Posts tagged ‘Don Boudreaux’

Quote of the Day

During the period that  Occupy Wall Street was making the news, I often said that I agreed with many of their problem diagnoses but absolutely disagreed with their proposed solutions.  They, like I, decried the abuse of government power via Cronyism by private parties, e.g. protection and bailout of Wall Street bankers.  Their solution, though, to increase government power never made any sense to me.

Here is Michael Huemer via Don Boudreaux:

Predatory behavior does not occur merely because human beings are selfish.  It occurs because human beings are selfish and some human beings are much more powerful than others.  Powerful, selfish people use their positions to exploit and abuse those much weaker than themselves.  The standard solutions to the problem of human predation all start by cementing the very condition most likely to cause predatory behavior – the concentration of power – and only then do they try to steer away from its natural consequences.  The alternative is to begin with an extreme decentralization of coercive power.

Long, Long, Long Several Weeks

I am finally back and I have mostly climbed on top of the hosting and web attack issues we have been having.  I honestly think site performance will be better, at the cost of a bit of caching that might delay new posts for a few minutes.

Many thanks to the Young Republicans of Dekalb County who hosted a fun event in Atlanta.  I particularly enjoyed meeting Don Boudreaux, whose writing I have admired for some time.  Hopefully they will have a video of the talk I can post soon.

Over the next few days I am playing with site widths to try to overcome some problems displaying on certain mobile devices.  I have been told I should give up and restart with a mobile-friendly newer template but statements like that are just raw meat, making it more likely I bang my head against the older template to try to make it work.

I Am Speaking in Atlanta This Friday, Come Say Hi

I am speaking at an event this Friday in the Atlanta area held by the Dekalb Young Republicans called "Cutting the Red Tape: A Forum on Overbearing Government Regulations".   Even better than my presence, I will be sharing the stage with Don Boudreaux of George Mason University and Cafe Hayek.  Anyone who has read this site will know I link Don at least once a week so it will be fun to meet him in the flesh.  Here are the full details:

When:
Oct. 17th, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Where:

Atlanta Perimeter Marriott Center

246 Perimeter Center Pkwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30346

Free Parking

Again, it is open to anyone (as proven by the fact that I am neither young nor a Republican and they are letting me speak).

An Analogy I have Made Many Times

I will quote from Don Boudreaux (who was in turn commenting on his own quote of the day, which happened to be from Brink Lindsey, my old college roommate).

In other words, very many people – nearly everyone on the political left, yet plenty also on the political right – remain creationists.  They continue to fail to grasp the nuances, deep meaning, and full implications of the science of spontaneous order that first flowered among scholars in 18th-century Scotland.

Quote of the Day

Reacting to the unbelievable economic ignorance he has seen in recent campaign ads, Don Boudreaux writes

If astronomy operated similarly to politics, the world’s top astronomers would compete furiously amongst themselves to see who could most effectively assure the general public that the sun orbits around a stationary flat earth – a flat earth that was created just 4,000 years ago and which sits atop a tower of turtles.

Politicians and Entrepeneurship

Don Boudreaux asks:

Here’s a quick question for anyone who takes seriously politicians’ pronouncements about what particular industries are “vital” or are “of the future” or are “crucial to meeting consumers’ needs”: Why do virtually none of these politicians, when they leave office, found their own non-political firms? Why do virtually none of these politicians, when they leave office, found their own non-political firms – firms that specialize neither in granting clients access to incumbent politicians nor in projects that depend upon getting subsidies or other favors from those same politicians?

This question occurred to me a few days ago upon hearing that former president Bill Clinton was off somewhere talking about something to some group concerned about some issue.  His career now is to make lots of money as a sort of high-brow social healer – to emit platitudes, attend state funerals, and (pardon my switch of imagery) be a show-pony for politically correct causes.  The post-Oval Office careers of every other recent president – to the extent that they haven’t simply retired to the golf course or the study – have been largely the same, with the groups and causes served by their attentions differing only as one former president’s political affiliations differ from those of another former president.

