Il senso comune nell’economia

Hypocrites & Half-Wits: A Daily Dose of Sanity from Cafe Hayek by Donald Boudreaux

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I DON’T WANT TO BE UNIFIED

Thomas Friedman wants “a president who can unify the country around meaningful action on energy and climate”… but I don’t want to be unified… I’m different…

Note:L’ABBRACCIO SOFFOCANTE DI THOMAS FRIEDMAN

OF COURSE, IN THE CASE OF TAX PENALTIES, THE AGENCY IS UNACCOUNTABLE AND THE CHARGES ARE UNCONSCIONABLE—YET THEY STILL DO ENCOURAGE FULL AND TIMELY PAYMENT OF TAXES.

You’re correct that the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 will discourage lenders from extending credit to households most in need of it by arbitrarily reducing the penalties that lenders may assess against dead-beat and delinquent debtors

Note:PIU’ MISURE PER FAVORIRE I DEBITORI, MENO CREDITO EROGATO

Ask Congress and the White House to regulate more strictly the penalties assessed by the IRS against dead-beat and delinquent taxpayers—for example, let’s reduce fees and interest charges for late payment of taxes, and eliminate jail time as a punishment for tax evasion. If Our Leaders’ faith is sound, there will be no increase in tax evasion and delinquencies.

Note:ANALOGIA

YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF A MEMBER OF THE PROFESSORIATE WHOSE IGNORANCE OF HISTORY IS UNPARDONABLE OR WHOSE DISTORTED ETHICS ARE APPALLING (OR BOTH).

John D. Rockefeller earned every cent of his wealth honestly and peacefully—mostly by creating unprecedented efficiencies in the production and distribution of kerosene, the chief product extracted from petroleum during the 19th century. Rockefeller’s efficiencies drove the price of kerosene down from 26 cents per gallon in 1870 (the year Rockefeller founded Standard Oil) to 5.9 cents per gallon in 1897 (the year Rockefeller retired from Standard)…. The only people ‘harmed’ by Rockefeller were his competitors (such as Franklin Tarbell, father of Ida) who failed to keep up with Standard’s innovations and cost-reducing techniques….

Note:IL TIPICO ROBBER BARON PERSEGUITATO DALL’ ANTITRUST

COMMUNISM AND CAPITALISM.

Slavoj Zizek rightly complains—if with understatement bordering on the vulgar—of being “deceived” by communism (“20 Years of Collapse,” Nov. 9). But like many other pundits who feign wisdom by steering clear of what they mistakenly interpret to be an extreme position, he complains also of being “disillusioned” by capitalism.

Note:LA SIMMETRIA IMMAGINARIA DI ZIZEK

capitalism is not imposed; it is simply what arises when adults are free to engage in consensual commercial acts… Perhaps most importantly, unlike communism, capitalism promises neither to produce heaven on earth

L’ ASIMMETRIA

HE SET THE STANDARD.

Stephen Stromberg is correct that the recent run-up in gasoline prices isn’t the fault of President Obama (“President Obama says that gas prices reflect supply and demand,” April 27). But Mr. Stromberg is wrong to pity Mr. Obama for nevertheless being blamed by the public for their pain at the pumps. Mr. Obama, like so many elected officials, won office by deluding voters with a grand image of a government that, in the right hands, can fix nearly every problem

Note:IL GOVERNO ILLUDE

GOVERNMENTS CAN BE BUILT; NATIONS MIGHT BE BUILT; CIVIL SOCIETIES, ALAS, CAN NEVER BE BUILT. THEY MUST EMERGE.

William Kristol argues that “American principles” require Uncle Sam to intervene more vigorously—with force, if necessary—in the revolutions now sweeping through the Middle East

Note:I NEOCONSERVATORI

The same government that Mr. Kristol so often, and rightly, criticizes for making a mess of matters here at home is unlikely to become a shining example of efficiency, rectitude, and Solomaic wisdom in foreign lands.

Note:MA…

FRIEDMAN AND KENNEDY.

“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”

Note:L’ODIOSA MASSIMA DI KENNEDY

“Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic ‘what your country can do for you’ implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, ‘what you can do for your ‘country’ implies the government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary.”

Note:FRIEDMAM SPIEGA PERCHÈ

HYPOCRITES.

