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Pierre Lemieux



Articles by Pierre Lemieux

A Better Solution: Tax Rocks or Churches

4 days ago

The Biden administration may be realizing that a corporate minimum tax is inconsistent with the multitudinous tax preferences that Leviathan himself gives corporations in order that they do what he wants them to do. Here is another idea to finance the $2.3 billion of proposed “infrastructure” or whatever pleases Leviathan: tax rocks instead.
The proposal is succinctly explained in my article “Joe Biden’s Economic Agenda: An Early Appraisal,” in the Spring issue of Regulation:
However, corporations don’t pay taxes any more than, say, rocks do: if the government were to tax rocks, the actual incidence of the tax would fall on some flesh‐and‐blood individuals. In the case of corporations, those individuals are some combination of shareholders, employees, and

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Should Karl Marx Be Canceled?

8 days ago

There are good arguments to the effect that nobody should be “canceled”; but if somebody should, it would be Karl Marx. For all we know, he was a bigot and a racist who even used the N-word, something worse for the current dominant culture than what many did who were canceled or will soon be. One of economist Walter Williams’s columns was titled “The Ugly Racism of Karl Marx.”
The main economic argument against the cancel culture is that of John Stuart Mill in On Liberty: freedom of speech is necessary in the search for any sort of truth. Not only do mobs historically and literally lynch unpopular individuals, but the fear of the mob also reduces the incentives to look for the truth and turns many people into wimps. Anybody can make youth errors but they are easily

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Externalities and Our Children

12 days ago

The reason why things don’t work properly is that the right people are not in politics. Of course, what you think are the right people is not necessarily what your neighbor thinks, so ultimately the problem is a lack of national unity. What is needed is that we share the same values under democratic political leadership. And even this is not enough. Every voter must spend at least as much time studying every major political issue as he spends buying a new car. Add inclusivity to all this, and the proliferation of externalities would become solvable. If we are one, there cannot be anything external to us (reminder: the main characteristic of externalities is that they are external to the market). With more Alexandria Occasio-Cortezs and more Sidney Powells in

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Privileges and Privacy for the Rulers

15 days ago

Recent journalistic investigations revealed that the family and friends of New York governor Andrew Cuomo benefited from nomenklatura privileges at the time when ordinary people had problems getting Covid-19 tests and timely results. These state-privileged people could be tested rapidly, often at home and many times if they wished. Their tests were often rushed to laboratories by state troopers and treated in priority. Liz Wolfe of Reason Magazine writes:
There was limited testing if you thought you’d been exposed, and long wait times if you did manage to nab one of those precious few tests.
But not if your last name starts with a C and ends with an uomo! …
The Albany Times Union reported last night that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the state’s top health

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Public Health Is Not What Many Think It Is

20 days ago

Many people seem to think that that “public health” is a scientific white knight. For sure, many medical experts in the public health movement do have real scientific knowledge, but the science stops there. The rest is essentially a political movement.
The Reason Foundation just published my primer on public health: “Public Health Models and Related Government Interventions: A Primer.” A few excerpts:
“In many respects,” says a major textbook of public health, “it is more reasonable to view public health as a movement than as a profession.”
With its wide definition, ideology, and scope, public health is as much as, or more of, a political movement than a field of scientific inquiry. Elizabeth Fee agrees with “the idea that public health is not just a set of

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Individual and Collective Choices in Cars

22 days ago

There appears to be something basic that most people in most of human history don’t understand. Or is it me (along with a lot of economists)? Here is the argument.
It would be better if our car were chosen democratically. A democratic referendum could ask voters to choose which car will be available to consumers. (How individual purchases would be financed, either with private money or by government, does not matter at this point.) Assume the voting system is the one you prefer and that the number of choices or write-in options is also what you think is most democratic. The voters are asked to vote for the single brand and model of car to be produced or imported. Each individual has one vote, however “one vote” is defined in your preferred voting system. The

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Did Price-Gouging Laws Increase Covid Deaths?