One guy comes to mind who had a sniff of the White House and then went on to run his own business:  George McGovern.  And though its just a small Inn that will never be even a blip on the economic radar screen, it has driven McGovern dangerously close to being a libertarian.  Actually, that might be a misnomer.  He probably is still a liberal, but from the days when liberals actually cared about individual freedom and saw aggregations of power in the government to be at least as scary as those in the private world.  Take this for example:

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics...

Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

The only other place I have heard this recently on the Left was, perhaps not coincidentally, from that other child of 60's liberal politics, Jerry Brown

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalties on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and responsibility to make good choices for their children.

Sincerely,
Edmund J. Brown

Postscript:  The answer to Don's question is one of two.  Either a)  They are not up to it.  And/or b) There is a hell of a lot more wealth that can be captured through the exercise of government power than through private enterprise.

To Which I Would Add One More Concern

Don Boudreaux had these two rejoinders to the notion that the GM bailout is a success simply because GM is making a profit.

Economically literate opponents of the Detroit bailout never denied that pumping hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into Detroit automakers would restore those companies to health.  Instead, they argued, first, that bailing out Detroit takes resources from other valuable uses.  Because he doesn’t even recognize that other valuable uses were sacrificed by this bailout, Mr. Dionne offers no reason to think that the value of saving Detroit automakers exceeds the value of what was sacrificed to do so.  No legitimate declaration that the bailout is successful is possible, however, without evidence that the value of what was saved exceeds the value of what was sacrificed.

Economically literate bailout opponents argued also that it sets a bad precedent.  By signaling to big corporations that government stands ready to pay the tab for the consequences of their poor decisions, big corporations will more likely make poor decisions in the future.  It’s far too early for Mr. Dionne to conclude that this prediction is mistaken.

I would offer a third concern -- that the government has kept hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and billions of dollars of physical assets under the management of the same group that have decidedly underutilized these assets in the past.  A bankruptcy without Federal intervention would likely have shifted assets and skilled workers into new companies with different management teams and cultures pursuing different strategies with different information.

I always have trouble explaining this issue to people.   Think of a sports team with great players but a lousy coach and management team.  Having the government ensure that the lousy management stays in control of the great players is a waste for everyone.  I explained it more in depth in this post, where I concluded

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as "management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case – Just ask Ross Perot.  You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix it.

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to process to history to culture could better be called the corporate DNA...

So what if GM dies?  Letting the GM’s of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation.  Assuming GM’s DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM’s assets from GM’s control actually increases value.  Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value.  Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

The alternative to not letting GM die is, well, Europe (and Japan).  A LOT of Europe’s productive assets are locked up in a few very large corporations with close ties to the state which are not allowed to fail, which are subsidized, protected from competition, etc.  In conjunction with European laws that limit labor mobility, protecting corporate dinosaurs has locked all of Europe’s most productive human and physical assets into organizations with DNA multipliers less than one.

Lack of Imagination

One of the things I struggle with in arguing for ending the government schools monopoly is a lack of imagination.  In most people's lifetimes, there has never been a robust network of private school options to fit all needs and budgets, so folks assume that that such choices can't exist -- that there is some structural failure of capitalism that would prevent these choices from existing rather than structural government factors that have prevented them from existing.

Don Boudreaux has a nice analogy that helps make the logic of school choice clearer.

Public Choice Theory

I asked Don Boudreaux his opinion of the best primer on public choice theory, a topic of interest to many libertarians.  He recommended William Mitchell & Randy Simmons, Beyond Politics (1994).  I have ordered a used copy from Amazon and will give my thoughts on it once I have had a chance to peruse it.

Great Minds Think Alike

Coyote, November 10

But what is really happening here is that the dollar is being devalued.  This is one of the semantic quirks that make me laugh "” when Argentina or Zimbabwe do this, its called devaluation.  When a western nation does it, it is called quantitative easing.