Paul Luce rightly notes that new legislation limiting the issuance of credit by retail stores is obnoxiously paternalistic: many customers who wish to buy on credit, and many retailers who wish to take the risk of extending credit, are now arbitrarily prevented from doing so (Letters, Jan. 8). This legislation is especially infuriating because the same politicians who voted for it—the very same officious intermeddlers who claim to care so deeply about protecting unsuspecting Americans from being burdened with excessive debt—wantonly and routinely foist huge debt burdens on each and every American (and our progeny) through Uncle Sam’s soaring budget deficits.

Note:IL COLMO: IL LEGISLATORE DI UNO STATO INDEBITATISSIMO CHE LIMITA PER LEGGE IL CREDITO AL CONSUMO. E ALZA ANCHE IL DITINO

IT’S A MAGIC SHOW IN WHICH THE RABBIT FAILS TO SPRING FROM THE HAT BUT IN WHICH SOME AUDIENCE MEMBERS REALLY DO GET SAWED IN HALF.

He writes that “Over the past 20 months, Democrats have done a lot—too much, the opposition says. But they don’t want to talk about the achievements. The stimulus bill is unpopular; they’re not getting credit for health-care legislation, financial reforms and many other accomplishments.” Enacting legislation is neither an “achievement” nor an “accomplishment”

Note:PER DANA MILBANK FARE LEGGI È QUALCOSA CHE VA RIVENDICATO

I’VE SAID IT BEFORE: TRYING TO LEARN ECONOMICS FROM THE POPULAR MEDIA IS LIKE TRYING TO LEARN PHYSICS BY WATCHING ROAD RUNNER CARTOONS.

Fox Morning News co-host Megyn Kelly naively worries that Pernod’s acquisition of Vin & Spirit AB (maker of Absolut vodka) will lead to higher prices paid by those of us who belly up to the bar (March 31). Ms. Kelly reasons that, because many analysts regard the $8 billion paid by Pernod for Vin & Spirit to be “too high,” Pernod will raise the prices it charges for its products in order to recover the losses it would otherwise suffer as a result of paying such a large sum for Vin & Spirit. If Ms. Kelly’s economics were correct, bankruptcies would be unknown. Any business finding its revenues to be inadequate would simply raise the prices

Note:UN MONDO SENZA BANCAROTTE

DOUX COMMERCE.

Rwanda’s post-genocide experience teaches a lesson that remains too-little appreciated: commerce crowds out evil. My wife, Karol Boudreaux, has done extensive research in Rwanda. She finds compelling evidence that Rwanda’s deregulation of its coffee market has played a major role in calming tribal hostilities… Hutus and Tutsis, who just a few years ago sought to slaughter each other, now mutually prosper by working side by side to grow and process coffee for the global market….

Note:MALE E BENE IN RWANDA

THE LOGIC, I SUPPOSE, IS THAT WE SHOULD BE FREE TO DO ONLY WHAT IS WISE AND GOOD AND APPROVED BY ELITE OPINION.

“Experience has shown that consumers do not always use their freedom to make healthy choices. So a regulation that is based on science and in the best interests of the consumer should not be interpreted as an unwarranted intrusion into personal lifestyle choices. Is the freedom to choose unhealthy food that difficult to forfeit?”

Note:TIPICO PENSIERO DELLO SCIENZIATO IDIOTA

Experience has shown that newspapers do not always use their freedom to report wisely. So a regulation that is based on science and in the best interest of the public should not be interpreted as an unwarranted intrusion into freedom of the press.

Note:APPLICHIAMO IL PRECETTO AI GIORNALI

HAT TIP TO WALTER WILLIAMS.

“Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect.… In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of ‘Eurosclerosis,’ the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.”

Note:KRUGMAN SUI SUSSIDI ALLA DISOCCUPAZIONE

THIS KICKABLE HORSE WON’T DIE.

Usually sure-footed, Martin Feldstein stumbles when he argues that “America will need a trade surplus” in order to “repay” today’s trade deficit (“Thinking About the Dollar,” July 28). First, the only part of the trade deficit that must be repaid is the part that becomes debt, such as when foreigners buy Treasury notes. When foreigners buy dollar-denominated equity or real estate, or when they make greenfield investments in the U.S. or simply hold dollars, no debt is created.

Note:IL DEBITO ESTERO AMERICANO

Uncle Sam and many private Americans might well have financed excessive consumption with excessive debt, but, if so, the problem is the debt and not the nationalities of the creditors.

Note:IL PROBLEMA NON È LA NAZIONALITÀ DEI CREDITORI

MORE AND MORE MIDDLE-CLASS AMERICANS ARE DISAPPEARING—INTO THE UPPER CLASSES. (AND WITH APOLOGIES TO ARNOLD KLING.)