25 days ago

An interesting working paper was published this month by economists Rik Chakraborti (Christopher Newport University) and Gavin Roberts (Weber State University), “How Price-Gouging Regulation Undermined COVID-19 Mitigation: Evidence of Unintended Consequences.”
These price controls created shortages, which, according to economic theory, would have been more severe in the 42 states that already had price-gouging laws on the books or (inexplicably for an economist) rushed to legislate them after Covid hit. The federal Defense Production Act, invoked by Donald Trump, added more biting price controls on pandemic-related supplies (such as personal protection equipment) but is not considered in the Chakraborti-Roberts paper.
The authors used a database of

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Logical and Praxeological Impossibilities

27 days ago

The use of logical impossibilities makes rational discourse impossible. A and non-A cannot both be true. Everybody cannot have an income higher than the median or the average. Nobody can consume if nobody produces (including do-it-yourself). Everybody cannot consume more if everybody produces less. You can’t be inclusive without admitting the non-inclusive in your inclusive set. And so on.
There also exist praxeological impossibilities which make any rational discourse about society impossible. I take “praxeology” to mean the logic of human action in relation to individual incentives. For example, you cannot consume something that you want but cannot produce yourself, except if somebody else is motivated to produce it for you through exchange or out of

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The Pandemic in Europe and America

March 13, 2021

The pandemic evolution now appears to be more worrying in Europe than in America, as illustrated by the graph below reproduced from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (Marcus Walker, Bertrand Benoit, and Stacy Meichtry, “Europe Confronts a Covid-19 Rebound as Vaccine Hopes Recede,” March 12, 2021). In France, for example, after two very long and restrictive (even tyrannical) national lockdowns, ICUs are close to 80% capacity. The Wall Street Journal explains:
Europe’s efforts continue to suffer from the EU’s slowness in procuring and approving vaccines, production delays at vaccine makers, and bureaucratic holdups in injecting available doses.

The “production delays at vaccine makers” are most likely due to the fact that the EU government has not purchased them in

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The President and the Good King Dagobert

March 5, 2021

It is suggested that the good President Biden called off one air strike in Syria after being told in extremis that a woman and a couple of children were near the planned impact (Gordon Lubold et al., “Biden Called Off Strike on a Second Military Target in Syria Last Week,” Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2021), just the opposite of what happened in the movie Eye in the Sky. I suspect that Joe Biden is, in private life, a decent human being. But he has some potential, prefigured in his previous politician’s life, to be a monster in politics. Jason Brennan argues in Against Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2016) that “politics makes us worse.”
But there are two related lessons of the aborted Syria strike that are perhaps less immediately obvious.

The first one

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Is Amazon a Corporate Mother Teresa?

March 3, 2021

Amazon is in many ways a fascinating company and deserves to be defended against most of its mainstream critics. However, it would be simplistic to explain its campaign for a $15 federally-imposed minimum wage by identifying it with a corporate Mother Teresa. Its more obvious reasons to preach for minimum wages are not defendable.
I will not repeat all the arguments against the minimum wage, summarized in a good article by Cato Institute’s Ryan Bourne (“The Case Against a $15 Federal Minimum Wage: Q&A”). My co-blogger David Henderson has also defended many of the standard economic arguments. There exist some disagreements among economists about the employment effect of minimum wages, but they mainly relate to the size and victims of the negative effect (see

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Will Joe Biden Be a Dictator?

February 16, 2021

This might look like a ridiculous question to ask about a soft-looking near-octogenarian who signals his virtue by repeating the inclusiveness mantra. But not so much if you define “dictator” as a political ruler who imposes on the whole population some shared preferences of the minority who brought him or keeps him in power. A more inclusive definition would replace “minority” by “majority short of unanimity.”
Biden was elected by 51% of the American voters. If, to be inclusive indeed, we include the third of the electorate (that is, of Americans of voting age) who did not vote, Mr. Biden’s support shrinks to 34% (51% × 66%). Now, consider that many who voted for him probably did so only or mainly because they thought that his adversary, Donald Trump, was even

