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Pragmatism is Impractical

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Here’s another letter to Brandon Mortensen:

Mr. Mortensen:

Thanks for your feedback on my latest column for AIER [2].

You argue that “Ideology should not block government from raising tariffs if a good case exists that it will raise social welfare.”

I’ve two related reasons for disagreeing with you.

First, the “if” in your response is iffy. Economic theory, along with a great deal of historical experience [3], shows that the freer is trade, the faster is economic growth and the higher are ordinary-people’s standards of living. While exceptions can be found, they are so rare – and the political temptation to abuse the power to obstruct trade so commonplace and intense – that an unconditional commitment to a policy of free trade strikes me as the only appropriate stance.

Second, would you still agree with your claim if it is reworded only slightly to read as follows: “Ideology should not block government from breaking into its citizens’ homes and destroying some furniture, appliances, and clothing if a good case exists that it will raise social welfare”?

I suspect that you – like me – unconditionally oppose a policy of allowing government to attempt to improve the economy by breaking into citizens’ homes and wreaking such destruction. And the reason for your unconditional opposition is surely not that you are unable to list theoretical conditions under which such destruction might raise social welfare. Such theoretical conditions are no more difficult to list than are the listed theoretical conditions under which protective tariffs might raise social welfare.

Instead, the reason for your opposition is almost certainly grounded in your understanding not only that such power will be abused by government officials but, even more fundamentally, that destroying peaceful people’s property is simply wrong. In short, you oppose such a policy because of your ideology – and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

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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