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In Defense of My Intrepid Mercatus Center Colleague

Here’s a letter to the Imaginative Conservative:


Veronique de Rugy’s criticism, at National Review, of Alexander Salter’s case for so-called “common good capitalism” drew Joseph Pearce’s ire (“Demonizing Distributism by Association,” May 11). Among her alleged misdeeds is Ms. De Rugy’s “abandoning reason for the reductio ad absurdum of ad hominem rhetoric.” The specific offense with which she is here charged is her “quoting some lines from Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration, to illustrate an alleged similarity of reasoning between Dr. Salter and Dr. Reich.” According to Pearce, “[t]he only similarity was that both men seem to believe that the markets impact culture. What exactly is Dr. de Rugy’s point, beyond the desire to smear Dr. Salter by association with someone with whom her readers will disagree?”

Did Pearce do more than merely skim read Ms. De Rugy’s piece? My guess is no, for Ms. De Rugy did not criticize Salter for joining Reich in believing that markets impact culture. Instead, she criticized Salter for his seeming acceptance of the argument that consumers’ patronage of large, low-cost retailers imposes a negative “externality” on the community – an argument that, Ms. De Rugy correctly observed, is identical to an argument made in 2005 by Reich about the alleged negative consequences of Amazon and Walmart.

So the answer is straightforward to Pearce’s question about “what exactly is Dr. De Rugy’s point”; it’s this: At least some of the policy proposals that are welcomed by “common good capitalists” bear an uncanny resemblance to policy proposals embraced by statist progressives.

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