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Obama, Lincoln, and Lenin

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Robert Samuelson rightly ridicules those who allege that speculators, in Pres. Obama’s words, “artificially manipulate markets” (“The fallacy of blaming oil ‘speculators’,” May 3).

It’s child’s play to show that Mr. Obama’s allegation is economically confused.  But Mr. Obama is no economist.  He’s a politician seeking office.  And so he blames rising prices on imaginary devils – against whom he can rant, rave, and pretend to take corrective action – rather than recognize that such price hikes are merely the result of disagreeable underlying economic realities that he either cannot or will not correct.

Predictably, Mr. Obama is here practicing a long-honored – and scarily often bloodthirsty – political tradition.  It’s a tradition honored by communist butchers such as Vladimir Lenin (“For as long as we fail to treat speculators the way they deserve – with a bullet in the head – we will not get anywhere at all”) and by American icons such as Abraham Lincoln (“For my part, I wish every one of them [speculators] had his devilish head shot off”).*

Economic ignorance and blame-shifting by politicians knows no ideological boundaries.

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

* Quoted on page 343 of David S. Jacks, “Populists versus theorists: Futures markets and the volatility of prices,” Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 44, (2007), pp. 342-362.  (The Lincoln quotation also appears on page 502 of David Herbert Donald’s 1996 biography, Lincoln.)

(HT to Methinks for alerting me to Jacks’s paper.)

Politicians will forever furiously itch to silence the free speech that is price movements – to kill messengers that bring unwelcome or politically troublesome news.


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