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Vaccine Adventures

February 10, 2021

Following up on information that Covid-19 vaccines were available there, I walked into the small Maine pharmacy. I saw nobody inside, not even at the cash register. I continued to the back of the store: nobody manned the two counters of the pharmacist’s hideout. I stood in front of one. After just a few minutes, an employee appeared on the other side.
“Could I see the pharmacist?” I asked.
The pharmacist came.
“I have been told that you have Covid vaccines,” I said.
“We have a waiting list,” she replied.
I asked to be put on it but she would not, or could not, tell me when they were likely to phone me for an appointment. I recognized something like the Canadian health system, under which I lived for decades.
“Is it a matter of days, weeks, months, or years,” I

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The Economics of Violence: A Short Introduction

February 9, 2021

The simplistic declarations about violence heard after the “insurrection” of January 6 at the Capitol invite a reflection on the economics of violence. The economist’s starting point is that an individual uses violence when it is in his personal interest to do so—when, given his circumstances and constraints (including subjective moral constraints or the lack thereof), he finds the net expected benefit of violence greater than the net expected benefit of peaceful exchange for him. This is a positive observation about what is, not a normative statement about what ought to be, an important distinction to always keep in mind.
As the late UCLA professor Jack Hirshleifer argued, we must not overlook “the dark side of the force” (of the force of self-interest), which

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An 18th-Century Revolution, With Current Examples

February 4, 2021

One of the greatest discoveries of the 18th century did not come from physics or astronomy but from the nascent science of economics. It is the theory that if individuals independently and freely pursue their ordinary self-interest, the resulting social order will be efficient, that is, will allow virtually all these individuals—or at least their vast majority, given their starting points in life—to better satisfy their own preferences.
Adam Smith is, among the first modern economists, the one who, in his 1776 The Wealth of Nations, best formulated the idea:
The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful a principle, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only

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The Mittens of Mr. Sanders: Economic Lessons

January 25, 2021

The mittens that Bernie Sanders wore at the inauguration of the new president have been a big hit in the media and in cyberspace. And we now know where the famous mittens came from, although most people miss the economic lessons of the story. The mittens were sown from recycled materials by a Vermont teacher called Jen Ellis, who moonlights in this artisanal hobby (Travis M. Andrews, “The Handwarming Story of How Bernie Sanders Got his Inauguration Mittens,” Washington Post, January 21, 2021).
Remember Adam Smith’s pin factory. In the second part of the 18th century, the division of labor allowed 10 men working together to each make the equivalent of 4,800 pins a day, while a single man working alone could only make 20 at most and perhaps not more than one pin (The

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Biden’s Endearing but Collectivist Inaugural Speech

January 21, 2021

If Donald Trump were not (alas) so ignorant, he would envy the quality of Joe Biden’s inaugural speech pronounced earlier today. But there is a deep question to ask: Why are political rulers so insistent on “unity.” It was the main theme of Biden’s speech, where the word appears eight times. It was also a constant theme with Trump—but muffled as time went on. Remember his remarkable 2016 campaign ad, which is well worth listening to:
I will unify and bring our country back together. … We will be unified, we will be one, we will be happy again.
The reason for the rulers’ obsession is simple: unity makes people easier to rule. If the multitude of individuals with different preferences and circumstances were united like a single individual, governing would be easy:

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Why Is the Vaccine Distribution So Difficult?

January 19, 2021

Imagine if food were allocated and distributed by the government. Wouldn’t this prevent hunger and famines, which have certainly killed more people than epidemics in the history of mankind? Most students of economics should have a ready answer. The opposite approach—that government allocation is more efficient than the anarchy of the market—is illustrated by the story of the Russian official who, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, asked British economist Paul Seabright, “Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?” (recalled by Philip Coggan in his recent book More).
There is somebody in charge of the supply of Covid-19 vaccines in the United States, and that is precisely the problem. (That both the federal government and

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Total Government à la Irving Fisher Is Not Ideal

