Friday, July 31, 2009

The Quotable Bastiat

Supposez, si cela vous amuse, que l'étranger nous inonde de toutes sortes de marchandises utiles, sans nous rien demander; que nos importations sont infinies et nos exportations nulles, je vous défie de me prouver que nous en serons plus pauvres.

"Suppose, if that amuses you, that the foreigner inundates us with all sorts of useful goods, asking nothing in return; that our imports are infinite and our exports, nil; I defy you to prove to me that we should be poorer on that account."

Chapitre VI Sophismes Économiques/Chapter 6, Economic Sophisms

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Free Download: "Mind of the Market"

Michael Shermer's book, Mind of the Market, is a thought-provoking look at economics from an evolutionary point of view.

He challenges conservatives and liberals alike to consider evolution as the fundamental process of both the natural world and the world economy.

For the next week or so, you can download a free MP3 of a chapter of Mind of the Market.

I've discussed Shermer's work in previous posts, referenced here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Laugh, Don't Cry!

Just because creating wealth is morally and materially important doesn't mean that business can't laugh at itself.

Despair, Inc. is a business that makes fun of business. It makes parodies of those motivational posters found in offices large and small.

Some examples:

MEETINGS: None of us is as dumb as all of us.

BLAME: The secret to success is knowing who to blame for your failures.

DREAMS: Dreams are like rainbows. Only idiots chase them.

These posters look great in government offices, too, as the line between business and government gets blurrier. And this tee shirt says it all:

GOVERNMENT: If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions.

Despair, Inc. joins a select group of humor links in the lower left hand corner of the Bastiat Society's home page. Laugh, don't cry!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is the Federal Reserve Broken?

George Selgin, of the University of Georgia, has been described as "a scholar's scholar."

In this video, he participates in a panel discussion of the topic, "Is the Federal Reserve System Broken?" The event is sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation.

Other participants include Stephen Axilrod, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Sharyn O'Halloran of Columbia University; and Peter Schiff of Euro-Pacific Capital.

Get full screen video and the embed code here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Signs of Progress

From Berlin, some encouraging signs of humanity's progress.

Not so long ago, the radical German Left used to labor day and night to justify the Berlin Wall (under construction in the photo), the guard towers, the fences, and the shoot-to-kill orders of the East German worker's paradise.

Now it is reduced to just complaining about the trains.

According to the Financial Times, the radical Left is blaming capitalism for the shutdown of the Berliner S-Bahn commuter railway. Last week, the company that runs the railway withdrew about two-thirds of its cars from service, after a derailment and safety checks showed about 4,000 wheels needed to be replaced.

Ulrich Maurer, the party's chief whip, complained, "The chaos in the Berliner S-Bahn is a lesson in the consequences of capitalism. It is a graphic depiction of where subservience to financial markets' greedy pursuit of profit ultimately leads."

Regretfully, Comrade Maurer missed a superb opportunity to trot out that old chestnut of authoritarian self-justification, "We caused death and suffering when we ran the country, but at least the trains ran on time."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An Optimist's Creed

Here is what you might call an Optimist's Creed, from Steven Horwitz, an economics professor at St. Lawrence University:

"If one thinks about all the bad economic policies and the general growth of the state that has taken place since the early 70s, the fact that life is still so much better in so many ways should lead one to think ... that the Smithian forces of the division of labor and the power of Schumpeterian innovation will indeed continue to conquer the stupidity of the state. No doubt the fight will be a tougher one in the years to come, thanks to the events of the last year, but both history and theory suggest that the combined efforts of humanity coordinated by even restricted markets will still win out over the stumbling and bumbling of the political class."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Miracles, Public and Private

Even as things get better, we find plenty to complain about. Our burden is a happiness that cannot last.

Chronic human discontent encourages a stream of extravagant promises, one miracle cure after another. Sometimes, these promises are small: know the future, find true love, lose weight, grow hair, or get rich quick.

Sometimes, these promises are big; end income inequality, manage climate change, provide quality health care for everyone, or put every child through college.

In principle, big miracle programs are no different than the little miracle products sold in infomercials. Both appeal to our chronic discontent. We are told "This way lies happiness."

The difference is in who pays and for how long. Private miracles are individual expenses and private disappointments. It's easy to deal with that kind of disappointment; just don't buy that promise again.

But everybody pays for the promise of public miracles, and there's no easy way to get out of the deal when it fails to deliver happiness or it costs more than you expected.

