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Tag Archives: Economic Philosophy

Bioethics: Tuskegee vs. COVID

When bioethicists want to justify their own existence, they routinely point to the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study.  It’s a gripping story.  Back in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service started a study of 399 black men with latent syphilis, plus a control group of 201 black men without syphilis.  Contrary to what I’ve sometimes heard, the researchers never injected anyone with syphilis.  However, they grossly violated the principle of informed consent, with...

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Will Joe Biden Be a Dictator?

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...

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White Guilt and Reparations: A True Story

Co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s post this morning on collective guilt and the subsequent discussion in the comment section reminded me of something that happened my first day of a microeconomics class in 2001. At the end of the opening class, a number of people came up to ask questions. One was a young black woman who said, “Professor, what do you think of reparations for slavery?” I answered, “I promise I’ll answer but first I want to know what you think.” She said, “I...

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Collective Guilt for Everyone for Everything

Here’s an excerpt from my book-in-progress, Poverty: Who To Blame. After “Don’t blame the victim,” the second-most obvious maxim for blame is, “Only blame the perpetrators.”  Precisely who, though, are the “perpetrators”?  Another deep criticism of my approach is that I blame too narrowly.  Instead of concentrating blame on specific wrong-doers, we should blame large swaths of society – or even whole countries.  To my ears, this echoes a blood-curdling passage from...

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What is Equity?

In a comment on one of my recent posts, co-blogger Scott Sumner quotes my statement: But implicit in his discussion is the idea that equity is synonymous with income equality or, at least, reduced income inequality. That’s not my view. My view is that people are treated equitably when other people don’t take their stuff. Scott then writes: That’s fine as a definition, but in that case I’d just use a different term.  Even if I accepted your definition of “equity”, it...

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Revolution is the Hell of It: Algerian Edition

In 1968, Abbie Hoffman famously wrote a book called Revolution for the Hell of It. In 1973, this negatively inspired David Friedman to write a chapter called “Revolution is the Hell of It.” Last month, I watched The Battle of Algiers, probably the most famous pro-terrorist (or at least anti-anti-terrorist) movie in history.  If you don’t know the sordid history of the “liberation” of Algeria, you should.  The whole movie is gripping, but this little speech by...

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The Mittens of Mr. Sanders: Economic Lessons

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,”...

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Welfare states and the new (center) left

In recent years, the reporting at The Economist has moved somewhat to the left. Here’s a recent example: But the assumption of rational self-interest constrains the welfare state significantly. Generous benefits, and the high taxes needed to fund them, will put rationally minded people off work, undermining economic growth and the government’s capacity to help people in need. In practice, though, Mr Saez explained, the world works differently. . . . Employment rates...

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Biden’s Endearing but Collectivist Inaugural Speech

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...

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Why Is the Vaccine Distribution So Difficult?

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...

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