Become a Wokologist!

by Don Boudreaux on August 3, 2020

in Truth-seeking & ideology, Video

This video is brilliantly done!

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 3, 2020

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 253 of Joseph Epstein’s June 2015 essay “The Conversationalist” as this essay is reprinted (and retitled as “Michael Oakeshott”) in the 2018 collection of some of Epstein’s essays titled The Ideal of Culture:

Oakeshott had his own religious sentiments and complex morality, but he felt that neither religion nor morals had to do with politics, and politics had nothing whatsoever to do “with making men good or even better.” Dreams of perfect justice or perfect freedom ought to be excluded from politics, for “the conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.”

The role of government should be much simpler: “to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness.”

DBx: Indeed so. Yet the trend has been, very ominously, to unite Caesar with souls.

Tom Palmer often says that the famous Biblical passage in which Jesus counsels us to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” is not so much about a responsibility for paying taxes as it is a call to keep the secular separate from the sacred. Whether or not you believe in a god, there is for each person a private sphere – which ought to be large – that is no business of the collective or of the state.

Yet oh so many people worship the state. As with all religious belief, the details of the many varieties of dogmas differ from each other. And these differences, being disagreements, spark great battles – intellectual and sometimes physical.

Far too many people are not content merely to watch over and save their own souls – a task sufficiently large to keep each person quite busy for a lifetime – but insist on trying to create here on earth their own versions of heaven for everyone (or at least for everyone in the nation). If only because different individuals have very different visions of heaven, all such attempts, if persisted in, to use the state to nudge, shove, or jet-propel reality closer to heavenly bliss are bound to result in hellish conflict, without ever resulting in any outcome that any sensible person would describe as heavenly.

…..

Liberty Fund, in 1991, published a collection of some of Oakeshott’s best essays.

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Paw Boudreaux, 1900-1975

by Don Boudreaux on August 2, 2020

in Myths and Fallacies, Standard of Living

My paternal grandfather – Adrian Joseph Boudreaux, Sr. – was born 120 years ago today in the swamps of south Louisiana. I’ve written twice here at Cafe Hayek about him – first in 2005, last in 2011.

Paw (as I called him) died in December of 1975, when I was 17. I knew him very well and still remember him quite vividly. He was not very tall, and quite wiry, and rather dark complected, unlike his two children – two boys – who were both big, burly, light-skinned, red-headed men, looking all Irish, like their mother (Theresa “Tessy” Boudreaux, née Flanagan). They had in their looks not a bit of the French that was evident in my grandfather’s appearance.

(In the accompanying picture – sent to me by my cousin Connie – Paw and Maw are both much younger than I remember them. My best guess is that this picture was taken in the mid- to late 1940s. My grandmother, who died in 1967 at the age of 62, still had little gray in her hair. My grandfather’s hair was completely gray for as long as I can recall.)

In my earlier recollections at Cafe Hayek of Paw I marveled at the economic improvements that he witnessed during his 75 years on this planet. Yet if today’s commonplace understanding is true, Paw died at middle-class America’s economic zenith. Since then, we are told repeatedly, ordinary Americans have merely treaded water economically.

Well. I wonder what Paw would think if he were resurrected on his 120th birthday, after having been dead for nearly 45 years, and given a glimpse of America in 2020. (Forget covid; forget the ‘woke’ and ‘cancel’ insanities. I’m referring here to long-term economic trends.) If the commonplace claim about stagnating living standards is true, Paw would easily recognize the America of 2020. Sure, many clothing styles and language parameters would be unfamiliar to him – as would smoking habits. (He’d be quite annoyed at being unable to smoke indoors.) But most aspects of middle-class American life would be familiar.

But would they, in fact, be familiar? Hardly.

Paw never heard of commercial overnight delivery; it didn’t exist during his lifetime. All phones that he knew were attached to walls or cords; many (most?) still had rotary dials. (The two telephones in our home – which Paw shared with us from 1967 until he died in 1975 – each had rotary dials.) The last supermarket that he visited likely offered about 5,000 different items – a mere ten percent of the number of offerings in a typical American supermarket of 2020.

A child born in America the year Paw passed could expect to live 72.6 years – significantly lower than 2020’s life expectancy of 78.93 years.

Paw, who had television for less than 20 years of his life, never had more than four channels from among which to choose to watch. What would he make of today’s hundreds of viewing choices?

“Surfing the web” would be a nonsense phrase to his ears. As would “Google it.” Indeed, as would also “personal computer.”

