge had not been met.

Anything wrong with that?

Greg thought so. Don had given me the example I asked for, he had fullfilled the requirements of the challenge, and therefore I was obliged to depart the Cafe, as I had promised.

The fact that I had rebutted Don’s “example,” and with the backing of the greatest economist of all time, and with nothing further from Don or anyone else in its defense, made no difference to Greg. The truth or falsity of the example was immaterial. I had not specified at the outset that it had to be true, just an example. By insisting afterward that it be true, I had changed the rules in mid-stream in order to go back on my promise, and that made me a despicable weasel. And that judgment was picked by others who would call me duplicitious and so on. And there was nothing further I could say, for no one would discuss anything with such a disreputable character. I tell you this, in all fairness, so that you’ll have the whole background of this, and the opportunity, if you like, to follow Greg’s lead, and refuse to discuss economics any further with me.

But, if you happen to agree with me, that a false example is no example, and that until the issue of truth or falsity was resolved, the requirement has not been met, then you may deign to continue the discussion with me.

Perhaps you already agree with me that the mathematical method is inappropriate in economics and entirely “vicious,” as Mises had said. But, if not, you may wish to carry on its defense, which no else here has been willing to do, or perhaps just hide from the challenge, like the rest, behind personal attacks upon me. For I am, after all, the self-proclaimed bad boy of economics and terror of the Austrian School, and if you’re as terrified as everyone else, why should you be different. But if you’re the one who has the guts to stand up to me in the only arena that counts, economics, I shall salute you as a matador before the kill.

And that if that ain’t a lot of bull, what is?

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I don’t care about kindergarten Lego brick throwing you had with others over ‘the challenge’. Just wish you would move on… And others…….. I want to learn from this site.
I do not disagree on mathematics not being crucial to understanding basic economics. In attempting to prove theories or postulates the mathematics are necessary. Also, the mathematics assist in training a student how to see economic activity and the whole ‘guns or butter’ charts. Someone like muirgeo needs to go thru that training. Without it, we get Utopians like that.

Ken August 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm


YOU started this comments thread, not Greg. Your comment was:


While you’re responding to baseless attacks upon your character, you might want to respond too to Greg Webb’s repeated assertion in these spaces that you don’t care about economic truth and truth.”

Don’t tell me Greg started this thread when you clearly did.


DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Don started it. It was about an attack upon his character from someone outside the Cafe. I drew his attention to an attack upon it from within.

What was wrong with that?

Are you ever going to get off the subject of how bad I am and onto economics?

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Do the rest of you need a special request from Don to cut out the ad hominem squabbling and get back to economics.

Everything you people have been saying about me has been about me and not about economics. And you accuse me of making me the issue. You are making me the issue.

All I have been doing is trying to drag some economcs out of those who had been so voluble on the subject of me and silent on economics. And I still haven’t been able to get one iota of it out of any of you. You’re still too fixated on me. I must really be interesting. I hope someday you’ll find out how interesting can be. In the meantime, even if you’re not interested in it, I wish you’d get off my back and let me and Don, even if no one else, focus on economics. Don has already expressed that wish. When will you comply with it?

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm


I meant to say

I hope you find out how interesting economics can be

Ken August 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm


Wrong. Don mentioned a personal story and personal attack to highlight an economic fallacy held by many: equating the defense of free markets with the defense of greed, as well as equating social programs with economic goodness.

You mentioned personal attacks to highlight personal attacks and spoke nothing of economics. I am commenting on your complete self-absorption thinking that this was your opportunity to whine to Don about Greg all the while ignoring any of the economic lessons Don mentioned. I merely pointed out just how sad and pathetic that is.

It’s now even sadder and more pathetic that since been caught in your self-absorption you want to talk about the subject of economics, a topic you completely ignored in your kick-off comment, to distract from noticing your selfishness.


DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm


You’re right. I’m wrong. I’m sorry.

Now, may we discuss economics?

Ken August 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm


We can discuss economics on another thread. As I said, economics isn’t the topic of this comment thread.


DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm


That sounds good enough for me, and I hope everyone else here gets the message that from now on the topic is not DG Lesvic but economics.

That is all I have ever wanted.

