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Obama, Lincoln, and Lenin

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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’ [2],” 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 [3],” 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 [4].)

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

Politicians will forever furiously itch to silence the free speech that is price movements [5] – to kill messengers that bring unwelcome or politically troublesome news.