Paw probably had heard of disposals in kitchen sinks, but I’m certain that he never saw one. Were he to shop in 2020 for food, clothing, or consumer durables, he would find their prices – in terms of the amount of work-time necessary to earn income sufficient to purchase these things – fabulously lower than he experienced during his day.

Paw would hardly know what to make of a 2020 automobile. “Whaddaya mean, ‘keyless entry’?” “Oh man, the steering wheel tilts – and best of all, this car ain’t even a Cadillac!” “GP-what? What kind of ‘navigation’?” “Whaddaya mean you haven’t ever had this car of yours tuned-up? It’s got 29,000 miles on it! It’s going to die any minute!” I’m sure he’d not really believe me if I told him that this car of mine won’t need a “tune up” until it’s been driven 100,000 miles.

As far as the car’s music system, well, what was top-of-the-line for middle-class Americans in 1975 was in-dash 8-track players. Could Paw even begin to grasp what it means to stream music into a cell phone and, from there through Bluetooth, into the car’s speakers?

I’m sure that he’d have manually to lift his jaw from the car’s floor upon first seeing the driver or a fellow passenger actually talking on a telephone while speeding along a highway.

Having never flown in an airplane – and dying before commercial air travel became commonplace (that is, before it became affordable) – Paw would be dumbfounded to discover that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren think nothing of flying because flying is oh-so routine and familiar.

Paw was a pretty good amateur carpenter, one with, upon his death, a decent collection of hand tools and some power tools. (In my mind’s eye I still see his hammer, with all of its idiosyncratic nicks and ancient paint stains, and his manual planer.) But I thrill to imagine escorting him through a Home Depot or Lowe’s. Tools unimaginable. Building materials unthinkable. Product selection inconceivable. Affordability stunning.

Despite being 100 percent cajun – all of his ancestors, originally from France’s Vendée region, arrived in south Louisiana from Nova Scotia about 150 years before his birth – he didn’t drink much. But when he did drink, he preferred Dixie or Schwegmann’s beer. He’d have a difficult time mentally processing the countless different kinds of beer available today.

Paw was on the quiet side, but he loved and enjoyed spending time with his family. What would he think of being able to talk with his favorite grandchild, my dear brother Ryan, over Google home – that is, not just talk with Ryan, but to have with Ryan and Ryan’s family a video chat?! Paw in New Orleans video chatting with Ryan, Ruth, and Adrienne who live in Nevada City, CA – oh, the thought is so wonderful!

My grandfather died at time when middle-class Americans’ living standard had never been as high. But since his death almost 45 years ago, those standards have consistently risen. 2020 America would, for my resurrected grandfather, be a place of marvelous miracles. But that which he’d find most difficult to grasp would be the speeches and writings of those who tell ordinary Americans today that they live no, or not much, better than did their counterparts in 1975. I can still hear his laugh – and he’d have a mighty good one at that claim!

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… is another two-fer: It’s from page 75 of the May 9th, 2020, draft of the important forthcoming monograph from Deirdre McCloskey and Alberto Mingardi, The Illiberal and Anti-Entrepreneurial State of Mariana Mazzucato – a passage in which McCloskey and Mingardi quote from Herbert Spencer’s July 1853 Westminster Review essay, “Over-Legislation”:

On the best reasonable suppositions, then, the political route seems rocky compared with the relatively smooth path of decision-making by private entrepreneurs, owners of stock, and the markets in which they trade. Again Herbert Spencer put it well, in 1853: “Which will be the most healthful community—that in which agents who perform their functions badly, immediately suffer by the withdrawal of public patronage; or that in which such agents can be made to suffer only through an apparatus of meetings, petitions, polling-booths, parliamentary divisions, cabinet-councils, and red-tape documents? Is it not an absurdly utopian hope that men will behave better when correction is far removed and uncertain than when it is near at hand and inevitable? Yet this is the hope which most political schemers unconsciously cherish.”

DBx: I myself quoted this very passage from Spencer a few years ago here at Cafe Hayek. Yet it is so very good that it is here worth pondering again. (The objection made by here by McCloskey and Mingardi, and Spencer, to turning the task of resource-allocation over to state officials is simply ignored by most industrial-policy proponents and others who wish to turn the task of resource allocation over to state officials. How such literal ignorance ever gets classified as ‘science’ or as serious thinking, I do not know.)

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Simon Lester corrects the record regarding the W.T.O. and beef labeling.

David Henderson spoke recently with Laura Ingraham about his WSJ op-ed on covid and the future of schooling in America. (The quotation from Joe Biden is appalling.)