I hope that we can get back to the topic that was derailed by the ad hominems against me, the topic of mathematical economics, and that those of you in favor of it will be getting some examples ready for me, for I will again be asking, as I have been for years, for just one example of it, and without yet having gotten any.

And I will again promise to perform an act of penance if anyone can meet the challenge. But instead of the tainted “I will depart the Cafe forever,” I’ll make it something new.

Any suggestions, other than drop dead with or without the example?

Chris_Y August 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

What can you say, Dr. B? haters be hatin’…

Darryl Barber August 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm

As a fellow south Louisiana-native and big fan of your work, I celebrate your, your parents’, and grandparents’ work ethic. My story is not dissimilar – there was a time in the early 80′s when my folks went through tough times. My mom commented at the time that, technically, we could qualify for food stamps but that she would never dream of applying for them. My dad, who passed away less than a month ago, was a proud and a hard working man even in his retirement. I thank God that my folks passed on to me this aversion to depend on a government that takes what someone else has earned to give to me who has no moral claim to it.

Robert V August 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm

What if the social safety net were optional?

What if WorkingAmerican and those that agree with him can pool their own money (either through the government or a private organization), and fund social programs they can all use?

You wouldn’t have to participate, but of course you wouldn’t be eligible to receive aid from any of their programs.

You’d be happy because you wouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t want. They’d be happy because you were no longer trying to cut or dismantle their programs.

You’d still have to pay some taxes to pay for mandatory shared services like roads, national defense, police/courts/jails etc, but not for food stamps and such.

Naturally WorkingAmerican would have to pay more at first, because the poor would opt in and the rich would opt out. But if the social safety net is such a great idea, there ought to be some persuasive people among them that could successfully encourage more people to join and lower costs.

Even if you don’t like this specific solution, my basic proposal is to find a way where people can get what they want without forcing it on those that don’t.

Evan Gould August 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm

There are many organizations like that. They are called churches, Goodwill, Sal Army, Shriners, Freemasons, Elks, Moose, PAL, and any other of the 1000′s of charitable organizations in the US. However, folks like WorkingAmerican don’t want to “get their hands dirty” and organize charity from the ground up. Instead, they want to “:send in their check” every April 15th to the govt, and feel warm inside that they have supplied food stamps to poor people. I admit that I have no knowledge of WorkingAmericans charitable activity, but if he/she really felt strongly about the plight of impoverished Americans, perhaps less time on the internet and more time organizing and helping actual people in the neighborhood is needed. I guess my message is that there are plenty of charitable organizations that help people, but many Americans fail to realize this potential, and instead default to the govt to “solve problems”.

vikingvista August 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm

There were many more before the welfare state displaced them.

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 12:55 am

Govt wants the control. Supporters want govt to have control so as to punish wealthy for their ILL-gotten gains and redistribute. Some think the ‘poor’ are victims of the system and should not be made to feel bad, guilt, or shame from peers. Electronic transference to a debit card is a sure fire way to give recipients every incentive to remain in their position in life.
While, it may be politically incorrect to compare people to animals, but the fact of the matter is that just as immoral as it is to assist wild animals in becoming dependent on humans for their sustenance, it is equally Immoral to create dependency of people on govt.

yet another Dave August 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

They’d be happy because you were no longer trying to cut or dismantle their programs.

No they wouldn’t – government forcing is necessary for them to be happy. If it wasn’t they’d already be doing what you suggest.

Methinks1776 August 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

What a sorry sod.

Wow August 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Can I conclude that you, no matter what circumstances, you think it is better to let someone beg on THE streets instead of supply with THE necessary needs via gov.?

Ofcourse there must be limits to this generosity of all other people. But see it as an insurance.

You are such a left brainer. Complete lack of right brain development. People are not computers although you come very close.

Greg Webb August 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Wow, instead of writing silly politically correct comments on this blog, you should actually get out an help someone who really needs help. There are many great organizations where you can volunteer your time and money to help the truly needy and not the truly greedy. For example, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Compassion International, Red Cross, a local church, synagogue, or mosque, etc. They don’t need government. They need volunteers. Be one, instead of whining about how others should help.

