URLs du Jour

2020-02-21

If you need a compass…

[Amazon Link]

  • At National Review, Oren Cass lays out the rationale for his new project, American Compass: Economics with People Included.

    Today we are announcing the formation of American Compass, an organization dedicated to helping American conservatism recover from its chronic case of market fundamentalism. In preparation, we have been perusing the mission statements of many of our nation’s think tanks. Nearly every group has one. Oddly, the right-of-center’s preeminent public-policy institutions all have the same one: to advance the principles of “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty” or “free markets and limited, effective government” or “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom” or “individual liberty, limited government, free markets” or “economic choice and individual responsibility” or “individual, economic, and political freedom; private enterprise; and representative government.”

    Without question, those principles are vital. But an emphasis so monotonal is neither supportive of effective deliberation nor genuinely conservative. “Why don’t we look at a policy and just ask, does it expand economic freedom?” suggests Heritage Foundation vice president Jack Spencer. Because there is more to life than economic freedom. Also, there is more to economic freedom than economic freedom. A society that attempts to maximize everyone’s freedom at every moment will fail miserably in preserving individual liberty and limiting government over time.

    Well, pardon me if I'm not all that worried about the creeping menace of "market fundamentalism", Oren. But let's look at some other reactions.


  • Jonah Goldberg asks, rhetorically: Does Anyone Really Believe Free Market Fundamentalists Are ‘Running the Show’?

    I keep hearing people say or imply that libertarians and free market “fundamentalists” have been running the show in Washington. I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about—and neither do any libertarians I know. In fairness to Cass, he doesn’t make the barmy claim that Washington has been run by libertarians, just the slightly less barmy claim that Republican party has been. I still have no idea what he’s talking about—and, again, neither do any libertarians I know. 

    (As an aside, whenever I hear arguments that Group X is running everything, I know I’m dealing with an argument that is spiced with some dosage of conspiratorialism and exaggeration. Here’s a newsflash: No one is running everything—not the Deep State, not the Jews, not the Frankfurt School Marxists, the globalists, the donor class, or the lizard people. One of the great things about advanced democracies is that every faction is competing for power and influence and none of them ever fully succeeds. Even when one faction dominates the conversation or policymaking, it isn’t long before they overstep, atrophy, or lose their mojo because even limited success tends to dissolve the reasons for certain coalitions to come together in the first place. It’s a bit analogous to Joseph Schumpeter’s argument for why monopolies cannot long endure so long as they are not protected by the state. Monopolies create the circumstances for their own demise as more nimble entrepreneurs innovate them into obsolescence.)

    Looking at the latest trillion-dollar deficit, I'm not getting the feeling that anyone with a shred of fiscal sanity is in charge, let alone the market fundamentalists.


  • And Don Boudreaux weighs in at the PIttsburgh Tribune-Review with a truism: Conservatives can be just as mistaken as ‘progressives’. After debunking some stats Oren Cass uses to demonstrate economic travail:

    Cass errs also in failing to understand the incompatibility with liberty and prosperity of schemes designed to protect community and industry.

    Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon and Deirdre McCloskey are only three of the economists who’ve demonstrated that high and rising prosperity for ordinary people is the result of innovation that destroys old patterns of production and replaces these with new and better ones. Such “creative destruction” is inescapable for those who wish to be members of a society that grows and prospers economically.

    Yet Cass and other proponents of “national conservativism” are uncomfortable with creative destruction. Obsessing over the destruction, they’re blind to the creativity.

    It’s true that patterns of production, work, and community life are changed by competition and the innovation that it inspires. It has been so for the past two centuries. But it’s untrue that the replacement of older forms of community engagement with new forms necessarily means less, or less-satisfying, personal engagement with others.

    Still, Oren could have a point about decay of old institutions, deaths of despair, etc. But kicking capitalism in the nards isn't likely to bring back the good old days.


  • Harvard econ prof Greg Mankiw has A Question for Bernie. And I'm just gonna include the Whole Thing:

    "Senator Sanders. You regularly say that you want the U.S. healthcare system to be more like those in Europe, with their less expensive, more inclusive, government-run systems. Well, in Europe, physicians are paid less than half what physicians are paid in the United States. (See below.) Is a massive cut in physician salaries a part of your vision for the future of the U.S. healthcare system under a Sanders administration? If so, don't you think you should warn the roughly one million U.S. physicians of that fact now? If not, is it realistic to expect the cost savings that you are promising?"

    And the accompanying graphic from (I assume reliable) Medscape:

    [International Physician Earnings]

    I've wondered about this for a while, good on Prof Mankiw for digging it out.

    I'd add that (almost certainly) this effect isn't restricted to doctors, but all workers in that sector. Not that I begrudge them, they are (mostly) honest people responding to incentives. But "we" are wildly overpaying for the care we receive.


  • And James Pethokoukis continues his debunking of progressive memes about the economy. This time, he asks How many Americans live in poverty? In response to the claim that “140 million Americans are either poor or low-income.”:

    This number comes from an Institute for Policy Studies report. And it’s kind of weird. It starts off by noting that “the number of Americans in poverty has increased by 60 percent to 40.6 million” since 1968. But the US population has grown by even more, 64 percent. That’s why the official poverty rate has declined to 11.8 percent from 12.8 percent.

    Of course, that’s not much of a decline, just a percentage point in a half century. That has led some to claim that LBJ’s War on Poverty has been lost, as the official poverty rate remains near 1960s levels despite massive spending on anti-poverty programs. But that number ignores lots of anti-poverty benefits from government: food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid, and the value of both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit. 

    I'd make the related point that the "War on Poverty" did a self-evidently lousy job of lifting people out of poverty. It just made poverty more tolerable. That's not nothing, but it's not what was promised.