We are constantly reminded that we should be wary of miracle products, and rightly so. But we should be doubly wary of miracle programs. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Words Without a Language

Trying to control the price of health care without a market is like trying control the definition of words without a language.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Great Recession of 2008 - 2009

Prof. Steve Horwitz puts the current recession into historical perspective and explores the different approaches to recovery. Taped at Evenings at FEE on July 18, 2009 in Irvington, NY.

A few highlights:

* To say that greed caused the housing bubble is like saying that gravity causes plane crashes.

* Interest rates are not the price of money. They are the price of time.

* Printing more money to get out of a recession is like drinking more to avoid a hangover.

* Why did so many financial institutions loan money to people who could not pay it back? FNMA and Freddie had a Congressional requiring that 52% of their financing would be with borrowers with income below the median household income.

* Everybody wants more affordable housing, until they discover what that really means.

* The three major rating services operate as a government-maintained cartel. They don't have any competition, therefore they don't learn.

* Alan Greenspan encouraged financially risky behavior by lowering interest rates when markets misbehaved.

* The recession is the recovery.

* The Obama administration sees every problem in terms of health care, the environment, and education.

Watch the whole presentation here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nearly Everything is Made Nearly Everywhere

Another fabulous job by the folks at Bikinis and Boudreaux, a winning combination.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who was Frédéric Bastiat?

From Cercle Frédéric Bastiat:

Frédéric Bastiat was born in Bayonne in 1801, and died in Rome in 1850. But his family was from a little town called Mugron, where he spent most of his life, and where he has a statue.

Mugron is located to the North-East of Bayonne, in a French Department called "Les Landes". He spent the better part of his last years in Paris, as the editor of Le Journal des Economistes, and from 1848, as a member of Parliament.

As an economist, gifted with a very clear mind and a devastating sense of humor, he renewed the Economic science of his time by developing it from the standpoint of the consumer, i.e. the people. He was the tireless apostle of freedom of exchange and freedom of choice by individuals, without constraints or subsidies. His works are as fresh and relevant today as they were 150 years ago, and his numerous predictions about the evolution of Institutions and Societies have invariably come true.

As a philosopher, he was the precursor of many present day Libertarians, building normative ethics on the foundations of individual liberty and responsibility.

As a local judge, he was a paragon of efficiency and equity.

As a politician with a great foresight, he was an advocate of minimum government, and fought against the indefinite extension of public expenditure. He criticized colonial expeditions and slavery. He argued for the separation of powers, for preventing MPs from being ministers at the same time, and for limiting the number of civil servants in the Assembly. He was for a greater participation of women in politics.

His major writings are "The Law," "Economic Sophisms," "What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen," "Economic Harmonies". They have been translated into many languages.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Business as Usual

"Art is business, business art, -- that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

With apologies to John Keats, the lines above express what everyone in Hollywood privately knows but cannot publicly confess: For all of its posturing, Hollywood is not about art; it's not about meaning; it's not about beauty, and it's certainly not about truth. Hollywood is about business, with more contracts and bottom lines than you'll find in the board room at Wal-Mart.

Hollywood produces a product, movies, like McDonald's produces fast food. That's not a bad thing, at least not until Hollywood tries to get away with an ethical double standard.

Most movies portray business as inseparable from the sins of deception, intimidation, ridicule, mockery, and exploitation. Think bad guy = businessman.

Of course, this is a preposterous mischaracterization of business. According to Thomas Stanley, the best-selling author of The Millionaire Next Door, the average millionaire in the United States owns a small business, not a large corporation; he is married to his first and only wife; he drives a modest car, often a pick-up truck; he shops at Wal-Mart; and he lives in a nice house, but not a mansion. In other words, the average American millionaire is a pretty nice guy, the kind who pays his taxes, mows his lawn, values his customers and his employees, helps his friends, and takes care of his family. Hardly the stuff of villainy.

So where does the evil business caricature come from? Maybe Hollywood mistakes the way it does business for the way everyone else behaves. A guilty man sees the evidence of his crime everywhere.

Consider the legal storm surrounding the hit movie Bruno. Forbes reports,"To nab...unsuspecting interviews, Baron Cohen's production company had reportedly set up four "shell companies" with LA addresses and phone numbers, including Amesbury Chase, Chromium Films, Cold Stream Productions and Coral Blue Productions. Fake Web sites with bogus logos were created for all four of these shell companies, but they have since been taken down."

Shell companies, air-tight contracts, deceptive promises, and large profits. It all sounds like the plot of a John Grisham thriller. But it's just business as usual in Hollywood.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Educating Drivers Everyday

Educating your fellow citizens about important figures in the history of freedom can be as simple as driving around town with a custom license plate.

