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Don Boudreaux

Don Boudreaux

He is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Articles by Don Boudreaux

On Civilized Disagreement and Argument

13 hours ago

Here’s a letter to a new and very hostile correspondent:
Mr. P__:
Thanks for your e-mail in response to my defense of Phil Magness.
You think it “more than fair” for Nancy MacLean “to conclude from [Milton] Friedman’s radical laissez faireism that he was an enemy of people of color and other poor and unprivileged people or at most apathetic regarding them.”
I couldn’t disagree more. Milton Friedman – like many other scholars, from Adam Smith in the 18th century through Thomas Sowell in the 20th and 21st – offered a coherent theory of why the masses, and especially the poorest amongst us, are better served by free markets than by government interventions. I believe that Friedman was correct, but I concede that it’s possible that he wasn’t. You and Prof. MacLean believe that he was

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Some Covid Links

15 hours ago

Phil Magness’s and James Harrigan’s letter, in the BMJ, is meant to set the record straight about the great Great Barrington Declaration:
Dear Editor,
In their essay “Covid-19 and the new merchants of doubt” (BMJ Opinion, 9/13/21, https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/09/13/covid-19-and-the-new-merchants-of-d…), Gavin Yamey and David Gorski present themselves as defenders of sound scientific principles in the face of “denialism” related to the Covid-19 pandemic. These authors specifically target the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), and the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) as sources of what they imply is a misinformation campaign about the efficacy of Covid-19 public health measures. Unfortunately, it seems to us that Yamey and Gorski have misrepresented both the GBD and

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Phil Magness Does History; Some “Historians” Do “History”

21 hours ago

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:
Editor:
Daniel Kuehn (Letters, Oct. 22) misses the relevant background of Phil Magness’s defense of the school-choice movement (“School Choice’s Antiracist History,” Oct. 19). Among the supporters of school choice were two of history’s most prominent economists, James Buchanan and Milton Friedman. Nobel laureates both, each man was led by his research to warn of the dangers of government intrusion into individuals’ private affairs.
Since their deaths – Buchanan in 2013 and Friedman in 2006 – a thriving mini-industry has emerged to falsely portray these scholars as aiders and abettors of oppressive oligarchs and racist hordes. Among the most aggressive of those who misrepresent the words and deeds of Buchanan and Friedman is Duke University

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Some Non-Covid Links

23 hours ago

David Henderson is appalled at the Biden administration’s assault on economic freedom and prosperity. A slice:
Arguably the most intrusive regulation the Biden administration proposes is the one on people’s accounts in financial institutions. USA Today recently corrected an InfoWars exaggeration of the plan. The InfoWars headline: “Biden’s Treasury Dept. Declares IRS Will Monitor Transactions of ALL U.S. Accounts Over $600.” USA Today pointed out two mistakes. First, the Treasury can’t make such a move without Congress’s authorization. Second, writes Ella Lee of USA Today, “[E]ven if the proposal is adopted banks would not provide access to individual transactions, just the total amount flowing in and out of an account annually.” The correction is important but is it supposed to be

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Quotation of the Day…

23 hours ago

… is from page 202 of my favorite of all of Richard Epstein’s many superb books, his 1995 volume, Simple Rules for a Complex World:
One advantage of markets is that they allow uniform solutions to spread quickly if appropriate, while allowing diverse solutions to emerge (somewhat more slowly) when required. A range of contractual solutions may be tailored not to the generic relationship, but to the particulars in each case.

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Exploring EconTalk: Thomas Sowell (2008)

1 day ago

I’m late to the podcast parade. Although Russ Roberts is my dear friend – and despite Russ starting the immensely popular EconTalk 15 years ago – I listened to only a tiny fraction of the EconTalk podcasts. I didn’t even listen to the ones in which I appear as a guest. My preference is to absorb knowledge by reading (and even then by reading ink pressed into paper).
But Juliette Sellgren’s excellent Great Antidote podcast, which hit the scene at the height of Covid lockdowns, got me hooked on this medium. For the past few months, therefore, I’ve dived into the deep EconTalk library to listen to episodes featuring guests or topics that most caught my fancy. Happily, I still have many, many more to go!
And so, arrogantly pretending that readers of this blog give a hoot about which

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

2 days ago

… is from my late, great colleague Walter Williams’s December 22nd, 2010, column, “Black Education Disaster“:
The charter school and the educational vouchers movement will help prevent parents and children who care about education from being held hostage in an environment hostile to the learning process. And there’s plenty of evidence that children do better and parents are more pleased when they have a measure of school choice.
DBx: Two of today’s most anti-black, pro-racist institutions are K-12 government schooling (and the “teachers” unions in whose interests these so-called ‘schools’ are primarily operated) and minimum-wage legislation. The former is a major obstacle to the genuine education of poor inner-city minority youth, while the latter is a major obstacle to the

