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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 153-154 of economist Lionel Robbins’s superb and still-relevant 1937 book, Economic Planning and International Order (original emphasis):

The protectionist who wishes to save “the ____ industry” by preventing the competition of foreign products, and the planner who wishes to save it by excluding the incursion of interloping capital and labour, are misled by the same fundamental fallacy – the “the industry” fallacy we may call it. In the last analysis it is a manifestation of the apparently chronic tendency of the human mind to regard cost as the creator of value; to argue that, because labour has been expended on a product, therefore it ought to be regarded as valuable; and that if it is not so regarded, then steps should be taken to bring it about that it is. It is a manifestation of the tendency to regard instruments of production as such as valuable without regard for the demand for their products, that tendency which regards it as being the duty of statecraft to adapt demand to the maintenance of the value of the instruments of production, rather than to make the value of instruments of production depend upon their satisfaction of a free demand. No doubt these tendencies spring from habits of thought more congenial to the unsophisticated intelligence than the habit of regarding value as being of subjective origin, and the utility of the instruments of production as derived from their capacity to serve consumption. It is easier to appraise the industry that has been preserved than the consumption which has been sacrificed, the balance-sheets that have been saved than the products which might have been created. Nevertheless, if the human race is ever to manage its affairs on a rational basis it must transcend the primitive habits. It must learn to think less of industries as ends in themselves, more of the ends to which they may be instrumental. It must think less of the organization of particular industries, more of the organization of the whole complex of productive activity.

DBx: Sad to say, of course, that the primitive habits of thought identified here by Robbins are today all the rage. These habits of thought are touted as cutting edge by progressives no less than by MAGAers. Some new think tanks seem to be devoted exclusively to the task of peddling these antediluvian ideas as if these have never before been noticed by economists and, hence, refute economists’ case for free trade.

Because lazy and shoddy thinking is much easier than is serious and logical thinking, these primitive habits of thought will plague humanity for the duration.

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