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Oren Cass Still Misses the Unseen

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:


In “The Elite Needs to Give Up Its G.D.P. Fetish” (August 28) Oren Cass overstates the importance that economists attach to material goods and services as he understates the importance that workers attach to these things.

No competent economist believes that humans do or should care only, or even mainly, about outputs exchanged in markets. But economists do recognize that better access to such outputs enhances individuals’ abilities to attain non-material goals. Community involvement, education, art, and the leisure necessary to care for family and friends are prime examples of non-material ends made more accessible as people’s material desires are better satisfied.

Still, ordinary people obviously care more than Cass realizes about satisfying material desires. By agreeing to take pay cuts – that is, by agreeing to reduce their access to outputs exchanged in markets – workers facing competition from imports or technology could thereby keep their jobs and, in turn, retain the specific community connections that Cass says workers value so highly. Yet workers generally refuse to take pay cuts. They thus reveal that they value continued access to material goods and services more highly than they value the non-material experiences and community connections that they sacrifice by refusing to take lower pay.

The protectionism that Cass proposes can, at best, protect only some Americans from having to make this trade-off. And it can do so only by compelling other Americans – those who pay higher prices for consumer goods and those denied the better jobs that would otherwise be created – to suffer reduced access to material goods and services.

Avoiding such an injustice by keeping trade free is a non-material value that I and other classical liberals cherish and wish would receive greater respect from politicians and pundits.

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


The above letter is already too long (for a letter), yet it still ignores several other fallacies found in Cass’s essay.


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