January 18, 2021

A major issue at the confluence of economics, political science, and political philosophy is, What is morally or economically better, the state (formal and centralized coercive authority), anarchy, or something in between? Ignorance of this question, which parallels the alternative between collective choices and individual choices, mars most political debates.
In 1941, progressive economist Irving Fisher said before the Yale Socialist Club (quoted in Mark Thorton, The Economics of Prohibition [University of Utah Press, 1991], p. 17):
I believe [William Graham Sumner] was one of the greatest professor we ever had at Yale, but I have drawn far away from his point of view, that of the old laissez faire doctrine. I remember he said in his classroom: “Gentlemen, the

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Economic Questions About the “Temple of Democracy”

January 11, 2021

Is it true, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed, that Congress is a temple of democracy (“U.S. Capital Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died after assault on Capitol, Protected With a Kind Touch,” Washington Post, January 8, 2021)? She said:
The violent and deadly act of insurrection targeting the Capitol, our temple of American Democracy, and its workers was a profound tragedy and stain on our nation’s history.
This invites a reflection on how Congress, democracy, and the state work. Any moral value attached to these institutions must be consistent with, although not limited to, their likely functioning and consequences.
Anthony de Jasay is one of the many economists who, over the last eight decades of so, have tried to understand the state (the whole

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No “Will of the People” in the Election

January 10, 2021

Writing about the final (with some luck) fireworks of the Trump presidency, Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins proposes many interesting or challenging insights, up to and including a final contradiction (“Don’t Expect Police to Shoot at Crowds,” January 8, 2021). The penultimate sentence states a deep and science-based idea that you don’t meet often in the press, even the serious press. Writes Jenkins:
Elections should strive to be above reproach in accuracy and lawfulness but they can’t manifest the “will of the people” when there is no unambiguous will to manifest.
I have tried to explain this idea in a few Econlog posts and, along the same lines, I have a forthcoming, more elaborate article in The Independent Review, titled “The Impossibility of

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Criminal Incentives: A Horrible Illustration

January 7, 2021

Samuel Little, a man who confessed killing 93 women over four decades, died in a California prison in late December” (Hannah Knowles, “Deadliest Serial Killer in American History Dies at 80, with Police Still Searching for his Victims,” Washington Post, December 30, 2020). He illustrated in a horrible way what Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker taught us: criminals are rational in the sense that they respond to incentives; those who are not rational don’t stay long on the market.
Becker was awarded the 1992 Nobel Prize in economics for “having extended the domain of economic theory to aspects of human behavior which had previously been dealt with—if at all—by other social science disciplines such as sociology, demography and criminology.” The higher the cost for a

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U.S. Tariffs Are Not “More Punishing to China”

January 4, 2021

The world would be a different place, more rational and convivial, if all politicians, journalists, and editors had some clear notions of supply and demand as well as of the history of economic thought—if, for example, they had read David Hume, Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill. As an illustration, consider a sentence in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (“Trump’s Trade War Will Be Left for Biden to Win,” January 3, 2021—my emphasis):
[Mr. Biden] has already said he wouldn’t immediately lift the tariffs, which should prove more punishing to China than the U.S., as its economy generally depends more on exports.
It is not clear whether the explanation I have emphasized is the journalist’s paraphrase of Mr. Biden’s thinking or the

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Free Enterprise: A Daring New Year Wish

December 31, 2020

A December 28 report in the Wall Street Journal illustrates (again) how a wish for free enterprise in America is not like carrying coals to Newcastle (see Charles Passy, “New York to Penalize Health-Care Providers $1 Million for Covid-19 Vaccine Fraud“). For Mr. Cuomo, who drinks at the zeitgeist of our times, “fraud” simply means what the government does not like. A few excerpts:
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he will sign an executive order to penalize health-care providers that administer the Covid-19 vaccine without following state prioritization protocols. … Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said that providers that ignore this will face fines of up to $1 million and a revocation of all state licenses. …
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said over the

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New Year Wish: Political Wars of Religion?

