Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 16, 2016

in Inequality

… is from page 638 of the newly published final volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s paradigm-shifting trilogy on the essence and role of bourgeois values in modern life (footnote deleted; link added):

The indulging of the vice of envy shows in many arguments on the left.  [Tony] Judt, justifies taxing the rich explicitly as “diminishing social tensions born of envy.”  Perhaps it would be better – as Henry Clark and I would suggest – to earnestly counsel people not to indulge the vice of envy.

It would be amusing, were the reality not so sad, to reflect on the positive correlation between the expressed fear that “Progressives” claim to have of envy-born-of-inequality boiling into destructive social unrest and those same “Progressives'” seemingly boundless enthusiasm for insisting incessantly and loudly to all who will listen that monetary-income (or monetery-wealth) inequality is today at dangerously high levels.  And these loud bewailers of such inequality remain silent about the growing equality of what really matters: consumption opportunities.

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The Jokes Are On Us

by Don Boudreaux on May 16, 2016

in Politics

I love these cocktail napkins that I saw for sale this evening at an Arlington, Virginia, restaurant.


When armed thugs arrive at your door and demand your money and your car keys, you do as they demand in order to avoid being murdered, but you don’t for a moment think that the thugs’s demands are furthering the greater good.  But let those thugs win the votes of a majority of your neighbors who authorize the thugs to steal your money and your car, and you – if you are like the typical person – play along agreeably, having convinced yourself of the lie that the thugs’s deepest motive is to help you and the society of which you are a member.

It is, in fact, a sick joke.

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Left Behind

by Don Boudreaux on May 16, 2016

in Reality Is Not Optional

On Saturday George Selgin sent the following note to me:

I just had the idea that you should launch a new annual award for the year’s outstanding socialist ignoramus, and call it the “Left Behind” award.

This morning, David Henderson informed me, in passing, by phone of this 2013 article on Hugo Chavez in Salon by David Sirota.  It’s entitled “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle.”  Really; that’s the actual title.  And Sirota doesn’t mean it to be facetious.

David H. learned of this article from Bob Lawson’s Facebook page.  While I’ve known of Sirota for some time – see, for example, herehere and here – I’d forgotten just how poorly informed he is and how very bizarrely he reasons.

Considering the horrible if completely predictable Chavezian events in today’s Venezuela, Sirota’s praise for the policies of Chavez (which continue to be followed by Maduro) make Sirota a prime contender for the first annual “Left Behind” award.

(I wonder – seriously – if Sirota is embarrassed by what he wrote in 2013.  He should be.)

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 16, 2016

in Other People's Money

… is from pages 246-247 of Anthony de Jasay’s 1998 volume, The State (original emphasis):

Behind every worthy cause there stretches a queue of other causes of comparable worthiness.  If cancer research deserves state support, should not the fight agains poliomyelitis also be assisted, as well as other vital areas of medical research?  And don’t the claims of medical research help to establish a case for supporting other valuable sciences, as well as the arts, and physical culture, and so on in ever-widening ripples?  It is easy to visualize the rise of successive pressure groups for research, culture, sport, while an avowedly anti-culture or anti-sport pressure group seems simply unthinkable.  Once again, the bias of the situation is such that its development will be onward and outward, to embrace more causes, to press home more claims, to redistribute more resources, hence stimulating more new demands – rather than the other way round, backward and inward, to a less pronounced group structure and a less redistributive, more “minimal” state.

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Some Links

by Don Boudreaux on May 16, 2016

in Health, Monetary Policy, Myths and Fallacies, Trade, Video

Jonah Goldberg explores millennials’ fascination with (what they take to be) socialism.  A slice:

But when asked if they agreed with a more technically accurate definition of socialism — government control of the economy — support dropped considerably (though not nearly enough). Given a choice between a government-managed economy and a free-market economy, Millennials overwhelmingly chose the latter. It seems young people realize that putting bureaucrats in charge of Uber wouldn’t work too well.

Still, it boggles the mind that anyone can see the folly of having the government take over Amazon or Facebook but be blind to the problems of having the government run health care.

GMU Econ alum – and King’s College, London, economist – Emily Skarbek reports on research into political business cycles.

Lawrence Solomon corrects “Progressives'” misunderstanding of Jane Jacobs.

John Stossel is back on the air after his brief medical hiatus!

Steve Lamar highlights some benefits of imports.

George Will examines the mindless intolerance and exclusion that today masquerades on college campuses as thoughtful tolerance and inclusion.

Writing in the Washington Post, Seth Waxman and Ted Olson – each a former U.S. Solicitor General – applaud the George Mason University School of Law being renamed after the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  A slice:

Scalia’s jurisprudence will be debated for years to come. Yet few can doubt that he has had a profound effect on American constitutional law and legal advocacy. Scalia’s particular interest in promoting First Amendment principles, especially in university settings, makes George Mason’s proposal especially fitting.