Krishnan August 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I interpret the statement “better to beg than take” as a statement of a belief that is is better to ask and for people to give VOLUNTARILY (if they choose) instead of FORCING others (many others) to give …

I would say that the generosity of the public does know NO BOUNDS – and that BECAUSE of Government’s role, the public may be far less inclined to give because so much is taken by force … and yet, I’d say that we, as a country, remain a most generous of people who will help others in dire need – without the Government having to do anything …

Ken August 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm


It is better to live off people’s generosity than to use hired goons to take from other people and give to you, which is, of course, how food stamps are supplied. The fact that you think this is “insurance” shows how little you understand about insurance.

You can talk about Don being a computer, but you are the robot spewing out thoughtless gibberish you heard someone else say.


LowcountryJoe August 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Tell us, Wow, does your charitable impulse allow you to ever help these people outside of government mandates — mandates that rely on everybody else’s money with very little of your own? Use more of your own right hemisphere, Wow, think outside-the-box by looking inside your own wallet, first. As for me (and probably others), I want to have a deep discussion with the guy begging on the street to find out just what the underlying issues are that cause him to resort to panhandling. That and I also want to make sure that his car isn’t parked a few blocks down the road.

Can I conclude that you honestly believe that government is the only answer here?

kyle8 August 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

actually WOW, the other guys here gave good answers, but my own answer is a bit different, Since I actually spent a lot of times working with poor people and helping the homeless, both in government and private sponsored programs. I can say:

Screw em!. I mean that, the sympathy I once felt melted away when I witnessed time and time again the stupidity, cupidity, meanness, and utter selfishness which I witnessed in nearly all of the chronically poor people I witnessed.

I came to the conclusion that if you are poor for more than a year or so, then that is probably because you are an addict, crazy, a petty criminal, or just an asshole. Because normal people take advantage of the opportunities that exist to better themselves.

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 2:01 am

I Worked a kitchen to feed homeless sponsored by company I worked for at 19. The verbal abuse by some left me feeling Little sympathy for those who remain for long periods of time and do little or nothing to work their way out.
Some were grateful, but yet still complained about not receiving more.
I took part in another project in Detroit of assisting in cleaning of the streets of Detroit. Groups were assigned a 1/4 mile section in a neighborhood to clean up. What a friggin nitemare. The senior citizens offered kind words, but those under 50 only chastised and one man slowed and dumped his trash from his car into the street.

The better option is to participate in charities that have individuals who are seeking to change their positions. You can’t help people
who will not help themselves.
The Big Brother Big sister program and Cubscouts/boy scouts are organizations I have participated in. They off programs to help those who seek to netter themselves. By the way, great orgs. Can’t say enuf great things about Cubscouts/Boyscouts for grooming young boys and young men into becoming great responsible adults.

Methinks1776 August 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm

WOW, Wow.

You clearly have never had to suffer the indignity of begging from government. There’s nothing worse – for people with any dignity.

Have you ever shown up at a government welfare office where a condescending twit “aksed” you all sorts of prying questions, treated you like scum and then informed you of all the humiliating things you have to do to get your “benefits”.

Begging on the street is more dignified. But, please….don’t let me screw with your fantasy that you’re such an awesome fellow because you advocate government thuggery and theft to help your fellow man in need because you (wrongly) believe it obviates your need to dig into your own pocket to fund your moral stance.

Slappy McFee August 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I would say that rational people are more like computers than they are not.

RC August 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

The response from libertarians here is shocking.

They obviously forgot that poverty can also be caused by government interference, especially minimum wage laws.

Methinks1776 August 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm

What do you mean? Government is a leading cause of poverty. It impedes people from negotiating private arrangements without (in a best case scenario) molestation by government trolls. What does that have to do with Wow’s moaning?

RC August 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm


I think we both agree that food stamps are meant as welfare for the poor. I know libertarians are opposed to welfare provided by the state. The problem is that poverty is often caused by government interventionism, so food stamp recipients are often the victims (or, more precisely, the result) of that government interventionism. In this situation, demonizing food stamp recipients is morally wrong, IMO, since their poverty is not their fault. That is all I meant.


Methinks1776 August 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm


More often, they are not. We are all victims of government interventionism. Yet, the vast majority figure out how to live without forcibly taking from others.

