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Tag Archives: Political Economy

The State as Our Father (or Loving Mother)

Current attacks on the Food and Drug Administration for not regulating e-cigarettes enough remind us of an inconvenient truth. In the mind of public health activists and many medical experts, the state is to adult citizens what parents are to their children. This fiction has even been consecrated by a century-old old legal principle. The Wall Street Journal of yesterday (“Researchers Say FDA Has Fallen Down on E-Cigarette Testing”) reports that the current attacks...

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The Basics: Anarchy and Public Goods

Should Socrates have drunk the hemlock? Should you obey the state? What is the state for? The economic concept of “public good” is crucial for economics and political philosophy and for answering that sort of question. Here’s a short introduction (with some further questions). A public good (sometimes called “collective good”) is something for which all members of a group are willing to pay some price but for which it is impossible (or too costly) to charge a price to...

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From Sewer Workers to Literary Men

Public health is an interesting area of research and political activism. Especially since the growth of industrial cities in early modern times, inefficient disposal of garbage and human waste has been known to favor epidemics of certain diseases. In the 19th century, it was also noticed than sewer workers were, quite understandably, more exposed to these diseases. The scope of public health was extended to occupational health. This suggests a series of questions and...

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Milton Friedman

Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the death of Milton Friedman. I am using this occasion to bear witness to the influence the Nobel economist had on my intellectual development as it had on the opinions of countless others. (See, for example, the testimony of my co-blogger David Henderson.) When I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto at the turn of the 1970s, Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 1962) appeared as a...

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The Rhetoric of the Paris Agreement

On November 4, the US government started the process of leaving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also called the Paris Agreement) by transmitting the formal one-year notification (“U.S. Formally Begins to Leave the Paris Climate Agreement,” NPR, November 4, 2019). A Wall Street Journal report (“U.S. Starts Process to Exit Paris Climate Agreement,” November 4, 2019) alluded to the official reason: The U.S. has officially started the process of...

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Banning E-Cigarette Flavors

The state (the whole apparatus of sovereign government) does not reach decisions randomly at some sort of ritual coin-throwing ceremony. Given its claim as an ultimate monopoly of violence and its decision-making technology—in the cases of interest here: majoritarian democracy with its problems of collective action and voters’ rational ignorance—the state will be led, as by an invisible hand, to reach certain decisions and to avoid others. Resisting these built-in...

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Giuliani’s Well-Deserved Disgrace

A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal throws light on the suspicious business history of Lev Parnas, one of Rudolph Giuliani’s helpers in the Ukrainian affair (“Giuliani Associate Left Trail of Troubled Businesses Before Ukraine Probe Push,” October 31, 2019). Mr. Parnas has been charged by federal prosecutors and Mr. Giuliani himself may be under investigation. In an article titled “The Unravelling of Rudy Giuliani (October 17), The Economist wondered how the...

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The Autocrat and the Free Press: A Model

How should a rational autocrat or would-be autocrat deal with a free press? Rationality does not mean conscious, formal, or consistent rationality: the autocrat could be an entrepreneur with good intuitions. (In this model, I take “autocrat,” “dictator,” or “strongman” as roughly equivalent political beings.) Being an autocrat is not easy. On the one hand, a free press is dangerous because it holds the autocrat to account by revealing to “his” people things that he...

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Is It Sufficient to Just Believe?

What’s the importance of truth in economics? Has the presidency of Donald Trump taught us anything in that respect? By “us”, I mean we libertarians who have been tempted by populist enterprises. The Economist writes (“The Man Without a Plan: Donald Trump Suddenly Withdraws from Northern Syria,” October 10, 2019) that Trump’s advisers are coping with a commander-in-chief who, according to his own former secretary of state, “is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to...

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Emergency and Shortages in Altruistic California

Sometimes, one gets the impression that knowledge of economics has progressed. It can be guessed that proportionately fewer people than in the 17th century now think that trade wars are good (except within some backward governments). At other times, it seems that knowledge has not progressed much: take “price-gouging” laws, whose effects the California power blackouts illustrate again. In rich California, the preventive power blackouts created many shortages, in the...

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