Judith Warner writes that “More and more people are being priced out of a middle class existence” (“The Clinton Surprise,” October 19). This statement is true, but only because more and more Americans are getting richer.

Note:LA CLASSE MEDIA DIVENTA RICCA

DISPOSING OF A MYTH.

Given that the total land area needed to hold all of America’s garbage for the next century would be only about 10 miles on a side, it is safe to conclude that far more rubbish than is worth considering will fit into far less area than is worth worrying about.”

Note:QUANTO SPAZIO SERVE PER LE DISCARICHE

SELF-DELUSION IS ONE THING; TRYING TO PERSUADE OTHERS THAT YOUR SELF-DELUSIONS ARE REALISTIC IS QUITE ANOTHER.

Jim Apgar claims that he and his colleagues were motivated only by their students’ needs and that “no amount of money would have improved my performance” (Letters, March 16). Wow! Taking Mr. Apgar at his word implies that no reduction in the amount of money he was paid would have worsened his performance. Indeed, his claim suggests that he would have continued to teach—and teach well—

Note:LA PAGA DEGLI INSEGNANTI

WINNING AN ARGUMENT IS EASY IF YOU ASSUME THAT THE RELEVANT CONCLUSION IN SUPPORT OF YOUR ARGUMENT IS TRUE.

Conservatives (or, more accurately here, skeptics of the welfare state) argue that government programs, because these rely upon taxation and force, are not the product of a people’s compassion. These are instead the product of force-backed greed masquerading as compassion (Ever reflect on why the Food Stamp program is run by the Department of Agriculture, or why labor unions oppose free trade?),

Note:IL WELFARE NON È BONTÀ

YOU WANT TO SEE THE OPPOSITE OF DIGNITY?

I write this letter from Tbilisi, Georgia, I report personally one such reason visible to anyone here. This city is crowded with hideously ugly, dilapidated, and spirit-devastating concrete buildings erected by the Soviets. Living and working in these overgrown hovels is anything but dignified. In vivid contrast to the impersonal communist-era structures are the buildings and homes built since the fall of the Soviet Union. These structures—products of powerful doses of capitalist creativity, enterprise, and consumer choice—are warm, unique, personal, attractive, and functional.

Note:IL CAPITALISMO DISTRUGGE LA DIGNITÀ DELL’UOMO? GIUDICHIAMO DA TIBILISI

ANSWER ME THIS.

People would pay property taxes. Government would spend these tax receipts on building and operating supermarkets. Each household would be assigned to a particular supermarket from which it would get its weekly allotment of groceries for “free.” (Department of Supermarket officials would determine the quantities and kinds of groceries that families are entitled to receive.) Each family would be allowed to patronize only that “public” supermarket to which it is assigned. Residents of wealthier counties would obviously have better-stocked supermarkets than would residents of poorer counties. Indeed, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in determining people’s choices of neighborhoods in which to live. When the quality of supermarkets becomes widely recognized to be dismal, calls for “supermarket choice” would arise, only to be ridiculed as a right-wing ploy to deny ordinary families the ability to eat. Such choice, it would be alleged, would drain resources from public supermarkets whose poor performance proves that these supermarkets are underfunded.

Note:PERCHÈ NON GESTIRE I SUPERMERCATI COME LA SCUOLA?

CONTROL YOUR PRESUMPTIONS.

Mr Wilkinson correctly challenges New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s claim that “the wealthiest plutocrats now actually control a greater share of the pie in the United States” than in several countries of Latin America. Rich Americans, Mr Wilkinson rightly points out, overwhelmingly are business people who serve the middle-classes and not political, military, or ecclesiastic predators who steal from peasants…. wealth is not “controlled.”

Note:I RICCHI DOMINANO SERVENDO IL PROSSIMO

Wealth is created only by serving consumers—that is, by making others wealthier—and it flees from those who stop serving consumers. Should Apple stop producing innovative products that consumers willingly buy, Steve Jobs’s fortune will disappear. Should Southwest Airlines start charging uncompetitive fares, its shareholders’ wealth will dissolve. Should a super-wealthy hedge-fund manager consistently fail to increase the value of his clients’ portfolio, he will become a not-so-super-wealthy ex-fund-manager.

Note:L’ AZIONE DELLA RICCHEZZA

INTENTIONS ARE NOT RESULTS.

Mr. Lutz is incorrect to assert that it is a “deep contradiction” to claim to care about children while being against government programs such as “health insurance for children, … against unemployment benefits, against equal pay, against food safety, against money for teachers, against raising the minimum wage, against tobacco education, mine safety, alternative energy, pollution control, whistle-blower protection, science and technology research.” To oppose government provision of such things is not to be “against” such things.

