The Progress of Statistical Justice

In Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Minority Report” (with Tom Cruise) and in the original 1956 science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, mutants called “precogs” can predict future crimes – “precrimes” – so that their authors can be arrested in advance. “In our society,” says the head of the precrime police, “we have no major crimes. But we have a detention camp full of would-be criminals.”

This is not only science fiction. Continue reading

An Economist’s Reflections on Aristotle’s Politics

My foreword to the Laissez Faire Books / Classical Wisdom ebook edition of Aristotle’s Politics (2015)

Reviewing Aristotle’s Politics on Amazon, a reader opined, “even though Aristotle’s ideas are brilliant, I don’t like the way he expresses himself.” Everybody can have his opinion, but this one is problematic. First, Aristotle’s Politics, as it has been handed to us, is quite certainly not exactly what Aristotle wrote or said. Moreover, one is advised to approach with some humility a classic book that is still influential after 25 centuries. In this spirit, I will try to provide some keys about how Politics fits in today’s knowledge of politics, economics, and liberty. Continue reading

Don’t Waste Your Vote

If someone tells you that he doesn’t want to “waste his vote” and will thus vote strategically for the least bad candidate with a chance of winning, tell him the following. He should also make sure that his least bad candidate only wins by a small majority. If he thinks that C is the only good candidate but that only A and B have a decent chance of winning and that A is the least bad, he wants to make sure that A wins with only a small margin.

Now, if he can make his preferred (or least disliked) candidate win because of his own vote, surely he can also make him win by only 10 votes. This is what is called voting strategically.

An Interpretation of the American Political Mess

For several decades, the political establishment told Americans that the government is nice and can give them what they want. They did get much from government, but (not surprisingly) also paid much. And ordinary people got their preferences crushed and their lifestyles scorned or controlled by political correctness, the war on smokers and rednecks, and countless regulations. Life became more politicized and conflictual. No wonder that so many people are angry.
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The Tobacco Manufacturer and the State

Here is the typical dialogue between a standard tobacco manufacturer and the state (it is stylized but only slightly):

The State: “You intentionally sell a product that has no benefit for your idiotic customers and just kills them.”

The Tobacco Manufacturer: “Yes, I intentionally sell a product that has no benefit for my idiotic customers and just kills them.”

The State: “We shall impose a legal prohibition.”

The Tobacco Manufacturer: “No, you cannot do that, it’s a perfectly legal product!”

A Student Who Still Needs to Study and Think

From tonight’s Financial Times: “Colin Dudgeon, a student at University of New Hampshire Manchester, said he had been choosing between Mr Trump and Mr Sanders but ultimately went with Mr Trump because he believed the property billionaire needed his help more. ‘They’re two sides of the same populist coin,’ he said. ‘I wanted to stick the finger to the establishment.'” Poor little guy! He still has some non-romantic studies and thinking to do about politics. Trump does not need his help at all. And were it not for this Financial Times story, nobody would have noticed his finger to the establishment.

What Would Happen to Taxes if Cash Were Banned?

Here is a little exercise in Public Choice economics: If a government banned cash (as some are proposing), what would happen to its tax rates? Answer: they would increase as the cost of tax resistance would be lower and Leviathan would take advantage of this. On this topic, see my article “The Economics of Tax Dodging” in the Library of Economics and Liberty. The same would happen to a lesser extent if the size of large denominations is further restricted.

The Modernity of Say’s Treatise on Political Economy

Does a foreign tourist who spends $2,000 in America bring $2,000 in benefits? Of course not. But this was not always obvious. In fact, it is still not obvious to many of our contemporaries. But it was already well explained by Jean-Baptiste Say in his book A Treatise on Political Economy, first published in 1803. Say explains that, for his $2,000, the tourist obtains the equivalent value in goods and services, and it is just as if he had imported goods worth $2,000 to wherever he lives. It is an exchange like any other exchange of something for something else, from which each party to the exchange benefits, but nobody gives away money. Continue reading