Is this the greatest blog post ever written? Quite possibly

Economist Deirdre McCloskey, at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, explaining why economic freedom is a pretty darn good thing (via Cafe Hayek):

But anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.

In the 19th and 20th centuries ordinary Europeans were hurt, not helped, by their colonial empires.  Economic growth in Russia was slowed, not accelerated, by Soviet central planning.  American Progressive regulation and its European anticipations protected monopolies of transportation like railways and protected monopolies of retailing like High-Street shops and protected monopolies of professional services like medicine, not the consumers.  “Protective” legislation in the United States and “family-wage” legislation in Europe subordinated women.  State-armed psychiatrists in America jailed homosexuals, and in Russia jailed democrats.  Some of the New Deal prevented rather than aided America’s recovery from the Great Depression.

Unions raised wages for plumbers and auto workers but reduced wages for the non-unionized.  Minimum wages protected union jobs but made the poor unemployable.  Building codes sometimes kept buildings from falling or burning down but always gave steady work to well-connected carpenters and electricians and made housing more expensive for the poor.  Zoning and planning permission has protected rich landlords rather than helping the poor.  Rent control makes the poor and the mentally ill unhousable, because no one will build inexpensive housing when it is forced by law to be expensive.  The sane and the already-rich get the rent-controlled apartments and the fancy townhouses in once-poor neighborhoods.

Regulation of electricity hurt householders by raising electricity costs, as did the ban on nuclear power.  The Securities Exchange Commission did not help small investors.  Federal deposit insurance made banks careless with depositors’ money.  The conservation movement in the Western U. S. enriched ranchers who used federal lands for grazing and enriched lumber companies who used federal lands for clear cutting.  American and other attempts at prohibiting trade in recreational drugs resulted in higher drug consumption and the destruction of inner cities and the incarcerations of millions of young men.  Governments have outlawed needle exchanges and condom advertising, and denied the existence of AIDS.

Germany’s economic Lebensraum was obtained in the end by the private arts of peace, not by the public arts of war.  The lasting East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere was built by Japanese men in business suits, not in dive bombers.  Europe recovered after its two 20th-century civil wars mainly through its own efforts of labor and investment, not mainly through government-to-government charity such as Herbert Hoover’s Commission or George Marshall’s Plan.  Government-to-government foreign aid to the Third World has enriched tyrants, not helped the poor.

The importation of socialism into the Third World, even in the relatively non-violent form of Congress-Party Fabian-Gandhism, unintentionally stifled growth, enriched large industrialists, and kept the people poor.  Malthusian theories hatched in the West were put into practice by India and especially China, resulting in millions of missing girls.  The capitalist-sponsored Green Revolution of dwarf hybrids was opposed by green politicians the world around, but has made places like India self-sufficient in grains.  State power in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been used to tax the majority of farmers in aid of the president’s cousins and a minority of urban bureaucrats.  State power in many parts of Latin America has prevented land reform and sponsored disappearances.  State ownership of oil in Nigeria and Mexico and Iraq was used to support the party in power, benefiting the people not at all.  Arab men have been kept poor, not bettered, by using state power to deny education and driver’s licenses to Arab women.  The seizure of governments by the clergy has corrupted religions and ruined economies.  The seizure of governments by the military has corrupted armies and ruined economies.

Industrial policy, from Japan to France, has propped up failing industries such as agriculture and small-scale retailing, instead of choosing winners.  Regulation of dismissal has led to high unemployment in Germany and Denmark, and especially in Spain and South Africa.  In the 1960s the public-housing high-rises in the West inspired by Le Courbusier condemned the poor in Rome and Paris and Chicago to holding pens.  In the 1970s, the full-scale socialism of the East ruined the environment.  In the 2000s, the “millennial collectivists,” Red, Green, or Communitarian, oppose a globalization that helps the poor but threatens trade union officials, crony capitalists, and the careers of people in Western non-governmental organizations.

Yes, I know, you want to reject all these factual findings because they are “right-wing” or “libertarian.”  All I ask you to do is, once in a while, consider.  Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.


11 thoughts on “Is this the greatest blog post ever written? Quite possibly

  1. All of these are simply examples of how one group of people has been successful in employing state power to extract money from another group of people. The cover story varies — fairness, living wages, green power, affordable housing, mercantilism — but the underlying process is the same. Free markets do not require state coercion because transactions are all voluntary. But there are always groups who want more than a free system would afford them. They simply have to invent an appealing story to justify the robbery they commit.

  2. Prof. McCloskey reminds us of the lesson taught right away in economics classes: every action has unintended consequences.

    Part of the reason these ideas and policies linger is they are judged, not on their results, but on their intentions.

    • Both of these statements are true, especially the last one. In this country we are awash with great ideas, all harboring good intentions – too many, in fact, for us to possibly afford to apply. It’s time we judged some of these policies and programs on their results.

  3. Ten trillion dollars and almost 50-years later, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” still has the very same folks complaining, bltching and moaning about the very same old things.

    Its time to either end the war or surrender.

    • These words describe all of this – unsustainable and the 60-year liberal experiment is a vuoto (failed). This sort of socialist agenda and this crippling level of unfunded promises and fiscal profligacy is, of course, to create a problem where government supports so many people that it becomes “too big to fail.” That opens the door to the “socialists” to use the only tool left to simultaneously compel us to accept confiscatory taxation and prevent an uprising – morality. They will use our human goodness and concern for our fellow man against us as the foundation for a communist state – because they know, in spite of what they claim about us, that we will not allow our brothers and sisters to starve. Americans are a generous people and neighbors take care of neighbors and there should be some safety net that is available for people who come upon hard times. This safety net should be temporary until the person can become self sufficient again. This safety net should not become a way of life. This country needs a new paradigm.

  4. This post is a tour de force to be certain, but imo, it lacks the final summation (although the call to action is basically good advice, if not a bit hand-wavish). Perhaps the original contains THE nugget.

    As a computer scientist what I see when I read the list of gone-wrongs is crystal clear evidence for what I call the Zero Decision Philosophy. Too many software folks (like politicians) become addicted to making decisions for other people (aka usurping OPF – Other People’s Freedom). This leads to bad software and bad government for exactly the same reason: Decisions belong as close as possible to the hands of their targets.

    This plays out in many ways good when careful & bad when not. I’ll save the details for another time and place.
    But for now, there’s another gone-wrong that illustrates the blog post’s thesis and my point.

    “No border has ever been redrawn by an outsider that didn’t lead to destruction of property and deaths.”


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