Have you seen others?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Universal Car Care

The Galen Institute of Alexandria, VA describes itself as "a non-profit research organization devoted exclusively to health policy. We work to promote a more informed public debate over ideas that advance individual freedom, consumer choice, and competition in the health sector."

This video won first place in the Institute's "Do No Harm" video contest. View the other winners here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A False and Dangerous Conclusion

"Too many people, especially in Europe, equate mistakes made by economists with a failure of economic liberalism. Their logic seems to be that if economists got things wrong, then politicians will do better. That is a false—and dangerous—conclusion.", "What Went Wrong With Economics"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life, Inc.

It's hard to tell who's the comedian here, Rushkoff or Colbert. Both are over-the-top stereotypes. One of them isn't acting.

Douglas Rushkoff, author of the book Life, Inc., thinks corporations run the world and treat "the planet itself as a bunch of regions to be exploited and conquered rather than to be taken care of." This statement is absurd. If he wasn't so earnest, he'd be funnier than Colbert.

Rushkoff conflates government and corporations. This is a common mistake, especially among those people who want to believe in the goodness of government, but who don't want to trust business. To put it bluntly, these people are blaming the victim for the crime.

Government, not corporations, has always led the way in exploiting and conquering. In those cases where business got involved, it acted as an agent for government, often as a government-mandated monopoly. Such is the case of the early trading companies Rushkoff mentions in this interview.

No Mr. Rushkoff, corporations don't rule the world, but that ambition lurks in the breast of every politician where it is far more dangerous to the human race than any business expansion plan at Starbucks or Wal-mart. For, as H. L. Mencken said, "A good politician is as quite unthinkable as an honest burglar."

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Douglas Rushkoff
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

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Infallible Gods and the Humans Who Worship Them

Today's progressives are the intellectual heirs of the socialists of the last century and a half. They are the harshest critics of business, and they are among the most eager to use the power of the state.

Like their forefathers, they have no patience with anyone who displays the slightest doubt that the problems of society can be solved by smart people using vast political power for the greater good. As Dostoevsky said of the socialists of his day in late 19th century Russia, "they believe that a social system that has come out of some mathematical brain is going to organize all humanity at once and make it just and sinless in an instant, quicker than any living process!"

This perennial article of progressive faith requires a willful ignorance of two uncomfortable facts. We might even call them inconvenient truths:

1. No group of individuals is smart enough to run the complex and constantly shifting affairs of an entire nation. The hubris to claim such knowledge is a hallmark of our species; the actual possession of such knowledge is not. Like the ancient shaman who claimed a special knowledge of the supernatural, today's progressive claims a special knowledge of the super state.

2. Humans have a stubborn tendency to pursue their own self-interest. It's not that humans are always opposed to the greater good. It's just that self-interest is a more reliable bet.

The reality of human nature -- always bound by ignorance and regularly motivated by self-interest -- makes it unwise to hand anyone too much power, no matter what they promise to do with it. Like the ring in Tolkien's trilogy, power corrupts all those who use it, even when they begin with pure hearts and a noble purpose.

Socialism is a system fit only for infallible gods and the humans who worship them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cap and Trade = Tax and Control

""Cap and trade" is first a massive indirect tax on the American people and hence another source of revenue for Congress. More importantly "cap and trade" is just about the most effective tool for controlling most economic activity short of openly declaring ourselves a communist nation and it's a radical environmentalist's dream come true."

Economist Walter E. Williams.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Elmer Fudd Explains Capitalism

Entertainment both shapes and is shaped by culture. All too often these days, popular entertainment portrays business as unqualified evil. But that has not always been the case. In this short cartoon from the 1950s, Elmer Fudd does a remarkably good job explaining the individual and social benefits of capitalism.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Capitalism Works

Capitalism works. If not here, then somewhere. It springs from human nature, and capitalism is so necessary to human well-being that when it is suppressed in one place, it will appear in another.

That is the lesson to read in the following little bit of news: "Fortune magazine recently reported that the number of U.S. companies in the world’s top 500 fell to the lowest level ever, while more Chinese firms than ever made the list. Thirty-seven Chinese companies now rank in the top 500, including nine new entries. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. firms has fallen to 140, the lowest total since Fortune began the list in 1995."

From National Review Online, "The Road to Economic Demoralization," by Larry Kudlow

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Quotable Bastiat

"If two workers wish to combine their strengths in order to share the product in accordance with agreed proportions, or exchange their products with each other, or if one wishes to make the other a loan or a gift, what does the law have to do with this? Nothing, I think, other than require the fulfilling of agreements and prevent or punish misrepresentation, violence or fraud."