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Some Covid Links

2 days ago

Jacob Sullum wonders when encouraging trends in Covid test results will be reflected in CDC advice. A slice:
So far these positive trends have had no discernible impact on federal COVID-19 advice or on the policies of jurisdictions inclined to follow it. Vaccination is authorized for all Americans 12 or older and will soon be extended to younger children. Minors face a tiny risk of dying from COVID-19 in any case. Yet the CDC still says everyone, from toddlers to vaccinated adults, should “wear a mask indoors in public.” Officially, that advice applies to vaccinated people only if they live in “an area of substantial or high transmission,” but that description still covers nearly the entire country.
The CDC is likewise sticking with its recommendation that everyone in schools,

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Quotation of the Day…

2 days ago

… is from page 4 of George Will’s 2021 book, American Happiness and Discontents: The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020 – a collection of many of Will’s columns over these years; (the column from which the quotation below is drawn originally appeared in the Washington Post on June 14th, 2015):
The rule of law – as opposed to rule by the untrammeled will of the strong – requires effective checks on the strong. In a democracy, the strongest force is the majority, whose power will be unlimited unless an independent judiciary enforces written restraints, such as those stipulated in the Constitution. It is “the supreme law” because it is superior to what majorities produce in statutes.

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Some Covid Links

3 days ago

GMU Econ grad student Dominic Pino, writing for National Review, rightly criticizes the irrationality of the Covid restrictions still in place on college campuses. A slice:
This state of affairs has persisted for months now, and administrators haven’t seemed to connect the dots. Students are living their off-campus lives largely unmasked, and they aren’t, for the most part, getting COVID. (To repeat: They’re vaccinated, and the vaccines work.) There’s nothing special about classrooms that makes them more susceptible to virus transmission than, say, restaurants or grocery stores. So having the same masking standards as restaurants or grocery stores should yield the same result: an extremely low risk of contracting a serious COVID case. If anything, unmasked classrooms should be much

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Some Non-Covid Links

3 days ago

James Bovard explains why so-called “fair trade” is still a fraud. A slice:
When politicians call for fair trade with foreigners, they use a concept of fairness diametrically opposed to the word’s normal usage. In exchanges between individuals – in contract law – the test of fairness is the voluntary consent of each party to the bargain: “the free will which constitutes fair exchanges,” as Sen. John Taylor wrote in 1822. When politicians speak of unfair trade, they do not mean that buyers and sellers did not voluntarily agree, but that federal officials disapprove of bargains American citizens made. Fair trade means government intervention to direct, control, or restrict trade.
Fair trade often consists of some politician or bureaucrat picking a number out of thin air and forcibly

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Quotation of the Day…

3 days ago

… is from page 37 of the 2021 35th anniversary edition – being released today – of Steven Rhoads’s excellent 1985 book, The Economist’s View of the World: And the Quest for Well-Being:
We can know how high to set any one objective only if we know what we give up in progress toward other objectives.
DBx: In normal times government officials are poor at recognizing and accounting for the opportunity costs of programs that are popular with the public or with powerful interests groups. But in times when the populace – justifiably or not – is terrified, dealing with the source of the terror becomes the singular goal; all other considerations are either completely ignored or are pushed much too far into the background.
Single-minded pursuit of one good – even when that good is unambiguously

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Some Covid Links

4 days ago

Those of you who doubt that Covid hysteria fuels tyranny should read this report, by Charles Oliver, of goings-on in Canada.
Jacob Sullum rightly criticizes Texas governor Greg Abbott’s policy of preventing private entities in that state from requiring customers, employees, or both from being vaccinated against Covid-19.
I’m going to contribute to the legal-defense fund of this British anti-lockdown protestor.
Covid hysteria further eats away cancerously at Britain’s democratic institutions and ethos.
Madeline Grant understandably worries that Brits will be frightened back into lockdown.
Who’d a-thunk it?! It appears that China’s draconian lockdowns did not defeat Covid-19 after all. (HT Phil Magness)
Dave Seminara writes from the Sunshine (and comparably Liberty) state. Two slices:

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Some Non-Covid Links

4 days ago

Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley reports on a reality that is obvious to all minds save those belonging to “Progressives”: If you make crime pay, it’ll pay people to commit crime. A slice:
Like the local leaders in San Francisco, Baltimore officials blamed the retailers for leaving instead of the thieves for driving them away. But indulging criminal behavior in the name of “social justice” only helps criminals, who are not representative of all blacks. Public policies that give priority to the interests of lawbreakers only lead to more lawbreaking, and by extension to more economic inequality. Businesses have every incentive to flee these communities and the jobs follow them.
Tempting though it may be to blame the social dysfunction in poorer communities on heartless business

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Quotation of the Day…

4 days ago

… is from page 150 of George Will’s 2021 book, American Happiness and Discontents: The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020 – a collection of many of Will’s columns over these years; (the column from which the quotation below is drawn originally appeared in the Washington Post on April 22nd, 2018):
Many conservatives have embraced populism where it least belongs, in judicial reasoning. They have advocated broad judicial deference to decisions because they emanate from majoritarian institutions and processes. Progressives favor such deference because it liberates executive power from congressional direction or judicial supervision.