There is an incredible amount of fraud in all welfare programs from housing to foodstamps. If these people really needed foodstamps to eat, they wouldn’t be selling them on facebook and craigslist (when I lived in the NY ghetto in 70′s, they sold them on street corners – along with government cheese). I knew a woman who would get prescriptions filled for her well to do relatives paid for by medicare. The list is endless. Very very few of these people are the needy victims you imagine.

The true victims are the taxpayers.

Ken August 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm


In the US, poverty is a choice, so you’re wrong about poverty not being their fault. Did you know that the median wages for a high school drop out in the US who is working full time is almost $30K/year? In other words the least educated live will above the poverty line when they choose to find a job and show up to work on time everyday.


Dan J August 4, 2011 at 1:33 am

Their poverty is not their fault? What utter nonsense.
Indeed, govt interventionism is a contributor. Indeed, the youngest who just leave their folks home are likely to have a longer journey to achieve a goal of leaving behind the self inflicted condition. I reject the nonsense of allieviating a person living on welfare from the responsibility that they bear. I grew up on welfare. My brother, sister and myself have all left that life behind. We are not in the upper tax bracket, but all live better than how we grew up.
Many of those who remain their positions can blame their parents for the slow start, but have only themselves to blame if they find themselves living in poverty at age 40.
Aside from those who have debilitating conditions, it is the very choices they have made to remain in poverty.

RC August 4, 2011 at 6:06 am

Methinks, Ken, Dan J,

Perhaps the situation in the US is indeed such that poverty is almost exclusively the individual’s fault. I function in an economy where things are not so rosy.

However, I know that the minimum wage has been in recent years significantly raised in the US, so I’m almost certain that many low-skilled workers were harmed in some way because of this. It would be surprising if that wasn’t so. Entrepreneurs are more reluctant to hire, the gray economy expands, upward mobility plummets.

Besides, even if the individual is to blame (he/she was lazy, got into crime etc.) he/she should always have an opportunity to redeem himself. But that requires a healthy labor market.


Ken August 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm


In what economy do you function?

You are right about the minimum wage hurting low skill workers. In the US, almost all minimum wage workers are teenagers. And yes the US gov and state govs are incredibly hostile to teenage workers.


Dan J August 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

There are always jobs available. A preferred job may be more elusive, but a job is always available. Many are entitled and delusional in that their newest or first job should be the management position or the the pay of management with none of the responsibility. Better yet, the benefits given for the ‘poor’ are more than enuf to give a consistently unemployed individual enuf disincentive to seek employment.
Work with a little vigor and enthusiasm… And get a raise or promotion. Some of these ‘promotions’ would be deemed unsubstantive from the perspective of professionals earning well over 6 digits, but jobs are there and opportunity is aplenty.

Vikram August 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm

What an inspiring story, Prof. Don ?

Debashish Ghosh August 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Prof Boudreaux –

Taking government handouts (such as food stamps) was not an acceptable option for your parents, and I think that is a fine value to have (even if, as some commenters have pointed out, they were in some sense entitled to it by virtue of having paid taxes that fund such programs).

I am curious in this context, however, what your parents’ opinion may have been on the question of whether it is right to work for the government, in the fashion that you do, specially given your hostility at the same time to anything run by government that you think should be left to the private sector? This is a slightly more nuanced point of course, hence my curiosity.

Note: I have already read your article “Looking in the mirror”, but while that appeared to be an honest personal look at this question, it seemed incomplete and left some questions unanswered – also that was your take, and not your parents’, hence my question above.

SaulOhio August 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm

It amazes me how often and how much critics of free market ideas reveal their own biases and preconceptions. When I argue for free markets on other internet forums, I often get accused of being a “trust fund baby” or a rich businessman. But I am a son of immigrants, and just work a 9 to 5 job.

They scream about our bias, but are blind to their own.

Jeffry Erickson August 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Sadly, the government at times even actively strives to convince people that they should go on the dole instead of making ends meet through their own effort. I have seen public assistance program managers lamenting that they cannot find enough people to take “their” money. They have to actively search out people who qualify and then convince them to come in and apply for a hand out. There is some hope for the country though as they find that it is hard to convince some people to give in and take the money.

kyle8 August 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Any idiot who thinks that businessmen are “enemies of the poor or working class” Is so steeped in Marxist stupidity they are not even worthy of any reply and will not benefit from anything you try to teach them.