From the Frédéric Bastiat Circle.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

No Magic Road

In "Making Work, Destroying Wealth," David Boaz of the Cato Institute writes:

"President-elect Obama proposes that the federal government “create or save” jobs by spending upwards of $600 billion. Where would this money come from? If it comes from taxes, it will be taken out of the more efficient private sector to be spent in the less efficient government sector, and the higher tax rates will discourage work and investment. If it is borrowed, it will again simply be transferred from market allocation to political allocation, and our debt burden will grow even greater. And if the money is simply created out of thin air on the balance sheets of the Federal Reserve, then it will surely lead to inflation.

There is no magic road to wealth. You have to work, save, and invest. And when the government lures individuals and businesses into making bad investments with cheap money, the malinvestment has to be liquidated. Avoiding that truth, prolonging the process of adjustment, is a good way to turn a recession into a depression. And you can’t get economic growth back by breaking windows...or spending money you don’t have."

Boaz cites Bastiat's famous work, "That Which is Seen, and that Which is Not Seen."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Early Warning: Michael Moore at Work

Entertainment Weekly reports that Michael Moore says his new movie is to be titled Capitalism: A Love Story. The film will focus on "the disastrous impact that corporate dominance and out-of-control profit motives have on the lives of Americans and citizens of the world" and will be released on October 2nd.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

United Breaks Guitars

Traveling by air lost its romance years ago. Instead of a consumer experience, flying is an ordeal we endure.

But not every consumer suffers in silence. Some create art out of their suffering.

From BusinessWeek Management IQ.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A National Straitjacket

T.Boone Pickens was recently on CNBC calling for a national energy plan. Without such a plan, he says that in ten years the United States will be importing 75% of its energy, and that oil will be $300 a barrel.

Such precision in long range forecasting is admirable, but it is not credible.

We've heard this kind of thing before. Remember Uncle Joe's Five Year Plans? Or the Great Helmsman's Great Leap Forward? Now we have the paradox of an American businessman promoting the same kind of national-scale economic planning that worked so well in the USSR and Mao's Red China.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

There is no reason to believe that T. Boone Pickens is any better at telling the future than the rest of us. Ten years ago, the number one planning issue was Y2K. It turned out to be a non-event.

In 1999, the most important things to come were apparently unimaginable, even to a visionary like Mr. Pickens: a major terrorist attack in New York, the near death of the American airline industry, a war in Afghanistan, another war in Iraq, record low interest rates, the drowning of New Orleans, a housing bubble, a stock market bubble, the worst recession since the Great Depression, a government takeover of GM, Wachovia at 76 cents per share, two bankrupt Wall Street firms, and a government rescue and significant ownership of Citigroup.

Alas, the world we live in is so messy and filled with so many surprises that it makes any national ten year plan a joke. Such a plan leaves no room for individual preferences or the discovery of new knowledge. Inevitably, such a plan turns into a national straitjacket.

If Mr. Pickens really wants to help the nation, he should promote the kind of planning that made him a success in business. That kind of planning is individual and opportunistic, not national and proscriptive. Long-term results emerge from individuals responding to rapidly changing opportunities, not from one individual commandeering an entire industry.

Mr. Pickens has demonstrated the ability to make opportunistic business decisions, and for that he should be admired. But success in business does not qualify him or anyone else to engineer a master plan for America's Great Leap Forward. Believing in such a plan is a mistake; following it would be an even bigger one.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Driving Like Crazy

In this interview with, author P. J. O'Rourke talks about his new book, Driving Like Crazy, and the once-great American automobile business.

A few choice moments:

"The automobile is the source of no bad stuff in America."

"There's something romantic about the train, but try getting the tracks to come to your house."

"Politics is the attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit."

"The success of capitalism has everything to do with failure. People talk about the wealth that capitalism creates, but the poverty that capitalism creates -- in capitalists, not in poor people -- is extremely important. When a business fails...there's a reason for the business failing. They're making a product that no one wants to buy. You don't come in there and save that product."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Education Bubble

"The next bubble to burst will be the education bubble. Make no mistake about it, education is big business and, like other big businesses, it is in big trouble. What people outside the education bubble don’t realize and people inside won’t admit is that many colleges and universities are in the same position that major banks and financial institutions are: their assets (endowments down 30-40 percent this year) are plummeting, their liabilities (debts) are growing, most of their costs are fixed and rising, and their income (return on investments, support from government and private donations, etc.) is falling...

One of the dirty secrets of many research universities is that they treat master’s students as cash cows that fund other activities. To make matters worse, with many faculty members uninterested in teaching, students cannot assume they will get what they are paying for."

Mark C. Taylor, chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, writing in the New York Times.

The Next Bubble?

"Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering."

"Will Higher Education Be the Next Bubble to Burst?" The Chronicle of Higher Education

Saturday, July 4, 2009

This Execrable Commerce

In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson tried to address the issue of slavery, but it was edited out of the final copy by Georgia and South Carolina in the messy process of political compromise.

Here are the words Jefferson originally wrote, himself a slave owner, though not a willing one.

"...he [the king of Great Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another. In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned."

Government of the Least Expense

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. WHEREFORE, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever FORM thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others."

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Bind Him Down From Mischief

Harper's has a superb quotation from Thomas Jefferson, perfect for the Fourth of July.

"It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights; that confidence is every where the parent of despotism; free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power; that our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no farther, our confidence may go; and let the honest advocate of confidence read the Alien and Sedition Acts, and say if the Constitution has not been wise in fixing limits to the government it created, and whether we should be wise in destroying those limits; let him say what the government is, if it be not a tyranny, which the men of our choice have conferred on the President, and the President of our choice has assented to and accepted, over the friendly strangers, to whom the mild spirit of our country and its laws had pledged hospitality and protection; that the men of our choice have more respected the bare suspicions of the President than the solid rights of innocence, the claims of justification, the sacred force of truth, and the forms and substance of law and justice. In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Rigged Game

Darryl Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate in history, has published a sneering obituary for Billy Mays, the hard-working television pitchman who died last month.

Campbell's carefully phrased criticisms ring with intellectual condescension:

"...the loudest practitioner of the old-school hard sell."

"...cookie-cutter ads and the questionably useful devices and chemicals he peddled."

"...he still existed mainly to give us sincere advice about problems we didn't even know we had."

"But the aw-shucks, nice-guy persona, all smiles and shouts, hid a cunning businessman who was fully aware that his persona was every bit a fetish as the trinkets he sold."

"...professional huckster."

"...he promised that acquiring superfluous junk could be a ticket to a better life, even at a time when that life seems to be slipping further and further out of reach for so many of us."

How ironic that Campbell should sneer at Billy Mays, when Campbell himself is purchasing what may the world's most questionably useful degree.

William A. Pannapacker, Ph.D. in English, writes about the academic profession for the Chronicle of Higher Education. In a recent column, he pointed out that only half of all doctorate holders in the humanities -- after nearly a decade of preparation -- will ever find a tenure-track position, the academic equivalent of a full time job.

Pannapacker warns aspiring humanities graduate students, "What almost no prospective graduate students can understand is the extent to which doctoral education in the humanities socializes idealistic, naïve, and psychologically vulnerable people into a profession with a very clear set of values. It teaches them that life outside of academe means failure, which explains the large numbers of graduates who labor for decades as adjuncts, just so they can stay on the periphery of academe."

Given a choice of professional values, I choose the values of the salesman over the values of the professor. The motives of the salesman are transparent. He wants the customer to buy. The values of the professor are carefully disguised. Behind the veneer of scholarly inquiry, he wants to exploit "naïve, and psychologically vulnerable people." Under the noble banner of knowledge, he promises that a superfluous degree is the ticket to a better life. Who is the better huckster here?

Professor Pannapacker concludes, "It's hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource. For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river. If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault. It will make you feel ashamed, and you will probably just disappear, convinced it's right rather than that the game was rigged from the beginning."

If Billy Mays really did sell some crap, at least it wasn't as individually expensive or socially toxic as the crap universities are selling some graduate students in the humanities.

Dissecting Health Care Plans

Health care reform is in the air again, and this short video from the Cato Institute frames the issue nicely.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Business and Slavery

The Financial Times reports that Rothschild, the merchant bank, and Freshfields, the City law firm, are the first UK businesses to say they “greatly regret” their links with slavery.

In the United States, JPMorgan and Aetna have already apologized for slavery. Several states have passed laws that require companies to disclose any links they had with slavery.

With all this apologizing going on, you might get the impression that human slavery and business were really the same thing. Perhaps that is precisely the motive of those who demand such apologies. If their goal is to undermine the moral legitmacy of business, what better way than to connect business with such a reprehensible institution?

Connecting slavery and business may be effective politics, but it is awful history. The truth is that the campaign to end human slavery was, in the words of Thomas Sowell, "spearheaded by people who would today be called "the religious right" and [the anti-slavery] organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover, what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism."

Sowell explains why those who go around demanding apologies for slavery do not acknowledge the real history of the fight to end the institution: "nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world."

The world we live in was built with so many immoral acts that blaming other people is easy. What is hard is giving the credit for good deeds to people you don't like. Slavery was a business, but business was not slavery.