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Balanced-Budget Requirements Are a Tool for Keeping Government Limited

5 days ago

Here’s another letter to John Tamny on the ill-consequences of deficit financing:
John:
The fact that you’re so astute about so many issues only intensifies my mystification at your continuing blindness to the dangers that lurk in deficit financing of government expenditures.
In your latest essay you again accuse those of us who oppose deficit financing of “the folly of putting the false notion of a ‘balanced budget’ on a pedestal.” You add that “[i]t has nothing to do with limited government.”
On the contrary, advocacy of keeping annual government budgets balanced has nothing to do with fetishizing some accounting outcome; this advocacy has everything to do with keeping government limited.
Deficit financing allows today’s citizens-taxpayers to push the costs of today’s government

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Some Covid Links

5 days ago

Jay Bhattacharya tweets:
Recognizing the reality of immunity after COVID-recovery is a pro-vax position.
Acknowledging this fact builds credibility so people believe it when you correctly say the vax protects vs. severe disease.
Pushing cruel vax mandates, on the other hand, undermines that trust.
“Yale Epidemiology Prof: ‘Natural Immunity is Much Longer-Lasting Than Vaccinated Immunity’.”
For more evidence on the reality of naturally acquired resistance to Covid-19 see this piece by Paul Alexander.
David Henderson and Charley Hooper ably defend their July 28th, 2021, Wall Street Journal piece on ivermectin. Here’s their conclusion:
While we can all be happy that Merck has developed a new therapeutic that can keep us safe from the ravages of Covid-19, we should realize that the FDA’s

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Some Non-Covid Links

5 days ago

Phil Magness writes, in the Wall Street Journal, on the antiracist history of the school-choice movement – and of the racist history of opposition to school choice. A slice:
Is the school choice movement historically tainted by racism? American Federation of Teachers boss Randi Weingarten described vouchers in 2017 as “slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” Historian Nancy MacLean recently depicted vouchers as a product of an unholy alliance between economist Milton Friedman and segregationists after Brown v. Board of Education.
According to this narrative, vouchers came out of the “Massive Resistance” program of Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr., who sought to circumvent Brown by rerouting education funding to private schools in 1950s Virginia. Friedman, the story goes, opportunistically

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Quotation of the Day…

5 days ago

… is from page 95 of the late Peter Bauer’s essay “Black Africa: the Living Legacy of Dying Colonialism,” which is Chapter 6 in Bauer’s excellent 1984 book, Reality and Rhetoric: Studies in the Economics of Development:
According to the perverse priorities of contemporary government, the creation of specific organizations and the expenditure of large sums of money can lead to recognition even if the money is clearly wasted, or activities run counter to their declared objectives or to acknowledged principles of policy. Conversely, achievement – even great achievement – goes unrecognized if it cannot readily be attributed to some specific action or to particular individuals.

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Some Covid Links

6 days ago

The Brownstone Institute shares a powerful essay, by David Stockman, titled “The Origins and Development of Upside-down America.” Two slices:
The undisputed fact is that the CDC changed rules for causation on death certificates in March 2020, so now we have no idea whatsoever whether the 713,000 deaths reported to date were deaths because OF Covid or just incidentally were departures from this mortal world WITH Covid. The extensive well-documented cases of DOA from heart attacks, gunshot wounds, strangulation or motorcycle accidents, which had tested positive before the fatal event or by postmortem, are proof enough.
…..
The Great Barrington Declaration was penned by three fearless world leading epidemiologists—Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University

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Quotation of the Day…

6 days ago

… is from page 122 of the 1976 Liberty Fund edition of John Chamberlain’s excellent 1959 volume, The Roots of Capitalism:
Once capitalism is seen as a profit-and-loss system, with everyone at the mercy of the sovereign consumer’s whims as he balances one marginal desire against another, the incidence of anticapitalistic criticism must shift. The capitalist who can make money in a consumer-oriented system is the one who shrewdly anticipates the customer’s desires, and under such a dispensation profit – far from being “surplus value” – becomes the deserved reward for acumen.

