… is from page 224 of George Will’s excellent 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:

Leon Trotsky once said that the problem with capitalist society is that every person thinks of himself and no one thinks of everyone. But beginning with the Soviet regime that Trotsky helped to found, the most hideous political oppressions have flowed from governments that have claimed to be able to, and to have a duty imposed by History to, think of everyone.

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In my April 21st, 2006, column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I took aim at the myth that economists believe that money is all that matters. You can read the column below the fold.

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GMU Econ alum and Institute for Humane Studies President Emily Chamlee-Wright explores the socialist propaganda surrounding the Berlin Wall, and laments the fact that the lessons of Iron Curtain socialism have so quickly been forgotten. A slice:

For those of us who still believe in the liberal concept of human freedom — that is, freedom from coercion, freedom to engage others as they voluntarily choose to engage with us, and the freedom to think for oneself — any attempt to define “freedom” as something entirely different will always ring false.

Here is a difficult truth about liberalism: It does not promise that there will be no problems. But the problem-free social order is not on the menu of options.

James Pethokoukis reminds Elizabeth Warren – and everyone else who is smitten with taxing the wealth of successful entrepreneurs – of Nobel laureate’s William Nordhaus’s important 2004 paper “Schumpeterian Profits in the American Economy: Theory and Measurement.”

Speaking of taxing the wealth of successful entrepreneurs, my intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy yesterday did a short radio spot opposite UC-Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, the chief architect of Warren’s wealth-tax scheme.

Also from Veronique is this critique of cronyist politics.

Also decrying cronyism – specifically, that of occupational-licensing requirements – is Jeff Jacoby.

My Mercatus Center colleague Bob Graboyes isn’t impressed with Elizabeth Warren’s goose-killing health-care scheme.

David Henderson likes Bryan Caplan’s and Zach Weinersmith’s Open Borders. A slice:

One big difference between immigration now and in the 19th century when the United States had something resembling open borders is that we have a very expensive welfare state. Even Milton Friedman, a strong advocate of economic freedom, stated, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.” Caplan’s response to Friedman’s objection is one of the strongest parts of book. He admits that immigrants would be disproportionately low-income but points out that a large part of the federal government’s budget is for defense and it doesn’t cost more to defend a larger population in the United States than it costs to defend a smaller one. Taxing immigrants, therefore, lightens the fiscal burden for those of us who are already here.

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… is from page 315 of Dugald Stewart’s 1793 “Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, L.L.D.,” as this series of lectures appears at the end of Liberty Fund’s 1982 collection of Smith’s Essays on Philosophical Subjects (a collection originally published by Cadell and Davies, in London, 1795); here Stewart summarizes a key insight that ran through Smith’s writings:

[T]he most effectual plan for advancing a people to greatness, is to maintain that order of things which nature has pointed out; by allowing every man, as long as he observes the rules of justice, to pursue his own interest in his own way, and to bring both his industry and his capital into the freest competion with those of his fellow-citizens. Every system of policy which endeavours, either by extraordinary encouragements to draw towards a particular species of industry a greater share of the capital of the society than what would naturally go to it, or, by extraordinary restraints, to force from a particular species of industry some share of the capital which would otherwise be employed in it, is, in reality, subversive of the great purpose which it means to promote.

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In my most-recent column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I play a role most unpopular these days: bringer-of-good-news. The world ain’t perfect (duh) – and no future is guaranteed – but compared to the past (even the relatively recent past), life in these United States today is, for most Americans, wonderful.

Here’s my opening, after which I go on to recommend Max Roser’s Our World in Data, and Marian Tupy’s HumanProgress.org:

To encounter the news today is to encounter an America verging on destruction. Global warming will soon incinerate us, but not before income inequalities turn ordinary Americans into the slaves of oligarchs. And as these ghastly fates unfold, those of us who somehow escape being raped, robbed and cheated out of employment by immigrants — and who aren’t murdered by gun-wielding maniacs — will be impoverished by demonic mandarins in Beijing who’ve arranged for their own slaves to drown us in floods of underpriced goods.

The only hope of avoiding existential calamity, of course, is to turn over goo-gobs more power and money to your favorite tribe of politicians. Being superheroes, these politicians — and only they — can save us from Armageddon.

Pause. Breathe deeply. And consult two indispensable websites to get a truer, and much happier, picture of the state of humanity in general and of America in particular.

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… is from page five of a book that is among the most insightful and significant that I have ever read: Geoffrey Brennan’s and Loren Lomasky’s 1993 volume, Democracy & Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference (original emphasis):

Economists have always insisted that social ethics should be informed by a proper sense of scarcity. Extrapolating from their account of individual choice behavior, they see ethics as a matter of choosing among alternative feasible states of the world.

