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Tag Archives: Economic Philosophy

The Freedom to Do What Sounds Wrong

Friends of freedom routinely defend the right to do wrong.  “If you’re only free to do good things, what freedom do you really have?”  Yet on reflection, this sorely underrates the value of freedom.  Yes, the freedom to do bad things is important.  Much more important, though, is the freedom to do good things that sound bad. Why is this so important?  Because Social Desirability Bias is ubiquitous; that’s why.   Long psych story short: When the truth sounds bad, human...

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Sir Samuel Brittan RIP

Tyler Cowen, over at Marginal Revolution, quite rightly laments the death of British economic journalist, the aptly named Samuel Brittan. Like Tyler, I first heard of Brittan’s Capitalism and the Permissive Society from the late Roy A. Childs, Jr. You might think that “Permissive” in the title is used negatively. No. One of the things Brittan liked about capitalism was that it is permissive. I’m going from memory here; my copy was destroyed in my 2007 office fire....

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Facebook’s Decision about the Holocaust

The vast majority of people, including your humble blogger, have never done any serious research on the Holocaust. In this case, our main reason to believe it happened is that, in most relatively-free countries, anybody who had the opposite opinion has been free to defend it and that, obviously, it did not survive the shock of free debates. For the same reason, most of us non-physicists believe in quantum entanglement. What will be the consequence of the legal bans on...

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On the Shortness of Time

Last month, in a post on an EconTalk with Bob Chitester, I seconded Bob’s view of the importance of poetry. One of my favorites, which I never see anyone else quote, is one I learned in high school. My high school English teacher, believe it or not, was Miss English. It’s titled “On the Shortness of Time” and is by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. My favorite lines are the last two. Here it is: If I could live without the thought of death,Forgetful of time’s waste, the soul’s...

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Nudge: Welfare State Edition

Simplistic summary of a long debate on paternalism: Hard Paternalist: Government should force weak human beings to do what’s in their own best interest. Knee-Jerk Libertarian: No, that’s totalitarian. Soft Paternalist: Government should nudge weak human beings to do what’s in their own best interest. Thoughtful Libertarian: You define “nudges” so elastically that you still end up being pretty totalitarian. Rizzo and Whitman’s Escaping Paternalism exemplifies the...

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A Story of Love and Hate

One of my book reviews in the Fall issue of Regulation is about Philip Coggan’s More (The Economist, 2020) and has the same title as this post. In the article, I explain what my love and hate story is about: I am certainly not the only one to have a love–hate relationship with The Economist, the venerable magazine created in 1843 to defend free trade. At least over the past 10 years, the magazine seems to have become more tolerant of Leviathan, but it remains a source...

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Self-Help Is Like a Vaccine

AEI’s Andrew Biggs has a totally reasonable piece arguing that Americans’ unhealthy lifestyles are a major cause of America’s high COVID mortality rate: Americans entered the Covid pandemic in much poorer health than citizens of other developed countries. For instance, over 27,000 U.S Covid deaths list diabetes as a comorbidity, accounting for 16% of total Covid-related fatalities. But what if instead of having the highest diabetes rate among rich countries the U.S....

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A Partial Defense of Milton Friedman’s 1970 NYT Essay

To understand my story, you first need to understand Friedman’s basic point. Here it is in a nutshell: Managers are employees of corporations. In the decisions they make with corporate resources, they should be responsible to the corporation. That means being responsible to the stockholders, who, after all, are the corporation’s owners. The vast majority of stockholders want the corporation to, in Friedman’s words, “make as much money as possible.” Thus Friedman’s...

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The Illogic of Collective Guilt

A while back, I ran the following set of Twitter polls on collective guilt.  Here’s what people think at the most abstract level. How often are people collectively guilty? — Bryan Caplan (@bryan_caplan) August 24, 2020 Overall, I was surprised by how few people said, “Never.”  I expected more like 70-80%, especially when phrased so baldly.  What really puzzled me, though, were people’s views about the sources of collective guilt.  People are about as willing to...

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Loyalty Oaths Compared: An Orwellian Exercise

A key tenet of American’s civic religion is that the McCarthy-era persecution of Communists and Communist sympathizers was both paranoid and immoral.  Academics are especially strident in their commitment to this tenet.  And since they are academics, they’re especially dismayed by academia‘s persecution of Communists and Communist sympathizers.  The most infamous form of this persecution: the loyalty oaths many universities imposed on their employees.  Sign the oath,...

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