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In Defense of Consumer Sovereignty

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Here’s an open letter to frequent Cafe Hayek commenter C____ W____:

Mr. W_____:

In response to my letter chiding Trump [2] for his inconsistency in celebrating lower oil prices while he also celebrates his punitive taxes on Americans who buy the likes of steel, aluminum, automobiles, and washers, you comment: “For sure, it’s [that is, a fall in oil prices] good for Americans who consume oil, but is it good for Americans who produce oil?”

You continue to fail to recognize that the success of any economy should be judged ultimately by how well it enables us to thrive as consumers rather than by how well it enables us to thrive in the particular roles we play today as producers. To better see the flaw in your perspective, let’s test how well your comment holds up in different contexts. Specifically, let’s ask:

– ‘For sure, the polio vaccine is good for Americans who would otherwise get polio, but is it good for Americans who produce crutches and wheelchairs?’

– ‘For sure, enhanced automotive safety is good for Americans who drive, but is it good for emergency medical technicians and other first-responders?’

– ‘For sure, the prevalence of smoke detectors in homes is good for people who would otherwise perish in house fires, but is it good for fire-fighters?’

– ‘For sure, Alcoholics Anonymous is good for Americans who drink to excess, but is it good for brewers, vintners, and distillers?’

– ‘For sure, world peace is good for people who would otherwise be killed or maimed in war, but is it good for soldiers and arms merchants?’

– ‘For sure, government allowing mothers to breast feed their infants is good for infants, but is it good for makers of baby formula?’

– ‘For sure, allowing people to sell their homes when they move to new locations is good for homeowners and home buyers, but is it good for home builders?’

– ‘For sure, improvements in law-enforcement are good for law-abiding citizens, but are they good for vandals, burglars, rapists, arsonists, and murderers?’

This list can, of course, be extended indefinitely. I challenge you to identify something that is unique about petroleum that makes your comment substantively different from any of the above.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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