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Ancient Wisdom

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Bruce Bartlett usefully reflects on Pres. Obama’s plan to merge six agencies into one while elevating the Small Business Administration into a Cabinet-level bureau (“The Pros and Cons of Obama’s Reorganization Plan,” Jan. 17).

The notion that the economy will benefit by giving a special voice in policy-making to any subset of business people – be they “small,” “big,” “exporters,” “strategic,” “green,” whatever – is naïve.  And this naivete fuels cronyism.

As the merchant and pamphleteer Sir Dudley North warned in 1691, “For whenever Men consult for the Publick Good, as for the advancement of Trade, wherein all are concerned, they usually esteem the immediate Interest of their own to be the common Measure of Good and Evil.  And there are many, who to gain a little in their own Trades, care not how much others suffer; and each Man strives, that all others may be forc’d, in their dealings, to act subserviently for his Profit, but under the covert of the Publick.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Sir Dudley North, Discourses upon Trade (1691); the quotation is from page 106 of the version reprinted in Commerce, Culture, and Liberty: Readings on Capitalism Before Adam Smith, Henry C. Clark, ed. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).


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