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Long-ago Texts

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

The headline of Kate Zernike’s October 2nd report – “Movement of the Moment Looks to Long-Ago Texts” – made me suppose that she was referring to Congress’s and “Progressives'” current hysteria for protectionism.  After all, that hysteria – which causes its victims to shriek about “unbalanced” trade and to lament imports and to long for more exports – was all the rage among scholars until about 250 years ago.  As the great student of economic ideas Jacob Viner wrote, “prior to Adam Smith, the most pervasive and the most emphasized doctrine is the importance of having an excess of exports over imports” – a doctrine that, Viner correctly said, makes sense only if “all goods other than money were worthless, or were of value only as they served as means of securing money.”*

So imagine my surprise when I read on to discover that one of the most prominently mentioned “long-ago texts” is not some now-discredited 17th century tome for tariffs being praised by Senators Graham and Schumer, but, rather, a best-seller, praised by Glenn Beck, written by a scholar who died in 1992.  F.A. Hayek‘s 1944 book The Road to Serfdom is indeed attracting new readers today.  But to suggest, as Ms. Zernike does, that the ideas in that book are outdated is absurd – unless, of course, it’s outdated to worry that government power can be abused, to argue that economic growth can be suffocated by excessive regulation and taxation, and to believe that individual freedom is inherently valuable.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* Jacob Viner, Studies in the Theory of International Trade (New York: Harper & Bros., 1937), p. 3 and p. 17.