… is from page 143 of the final volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre N. McCloskey’s path-breaking trilogy on the essence and role of bourgeois values in modern life:
But “regulation” could also be described as high-handed and ignorant interference in the mutually advantageous deals contracted voluntarily among the miserable serfs of the state, interference at best inspired by antique theories of natural monopoly and using antique policies appropriate to obsolete technologies, and at worst by conspiracies to benefit existing rich people, backed by state violence. Much of regulation, looked at coldly, would fall under such a definition, if not immediately on its passage, then after a few years of technological change or regulatory capture.
If the high-wage workers at the factory across town personally use their brass knuckles and guns to coerce the lower-wage workers on this side of town – workers whose outputs are in competition with the outputs of the high-wage workers – into demanding hourly wages higher than those lower-wage workers are currently earning, everyone would rightly recognize the high-wage workers for the greedy, vile, and violent thugs that they are. No one would think that the goal of the high-wage workers is to help their lower-wage competitors. And no economists would write papers attempting to demonstrate that the high-wage-workers’ threats of violence help rather than harm the lower-wage workers.
Yet let the high-wage workers appoint and fund a committee of nicely dressed and impressively titled agents who have the power to command uniform-wearing users of brass knuckles and guns, and let these nicely dressed and impressively titled agents order the lower-wage workers to demand wages higher than these workers are currently earning, and far too many people fall into raptures about what wonderful “economic policy” is at work. And many economists rush to write papers attempting to demonstrate that these threats of violence do indeed help rather than harm the lower-wage workers.
In fact, of course, such superficial changes in cast, costumes, script, and staging do nothing to change the underlying reality that using threats of violence to strip low-skilled workers of their right to seek employment by offering to work at hourly wages below those that are earned by other workers is not only a grotesque violation of these workers’ rights but also an inexcusable source of economic damage to them and to their families.