Free Markets Under Siege

[Amazon Link]

I've been kind of a Richard Epstein fanboy since I read his work on eminent domain, Takings, years back. (Then-Senator Joe Biden theatrically held up a copy of Takings during Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings in 1991, warning him that anyone who took the book's libertarian arguments seriously couldn't be qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.)

So anyway: I won one of the trivia contests that Drew Cline used to have at his blog, and picked up this book as a result. It's short, around a hundred pages including index, and the pages are tiny too (roughly 7 x 4 inches). But (truth be told) it's a surprisingly tough read.

It's based on a lecture Epstein gave in England in 2003. Since Communism is more or less defunct these days, and doctrinaire socialism isn't looking too hot either, Epstein considers the prime ideological conflict to be the forces of competition vs. those of protectionism. He outlines the ways that—obviously, to me, and probably you too—competition is a far superior road to travel for any modern economy. Unfortunately, protectionism in all its guises is a pretty hefty opponent.

The relevance of this conflict has become even greater since the lecture. Irony alert: in President Obama's State of the Union address, "compete" appears five times, "competition" thrice, "competitive" once. Obviously he knows the appeal of the concept, even if he's operating out of the protectionist playbook himself.

Epstein looks at how the competition/protectionism conflict has been waged in the fields of labor and agriculture. To put it politely, it's not the most page-turning reading.

Bottom line: it's not bad, but there are not a lot of surprises or insights. I would recommend that Epstein fans, and those who want an introduction to his thought, look elsewhere. For example, here's a recent interview from Reason magazine.

Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:49 AM EDT

Take It Easy On the Young Man

[turns out]

… They ain't got nothin' in the world these days:

  • It's been almost 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when his kids would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It was probably the single most inspirational and aspirational thing he ever said. The New York Times demonstrates that we ain't there yet, and have no particular plans or desire to do so:
    The federal Department of Education would categorize Michelle López-Mullins — a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent — as “Hispanic.” But the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her “Asian.” And what does Ms. López-Mullins’s birth certificate from the State of Maryland say? It doesn’t mention her race.
    Jim Crow used to rely on racial classification for its purposes; the article recounts how today's bureaucrats, politicians, and race hustlers rely on it for theirs.

    Ms. López-Mullins, as a college student, has filled out countless nosy forms demanding that she disclose not the content of her character, but the color of her skin. And she knows it's not for her benefit.

    “It’s always, ‘How can these multiracial individuals best benefit us? What category can we put them in to fulfill something?’ ” she said. “I figure there’s such a large margin of error with that kind of ridiculous accounting anyway, I’m totally against it.”

    For years, when asked her race, she checked everything that applied: Hispanic, Asian, white and Native American. And if she is now confronted with a blank space for her race, she might challenge the form with a question of her own: “What does this tell you?”

    Good for her.

  • Also obsessed with skin color is Oscar winning Halle Berry, who's engaged in a custody battle with a somewhat paler person that she never got around to marrying, Gabriel Aubry. Concerning their two-year-old daughter Nahla, Ms. Berry is quoted as saying:
    "I feel she's black. I'm black and I'm her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory," Berry said in an interview with Ebony magazine.
    The folks at ABC News helpfully add the source of this "theory":
    The "one-drop" rule refers to Jim Crow laws passed in the South during the 20th century to further disenfranchise African Americans.
    Pun Salad judges the content of Ms. Berry's character to be sub-par, but hopes Nahla will turn out OK.

  • There's P.J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard, where he muses the liberals' likely next steps after gun control:
    People must be held accountable for their actions, whether with guns, knives, fists, or votes for enormous expansion of government power. As to guns, at least, this accountability is a matter of law. The law is—in a country that probably has more guns than liberals—difficult to enforce. But most laws are. Otherwise we wouldn’t have to make them laws. So why are liberals obsessed with guns in particular? And why do liberals feel compelled to vociferously argue empty truisms about guns?

    Because liberals are opposed to violence, which is very high-minded of them. Guns are a source of violence in America. Guns are not, however, the principal source. Young men are the principal source of violence in America. This is why it’s only a matter of time before liberals—being opposed to violence—propose young man control.

    Pun Salad dimly remembers being a young man, and it was not a pleasant experience for either Pun Salad or anyone in Pun Salad's immediate vicinity. Searching for "young man" on Google News brings up the following (as I type):
    • "Young man rushed to hospital after shooting in Scarborough…"
    • "A suspect is in custody for a double stabbing on an MBTA bus last year that left one young man dead and another injured…"
    • "Young man, 19, killed in Bunbury motorbike crash…"
    • "Young man gunned down outside apartment…"
    • "A young man who held hostages in a bank for 3 hours Thursday in Cary, NC, was shot dead by police snipers…"
    Sage advice to young men: when you hit 18, just keep your finger on the fast forward button until you're 30.