Nothing New Under the Sun

For some reason, I had presumed this was a modern phenomenon.  Apparently not.... From Bastiat in 1848

But, by an inference as false as it is unjust, do you know what the economists are now accused of? When we oppose subsidies, we are charged with opposing the very thing that it was proposed to subsidize and of being the enemies of all kinds of activity, because we want these activities to be voluntary and to seek their proper reward in themselves. Thus, if we ask that the state not intervene, by taxation, in religious matters, we are atheists. If we ask that the state not intervene, by taxation, in education, then we hate enlightenment. If we say that the state should not give, by taxation, an artificial value to land or to some branch of industry, then we are the enemies of property and of labor. If we think that the state should not subsidize artists, we are barbarians who judge the arts useless.

I get to teach one class a year in the senior economics class at my kids' school.   Could do worse this year than teaching it around What is Seen and What is Not Seen

  • Jim Clay

    I get your point and I agree with it (distortions in the market and all that), but I seriously dislike the underlying assumption- that every single transaction on the face of the planet should be taxed. If it isn't taxed, you are getting a special dispensation.

    Why shouldn't the default be that transactions not be taxed?

  • I Got Bupkis, Sailor of the Economic Seas betwixt Scylla and Charybdis

    >>> Could do worse this year than teaching it around What is Seen and What is Not Seen

    "this year"? You would be doing every student a favor if you taught that for at least a good long time EVERY year. You could spend a month or so on it easily. Don't even start it as a lesson, just throw out the Broken Window fallacy to start, and see who sees the flaw without help. Probably none of them, given modern critical-thinking efforts in education.

  • I Got Bupkis, Sailor of the Economic Seas betwixt Scylla and Charybdis

    >> I seriously dislike the underlying assumption- that every single transaction on the face of the planet should be taxed. If it isn’t taxed, you are getting a special dispensation.

    Umm, Jim, I don't believe Bastiat promotes that idea at all, he's just noting how the squeals against taxation are always put in dire, negative terms by the proponents of the taxes.

  • el coronado

    Listening to economists - the worldwide Kings of ass-covering equivocation - whine about how hard their lot is defies even the most over-the-top definition of 'irony' one can find. Like pro athletes who assume Christlike poses and speak of themselves in the 3rd person, ("Herschel saw the hole and he blasted through it!"), but then snivel when the fickle crowd boos them if they're stinking up the place, or worse, dogging it.

    Truman gets the last word on economists: "I'd like to meet an economist with one hand."

  • Hasdrubal

    el coronado: So you're a fan of Krugman?

    An economist who doesn't equivocate is selling you something. It's never simple, straightforward, and easily measured in the real world. The subjective nature different peoples' preferences means there are no unequivocal answers, and even when you're talking aggregates, there are wide areas of uncertainty.

    As for complaining about how they're viewed? Yeah, they should have known what to expect when they realized they couldn't give the answers people want.

  • Don

    Warren,

    Record that class and Youtube it. I'd like my daughter and some of her friends to see it too!

  • el coronado

    Hasdrubal: So you're a fan of economists that just make wild-ass guesses? Reserving the right to change those guesses when they start to be proven wrong? If "the subjective nature of different people's preferences means there are no equivocal answers", then there can be by definition no concrete answers, or concepts, or theories worth knowing or teaching.

    Sports pundits aren't allowed to say crap like, "The Yankees will win the Series this year, unless something unforeseen arises, in which case I shall amend my predictions." They'd be laughed off the air. So why should economists be allowed to pull that crap?

    Last I checked, the theories of Von Mises, Friedman, and Hayek are all pretty unequivocal, and all seem to work well wherever they're tried. No, they're not perfect - but they're pretty good. Hong Kong GNP in 1945 was something akin to Sierra Leone. By 2000, following the dictates of the gents mentioned above as well as Adam Smith, it was......well. Hong Freakin' Kong. Would it be fair to say then that only *incompetent* economists whine about their jobs? That would certainly include Krugman.

  • Bastiat's plaint was the primary reason Keynesianism was so warmly embraced by economists. No longer would they have to oppose public opinion when it called for government "help" and the redistribution of wealth from those who'd earned it to those who hadn't. It was the perfect cover.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Noooooooo, you can’t avoid it, because it’s The Law:

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basLawCover.html

    The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.

    —Frederic Bastiat

  • Do it! And teach them the Candle Maker's Petition, too.

  • Start them with Broken Windows, Warren. Fairly immediate to their environment, perhaps.
    The janitor will thank you for it, though maybe the glazier won't.

  • Nick

    http://hanseconomics.com/2012/01/09/deflationphobia/

    "Government spending cannot produce anything. It can only distort the efficient allocation of resources on the market."