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Phil Magness reviews Naomi Oreskes’s and Erik Conway’s new dumpster-fire of intellectual confusion, economic ignorance, and historical inaccuracy. Three slices:

Almost everything in this genre follows the same formula. When the American electorate fails to embrace the political priorities of an Ivy League humanities department, these disheartened authors cast about for a blameworthy culprit. They settle on “market fundamentalism” or “neoliberalism.” The explanation then takes a paranoid turn, declaring the targeted theories a “manufactured myth” arising from the “inventions” of 20th century business interests, which allegedly hoodwinked voters into accepting the “magic” of the free market as a matter of received wisdom. Certain that they have found the source of their political obstacles, these historians then claim to uncover a “secret” history that has been hiding in plain sight. All eventually settle on a mundane conspiracy of business interests and libertarian economists, who allegedly derailed America from its progressive path by convincing people that markets work better than government at solving problems.

At some 550 pages, The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us To Loathe Government and Love the Free Market is among the most loquacious entrants into this crowded literature. Harvard University’s Naomi Oreskes and California Institute of Technology historian Erik Conway lay out their conspiracy theory with formulaic precision, but their book is atypical in one significant way. While most of the other works in the anti-neoliberalism genre manage at least to excavate some interesting archival findings about libertarian economists (before badly misinterpreting them), this book is remarkably light on original content.

The Big Myth‘s argument most closely resembles that of Cornell University historian Lawrence Glickman’s 2019 book Free Enterprise: An American History, which advanced a nearly identical thesis wherein the concept of “free enterprise” allegedly arose as a myth in the service of anti–New Deal business interests. But The Big Myth also weaves in recent tracts by Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, Kim Phillips-Fein, Kevin Kruse, Quinn Slobodian, and Jane Mayer. Oreskes and Conway round out their spartan use of economic sources (their recounting of “market failure” theory makes heavier use of Pope Francis’ encyclicals than any actual economics texts) with a dash of Thomas Piketty’s dubious inequality empirics and a touch of Ha-Joon Chang’s attempts to resurrect trade protectionism.


Such errors are frequently paired with another recurring theme: the authors’ fundamental inability to approach their opponents with anything remotely resembling intellectual charity. The book is filled with gratuitous swipes, many of them comically ahistorical.

This usually means either a false accusation of racism or a disparaging attack on a target’s qualifications. Mises receives both types of abuse. After dubbing him an “absolutist who sympathized with fascism,” Oreskes and Conway launch into an extended attack on the Austrian economist’s migration to the United States in 1940. In their telling, Mises was a relic of a bygone laissez faire ideology who struggled to find a respectable academic job until “dark money” funders created a succession of positions for him at New York University. It is doubtful they would pass similar judgment on the many academic refugees from Nazi Germany who hailed from the political left. Meanwhile, Mises’ academic work in the United States gained higher honors than either Oreskes or Conway has ever achieved. By the decade’s end, he had published three monographs with Yale University Press, including the decidedly anti-fascist book Omnipotent Government. Upon his retirement from teaching at age 88, Mises was named a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association.


The authors’ discussion of the latter subject, which closes the book, is unintentionally comedic. Oreskes and Conway use the pandemic to contrast U.S. “market failure” with the alleged success of “countries that mounted a strong, coordinated response,” China foremost among them. As their book went to press, China’s centralized “zero-COVID” regime was collapsing into the same unfettered disease spread that Oreskes and Conway ascribe to free markets. But readers should not expect any self-interrogation from this pair.

Also from Phil Magness, here on his Facebook page, is this bit of evidence that defenders of the 1619 Project are embarrassingly unfamiliar with the intellectually calamitous project that they contort themselves to defend.

David Henderson reports some good news on taxes. A slice:

But the tax situation at the state level is much more hopeful. Most states have some form of a balanced-budget requirement, and state governments can’t print money. State governments, therefore, must live within their means. You might think that would cause them not to cut tax rates. But many state politicians have learned that by cutting tax rates they don’t necessarily cut tax revenues because those lower tax rates attract people from high-tax states. That leads to more income being taxed, thus dampening the revenue-reducing effects of cuts in tax rates.

Is there a market failure in child care?

The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board explains just how huge are the stakes in the outcome of a case that will be heard on Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court. A slice:

The Supreme Court hears one of the most consequential separation-of-powers cases in American history on Tuesday when it considers President Biden’s unilateral student loan write-off. The question is nothing less than whether the President can steal Congress’s power of the purse and act like a King.

Mr. Biden’s claim of unilateral power to cancel $400 billion in debt is truly breathtaking, and he knew it. A month before taking office, Mr. Biden said it was “pretty questionable,” whether he had the power to cancel student debt. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted in July 2021 that “it would take an act of Congress, not an executive order, to cancel student loan debt.” Now the Administration is arguing otherwise in court.

Lionel Shriver imagines what would be done by “sensitivity readers” to her 2003 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin. A slice:

However, publishing poohbahs have pointed out that Roald Dahl’s characters are not allowed to have guns, even when they are toy guns. So for Kevin to have a toy gun wouldn’t be fair. Also, nothing can be ‘black’ anymore. The splats would have to be ‘dark’. (Nothing can be ‘white’ either, or ‘red’ or ‘brown’; as a pattern is developing, odds are ‘yellow’ is out, too, so the only primary colour available in our story is blue. How apt.) ‘India’ ink also made the narrative nabobs nervous that the author would uncontrollably mention Rudyard Kipling. Therefore, it has been agreed that this whole scene will go away. So far not much is happening in our book, which is very safe. Nothing happening means a bad thing can’t happen that would cause harm and pain.

Adam Summers decries the worldwide decline of freedom caused by covid hysteria.

Alex Rampell tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

A *math competition* scheduled today requires KN95s for all participants, at all times…except during lunch, where the virus obviously takes a break.