Here’s a letter to First Things:
Daniel McCarthy’s “A New Conservative Agenda ” (March 2019) is shot through with much economic ignorance and frightening naiveté. Consider this passage: “What follows is that we ought to minimize the loss of employment due to every factor not technologically inevitable, such as ill-conceived trade deals.”
Mr. McCarthy correctly notes that job churn isn’t caused only by international trade. (Indeed, in the United States international trade is responsible for only a tiny fraction of job churn .) Mr. McCarthy correctly realizes, too, that, if the protection of particular existing jobs justifies trade restraints, then the protection of particular existing jobs justifies also restraints on “every factor not technologically inevitable.”
Has Mr. McCarthy seriously pondered the full consequences of his proposal? Overlooking the impossibility of separating “factors” that are “technologically inevitable” from those that aren’t, Mr. McCarthy would have the state “minimize the loss of employment due to” any change in consumer preferences and opportunities. And therefore….
If, say, we Americans become less fond of drinking and gambling, Mr. McCarthy’s state nevertheless – to protect the jobs of brewers, vintners, distillers, liquor-store clerks, and poker dealers – would prevent us from reducing our purchases of alcoholic beverages and trips to Vegas. If another ‘great awakening’ sweeps through the country, Mr. McCarthy’s apparatchiks – to prevent the loss of jobs at restaurants that serve Sunday brunch – would guarantee that there’s no increase in Sunday church attendance. If an automotive engineer designs a new automobile that dramatically lowers the likelihood of traffic accidents, Mr. McCarthy’s state would keep this vehicle off the market to ensure against job losses for EMS workers and emergency-room physicians.
A government powerful enough to attempt, in the name of protecting American culture, to “minimize the loss of employment due to every factor not technologically inevitable” would not cause America’s economy merely to stagnate; it would cast us all into deep poverty. Even worse, such an omnipotent state – as it tramples on that not-insignificant part of American culture grounded in individual liberty – would herd us all forthwith and without mercy down the road to serfdom.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030