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In the Teeth of the Scarcityists

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While laying back this morning in a chair at my dentist’s office having my teeth expertly checked and cleaned, I thought of my grandparents, each of whom I knew.  Each was born in the United States, and three of the four were born in a city (New Orleans).  (My paternal grandfather was born somewhere deep in the swamps of south Louisiana, although when 15 years old he ran away from home to New Orleans and lived in that city until he died 60 years later.)  The years of their lives are: 1900-1975; 1905-1967; 1914-1991; 1917-1996.

For as long as I knew my grandparents, each wore dentures…. which prompted me to reflect on all the jobs that have been destroyed by better dental care [2].

Losing one’s teeth, even in rich America, was far more common in the good ol’ days than it is today.  And while most of us celebrate this victory over tooth decay and other dental ailments, someone of a protectionist bent is likely unhappy about this improvement in living standards.

“After all,” wonders the protectionist, “what about all those unfortunate workers who lost their jobs as a result of this advance in dental health?  What about the hard-working men and women – all of whom played by the rules – who were laid-off from their jobs making dentures?  What about the honest, rule-following workers who once made and marketed products such as Polident and Poligrip [3]?  Fewer such workers are needed today than would be needed had Americans not suffered this curse of improved dental health.”  The protectionist’s ire rises when he is informed that no small part of this improved dental health can be blamed on government interventions – interventions such as government subsidies for the training of dentists, tax-funded fluoridation of drinking water, and the U.S. Government’s complicity in USA Hockey’s requirement that all players wear facemasks [4].

The protectionist – ever-vigilant in keeping an eye on jobs destroyed by greater abundance – hurries off to his laptop (too bad he doesn’t hire a secretary who knows short-hand and how to type) to write a proposal to punitively tax Americans who purchase toothpaste, floss, electric toothbrushes, and dental care.  “Only thus will we level the playing field!” the protectionist tells his audience.

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