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Open Letter to Sam Hammond

Mr. Samuel Hammond
Niskanen Center


Your attempt to defend conservatives’ calls for industrial policy from the criticisms of economically informed libertarians is, alas, a barrage of bloopers (“The ‘Central Planning’ Strawman,” January 7). I could identify each one – such as your bizarre equation of the purely private and peaceful efforts of donors to foster libertarian think tanks in northern Virginia with the government coercion and use of taxpayer funds necessary to carry out industrial policy, or your indefensible suggestion (one disturbingly odd coming from someone who studied economics at GMU) that the core of Mises’s and Hayek’s arguments against classical socialism do not apply to less-extensive attempts to substitute state planning for entrepreneurial competition and consumer sovereignty. (Did you miss the classes in which the works of Israel Kirzner and of Don Lavoie were taught?)

But instead, I’ll pose to you a question inspired by the title of Deirdre McCloskey’s 1990 book: If you, Marco Rubio, Oren Cass, and other proponents of obstructing peaceful commerce and diverting resources hither and yon with subsidies are so smart, why aren’t you stupendously rich? Surely you and other miraculously informed persons – persons possessing enough information of the details of today’s economy and of tomorrow’s opportunities and constraints to enable you to override in economically successful ways the decisions of entrepreneurs and investors spending their own money – ought not waste your precious time scribbling essays at think tanks or even legislating in the U.S. Senate. To be of greatest service to your fellow human beings, get out there, be entrepreneurial, create the industries and jobs of the future, and, in the process of making us all more prosperous, make yourselves fabulously rich.

Yet you do no such thing. Nor does Sen. Rubio or Mr. Cass. You instead superciliously sit in judgment of actual entrepreneurs and consumers spending their own money, as you, with nothing at risk, propose to force people to behave as you believe they should behave – to force people to spend their money, not as they choose, but as you fancy. You hazard nothing as you arrogantly pretend that politicians and their advisors have both superhuman knowledge and will use that knowledge apolitically. (When you were a student at GMU, did you also miss classes in public choice?)

Convincing evidence of the worthlessness of the ideas of industrial-policy proponents is the very fact that these ideas must be implemented at gunpoint. As H.L. Mencken rightly observed, “The kind of man who demands that government enforce his ideas is always the kind whose ideas are idiotic.”*

Enough with such idiocy, and with the arrogance that fuels it.

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

* H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949), page 662.