Don Boudreaux today:

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, fresh from injecting hundreds of billions of new U.S. currency units into the economy "“ and from planning the injection of yet an additional 600 billion such units "“ criticizes the Chinese government for injecting hundreds of billions of new Chinese currency units into the economy ("Bernanke Takes Aim at China," Nov. 18).  Apparently, when Beijing increases the supply of Chinese currency it does so as part of what Prof. Bernanke ominously labels a "strategy of currency undervaluation," but when Uncle Sam does the same thing with U.S. currency units it's called "quantitative easing" and "a move in the right direction."

Please Mock These People

Every one of these members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection voted to pass this absurd law out of committee except Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.

Bobby L. Rush, Illinois, Chairman

Jan Schakowsky, IL, Vice Chair George Radanovich, CA, Ranking Member
John P. Sarbanes, MD Cliff Stearns, FL
Betty Sutton, OH Ed Whitfield, KY
Frank Pallone, Jr., NJ Joseph R. Pitts, PA
Bart Gordon, TN Mary Bono Mack, CA
Bart Stupak, MI Lee Terry, NE
Gene Green, TX Sue Wilkins Myrick, NC
Charles A. Gonzalez, TX John Sullivan, OK
Anthony D. Weiner, NY Tim Murphy, PA
Jim Matheson, UT Phil Gingrey, GA
G. K. Butterfield, NC Steve Scalise, LA
John Barrow, GA (voted NO!)
Doris O. Matsui, CA
Kathy Castor, FL
Zachary T. Space, OH
Bruce L. Braley, IA
Diana DeGette, CO

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux

Product Safety

Don Boudreaux has a nice summary of the problems with a lot of product safety problems.

You write as if "safe" is an objectively determinable and unique fact, such as whether or not your newspaper's paid circulation exceeds 500,000 or whether or not your sister is pregnant.  But "safe" is not objective in this way.  Because no product is 100 percent certain never to cause even the slightest harm (or 100 percent certain to cause harm), the question "Is this product safe?" has no correct single answer.  It has correct answers as varied as the number of that product's potential users.  No product is "safe" or "unsafe" in the abstract.

Perhaps your tolerance for risk is higher than mine.  Perhaps the pleasure I get from using a product is less than yours.  If so, should I be permitted to prevent you from using that product because, for me, the product is insufficiently safe?  My evaluation of the product's safety is correct only for me, not for you.  And matters don't change if I'm a government official.

Changing Face of Patronage

I was listening to a lecture on the politics of reconstruction when I encountered something that seemed quite quaint.   By 1877, a lot of the country was tiring of reconstruction, and was ready to move on.  Southern Democrats were taking the opportunity to re-take control of their states (through voter intimidation and outright murder) and, unfortunately, institute a race-based social system that would be enforced by government officials for almost a hundred years.

In this background, enter the contested Presidential election between Republican Hayes and Democrat Tilden.  The electoral college vote turned on three close southern races that no one to this day probably knows who really won, particularly if one factors in the voter intimidation in those states.  Never-the-less, Republicans found themselves in control of the vote counting and later the special committee to investigate and certify the election, and predictably Republican Hayes was certified the winner.

Southern Democrats were ticked off, and threatened to throw every wrench they could into seating the new government.  So, in a back room compromise, Democrats exchanged agreement on accepting Hayes as President for agreement by Republicans to pull troops out of the South and effectively allow Southern Democrats leeway to do whatever they liked with blacks in the South.

This is all grossly simplified, but what caught my attention was one side-bargain of the deal.  The Southern Democrats wanted a cabinet position under Hayes.  What did they want?  State, maybe War?  No, they wanted the Postmaster position.  The reason was that the Postmaster had by far the most patronage positions to award of any of the Cabinet positions, because it employed so many civil service positions.