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… is from pages 66-67 of the newly published final volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s essential trilogy on the essence and role of bourgeois values in modern life; this quotation is directed at those people who fear that modern economic growth – what Deirdre calls “the Great Enrichment” – necessarily threatens our physical environment or is otherwise ‘unsustainable’ (footnote deleted):

The environmental limit looks to be solved by the ingenuity that caused the Great Enrichment in the first place.  It will not be solved by some of the stranger economic suggestions, such as Eating Local.  As Robert Wuetherick asks, “What will be next?  100-mile-sourced medicines?  100-mile-sourced ideas?  100-mile-sourced economic history?”

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In response to my on-going posts on Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Matthew Moore sent to me the following insightful e-mail.  I share it with you in full and with Matt’s kind permission.

It occurs to me when reading your excerpts from Rushkoff’s book that none of his desired outcomes require any sort of policy intervention, or even mass movement.

I can’t imagine that ‘human-scale’ local economies require more than about 200 people. I’m sure he can easily assemble such a number of like-minded souls from among his readership and take them off into the forest or wherever.

He needn’t worry that we unfortunates who are left behind will suffer from the absence of his proselytising. Surely the wild happiness of his new and prosperous society will make his case for him.

Yours sincerely,

Matt is correct that most of Rushkoff’s desired economic institutions can be easily achieved by him and a relatively small handful of like-minded folk, without forcing the rest of us to play along.  But Rushkoff does offer a few policy proposals that require the use of force by some people on other people.  For example, Rushkoff calls for a minimum guaranteed annual income.  And, presumably, Rushkoff will not object if most of the net recipients of these income transfers have their transfers financed out of money taken from producers who are not part of the same local communities as those who receive them.

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In this interview from two months ago, Richard Epstein knowledgeably and thoroughly demolishes the myth that America’s middle class was created by labor unions.  As always with Epstein, I can pick some nits with what he says here, but I agree with Gene Epstein (no relation to Richard) that in this interview Richard is “at his lucid best” – which is very good indeed!  (I thank Gene for alerting me to this interview.)

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The paragraph quoted below is from page 66 of Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.  It reads as would a paragraph written by John Cleese were Cleese writing a hilarious Monty Python skit to satirize one of those modern “Progressives” who is so utterly uninformed about economics and history that he rhapsodizes about the fantastical wonders of “local” economies.  Rushkoff’s humor, however, is unintentional.  And the real-world consequences of any serious movement toward such local economies would be calamitous for civilization.

The same goes for agriculture, textiles, and many other sectors where returning to local, human-scaled enterprise will lead to less worker exploitation and environmental damage while producing better, healthier products.  Nonindustrial practices may be more labor-intensive, but they’re also better for us all.  For those of us used to white-collar jobs, the idea of growing vegetables or making clothes may seem like a big step backward toward more menial labor.  But consider for a moment the sorts of activities the wealthiest Americans or most satisfied retirees engage in enthusiastically: brewing craft beers, knitting, and gardening.  If there’s really not enough work to go around and there are so many extra people to employ, we can always farm in shifts.


This quotation is quite possibly the single most idiotic paragraph that I’ve ever read anywhere.

I’ll not waste my intelligent-readers’ time by reviewing all that is imbecilic about the above-quoted paragraph.  I point out only that I’ve known several people throughout my life who love to tinker with automobile engines and who are very good at doing so – people who, I add, often do their own auto repairs and, thus, fail to support their local auto mechanics! – yet I’ve never known anyone who built, who tried to build, or who would want to build his or own automobile from scratch.  Rushkoff and other loco-nomics enthusiasts will reply that automobiles differ from food and clothing – that good-quality food and clothing, unlike automobiles, really can be made cost-effectively and locally, on a “human-scale.”*  Such a reply only further exposes the deep ignorance of these people whom we might call ‘loco-nomicists,’ with emphasis on the loco.


* What does “human-scale” even mean?

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 15, 2016

in Prices

… is from page 130 of Texas Tech economist (and GMU Econ alum) Ben Powell’s important 2014 book, Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy:

Prices are conveyors of information about relative scarcity.  Prices of consumer goods indicate how much value people place on different items.  Entrepreneurs then bid on inputs, including capital goods, to make those consumer goods.  The ability to buy all the necessary inputs and still sell the consumer goods for a profit is a signal that entrepreneurs have created value for society by transforming valuable inputs into a more valuable output.  Losses are a signal that entrepreneurs are destroying value by taking scarce resources that could have been used to produce something else and turning those resources into less-valuable final consumer goods.  The market’s profit and loss system provides the feedback on which businesses and industries should expand and which contract.

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