DBx: Of course, in reality no one chooses states of the world. Each of us chooses almost always (and incessantly) only our own next steps and usually only in small matters – peas or beans; white or red; sleep another 30 minutes or not; buy the new Camry or the used Cadillac; say yes or no to Jack’s offer of dinner; watch the game or read a book; lend or not-lend money to brother-in-law Phil; major in economics or in biology; cast the ballot for Smith or for Jones or for no one – the consequences of which mix, in indescribably complex and unpredictable ways, with those of the choices of millions of other individuals to produce states of the world that (as Hayek was rightly fond of noting) are the results of human action but not of human design.

But Brennan’s and Lomasky’s important point here deserves emphasis: no system of ethics can possibly be ethical if its adherents ignore the unavoidable trade-offs of human existence. We can have more butter. Or we can have more guns. But despite how very sublime the outcome would be, we cannot simultaneously have more of both.

Yet it is astonishing – appalling, actually – how much of politics is devoted to ignoring this inescapable reality. It is a reality ignored no less by the self-proclaimed ‘scientific’ and ‘reality-based’ modern “Progressives” than by any other political group with credible aspirations for political success. Donald Trump, as absurd as he indisputably is, is no more out of touch with reality as are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and ‘moderate’ Democrats such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

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In my April 12th, 2006, column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I did my best to explain why we punish murderers more harshly than we punish armed robbers and rapists.

You can read the column beneath the fold.

(For some reason, all but two of my Trib columns from late December 2005 through mid April 2006 are unavailable on-line. They appeared only in print. I thank the editors of the Trib for sending to me the texts of these columns.)

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Joakim Book identifies a key flaw in notions held by far too many self-styled “environmentalists”: a persistent refusal to look beyond the most immediate and visible consequences. A slice:

What angers most people about climate activists is not their goals, but their elaborate system of doublethink, their profound cognitive dissonance, and the truly fascinating ability to rationalize their own behavior; they ignore their own seriously harmful actions while praising themselves for the meager and largely inconsequential benefits of their climate activism.

Jonah Goldberg highlights a hidden danger lurking in schemes, such as that of Elizabeth Warren, to soak the rich. A slice:

But the more important part is the democratic disincentive. Think of the old golden rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. (This insight apparently comes from noted philosopher Johnny Hart, the cartoonist behind “The Wizard of Id,” who coined it in 1965). When the bulk of tax revenues come from the people, or at least from the middle class, the government heeds the middle class. When all of the money comes from the aristocracy, as it did prior to the rise of democratic capitalism, the aristocracy made the rules. When it comes from the rich — aka “the donor class,” the “One Percent,” etc. — the rich care a lot more about the rule-making.

John O. McGinnis laments the intellectual decline of the New York Times.

David Henderson continues to expose the deficient economic thinking of two of the most-recently minted Nobel laureates in economics.

This news is great: AIER’s and John Papola’s new video on Mises and Marx is a big hit in China.

Tom Mullen explains with impressive clarity that Trump and many other people – from all across the political spectrum – are mistaken to suppose that China’s economy is made stronger by the obstructions that Beijing imposes on the Chinese people’s freedom to trade. A slice:

Well, the same goes for the Chinese. To the extent they are doing the things they are accused of by Washington, they are only hurting themselves. All the arguments for why the US should eliminate its tariffs, even if the Chinese don’t, also apply to China. Whatever money China spends subsidizing its exporters is money that could have been used by a Chinese industry that doesn’t need to be subsidized. Every additional renminbi yuan Chinese consumers are paying for automobiles or other products upon which they place high tariffs is one they no longer have to spend on something else, making the Chinese poorer for all the same reasons US tariffs make Americans poorer.

Next month, my GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan will deliver this year’s IEA Hayek Lecture. Its title is: “Poverty: Who’s to Blame?”.

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… is from page 415 of George Will’s insightful 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:

Wishes are potent fathers of thoughts.

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As If It’s All Written With Crayons

by Don Boudreaux on November 13, 2019

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade

Here’s a letter to a long-time Café patron:

Mr. Mark Smith

Mr. Smith:

You criticize me for “disregarding President Trump’s justification for tariffs as bargaining chips to free trade up in the future.”

With respect, while Trump has occasionally asserted that his protectionism is an ingenious means of paving a path to a world with zero tariffs – and while some of his apologists persistently peddle a similar line – Trump has far more frequently spoken quite differently. The vast majority of his statements about trade reveal him to be a cartoonish protectionist. He repeatedly reaffirms his mistaken belief that trade is zero-sum, that countries economically compete against each other, and that U.S. trade deficits are evidence that America is “losing” at trade. Trump is not a man to be trusted to shepherd us to a future of freer trade.

I leave you with this gem of wisdom from my colleague Bryan Caplan – a gem that will help you to understand why I put no stock in Daniel McCarthy’s, Steve Moore’s, or anyone else’s efforts to justify Trump’s punitive taxation of Americans who buy imports: “We would laugh if a professor spent hours poring over a failing exam scrawled in crayon, searching for its elusive wisdom. Why should we take the effort to rationalize misguided policies any more seriously?”*

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

* Bryan Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 205.

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