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Some Non-Covid Links

7 days ago

George Selgin pens a brilliant open letter to Comptroller of the Currency nominee Saule Omarova. A slice:
In my opinion, the changes you advocate, were they to come about, would have harmful, if not disastrous, consequences. By saying so, I don’t at all mean to suggest that bankers today allocate credit flawlessly: far from it. I know that they sometimes fail to get credit to certain credit-worthy applicants, while lending recklessly to less worthy ones; and I understand that the government, besides attempting to correct such errors through regulation, must sometimes compensate for them through its own credit programs aimed at supporting certain groups or industries. I also understand that, owing either to market failures or to the effects of government guarantees and other kinds of

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Some Covid Links

7 days ago

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Marc Siegel explains that among today’s health hazards is excessive anxiety over Covid. A slice:
In New York City, I often see people walking down the sidewalk, masks hanging low over their chins, looking fearful and dodging one another. The health benefit from these wary rituals is minimal to nonexistent, and they illustrate the toll that fear of Covid-19 has taken on mental health.
A new global study published in the Lancet examines 48 data sources in an attempt to quantify that toll. The authors report a world-wide increase of more than 129 million cases of major depression and anxiety disorders compared with pre-pandemic figures. They attribute this to the “combined effects of the spread of the virus, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, decreased

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Quotation of the Day…

7 days ago

… is from page 105 of Michael Cooper’s 1974 article “The Economics of Need: The Experience of the British Health Service,” as quoted on page 33 of the soon-to-be-published 2021 35th anniversary edition of Steven Rhoads’s 1985 book, The Economist’s View of the World: And the Quest for Well-Being:
The conception of sickness as an unambiguous and absolute state led to the false hope that unmet need could be abolished. In practice, sickness has been found to be a relative state capable of almost infinite interpretations by both potential patients and the medical profession.
DBx: This important insight is quoted in Rhoads’s chapter titled “Marginalism” (a summary version of which is available free-of-charge here). To understand marginalism is to understand that no particular benefit is a

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The Amount of Government Spending Is Not Independent of the Means of Financing

8 days ago

Here’s a letter to my friend Richard McKenzie:
Richard:
In your latest, excellent post at EconLog you quote Milton Friedman’s insistence that “the true tax” is “how much government is spending.” You quote Friedman further: “If you’re not paying for it in the form of explicit taxes, you’re paying for it indirectly in the form of inflation or in the form of borrowing.”
Friedman’s point is both correct and important, and you’re right to remind readers of it. It’s a reality that too many people – including too many economists – ignore.
But I disagree with you on one small matter – specifically, with your claim that:
How the added government outlays are financed—through taxes, newly printed dollars and inflation, or debt—is of secondary importance, perhaps only marginally affecting

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Some Non-Covid Links

8 days ago

My GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein takes a careful look at the history of the use of the word “liberal.” Here’s his conclusion:
We make our own semantic decisions, and they reflect our ideology. If a historian were to speak of the “liberalism of the Bolshevik Revolution,” my beef wouldn’t be that he didn’t study the Bolsheviks carefully enough. It would be a broader beef about how he uses “liberal.” Our decisions on semantics express broader moral and political sensibilities.
In my semantics, the revolutions of 1848 were not liberal. Nor, overall, was the revolution of 1789. As Edmund Burke put it in 1790: “Their liberty is not liberal.”
el gato malo writes about “cave-man capitalism” and “dismantling capitalism because you do not know what it is.” A slice:
everywhere you look is another

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Economists Have Long Been Aware of the Theory of Monopsony

8 days ago

Here’s a letter to a new correspondent:
Mr. C__:
Thanks for your e-mail.
You call my defense of Phil Magness – and his defense of the late Nobel-laureate economist James Buchanan – “unconvincing.” Your assessment springs from your belief that both Phil and I “cherry pick examples” of the mention of monopsony by economists who wrote prior to the 1994 publication of David Card’s and Alan Krueger’s famous paper. “Fact is,” you conclude, “almost nobody paid attention to labor monopsony until Card and Krueger’s paper appeared.”
With respect, I disagree.
I took intermediate microeconomics at Nicholls State University during the Fall 1977 semester. My professor, Lloyd Elliott, taught the monopsony model and explained how it can be used to justify minimum-wage legislation. I don’t recall

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Some Covid Links

8 days ago

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby eloquently defends the great Great Barrington Declaration – and decries the dogmatic hostility unleashed against it and its three authors. A slice:
In retrospect, it seems clear that the Great Barrington authors were on target in doubting the advisability of sweeping lockdowns. Numerous studies have found that shutting down the economy was largely futile in preventing COVID’s spread and achieved little that could not have been done through less restrictive means. “No two states have been more different in approaches to fighting coronavirus than California and Florida,” noted one CNN commentator, “yet both ended up with roughly the same outcome.”
Whatever effect the lockdowns had on containing the coronavirus, there is no disputing that they damaged

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