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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Rainer Zitelmann recounts “Adam Smith’s solution to poverty.” Two slices:

A famous passage from “The Wealth of Nations”: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of so much of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.”

Today, these words are sometimes misinterpreted to claim that Smith advocated government-led redistribution of wealth. That wasn’t his intention, and he certainly wasn’t calling for social revolution. Poverty, according to Smith, wasn’t preordained, and above all, he didn’t trust government. He points out that only economic growth can raise living standards. Continuous economic growth is the only way to raise wages, and a stagnant economy leads to falling wages. Elsewhere he writes that famines are the result of government price controls.

While Karl Marx claimed nearly a century later that capitalism would lead to growing impoverishment for workers, Smith predicted that economic growth would lead to an increase in living standards.


Smith was right about the effects of economic growth, as the past few decades have confirmed. In recent years, the decline in poverty has accelerated at a pace unmatched in any previous period of human history. In 1981 the absolute poverty rate, which the World Bank currently defines as living on less than $1.90 a day, was 42.7%. By 2000, it had fallen to 27.8%, and today it is less than 9%.

Smith predicted that only an expansion of markets could lead to increased prosperity. This is precisely what has happened since the fall of socialist planned economies. In China, the introduction of private property and market reforms reduced the share of people living in extreme poverty from 88% in 1981 to less than 1% today. Free-market economist Zhang Weiying of Peking University says, “China’s rapid economic development over the past four decades is a victory of Adam Smith’s concept of the market.” Contrary to prevailing interpretations in the West, Mr. Zhang says economic growth and declining poverty in China weren’t “because of the state, but in spite of the state,” caused by the introduction of private property.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board reports on a new study that shows superior performance of charter schools over non-charter government schools. A slice:

Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (Credo) report is the third in a series (2009, 2013, 2023) tracking charter-school outcomes over 15 years. The study is one of the largest ever conducted, covering over two million charter students in 29 states, New York City and Washington, D.C., and a control group in traditional public schools.

Credo’s judgment is unequivocal: Most charter schools “produce superior student gains despite enrolling a more challenging student population.” In reading and math, “charter schools provide their students with stronger learning when compared to the traditional public schools.” The nationwide gains for charter students were six days in math and 16 days in reading.

The comparisons in some states are more remarkable. In New York, charter students were 75 days ahead in reading and 73 days in math compared with traditional public-school peers. In Illinois they were 40 days ahead in reading and 48 in math. In Washington state, 26 days ahead in reading and 39 in math. Those differences can add up to an extra year of learning across an entire elementary education.

Bravo for this letter in today’s Wall Street Journal by Floyd Abrams:

Jed Rubenfeld’s “The Censorship Machine Is Running in 2024” (op-ed, June 6), advocating legislation barring social-media platforms from determining not to carry certain speech during a political campaign, runs directly into a First Amendment barrier. That is the consequence of having the government decide what views social media must carry.

Racist political advocacy, which is protected under the First Amendment but hardly speech that must be carried by social media today, would have to be carried under such legislation. Potentially false statements about candidates couldn’t be “censored” by being rejected by social media, even though any newspaper would be protected by the First Amendment in doing so.

The Supreme Court put it well in its unanimous ruling in Miami Herald v. Tornillo(1974). In that case, the court held unconstitutional a right-of-reply statute adopted by Florida that gave political candidates an opportunity to respond to newspaper attacks. Any such law relating to the “choice of material” in a newspaper, the court concluded, was unconstitutional. In a concurring opinion, Justice Byron White correctly warned that “government tampering” with “news and editorial content” was precisely what the First Amendment most clearly protected against.

Floyd Abrams
New York

Stephanie Slade makes the case that “[l]eft-wing totalitarianism and right-wing authoritarianism are not our only options.” A slice:

[Donald Atwell] Zoll allowed that this was “not an easy choice to make.” But the risk, should his side choose not to fight uninhibited, was that “totalitarian radicalism would win the day.” Against such an outcome, what’s a little “countermilitancy, repression, force and forms of authoritarianism”? To survive, Zoll concluded gravely, conservatives would have to reject their traditional “anti-authoritarian inhibitions” and “prepare to fight—whatever this may entail—against the tide of contemporary Jacobinism, candidly facing the necessity of employing techniques generally ignored or rejected by contemporary Western conservatives.”

Among those who were disturbed by this vision was National Review senior editor Frank S. Meyer, who fired back in the following issue of the magazine. “Professor Zoll’s rejection of the values of an order directed toward the preservation of liberty and pluralism is a rejection also of the American tradition, the tradition of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers,” he wrote. The choice between hard left-wing totalitarianism and soft right-wing authoritarianism, Meyer argued, was a false one: “​There is a third alternative, and it is the only one conservatives can embrace if they are to remain conservatives”: neither Robespierre nor Bismarck but George Washington.

Pierre Lemieux warns of the assault in India on science and reason.

Here’s Alberto Mingardi on the late Silvio Berlusconi.

GMU Econ alum Nikolai Wenzel praises the heroic Jimmy Lai.

David Henderson talks with Juliette Sellgren about Nobel-laureate economists and some others.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague, Veronique de Rugy, explains that “the Rail Safety Act is about union handouts, not safety.” A slice:

Enter the Rail Safety Act, a joint product of Sens. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D–Ohio). This bill, introduced in early May, is touted as a legislative response to the February freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that spilled toxic material, forcing people out of their homes and filling the air with toxic gas. Thankfully, no one was injured. But before anyone understood what truly caused the derailment—most likely a faulty wheel—politicians of all stripes were out promising new regulations to improve rail safety.

The result is legislation with little connection to the derailment, or to any other derailments for that matter. Indeed, it appears to push pet projects that legislators wanted all along without any reckoning of costs and benefits. In consequence, says University of Dayton professor Michael F. Gorman in a new paper, none of the bill’s detailed prescriptions and rules “would reduce the risk of a serious accident involving the transport of hazardous material. Taken together, they will likely result in an inferior outcome to the status quo.”

This is not surprising. What the bill does have is an awful lot in it for unions to like. For instance, it would freeze train crew sizes (the opposite of efficiency and something unions were demanding long before the derailment) and require more inspections that can only be performed by, you guessed it, union workers.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.) (HT Jay Bhattacharya)