Open for Business, Close to Consumer Preferences

In a couple of weekend tweets, Donald Trump warned American companies against shipping goods to America from foreign countries: “Please be forewarned prior to making a very expensive mistake!” “THE UNITED STATES,” he added in bold letters and with his usual inconsistency, “IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS.” “Open for business” apparently means that the government is open to meddling with businesses.
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Reflections on Protectionism In View of Taussig’s The Tariff History of the United States

One can exaggerate the degree of liberty in America before the 20th-century sprint of interventionism. (I have sinned myself.) One form of widespread government intervention in 19th-century America was protectionism –- the imposition of customs tariffs to limit imports. In his 1914 The Tariff History of the United States, F. W. Taussig follows the evolution of American protectionism from the early Republic, and especially the first really protectionist tariff act in 1808, up to 1913.
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Trump: The Role of the Establishment

There is something funny about the establishment’s dismay at Donald Trump’s election victory. It is not so much the disruption of their suspicious comfort and contentment. We still don’t know how disrupted they will be, because we don’t know what Mr. Trump’s policies will be. Judging from the financial markets’ salivating at new stimulus expenditures, they may not be disrupted much. Continue reading

Innocuous and Dangerous Ignorants

There are two sorts of ignorants: the innocuous sort and the dangerous sort. Maine Governor Paul LePage appears to be in the first category.

The press — and even The Economist — reported his statement that “We need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power.” Continue reading

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!”