Doesn't handing out a few jobs as rewards to your political supporters seem such a quaint form of political corruption today?  Now, of course, with the power to tax or regulate whole industries out of business, or to step on one group of competitors in favor of another set in a high-stakes market, this seems so benign.  I wish that were all we had to worry about today.  Instead, we have a President who can, without any enabling legislation, take two of the largest corporations in American (GM and Chrysler), cancel the debts owed to their secured creditors, and then hand control of these companies to his strongest political supporters (the UAW) -- an act of political patronage that makes a joke of selling a few postmaster positions.

Update: Don Boudreaux discusses the rise of government-controlled fire fighting in the context of political patronage.

Exactly

Sometimes I snap at someone for their criticism of a particular politician.  Typically, they assume I am doing so because I support that politician.  But in reality, I am using just sick of the implication that somehow other politicians would have been much better.  I absolutely agree with Don Boudreaux's comment:

Fareed Zakaria (author of a truly fine book and columnist for the
Washington Post) rightly argues that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be
president of the United States (and, hence, by extension, unqualified
to be V-P). Mr. Zakaria is correct that Gov. Palin's recent answer to a
question about the economy "is nonsense - a vapid emptying out of every
catchphrase about economics that came into her head." He's correct also
that she's unfit to be entrusted with the power of the modern
presidency.

But Mr. Zakaria is incorrect to suppose that these traits separate
Gov. Palin from other candidates for high political office. Calls by
Senators McCain and Obama for cracking down on "speculators" are full
of classic and wrongheaded catchphrases, as is Sen. Obama's vocal
skepticism about free trade. Gov. Palin is merely less skilled in
passing off inanities and claptrap as profundities.

Cargo Cult Regulation

Someone noticed that just before certain stocks crash in value, there is a lot of short-selling.  So the US government has banned short-selling, at least temporarily.  Classic cargo-cult logic. 

Boy this sure makes perfect sense in a time when we are concerned about speculative bubbles -- let's ban one of the most important tools that exist for bubbles to be shortened and made less, uh, bubbly.  Here is why (very briefly and non-technically) short-selling takes the edge off speculative excesses.

At the start of the bubble, a particular asset (be it an equity or a commodity like oil) is owned by a mix of people who have different expectations about future price movements.  For whatever reasons, in a bubble, a subset of the market develops rapidly rising expectations about the value of the asset.  They start buying the asset, and the price starts rising.  As the price rises, and these bulls buy in, folks who owned the asset previously and are less bullish about the future will sell to the new buyers.  The very fact of the rising price of the asset from this buying reinforces the bulls' feeling that the sky is the limit for prices, and bulls buy in even more. 

Let's fast forward to a point where the price has risen to some stratospheric levels vs. the previous pricing as well as historical norms or ratios.  The ownership base for the asset is now disproportionately
made up of those sky-is-the-limit bulls, while everyone who thought
these guys were overly optimistic and a bit wonky have sold out. 99.9% of the world now thinks the asset is grossly overvalued.  But how does it come to earth?  After all, the only way the price can drop is if some owners sell, and all the owners are super-bulls who are unlikely to do so.  As a result, the bubble might continue and grow long after most of the world has seen the insanity of it.

Thus, we have short-selling.  Short-selling allows the other 99.9% who are not owners to sell part of the asset anyway, casting their financial vote for the value of the company.  Short-selling shortens bubbles, hastens the reckoning, and in the process generally reduces the wreckage on the back end.

Update:  From Don Boudreaux:

To ban short-selling of stocks is to short-circuit an important
mechanism through which people share their knowledge and expectations
with others.  Banning a mechanism that better allows share prices to
reflect the expectation that the underlying assets are not worth as
much as current market prices suggest does nothing to change the
underlying reality.  Such a ban merely distorts knowledge of this
reality

Other Thoughts on Oil Prices and "Speculation"

As a followup to my point on oil prices, here are a selection of posts on oil prices and speculation that have caught my eye of late:

McQ writes about the charge of "inactive" oil leases, which Democrats attempted to use as an excuse for not opening up new lease areas for drilling

Tyler Cowen has a big roundup on the topic, with many links, and Alex Tabarrok has a follow-up.  Cowen discusses rising oil prices in the context of Julian Simon here.

