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Another Open Letter to Oren Cass

Mr. Oren Cass
American Compass


Reporting on the launch of your new organization, American Compass, the Washington Post quotes you as accusing libertarian free-market advocates of believing “that whatever policies are best for shareholders in the short run are the best policies and will eventually be good for everyone else also.”

Nice sound bite. After all, every sensible person understands that an economics that attends only to the interests of one relatively small group of people (shareholders) – and then only to that group’s immediate interests – is nonsense that is unlikely to yield policy recommendations that promote the well-being of everyone over the long-run.

The trouble, however, is that the economics that you trot out as the demon that you and your organization will slay is a witless man of straw. No one among serious libertarian advocates of free markets believes what you accuse them of believing. Not Adam Smith. Not Jean-Baptiste Say. Not Frédéric Bastiat. Not Herbert Spencer. Not Ludwig von Mises. Not F.A. Hayek. Not Ronald Coase. Not Milton Friedman. Not Armen Alchian. Not James Buchanan. Not Bill Niskanen. Not Vernon Smith. Not Israel Kirzner. Not Thomas Sowell. Not Walter Williams. Not Bruce Yandle. Not Jim Gwartney. Not Dwight Lee. Not Deirdre McCloskey. Not Robert Higgs. Not Richard Epstein. Not Doug Irwin. Not anyone of any standing at all among libertarian and classical-liberal economists and scholars.

That you assert such an indefensible notion suggests that you haven’t read the works of the scholars whose arguments you and your organization are arming yourselves to defeat in dubious battle. In this case, therefore, there’s no reason for anyone who is genuinely knowledgeable about the arguments for free markets – and who opposes the protectionism and industrial policy that you advocate – to take you seriously.

If you wish American Compass to play a productive role rather than serving merely to fortify fallacies that are today so widespread from left to right, stop slaying straw men. Learn the economics that you now present to your audience as an absurd caricature.

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


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