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Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

I appreciate the sub-headline, appearing on your website, to a report on the BP oil spill: “The oil is clearing much faster than expected, but concern remains over the unseen effects” (“On the Surface, Gulf Oil Spill Is Vanishing Fast; Concerns Stay,” July 28).*  Being an economist, I’m accustomed to looking beyond the visible effects of economic and political actions in order to take account also of unseen effects that often swamp that which is immediately seen.

But a source of frustration when reading your pages is the frequent failure of your writers to do the same.  For example, whenever minimum-wage legislation is discussed in your pages, your writers see only the obvious – namely, higher hourly take-home pay for low-skilled workers who have jobs.  Your writers remain blind to the unseen effects on these workers – namely, fewer job opportunities or worsened work conditions.

Likewise with stimulus spending.  It’s easy to see the immediate, beneficial consequences of more government spending.  The unseen consequences, however – such as higher, enterprise-discouraging taxes in the future – are treated either as though they don’t exist or as if they are unquestionably minor in comparison to the seen effects.

There can be no doubt that the unseen consequences of economic and political activities on the environment deserve our attention.  The same is no less true for the unseen consequences of these activities on the economy.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* The quoted passage appears on the main – and frequently changing – NYT home page.


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