Michael Giberson also addresses speculation, while observing that non-industrial buyers have not increased their position in the futures market as oil prices have risen

Finally, via Scrappleface:

When the U.S. Supreme Court reconvenes on the first Monday in
October, the nine Justices may consider whether the Constitutional
preamble clause "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" guarantees an individual right to drill for oil.

Now that the court, in a 5-4 ruling on the Heller case, has upheld
the Second Amendment right of "the people," not just state-run
militias, to keep and bear arms, some scholars say the court may be
willing to go the next logical step and recognize the peoples' right to
acquire their own fuel.

If I Were A Shill For Industry...

Bravo, Don Boudreaux (responding to the typical anti-libertarian attack that we are just "shills" for large corporations:

If I were a shill for industry...I would oppose free markets. Free markets, after all, are markets open
to competition that invariably keeps the profits of existing firms from
remaining excessive and, often, even bankrupts firms once thought to be
invincible industry leaders. Existing firms almost all deplore
competition in their industries. They seek government regulations that
hamstring rivals and potential rivals. And, of course, firms are
forever pleading for "protection" from foreign competition.

I just wrote a book ("Globalization") in which I make a strong and
principled case for completely free trade - not free trade sometimes,
for some firms, under some circumstances, with some qualifications, but
free trade always, for all firms, under all circumstances, and with no
qualifications.

Whether my book's case for unalloyed free trade is correct or not,
it is surely not the sort of book that causes the heads of many
corporate CEOs to nod in eager agreement. The typical reaction of
business people whenever they hear or read me make my case for
genuinely free trade is to say something like, "Professor Boudreaux,
you don't understand the peculiarities of my industry." And then each executive launches into a laundry list of excuses for why Congress should protect his industry from foreign rivals.

Where Have All the Anti-Globalization Rioters Gone?

It has been pretty quiet on the globalization front.  I saw today that Don Boudreaux released his new book on globalization, and I thought to myself -- wow, that was a charged issue a few years ago, what happened to it?   I was in Seattle for the riots and it was a big deal.  Well, in part, I guess the feistiness of the anti-globalization types may have gone down because they are winning -- protectionism is advancing today on many fronts when for a while we had it against the ropes.  In large part this is because the US has virtually abandoned its leadership role on free trade.

However, there is another reason we don't hear much from the anti-globalization folks:  Because they have all joined the global warming movement, deciding that the environmental packaging is a better way to sell socialism and protectionism:

The Social Democrats are calling for sanctions on energy-intensive U.S.
export products if the Bush administration continues to obstruct
international agreements on climate protection, the party's leading
environmental expert said Tuesday.

The move, after the United
Nations climate conference last week in Bali, Indonesia, has won strong
support from the Greens and other leftist groupings in the European
Parliament. Those factions will renew their bid to impose such levies
when the Parliament reconvenes next month.

Sustainability Through Poverty

In my previous post on urban planning, I mentioned the increasingly popular idea of sustainability through povertyDon Boudreaux responds to the currently hip idea that somehow we need to revert to a more local economy with local food production.  This is absolutely absurd, for any number of reasons.  I'll just list three:

  • It doesn't work.  The total energy used for transport, say of food products, is a small percentage of the total energy used in the total production process.  The energy transportation budget is generally smaller than efficiency gains from scale or from optimizing location.  For example, a wheat farm in Arizona on 50 acres is going to use a lot more energy (and water, and fertilizer, and manpower) than a wheat farm on a thousand acres in North Dakota.
  • It leads to poverty.  Our modern society, our lifestyles, our lifespans all are a result of the fantastic increases in efficiency we have reaped from the division of labor.  A push to localize all production reverses the division of labor.  Many products, such as semiconductors, become outright impossible on a local scale.
  • It leads to starvation.  It is hard for us to imagine famine in the wealthy nations of the world.  Crop failures in one part of the world are replaced with crops from other parts of the world.  But as recently as the 19th century, France, then the wealthiest nation on earth but reliant on local agriculture, experienced frequent crop failures and outright starvation.

