Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 15, 2013

in Hubris and humility, Politics, Seen and Unseen

… is from page seven of Amity Shlaes’s 2013 biography of America’s 30th President, Coolidge:

Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism and therefore harder to appreciate.

Indeed.  A truly heroic politician, for example, is one who refuses to cater to special-interest groups.  Benefits received by special-interest groups are quite visible (for instance, it’s easy to see the benefits to General Motors of the bailout it got in 2009 from Uncle Sam) while the costs of supplying these benefits, even though almost always much larger in total than the benefits themselves, remain mostly invisible.

In the case of the auto bailout, the output and businesses and jobs not created elsewhere because of the resources that were forcibly transferred to G.M. and Chrysler are not seen.  One cannot see what would have existed – but which is never actually created – because of such subsidies.  In addition, compared to the still-employed autoworkers and the new vehicles rolling off of G.M.’s and Chrysler’s assembly lines, the visibility of the weakened incentives of auto executives to get their companies to perform as efficiently as possible are invisible.  Also invisible is the line of causation from ever-greater government intrusion into the economy to the dampening and distortions of commerce caused by such intrusions.

Cowards play to the roaring crowd, and give the crowd what the crowd demands.  Cowards buy their cheap glory and security by coddling what is seen and loved, and by attacking what is seen and despised, without regard to the consequences that such coddling and attacking will have in the future.  In contrast, a true economic hero is someone who, even at great personal cost, appropriately deals with the unseen future – with the unnoticed and unappreciated potentials – no less than with the noticed and looming here and now.

(Calvin Coolidge, by the way, was himself hardly always an heroic politician – although compared to most in that profession so filled with scoundrels, posers, and ego-maniacs, Coolidge was generally quite good.)

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