Posts tagged Don Boudreaux

Column: Recycling a Beauty

Recycling A Beauty

Tibor R. Machan

My friend and occasional colleague–when we have both worked for the Institute for Economic Studies Europe now and then during summers over the last couple of decades–Professor Donald J. Boudreaux of George Mason University has a wonderful knack for zeroing in on the nonsense that so often surrounds us in certain very prominent forums the editors of which appear to have no critical abilities at all, no clue as to whether the kind of stuff they publish manages to be utter balderdash. He is a dedicate scout searching out such nonsense and often publishes the letters he sends to newspapers, magazines and other media at the blog he and some friends of his operate, Cafe Hayek.

Just today he sent out one of these that is a great winner in my book, no question about it. It echoes something I had pointed out about ten years ago to a young friend of mine who was pining to me about how the Middle Ages had been so much more meaningful and noble to live in than our own times. (I had had enough of this pining after a while so I pointed out to my friend that he, as a father of then four–now six–children might rethink his adoration of those days past by considering that probably but one of those four would manage to survive to the ripe old age of 20 back in those glorious times!) So I have asked Professor Boudreaux whether I might reproduce in my own column his absolutely spot on comment on a similar young person’s mindless ruminations discussed in The Washington Post. Here it is and please take it to heart.

The only thing I would like to add is that anyone who would like to delve into more of such sensible points made against the innumerable know-nothings of our age should check out the works of the late Julian Simon as well as the recently published book by Matt Ridley, Rational Optimist. Perhaps these will manage to be the antidotes to the kind of baffling thinking produced by the likes of Mr. Kelley (below) and by more prominent public philosophers such as Jeremy Rifkin!

Of course our era has its problems but these folks are really bonkers with their pessimism. What’s more, they aren’t upset with some of the real horrors of our time, such as the tyrannies and wars and oppression that go on in parts of the globe but with the good stuff, like our having enough to eat and efficient transportation! Nor does one hear from them much about Nazism and Communism, the really horrible systems of the modern age but instead they keep advancing lamentations about modernity and the free market system, precisely what have been the liberating features of our time.

Editor, Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

Benjamin Kelley says that his art “represents the dehumanization of modern society” (“An artistic body of work’s bone of contention,” July 16). I’d like to ask him which aspects of pre-modern society he believes to have been most humane. Was it a life-expectancy of about 30 years? How about mass illiteracy? Maybe Mr. Kelley longs for the odors, lice, and scabs that regularly adorned human bodies that seldom bathed and that slept on dirt or straw?

Possibly Mr. Kelley regrets that the homicide rate in modern society is far lower – as much as ten-times lower – than in pre-modern societies? Perchance he laments modernity’s liberation of women from the oppressive dominance of men? Maybe he finds fault with modern humans’ greater skepticism of tales of witches and sentient volcanoes? Or perhaps Mr. Kelley is upset simply because modernity has eradicated slavery?

Being only 26 years old in modern society, Mr. Kelley has many decades left to reject his fashionable romantic nonsense about a past Golden Age. Were he born just a few generations earlier, however, not only would he have been unable to earn a living as an artist, his own stint in humanity would have been much shorter.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

Self-Correction in Markets v. Journalism

Self-Corrections in Markets and Journalism

Tibor R. Machan

In the American legal tradition the press may not be regulated, nor may religion. No one would maintain, though, that these are flawless institutions, not by a long shot. At The New York Times, for example, scandals over the years prove the point and there is no end to how badly some of the clergy can behave.

Yet few would insist, especially among the editors and columnists at The Times, that to handle these malpractices what is needed is some kind of government regulatory remedy. I certainly have never read anything in The Times recommending such supervision or oversight. Instead, what The Times does is exactly what it dismisses as useless when it comes to remedying problems in markets; it uses its public editor to propose self-regulation; he is an ombudsman, in-house at the paper, who writes reprimands and suggests various corrective measures that then, hopefully, help the paper stay on the right side of the various aspects of journalism.

But of course such self-knowledge isn’t what The Times likes to invoke as it scolds everybody in the market place, no. When it comes to other professionals in society, The Times doesn’t hesitate to advocate the equivalent of censorship, namely, government regulation. Indeed, its editors and columnists constantly fail to see that what they take for granted, namely, an unregulated arena of journalistic operations, is not something others in the society may enjoy. Those at The Times–as well as at many, many other newspapers–evidently believe they are mature and disciplined enough to engage in self-regulation but others, outside their media operations are too inept, too childlike, to enjoy the same rights.

And such blatant inconsistency is not unusual at The Times. In a recent column of his (“Free to Lose,” November 13, 2009), Krugman wrote that policies to promote “job sharing” are “worthy of consideration” in order to remedy the country’s unemployment problems. To this absurd idea Professor Don Boudreaux of George Mason University responded with characteristically impeccable logic:

“Let’s start at the New York Times. I know several PhD economists currently without jobs (and certainly without regular newspaper columns). I propose that Times Co. chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. reduce Mr. Krugman’s presence on the page to, say, one column per year. The remaining hundred or so columns that Mr. Krugman would otherwise have written for the NYT can be written by unemployed economists.”

Do you believe there is any chance at all that The Times and Professor Krugman will bite the bullet and take Professor Boudreaux’s suggestion to heart? Do you think the editors who give Professor Krugman his space in The Times will heed the advice to remedy employment problems in the press by having the good Princeton Professor, who is already holding down several different jobs, to participate in job sharing? If you do, I have this bridge in New York I would like to sell you.

Government regulation is nothing but a version of prior restraint, an imposition of burdens on market agents that they have done nothing to deserve, something that in the criminal law is forbidden by due process! Moreover, government regulation simply places some citizens in power over others, something that is clearly prohibited by the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution that mandates treating all citizens as equal under the law.

To have a bunch of bureaucrats look over the shoulders of various professionals, all of them U. S. citizens, and order them to do this and that without their having been proven guilty of any criminal conduct, is plain unjust. And the folks at The New York Times would never stand for it in their work. But they routinely advocate more and more government regulation professionals outside of journalism and the clergy. They appear to be totally blind to just how inconsistent this is and how, indeed, the U. S. Constitution is itself inconsistent by permitting government regulation of nearly every other profession not protected by the First Amendment.

It would be interesting if this subject would be broached on the pages of The Times, say in an Op Ed column. But please do not hold your breath.