More on the food-miles stupidity here.  And an interesting study that shows that processed foods greatly reduces waste and trash to landfills was here.

Update: More on food miles here at Reason

Trade Imbalance

Don Boudreaux responds to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger's complaint that the US has a trade imbalance in autos with South Korea:

Well, duh - that's an
inevitable consequence of specialization...

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler each have huge trade imbalances --
to be precise, huge and growing trade deficits -- with their workers:
these companies buy far more from their workers than their workers buy
from them.  Perhaps auto makers should hire workers only on the
condition that the trade in each case is "balanced": each and every
worker must agree to spend his or her entire salary on products made by
the auto maker.  For example, a G.M. worker whose total compensation in
2007 is $60,000 must spend $60,000 on G.M. products in 2007.  Any
worker who fails to do so will be fired because of the resulting
imbalance.

Update:  Sorry, forgot the link.  Added it.

A Quick Thought Experiment

Which country has more power over us?  Is it China, who could suddenly try to sell our assets back to us at cut rate prices, thereby, uh, taking a huge financial loss for themselves to temporarily roil our markets.  Or is it Venezuela, who can (and has) simply seized all the assets in their country owned by Americans and repudiated its debts?

Not clear enough?  OK, lets go back to the cold war.  Let's say the USSR had lent our government a trillion dollars or so, thereby holding lots of dollar denominated US government debt.  Let's say they also made massive investments in US land and buildings.  Would we have said, "boy, they have us now?"  No.  I mean, hell no!  We'd have their money, they'd just hold our paper.  If the Russki's got adventurous in Afghanistan, we could just say, sorry, we are going to stop paying on all those bonds you hold until you get out.  This situation is so clear that in fact it was the USSR's strategy to do just the opposite, ie to borrow as much as possible from the west, taking western money to fund their economy while creating a threat of loan default they could use strategically.  American hawks argued that it was insane to lend to the USSR, because this gave them leverage over us. 

We Should Just Say "Thanks" Instead

Don Boudreaux argues that we should not retaliate vs. countries who subsidize exports to the US.

I know of no cases in which a country was impoverished, or even

measurably damaged, by its refusal to "retaliate" against alleged

instances of foreign subsidies. This fact, combined with the ease of

abusing the ability to accuse foreign rivals of being subsidized,

counsels strongly in favor of our own government turning a deaf ear to

such accusations.

I have never, ever, ever understood how the average person in the US could actually get mad that a foreign government taxes its people for the sole purpose of subsidizing lower prices in the US.  I have the same reaction to "dumping" accusations, where folks get upset that some foreign company is allegedly selling its products in the US below cost.   Instead of complaining, I think we should just say "thanks."  And maybe "cha-ching!"  Nothing like getter over on the taxpayers of China or Japan. 

Finally, Someone States the Obvious

The media and many politicians have an inventive system that drives them to take the most pessimistic possible interpretation of every economic event (the media to sell papers, politicians to panic us into giving them more control of the economy).   Chinese ownership of US debt securities is one such issue that everyone seems to be in a tizzy about.  Thanks to Don Boudreaux for finally stating the obvious:

In fact,
foreign-government
holdings of U.S. debt arguably make these governments "hostage to the
economic decisions being made in Washington."  The Fed, after all,
could monetize this debt, inflating away its value.  Or Uncle Sam could
repudiate this debt, or unilaterally change its terms in ways
unfavorable to holders.  Or you and your colleagues could implement
economically disastrous policies that drive up long-term interest rates
and, hence, drive down the value of outstanding treasuries.

