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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 56 of the 2012 revised and updated edition of Steven Landsburg’s classic 1995 volume, The Armchair Economist (original emphasis; footnote deleted):

We live in an age of “policy wonks” who judge programs by their effect on productivity, or output, or work effort. Wonkian analysis uses the jargon of economics while ignoring its content. Economists view the wonks’ fixation on output as a bizarre and unhealthy obsession. Wonks want Americans to die rich; economists want Americans to die happy.

The industrialist politician Ross Perot was infected with an extreme form of wonkism when he called on Americans to produce computer chips, not potato chips. Even if we grant the false premise that computer chips are invariably more profitable than potato chips (ask the people who founded Frito-Lay!), the prescription overlooks the fact that producing potato chips might be less work and therefore more desirable. If our goal is to maximize profits without regard to the effort involved, then most Americans should probably be forced into labor camps. The fact that camps strike most people as a bad idea should give pause to those who are quick to judge policies by productivity measures alone.

DBx: Yep.

And ditto for those who assert that we Americans would be richer if export more and import less. Anyone who really believes this assertion should also believe that we Americans would be even richer if we were indeed all forced into labor camps and given only enough consumption goods and services to maintain our capacity to produce, with the bulk of our production sent abroad, virtually free of charge, to non-Americans.

Such is protectionism’s pathetic ‘logic.’


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