My stepson Jonathan is a free thinking, free market advocate --- funny how all of our children seem to be of that ilk (I'm sure they were just born that way) --- who loves to place his stepdad in the oft-uncomfortable position of seemingly having to defend the principles he's come to adopt (not that he's not an adept debater himself, it's just that one tends to lack credibility with one's friends/peers. It seems that with grizzle comes credibility).
Over dinner the other evening he informed me that he's inviting a childhood friend to our house for a "game night". It's not that the young man is some gifted artist who would be the ace brought in to guarantee victory for the all-male pictionary team (Jonathan's not above such deck-stacking by the way) --- oh no! --- it's that he wants to rope his friend and yours truly into a debate on the merits of freedom versus collectivism. Apparently the articulate young philosophy major has become a proud communist. If it comes together I'll let you know it went...
In the meantime, I followed up with Jonathan via text encouraging him (again) to read Don Boudreaux's blog Cafe Hayek. I told him he'd gather huge material for future discussions, and I suggested that he direct his buddy there and ask him to address the points Don makes. Which brings me to why I'm penning this message this morning.
I often say in these politically charged times that the world needs another Milton Friedman, or another Frederick Hayek! Dr. Friedman in particular was a gifted communicator of free market principles. I don't know the number of his interviews I've read and watched (search "Milton Friedman" on YouTube) over the years (dozens and dozens for sure), but I can't recall a single time when I wasn't convinced that he had at a minimum got a number of readers, viewers and/or audience members rethinking their views on enterprise, politics and freedom. The many works of Hayek are timeless, and critically important, classics that I'm sure will live on for generations to come.
Well, we actually do have a living source of the sort, and I'm going to suggest that you, dear reader --- particularly if you at all buy into what you're hearing on the stump these days --- go to cafehayek.com and after reading today's posts subscribe via email in the upper left corner. Don Beaudreaux, an econ professor at George Mason University, is in my view one of the world's few credible authorities on the economics of politics and freedom.
Over the years my senses have become keenly honed to the political biases that infect so much of what the public is fed with regard to government and the marketplace. For example, very recently I heard an economic consultant to a current presidential candidate cite the Economic Policy Institute's claim that the North American Free Trade Agreement has cost the U.S. 700,000 jobs --- a claim I know to be patently false. Without looking I knew that the Economic Policy Institute would be the tool of some special interest group. Of course I took a quick look and found that the eh em "nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank"'s board is riddled with characters from the sources of a great deal of its funding, which would be labor unions. Yep, the Chairman of the Board is none other than Richard Trumka himself, the president of the AFL-CIO. The International Association of Machinists Union and Aerospace Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the United Steel Workers Union, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and --- believe it or not --- yet more labor union presidents have found their way to board seats at the "nonpartisan" Economic Policy Institute. Suffice it to say that labor unions are notoriously no fans of free trade, or, let's say, of allowing you and me access to affordable goods from other nations or U.S. businesses access to other labor markets.
Back to Boudreaux: Spend some time on Cafe Hayek and you'll find that Don is the definition of nonpartisan. While you may not agree with him on every count, you can rest assured that what you'll be taking in is not designed to take you to either side of the political aisle. His blog posts, essays, articles, videos and books have profoundly, and invaluably, influenced my thinking on politics, economics and liberty over the years.
Here's a snippet from a Cafehayek post this morning:
Arguments for protection today – be these trumpeted by Trump, shouted by Sanders, cackled by Clinton, or read in any eminent newspaper or on prominent blogs – are no different or stronger or more refined than were arguments for protection 80 years ago, which themselves were no different or stronger or more refined than were arguments for protection 80 or 160 years before that. Economists have shown again and again the illogic, the faulty premises, and the biased use of facts that are always to be found in popular arguments for protection. Yet these arguments never die. They are idea-zombies, largely because a failure to grasp fundamental economics makes mercantilism seem correct – in the same way that a primitive human being, never exposed to even the most rudimentary scientific thought and judging exclusively from his own personal experience – concludes that the earth is stationary and at the center of moving orbs and twinkly little lights. This popular ignorance is greedily exploited by powerful producer groups to secure state privileges for themselves at at the expense of the economically uninformed masses.
There is nothing remotely progressive about protectionism. It is regressive politically, ethically, and economically. Buffoonish ignoramuses such as Donald Trump and knavish power-mongers such as Hillary Clinton surely don’t care about this reality, but, for heaven’s sake, people who aspire to be intelligent, rational, cosmopolitan, and unbiased ought not fall for the mix of idiocy and grasping-greed that is protectionism.
Okay, "nonpartisan" is probably an understatement! Please don't let your affinity for either candidate allow Don's characterizing to turn you off. Like I said, you may not appreciate every point, but if you mean what you say when you say "I like someone who tells it like it is", rejecting my plea to subscribe to Cafe Hayek (totally unsolicited btw) suggests what you really mean is "I like someone who tells it like it is, as long as it jibes with my biases". Which, I assure you, is what politicians and special interest groups are counting on!
Long-time readers know that I share Don's frustration with protectionism. The fact that it is forever such an effective weapon in the arsenal of political campaigns suggests that the everyday American has no idea how the world must come together to supply him/her with even what he/she surely views as today's bare necessities. Here's Matt Ridley, in his phenomenal book The Rational Optimist, describing what it takes to get him to 9 o'clock in the morning:
As I write this, it is nine o’clock in the morning. In the two hours since I got out of bed I have showered in water heated by North Sea gas, shaved using an American razor running on electricity made from British coal, eaten a slice of bread made from French wheat, spread with New Zealand butter and Spanish marmalade, then brewed a cup of tea using leaves grown in Sri Lanka, dressed myself in clothes of Indian cotton and Australian wool, with shoes of Chinese leather and Malaysian rubber, and read a newspaper made from Finnish wood pulp and Chinese ink. I am now sitting at a desk typing on a Thai plastic keyboard (which perhaps began life in an Arab oil well) in order to move electrons through a Korean silicon chip and some wires of Chilean copper to display text on a computer designed and manufactured by an American firm. I have consumed goods and services from dozens of countries already this morning. Actually, I am guessing at the nationalities of some of these items, because it is almost impossible to define some of them as coming from any country, so diverse are their sources.
More to the point, I have also consumed minuscule fractions of the productive labour of many dozens of people. Somebody had to drill the gas well, install the plumbing, design the razor, grow the cotton, write the software. They were all, though they did not know it, working for me. In exchange for some fraction of my spending, each supplied me with some fraction of their work.