Finally!  All you have to do to understand this is reverse the situation.  If the US government owned a hundred billion dollars of Venezuelan government bonds, would this really give us power over Hugo Chavez?  Or would it, more likely, given him more power over us, at least in terms of circumscribing our actions?

Forget Globalization -- Fear Neighborhoodization

Harold
Meyerson repeats the canard that "globalization entails [a] downward
leveling" of economic well-being ("Tipping Point for Trade," November
11).

This belief is crushed by mountains of evidence.  It's
crushed also by its own illogic: if ordinary people are served by being
"protected" from globalization, then they can be made even better off
by being protected from countryization - and better off still by being
protected from townization and neighborhoodization.  Protectionist
quackery implies that we achieve maximum prosperity when no one
consumes anything produced by anyone else.

Bravo.  I wrote about my fears of a Democratic Congress rolling back Bill Clinton's free trade legacy here.

Advice for the "Reality-Based" Community

Recently, the so-called "reality-based community" on the left has developed the theory that US oil companies have purposefully dropped gasoline prices from over $3.00 to $2.00 a gallon solely to help Republican re-election prospects in November.  This notion is so insane as to be, well, insane, and I am not even going to bother fisking it any more than I would bother refuting a flat-earth hypothesis.  OK, I can't resist, here are two quick arguments, by no means comprehensive.

  • US oil companies control a minority of world oil supplies, and those folks who do dominate the market (Hugo Chavez, Iran, the Saudis, the Russians) are highly unlikely to be cutting Bush much slack.
  • The implication is that either the old, high price or the current low price is somehow an unnatural contrivance.  If the higher price was a contrivance, ie above the normal market clearing price due to some collusion, then we would have been swimming in oil as supplies outstripped demand, and inventories would be overflowing.  If the current lower prices are a contrivance, then demand should outstrip supply and we should have lines at every gas station.  Of course, neither situation has been observed.

So here is this week's message for the Left:  Economics is a science.  Willful ignorance or emotional rejection of the well-known precepts of this science is at least as bad as a fundamentalist Christian's willful ignorance of evolution science (for which the Left so often criticizes their opposition).  In fact, economic ignorance is much worse, since most people can come to perfectly valid conclusions about most public policy issues with a flawed knowledge of the origin of the species but no one can with a flawed understanding of economics.

Postscript: In fact, the more I think about it, the more economics and evolution are very similar.  Both are sciences that are trying to describe the operation of very complex, bottom-up, self-organizing systems.  And, in both cases, there exist many people who refuse to believe such complex and beautiful systems can really operate without top-down control.

For example, certain people refuse to accept that homo sapiens could have been created through unguided evolutionary systems, and insist that some controlling authority must guide the process;  we call these folks advocates of Intelligent Design.  Similarly, there are folks who refuse to believe that unguided bottom-up processes can create something so complex as our industrial economy or even a clearing price for gasoline, and insist that a top-down authority is needed to run the process;  we call these folks socialists.

It is interesting, then, given their similarity, that socialists and intelligent design advocates tend to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum.  Their rejection of bottom-up order in favor of top-down control is nearly identical.

Update:  From Cafe Hayek, letter to the Washington Post

Dear Editor:

Alleging
that today's falling gasoline prices result from a fiendish plot to
keep the GOP in power, Kenneth Jones is certain that "gasoline prices
will go right back up to $2.75-plus after the [November] election"
(Letters, October 2).

If Mr. Jones is correct, he can make a
financial killing.  All he need do is to invest all of his assets going
long in gasoline futures (which are today about 30 percent lower than
they were in late July).  Indeed, he ought even to cash out all the
equity in his house, max out on his credit cards, and borrow heavily
from his brother-in-law so that he can invest as much as possible in
these futures.

He can then contribute his post-election financial bounty to the Democratic National Committee.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux