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Calling Deirdre McCloskey

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal (Aug. 4-5), several letters appear in response to this essay by Charles Murray.  Here’s one of those letters:

Of what country is Mr. Murray speaking when he notes the wondrous virtue and moral obligation of past capitalists? Was he referring to the robber barons of the late 1800s that led to the Sherman Antitrust Act? Or perhaps the exploitative labor practices that prompted labor unions? Or maybe the inhumane and unsafe working conditions that gave rise to OSHA? Or maybe he meant the polluting, environment-wrecking, unsafe products that prompted the creation of the EPA, FDA and other agencies.

Peter Rukerow

Downers Grove, Ill.

I mention only in passing Mr. Rukerow’s naive triple assumption that (1) fine-sounding government statutes and agencies actually do what their fine-sounding names suggest that they do; (2) the ostensible missions of these statutes and agencies are pursued in ways that are worth whatever costs and consequences are entailed in the actual pursuit; and (3) the problems that these statutes and agencies were ostensibly created to address were in fact real.

I know, for example, from my own research that antitrust legislation in the U.S. (1) has been used chiefly to thwart, rather than to promote, competition, and, so, (2) has almost certainly been harmful (if not, thank goodness, calamitous); and (3) was intended not to reduce monopoly power – competition was vibrant and very much alive before passage of the Sherman Act – but to thwart it.  See here, for example.

The main motivation for this post is to link again to the greatest blog-post ever written so that the Mr. Rukerows of the world might come to understand that their history is terribly mistaken.