Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 11, 2020

in Complexity & Emergence, Creative destruction, Growth, Myths and Fallacies, Standard of Living, Trade

… is from page 620 of the final (2016) volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s soaring trilogy on the essence of bourgeois values, on their transmission, and on their essential role in modern life:

That’s the point: creative destruction is good for the society as a whole, viewed democratically.

Sympathetically considered, the right and the left unhappiness with the rich modern world can be viewed, too, as an understandable present-mindedness. A focus on our present woes is accompanied by a vague nostalgia about the past. It’s like standing too close to a pointillist painting, such as Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte in its room at the Art Institute. At close range we see the dots as dots only and lament the disorder. We ache for the real telephones and beloved horses in our homeland. If we stand back, however, the disorder resolves into an attractive scene, with many, many humans now having lives of wide scope. The ongoing history, so lamentably destructive of dots of remembered hours of gladness, lost, alas, like a youth too soon, reveals its attractions when seen in longer perspective. The attractions are masses of people better off now than two centuries ago, and a massy democracy. The global Northerners on the left who view the Great Recession as the last crisis of capitalism (if, to repeat, one forgets all the previous diagnoses of a last crisis) or who decry the allegedly slow growth of real wages in the rich countries since 1980 (if, to repeat, one does the economic science erroneously, ignoring, for example, the sharply improving quality of goods), and who therefore advocate more and more and more regulation of markets, are standing too close to the picture.

DBx: Yes.

From Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Oren Cass on the right to Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren on the left, all such skeptics of free trade and of what my Mercatus Center colleague Adam Thierer calls “permissionless innovation” are standing much too close to the dots. For the politicians in this group, this perspective is key to their political power, and so they actively take it. For the intellectuals, I assume, this perspective is the result of innocent intellectual error. Either way, however, this perspective is blinding. It’s distorting. Its results are malignant.

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