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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

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… is from Deirdre McCloskey’s forthcoming (in 2016) volume, Bourgeois Equality (original emphasis):

The “Scottish” equality of Adam Smith has a harsh, even tragic, side.  It entails equal reward for equal merit in a marketplace in which others, by freedom of contract, can also compete.  As John Stuart Mill put it in On Liberty, “Society admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed competitors to immunity from this kind of suffering; and feels called on to interfere only when means of success have been employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit – namely, fraud or treachery, and force.”  Yet in the real world, unhappily, if the poor are to be raised up, there is no magic alternative to such competition.  An ill-advised and undercapitalized pet store, into which the owner pours his soul, goes under.  In the same neighborhood a little independent office for immediate health care opens half a block from a branch of the largest hospital chain in Chicago, and seems doomed to fail the test of voluntary trade.  Although the testing of business ideas in voluntary trade is obviously necessary for betterment in the economy (as it is too by nonmonetary tests for betterment in art and sport and science and scholarship), such failures are deeply sad if you have the slightest sympathy for human projects, or for humans.  But at least the pet store, the clinic, the Edsel, Woolworth’s, Polaroid, and Pan American Airlines face the same democratic test by trade: Do customers keep coming forward voluntarily?  Does real income rise?

We could all by state compulsion backed by the monopoly of violence remain in the same jobs as our ancestors, perpetually “protected,” though at $3 a day.  Or, with taxes taken by additional state compulsion, we could subsidize new activities without regard to a test by voluntary trade, “creating jobs” as the anti-economic rhetoric has it.  Aside even from their immediate effect of making national income lower than it could have been, perpetually, such ever-popular plans -never mind the objectionable character of the violent compulsion they require – seldom work in the long run for the welfare of the poor, or the rest of us.  In view of the way a government of imperfect people actually behaves in practice, job “protection” and job “creation” often fail to achieve their gentle, generous purposes.  The protections and the creations get diverted to favorites.  Laws requiring minority or female businesses to be hired, for example, tend to yield phony businesses run in fact by male whites.  In a society run by male whites or inherited lords or clan members or Communist Party officials, or even by voters not restricted by inconvenient voting times and picture IDs, the unequal and involuntary rewards generated by sidestepping the test of trade are seized by the privileged.  The privileged are good at that.

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