Bryan Caplan  

Spencer Lives - and He Teaches at Harvard

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Curious Brad... Inequality...

My Non-Bleeding Heart Libertarian market niche is being eroded by Jeff Miron's new blog. Here's what he has to say about New Orleans:

The Katrina disaster occurred mainly because government spent billions constructing these levees in the first place; without this intervention, people would not have been living in areas well-below sea level. Repeating the initial mistake is an incredible waste of resources. More generally, government-subsidized flood insurance, and attempts by the Corps to promote human activity in areas where Mother Nature never intended, make no economic sense.

This gives me the feeling that Miron is going to spend a lot of time channeling Herbert Spencer: "The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools." Sweet!


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/468
The author at www.productivityshock.com in a related article titled What should libertarian economist bloggers do? writes:
    Jeffrey Alan Miron, a professor at Boston University, has started a blog called "The Case for Small Government". Many libertarian bloggers already tread the ground he proposes to cover, but few talk about the incentives faced by government agents. [Tracked on March 8, 2006 11:25 AM]
COMMENTS (7 to date)
dsquared writes:

Three points:

1. There is an obvious case for building something in New Orleans, because the Mississippi doesn't really join the Gulf of Mexico anywhere else.

2. New Orleans was not below sea level when it was built; the levees were built in order to protect an existing capital asset. They would not have been constructed all at once, but every incremental piece of construction made sense at the time; this is a good example of the sunk cost (oh ha ha ha) fallacy.

3. Good luck trying to make this argument in the Netherlands. The fact that under Jeff Miron's argument fifty percent of a large OECD country, including its main industrial and trading centres, makes "no economic sense", suggests strongly that there is something wrong with his argument.

Bruce Cleaver writes:

Per dsquared's points, I would also add that a plausible argument is that not that levees were a waste (after all, New Orleans got several decades of economic use from them), but that *additional* investment in their upgrade/maintenance was probably warranted. Or rather, actually using the already disbursed maintenance monies in a reasonable way, rather than the criminal waste that actually occurred.

Another good use of funds would have been an evacuation plan that stood a decent chance of working, rather than the feel-good (but untested) fantasy that was tragically approved at all levels of government.

Of course, the Libertarian position may be that the 'criminal waste' and 'tragically approved' evac plan were all an inevitable part of government, but I disagree.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Buried within is a great quote: "without this intervention, people would not have been living"

I think that pretty well summarizes the extreme libertarian perspective on a lot of issues.

Perhaps taken out of context, but accurate all the same.

Hope for the day when social security and medicare are no more, so the elderly won't have to live as long: "without this intervention, people would not have been living"

Oh for the days before sanitation standards when the survival rate of children was so much lower, ensuring the proper winnowing of the lower classes: "without this intervention, people would not have been living"

And I pine for the days before polution standards when companies could send any possible effluent into our rivers and streams, poisoning those reliant upon these waters downstream. Because you know: "without this intervention, people would not have been living"

The good old days.

Silas Barta writes:

T.R. Elliot: without that intervention, the elderly, sick, etc. would have lived a lot longer due to better technology and cheaper services.

"Those who do not know their opponents' arguments don't really understand their own."

Sebastian Holsclaw writes:

"There is an obvious case for building something in New Orleans, because the Mississippi doesn't really join the Gulf of Mexico anywhere else."

Well that opens up a whole can of worms. The only reason that the Mississippi joins the Gulf of Mexico there and not near Morgan city is because the US Army Corps of Engineers has spent one of the most expensive and dangerous water projects making it so. After New Orleans was so seriously damaged it would have been wise to look at that again, but we foolishly did not.

Scott writes:

Buried within is a great quote: "without this intervention, people would not have been living"

Liar.

The full sentence is "without this intervention, people would not have been living in areas well-below sea level". The term "living" in that instance means "residing". By enticing people to reside in a dangerous area, the government recklessly endangered many lives. Congratulations for inverting the meaning of the quote.

Lauren writes:

I have to admit that my eyes sometimes glaze over in confusion when I see some similar-sounding names of some famous thinkers from 50-100 years ago. Here are some biographical links that may help sort it out if you have the same problem:

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)


Herbert Simon (1901-1985) Nobel Laureate in economics
Henry Simon, law and economics, U. of Chicago, discussion by Henry Manne.
Henry George (1839-1897)
George Eliot (1819-1880) Pseudonym used by Mary Anne Evans, an intellectual friend of Herbert Spencer.
George Sand (1804-1876) Pseudonym used by French novelist Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin.
George Spencer (1758–1834)


They are all quite different. The ironic moral might be: don't give your child a common name lest the name be conflated after the fact.

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