Ron Bailey reviews Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never. A slice:

Shellenberger isn’t denying the reality of man-made climate change. He’s arguing that humanity is already adapting to the ways climate change has been making weather patterns evolve, and that we will continue to adapt successfully in the future. His book is ultimately a sustained argument that poverty is world’s most important environmental problem, and that rising prosperity and increasing technological prowess will ameliorate or reverse most deleterious environmental trends.

Brian Doherty explains that Peter Thiel is an economic nationalist and not a libertarian.

My Mercatus Center colleague Michael Farren and his co-author John Mozena offer a different, better fiscal fix for state and local governments.

Mark Perry reports on a potential upside of keeping kids off of college campuses this Fall!

Shikha Dalmia rightly complains about the lockdowns in Michigan.

Economist Christian Bjørnskov explored the empirical connection between lockdown policies and covid mortality. (HT Dan Klein) Here’s the abstract of his paper:

I explore the association between the severity of lockdown policies in the first half of 2020 and mortality rates. Using two indices from the Blavatnik Centre’s Covid 19 policy measures and comparing weekly mortality rates from 24 European countries in the first halves of 2017-2020, and addressing policy endogeneity in two different ways, I find no clear association between lockdown policies and mortality development.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 2, 2020

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 99 of George Will’s splendid 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:

Invocations of martial solidarity should grate on free people.

DBx: Indeed they should but they too seldom do.

George Will’s stiletto-sharp blade of wisdom here serves well to define much of what it means for a people to be a free people.

A free people have somehow managed to tamp down – far down – the instinct of tribalism that runs through nearly all of humankind’s history. Nationalism is one manifestation of the failure to keep this instinct tamped down. Another manifestation is identity politics. The tribe to which one pledges allegiance in the first case obviously differs from the tribe to which one pledges allegiance in the second. But the pledges of allegiance in both cases are rooted in the same emotion.

The difficulty here is that the emotion that gives rise to nationalism and to identity politics is not without its value to humanity. (Natural selection didn’t select for this emotion randomly.) This emotion is key to keeping families together and to inspiring us to cooperate to create and improve our communities – our neighborhoods, our clubs, our circles of friends who loyally help each other. But this emotion is sand in the gears of the extensive commercial order that makes modern life possible. Because recent history – that of the past few centuries – proves that humanity can keep this emotion confined to local, face-to-face associations and, thus, prevent it from interfering too much with the growth of arms’-length commercial arrangements, a free and prosperous society is possible. Yet it’s unclear if such a society – one that is necessarily cosmopolitan – is sustainable for long stretches of time.

A second element of the essence of a free people is this: A free people aren’t easily panicked. When we humans are frightened, we naturally turn inward toward those whom we know (or think we know) and away from strangers. We become more willing to be led by those among us willing to take charge and lead – or by those who are skilled at giving the appearance of leading even if nothing real of the sort is happening.

True and honorable leaders actually lead, and they lead only when and insofar as necessary. Such leaders neither fabricate nor exaggerate dangers to the group. But faux leaders – “leaders” – seeking power for the sake of power along with glory (and not infrequently significant material “rewards”) fabricate or exaggerate dangers. No effort is spared to convince the people that they are confronted by severe threats and are helpless unless under the command of the strong, the brilliant (today, the “scientists”), and the courageous. So people join together sheepishly, their amygdalae flooding their bodies with glutamate, into an easily commanded herd.

Beware of trade with foreigners! Look out, immigrants are in town! Industry and commerce are dooming the planet! The rich are getting richer and travel in different social circles! That Big Company is so horrible that it simultaneously harms consumers with poor product offerings and harms competitors by making its products too good for consumers not to use! Humans (who knew?!) can be made ill or even dead by pathogens spread among people interacting with each other!

Ironically, we humans are prone to create for ourselves true, ominous dangers when our natural instinct for being tribal combines with our natural instinct for survival and, hence, to seek from “leaders” protection from danger.

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I Wonder…

by Don Boudreaux on August 1, 2020

in Reality Is Not Optional, Work

… how many are the people who believe, on one hand, that the promise of receipt of a weekly $600 unemployment check from the U.S. government has no impact on recipients’ willingness to work, and also believe, on the other hand, that most workers without paid family leave are pressured by their financial circumstances to work even when they are ill or have at home sick children.

Whatever are the merits or demerits of government paying out generous unemployment benefits, if the provision of paid leave increases workers’ likelihood of remaining home (as paid-leave advocates insist), then it’s implausible to the point of preposterous to suppose that the provision of unemployment benefits will not have a similar effect.

I’m aware that some people will huff and puff and snort at my argument with condescension. They’ll point out that, unlike with unemployment benefits, paid family leave is available only when workers or family members are ill. The correct economic response to such huffing, puffing, and snorting is to note the arbitrariness of insisting that, in one case, workers are unresponsive to changes in income they experience when making labor-supply decisions, and, in the other case, that workers are indeed responsive to such changes in income when making labor-supply decisions.

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 1, 2020

in Growth, Standard of Living

… is from page 13 of the late Hans Rosling’s 2018 book, Factfulness:

Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year. Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview.

DBx: Let’s hope that this happy trend is not reversed, or even stalled for long, by humanity’s insane overreaction to covid-19.

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… is from page 75 of the May 9th, 2020, draft of the important forthcoming monograph from Deirdre McCloskey and Alberto Mingardi, The Illiberal and Anti-Entrepreneurial State of Mariana Mazzucato:

The State on which Mazzucato dotes is itself, as we have noted repeatedly, dependent on coercion. Saying so repeatedly, we realize, will irritate our statist friends, who are pure of heart, and would not think of coercing anybody—except all those people subject to any governmental policy, which in a modern administrative State is everybody except a few mountain men in Idaho.

DBx: Yep.

State officials have one and only one ‘resource’ that non-state actors don’t have – namely, widespread acceptance of their initiation of coercion against peaceful others. Reasonable people can and do argue over the extent to which society requires such a ‘resource.’ But at the bottom of each and every plea for state intervention into the economy, and of nearly all pleas for state intervention into society generally, is a plea for such coercion. This fact is changed not one bit by the sincerity of the hope of those who plead for such coercion that it will work upon merely being threatened – that is, without having actually to be unsheathed and wielded.

Unlike non-state actors – unlike business people, unlike consumers, unlike neighbors, friends, and passers-by on the sidewalks of Boston or Barcelona or Bucharest – the state does not ask. It commands. It demands. And it backs its commands with credible threats to coerce those who disobey.

Statists with some genuinely liberal sensibilities – a group that includes most statists in the developed world – dislike the revelation of this reality of state action. The revelation reduces the prospects of the state retaining the grandeur, the mystique, the sense that the state is somewhat divine, that are essential for state officials to continue to enjoy widespread public acceptance of their initiation of coercion against peaceful people. But the moment anyone suggests that a proposal for state intervention be one only of requests rather than of commands, the hard truth rears its head.

I would have little problem with state officials, in their capacities as state officials (remember, these officials are mortals just like your neighbor Sharon and your annoying co-worker Steve), asking all employers never to pay hourly wages below some minimum that these officials have somehow divined is ‘optimal.’ Likewise, I’d not bother to object if state officials were merely to ask buyers who purchase imports to send along to the state a bit of extra money each time buyers make such purchases. Such requests would annoy me because of their evident officiousness. But being mere requests, I’d have no real reason to object.

Yet remember: the state doesn’t ask; it commands. The only thing the state has that makes it a state is the authority to initiate coercion – actual face-smashing, knee-busting, blood-spilling coercion – against peaceful people.

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Here’s a letter to Bloomberg:

Editor:

In “The U.S. Can’t Import Its Way to Economic Prosperity” (July 30), Conor Sen claims to reveal troubling imbalances in Americans’ patterns of commerce. Readers made fretful by this revelation, however, can rest easy: Mr. Sen is very confused. For proof, look no further than Mr. Sen’s identification of U.S. universities admitting large numbers of foreign students as an example of “an excessive focus on importing economic activity rather than investing in and developing it locally.”

First, educational services provided by Americans to foreigners are U.S. exports, not imports. Writers for Bloomberg should know this basic fact. Further, because by Mr. Sen’s own argument foreign students pay a great deal for these services, American universities thereby earn more resources to ‘invest and develop locally’ and, thus, to enhance their capacity to teach and carry out research.

Most worryingly, though, Mr. Sen seems unaware that trade is reciprocal. Americans cannot through trade rely more heavily on foreigners without foreigners relying more heavily on Americans. And because each trade is done by persons who could choose not to do that trade, each and every trade improves the well-being of all parties to it. Therefore, like President Trump, candidate Biden, and the bevy of conservatives and progressives who today carp incessantly about the buying and selling decisions made by their fellow Americans, Mr. Sen has absolutely no basis for asserting that the pattern of commerce that results from Americans’ freedom to trade should be “more balanced.”

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

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