Art Carden celebrates Robert Higgs’s birthday . (Happy Birthday, Bob!) A slice:
This year is also the fiftieth anniversary of Higgs’s first book, The Transformation of the American Economy 1865-1914 , a remarkable achievement for any scholar but made all the more impressive by the fact that it was published as Higgs was entering his late twenties. As he would spend his career doing, he took what “everybody” knew about exploitation, inequality, and Robber Barons during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and showed that it was wrong. The book stands up well even five decades later.
In 1977, Higgs published a pathbreaking book on the economic history of race, Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy 1865-1914. Competition, Higgs argued, helped explain black economic advancement while coercion held them back.
In the Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim reviews a few books about markets and morals – including a new edition of Milton Friedman’s 1962 classic, Capitalism and Freedom (reissued by the University of Chicago Press with a Foreword by someone who could not be more inappropriate, Binyamin Appelbaum) . A slice:
I had never read “Capitalism and Freedom” and was renewed in my admiration for midcentury American reading audiences. The book, full of tightly reasoned arguments about the principles of economic freedom in various spheres of life, sold 400,000 copies in its first 18 years. The University of Chicago Press, which first published the book six decades ago, evidently would rather it stop selling. The new edition’s foreword is written by Binyamin Appelbaum, a member of the New York Times editorial board, who treats Friedman’s classic text as mildly interesting artifact. “Friedman’s claim that ‘widespread use of the market reduces the strain on the social fabric,’ ” Mr. Appelbaum assures us, “misapprehended the nature of society, which is more like a muscle than a fabric.” I await Chicago’s edition of J.K. Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society,” with a foreword by Larry Kudlow.
Protections for free speech, it’s worth pointing out, aren’t some perfect counter to false and extreme ideas. Instead, they’re a recognition of core individual rights. But they’re also a pragmatic acknowledgment that putting government agencies in charge of suppressing misinformation just gives one team of bullshit artists an advantage over their less-powerful competitors.
However, it is important to note that the lack of standards of determining bureaucratic success creates impassible problems for monitoring and managing the size of bureaucracy. For example, it is likely impossible to calculate whether an agency should have 500 employees or 50,000 and it is difficult to know whether agency services are too costly, and by how much. Because bureaucrats are not limited by considerations of financial success, superiors have to provide limitations in the form of rules and regulations. The mission of the bureaucrat is to serve the public, but the incentives point toward serving one’s supervisor and their preferences for implementing the agency’s goals.
Or consider Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. She supports the proposed hike, as she noted  in her confirmation hearing last week, yet in 2014 she endorsed  the view that a minimum wage hike would lead to significant job loss. Maybe now she knows better, but if the 2014 Janet Yellen could have been so fooled, then perhaps this debate is not so settled.