December 29, 2020

Consider political wars of religion, which I define as confrontations about whose preferences and values will be imposed on other individuals. They are not what any friend would wish you for 2021! President-elect Joe Biden does not seem to understand this as he declared (quoted by Deanna Paul, “Republican Electors Cast Unofficial Ballots, Setting Up Congressional Clash,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020):
Respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy, even if we find those results hard to accept.
First, the United States (or perhaps more exactly, the US government) is not a democracy, but a republic, as John Grove argued in his article “Numerical Democracy or Constitutional Reality?” (Law and Liberty, November 12, 2020).  Indeed, the

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Open Letter to Voters: Political Sunk Costs

December 24, 2020

Considering sunk costs in one’s decisions is a cognitive limitation that behavioral economists may underestimate. If you, dear voter, have already lost $100,000 in a project that you are sure will continue to bring you net losses, you will just lose more money by putting more into it. Your previous cost is sunk and won’t be reimbursed to you just because you lose more money. As the dictum goes, don’t throw good money after bad money!
The sunk-cost fallacy is at work in political partisanship too. Suppose you have “invested,” if only emotionally, in politician X. You have followed him for years, applauding his good deeds and forgiving his bad ones: “he just said that to be elected,” “he did not have a choice,” “consider how politician W would be worse,” etc. Perhaps

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Jim Crow: More Racist than the Railroads

December 18, 2020

It is not always understood how governments and the public sector are more inclined to bow to popular discriminatory bigotry than private businesses, because of the incentives of their respective actors. As Gary Becker argued, private businesses have to pay the cost of their discrimination. Only if their owners, or perhaps a large number of their customers, have a “taste for discrimination” will they engage in it—but competitors will then rush in, with higher prices if necessary, to satisfy the unfulfilled demand of the victims of discrimination.
Starting around 1880, Jim Crow laws prevented this discrimination in the South. Historian Leon Litwack writes:
Although blacks had previously experienced segregation in various forms, the thoroughness of Jim Crow laws made

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Generally Accepted Rules and the Election

December 16, 2020

To a large extent, people do what is generally expected from them, simply because it simplifies their lives in society. This is how and why rules develop that facilitate social coexistence. The danger is that these rules turn out to be stifling and economically inefficient, which means that they impede trade, innovation, and prosperity. Primitive tribes provide an extreme example. The opportunity is that some social rules—and institutions, which are sets of rules—may allow a large measure of both individual liberty and social regularity.
A long tradition of (classical) liberal thinkers, often economists, from David Hume to Friedrich Hayek, has emphasized the benefit of evolved social conventions, as opposed to diktats from political authority. Such conventional

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Similarity Between Socialism and Fascism: An Illustration

December 9, 2020

Fortunately, socialism and fascism are not the only two political alternatives, for neither is attractive. Moreover, a well-kept secret is how similar the two ideologies are. Substituting socialism for fascism in many statements from fascists would bring instant approval from socialists. Many antifa agitators would be surprised to realize that they are doing fascism unknowingly, just as Mr. Jourdain was doing prose without being aware of it.
The following quotes come from The Coming American Fascism (Harper & Brothers, 1936) by Lawrence Dennis, a well-known American fascist of the time:
Fascism does not accept the liberal dogmas as to sovereignty of the consumer or trader in the free market. It does not admit that the market ever can or should be entirely free. (p.

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Elections Are Not a Ruler’s Toy Nor a Sacred Panacea

November 23, 2020

Some Republican leaders have, at last, started to blame Mr. Trump for burning the bridges behind him after being fired by the electorate or, perhaps more exactly (nothing is grandiose in that presidency), for breaking what he thinks are his toys after he felt scolded. (Will he also scratch graffiti on the oval office desk?) This is more or less what the Wall Street Journal, a newspaper that tried to like Trump, argues, although more prudently, in two pieces: “A Bogus Dispute Is Doing Real Damage,” November 19, by columnist Peggy Noonan; and Lindsay Wise, “Some Republicans Call for Trump to Back Up Claims of Fraud,” November 20, 2020.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported on weekend tweets of Mr. Trump attacking the Republicans who have asked him to stop

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