… is from page 145 of the final volume (2016) – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s pioneering trilogy on the essence and role of bourgeois values in modern life:
The relevant comparison is not of some unattainable utopia of perfect trade-tested betterment with actual, imperfect government regulation. It is the comparison of the actual record of liberated trade, and the betterment it has brought to the powerless of the world, the the actual record of populism, fascism, socialism, and thick regulation bettering a few favored groups of the poor, every Party official, and most of the owners of the bigger enterprises able to corrupt the government, all at the expense of the rest.
My colleague Dan Klein once made a very quotable and very insightful remark – one that I cannot now find or recall in detail – that was brought to mind as I read the above passage from Deirdre’s latest book. The essence of Dan’s remark, if not its poetic succinctness and balance, is the following: People rush to replace real-world markets upon the first sign of those markets failing to operate with textbook perfection, but are willing to forgive and to tolerate egregious failures of government to perform in textbook-perfect ways.