It is funny how there are so many people who look down on “big corporations” and “the rich”, yet everyone wants their children to get a good job like the ones offered by big corporations, they like the taxes those companies pay, and they often have retirement funds that are vested in the stock of those evil companies.

They also like the products and services offered by the evil rich.

But you have to hand it to Robspierre, Marx, Engles, and all their followers through the years, Huey Long, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Carter, and Obama. They really hit upon a great way to motivate the foolish and gather power. By harnessing the negative emotion of envy.

John Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Yes, you have to hand it to them, along with your money.

If we’re going to exploit envy, we should start by ending the tax avoidance schemes with regards to ‘charitable foundations’ so that the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Ted Turner get to preach social justice without paying toward it. Instead of them teaching us, we should teach them about envy by having the state confiscate their wealth.

Obama keeps vilifying millionaires and billionaires who make $200,000/yr and live on luxury yachts with helicopters and private jets. Go figure.

vikingvista August 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm

“Obama keeps vilifying millionaires and billionaires who make $200,000/yr and live on luxury yachts with helicopters and private jets.”

So true. I don’t pay attention to the mainstream press anymore, but I assume they can’t contain their laughter when they cover him. Am I right?

Dan H August 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Got a peak at my Dad’s tax return a few months ago. He had his first $200,000 year in earnings. The years of 12 hour days at the office have certainly paid off. I have his old desk in my apartment. I was cleaning it out when I moved it, and underneath a pile of old dusty papers, I found a pay stub from December 1988 (I was two years old at the time and the youngest of three). I remember the point the stuck in my head “YTD Earnings: $11,565″… That’s just over $22,000 in today’s dollars. No wonder my mom worked teh night shift at teh hospital back then….. but I digress… My dad just had his first $200,000 year, so where the hell is his yacht and private jet? I’m waiting!!!!!!

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 3:22 am

Your millionaire parents should be shamed into paying their ‘fair’ share. How despicable you and they are to be hoarding the cash and turning your thermostats down to 70degrees. Shame!

I jest…

david nh August 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Good post, Don.

Even though your parents and grandparents (like mine) weren’t as well off as many today, they had something far more valuable: dignity. They also understood that there was something shameful and, moreover, uncivilized about expecting to live off the efforts of others.

Slappy McFee August 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Thomas Sowell also had a great piece today on what ‘poverty’ means in America that Mr/Mrs WorkingAmerican should probably read. Walter Williams also chimed in on how government licenses/regulations keep people poor.

Dan J August 4, 2011 at 2:12 am

Any chance either of these men would have lunch, coffee, or tea with admirers of their work? I would love to have discussions with them. Mostly, to understand a little more. Reading books, columns, and listening to interviews will never suffice for Conversations held in person. Studying a persons body language and facial expressions are key to learning about someone.

Ken Royall August 4, 2011 at 2:03 am

You should have listened to your parents regarding open immigration. It is a totally unworkable and foolish policy given the size of our welfare state. I am sure George Soros would be happy to pay for boatloads of poverty stricken people from all over the world to come here if we had open borders. They would be more than happy to cast their ballots for Socialists who would demolish the Libertarian dream within a few short years.

DG Lesvic August 4, 2011 at 5:28 am

How comforting it must be for all these losers to sit around comisserating with one another without having to shoulder the burden of actually equiipping themselves to do anything about it.

Really inspiring.

Younger Cato August 4, 2011 at 5:35 am

You’ve just described my mom! She now works at walmart going into the twilight of her years but would never think of getting on food stamps or any other kind of “welfare”. She more than anyone has taught me the value of real effort. Her hard working nature is something I’m very proud of.

Sadly Don, most people nowadays don’t have mom’s like ours. Given my worldview, I sometimes feel like I’m living in a sort of twilight zone.

Mark T August 4, 2011 at 12:43 pm

That was a wonderful post, thanks.

Troy Camplin August 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I grew up in rural Kentucky, where my dad was a coal miner. He has an 8th grade education. My mom was mostly a housewife, but worked as a waitress when my dad was having a hard time finding work in the 1980s, after the union coal mines collapsed, and it took a while for the nonunion mines to fill the void. They were both Reagan Republicans, and my dad is still a Republican (my mom, now deceased, did vote Libertarian at least one year). With the exceptions of gay marriage (not surprising for a Baptist), immigration, and my positions on the use of our military, there are/were few political disagreements between me and my parents. And it is for the same reason: my values were instilled in me by my parents. I just think I took some of them, including their consistent lesson that everyone is the same because they are all people, to their logical conclusions.