Note:ESSERE CONTRO UN PROGRAMMA GOVERNATIVO NON SIGNIFICA ESSERE CONTRO CIÒ CHE VORREBBE REALIZZARE QUEL PROGRAMMA

THE CLOSING SENTENCE IN SOWELL’S 1980 BOOK, KNOWLEDGE & DECISIONS:

“FREEDOM IS NOT SIMPLY THE RIGHT OF INTELLECTUALS TO CIRCULATE THEIR MERCHANDISE. IT IS, ABOVE ALL, THE RIGHT OF ORDINARY PEOPLE TO FIND ELBOW ROOM FOR THEMSELVES AND A REFUGE FROM THE RAMPAGING PRESUMPTIONS OF THEIR ‘BETTERS.’”

Note:LA LIBERTÀ È LIBERTÀ DI SBAGLIARE

liberals,” in contrast to their mindless Cro-Magnon opposites, overflow with ideas (“The State of Liberalism,” Oct. 24). Indeed they do. But these ideas are almost exclusively about how other people should live their lives.

Note:IL MARCHIO DEL PROGRESSISTA

SHE IS TO ABSORB THE COSTS OF THIS LEGISLATION.

The anecdote she offers from her own restaurant is that, since the legislation went into effect, employees no longer report to work while sick and, hence, no longer infect fellow employees with their ailments.

Note:GLI EFFETTI DELLA LEGGE SUL CONGEDO PAGATO PER MALATTIA

why did she not offer paid sick-leave to her employees on her own?

PROBLEMA

SPIEGARE IL PROTEZIONISMO

My favorite teaching tool is a fable based on a tale told by Professor James Ingram of North Carolina State University. It’s the tale of a brilliant entrepreneur who invented a new technology for turning grain into cars. The entrepreneur built a factory by the sea, surrounded its inner workings with secrecy, and commenced production. Consumers were thrilled to learn that the new cars were better and cheaper than anything Detroit had to offer. Midwestern farmers were thrilled when the factory ordered vast amounts of grain to feed into its mysterious machinery. There was indeed dismay among those autoworkers who had been trained in the old methods, but there was also a general recognition that technological progress, even when accompanied by growing pains, is on balance a very good thing. One day an investigative reporter managed to locate a disgruntled employee who revealed the entrepreneur’s great secret. The vast factory was hollow. The back wall opened out onto a shipping dock. Grain came in the front door and went out the back, where it was sent to foreign countries in exchange for cars

LA FIABA DI INGRAM

PERCHE’ I POMPIERI SONO PAGATI MENO DELLE POP STAR?

Capisco che molti non sopportino bene il fatto che gente come Tom Brady o Jennifer Lawrence guadagnino molto di più di un pompiere o di un insegnante di scuola. Ma questo fastidio non riflette affatto l’incomprensione della gente per un sistema economico fallimentare bensì l’incapacità di capire come funziona un sistema economico di successo. E, purtroppo, riflette anche l’incapacità degli economisti di trasmettere al vasto pubblico i concetti base della loro disciplina.

Ci provo ancora facendoti una domanda retorica: preferisci vivere in un mondo in cui il numero di persone capaci di spegnere un incendio (o il numero di persone capaci di insegnare ad un bimbo della scuola) sia elevato e il numero di persone capace di esibirsi su un palco sia esiguo oppure in un mondo in cui i rapporti quantitativi siano invertiti? 

Sono sicuro che preferisci che abbondino le competenze su come di doma un incendio o su come si insegna ad un bambino piuttosto che le competenze su come si recita o su come si pratica una certa disciplina sportiva. E questo proprio perché salvare le vite domando un incendio o crescere un bambino nel modo migliore è molto più importante che intrattenere le persone nel loro tempo libero. Noi siamo estremamente fortunati di abitare in un posto in cui abbondano le persone in grado di salvare chi è minacciato da un incendio o di far crescere un bambino nel modo migliore, pazienza poi se chi sa recitare bene è solo una ristretta cerchia di persone.

Ebbene, la bassa paga di insegnanti e pompieri riflette solo questa felice realtà.

Ma non dobbiamo parlare solo di fortuna: sono le virtù del sistema stesso che realizzano questo miracolo convogliando più risorse laddove i bisogni sono più urgenti: The lower pay of fire fighters and school teachers simply reflects the happy reality…

IL MONDO MIGLIORE POSSIBILE

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