What your emailer does not seem to understand is, well, the working class as a whole. At least, the working class in America, which is fairly consistently anti-government in economic matters and in “charity,” the latter which they consider the proper domain of the individual or, at most, the church and other private charities. Their attitude is mostly, “The government ought to just leave us alone.” Well, that’s my attitude as well. I may have developed broader and deeper reasons for that attitude, but it definitely came from somewhere.

Liberty Drum August 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Amen! Its sad that the knee-jerk reaction the left takes to say such things as “vermin.”. It comes from a lack of understanding of how economics even works. I should know, I was (what Andrew Breibart says) a “default liberal” at one time. It wasn’t until I was able to put aside the emotional bias and actually looked at the issues to see what they were actually doing.

Ned Roberts August 5, 2011 at 7:44 am

To those who say they would never accept food stamps or unemployment insurance: Does this mean you are also planning to decline Social Security payments and Medicare coverage?

Ken August 5, 2011 at 8:18 am


For many of us, we won’t get it anyway. There won’t be anything to decline. SS is all ready running in the read and medicare is all ready taking the country down with an unfunded liability in the tens of trillions that congress conveniently doesn’t report.


Ned Roberts August 5, 2011 at 9:34 am

That’s taking the easy way out. :)

Let’s assume a magical future where some benefits are going to be available. Would you still decline them?

My guess is that a significant number of people who would never take food stamps would take Social Security and/or Medicare. It seems like there’s a stigma attached to some benefits (food stamps, unemployment, welfare) that isn’t attached to other benefits (Social Security, Medicare). As far as I can tell there’s no real difference.

Dan H August 5, 2011 at 10:36 am

There’s also a huge difference chief. Those who currently accept medicare and SS benefits, for the most part, were producers before their retirement and paid into the system (albeit not to the degree that they are taking benefits). The vast majority of people on welfare and foodstamps have never paid a dime in federal income taxes.

That being said, I will accept neither. That’s why I’m saving and investing every dime I can. I refuse to accept a goddamn dime from the State when I retire… and that’s IF I retire. I enjoy working. I may never retire.

Ned Roberts August 5, 2011 at 11:44 am


I couldn’t find any hard data but I’m guessing most of the six million households that started getting SNAP over the last three years (12mil in 2008 to 18mil in 2010) are households that have paid federal income taxes. Anecdotally I know of at least one household where both parents have paid taxes for many years, yet still got food stamps to help them through a rough spot.

We can argue for or against various entitlement programs, but my point was that it’s hypocritical to reject entitlements for others who paid in, but accept them for yourself.


Dan H August 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm


A) You do realize that only the top 51% of Americans pay Federal Income Taxes. I would bet good money that the majority of those on food stamps (even the new additions to the food stamp roles as a result fo the recession) were never part of that top 51%. I said the MAJORITY. I’m sure there are probably 10-20%, maybe even 30-40% who did at one time have jobs where they earned enough to be subjected to IRS monetary confiscation. But I sincerely doubt the majority of those receiving foodstamps ever earned enough to pay federal income taxes in the first place.

B) I’m not being hypocritical because I already stated that I will not accept anything from the State (even if it’s there).

vikingvista August 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm

” I’m not being hypocritical because I already stated that I will not accept anything from the State (even if it’s there).”

A noble stance, but I don’t see how it is possible. When thugs force their way into your life, you are not a hypocrite if you choose to keep living. It is sufficient for you to never sanction an offence. It is impossible to act in this world without tripping the web of offences already imposed upon us all.

Ken August 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

“Let’s assume a magical future where some benefits are going to be available.”

I’m not a lefty.


yet another Dave August 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm

The problem with declining Medicare coverage is (at least) twofold. First, government intervention had radically driven up costs of medical care. Second, Medicare itself has crowded out market solutions to healthcare.

That’s a nasty one-two punch, and particularly violent to those of limited means. Basically, government has forced costs to be dramatically higher AND eliminated alternatives to their one-size-fits-all program.

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