David R. Henderson  

John Stossel Tonight

The Present and the Future... Sacerdote's Dog That Didn't Ba...

On tonight's 20/20 on ABC, John Stossel will, yet again, throw himself into controversial issues. I think he's the most economically literate news person on any of the networks.

On The O'Reilly Factor earlier this week, Bill O'Reilly interviewed Stossel and asked him if he liked having people hate him. I loved John's answer. He said words to the effect, "No, I want to persuade them."

My wife marvels at times at how I can handle attacks with equanimity when I'm pushing my views and how I can even continue to like (some) people who question my character. It's because I'm like Stossel: these issues matter so much to me. I'm positive that if my views were followed, almost everyone would be better off and we would, to take just one measure, have many fewer people in prison. So having people call me unpatriotic, selfish, or stupid just doesn't matter that much. Moreover, if that's all they've got, I'm probably making progress.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Education

COMMENTS (35 to date)
RL writes:

"I think he's the most economically literate news person on any of the networks."

Talk about your back-handed compliments!

Les writes:

"I think he's the most economically literate news person on any of the networks" is a genuine complement, and it is by no means backhanded.

Unlike virtually all TV journalists, John Stossel actually understands and can apply economic reasoning.

In the land of the economically illiterate, John Stossel deserves great praise for being a lone TV, Radio, or Print journalist of economic literacy.

Fenn writes:

It was a strange day when I found a preacher was shoehorned into this blog among with the teachers.

"I'm positive that if my views were followed, almost everyone would be better off"

Your certitude almost guarantees no audience beyond the choir.

sean writes:

hahahah RL FTW

ardyan writes:

I've always found Stossel quite thought-provoking. Plus, he has good hair.

Les writes:

There seems to be a paradox that frequently repeats itself on this site.

The EconLog contributors Arnold and David mostly post insightful items, and so does Bryan, who seems to have an unusually wide range of interests.

In contrast, some of the posted comments are often of much lesser quality.

One wonders why some comments display a lack of thought and knowledge, and offer superficial remarks on serious issues.

Ricardo Cruz writes:

David writes "So having people call me unpatriotic, selfish, or stupid just doesn't matter that much. Moreover, if that's all they've got, I'm probably making progress."

How much progress are you making? According to your buddy Caplan, can't be much. People only introduce reason into their politics view after they can't possibly bear consuming more information irrationally. If even your acquaintances respond like that, it just goes to show how low the satiation point rests. Maybe a change in strategy is in order, appeals to emotions like "we need to end the Iraq war, so that our troops can protect the borders". Less rational, sounds more patriotic, much more appealing.

ardyan writes:

"One wonders why some comments display a lack of thought and knowledge, and offer superficial remarks on serious issues."

Because they're just comments

SydB writes:

I think it more accurate to say that Stossel is the most libertarian spokesperson on television. Whether he is the best economic spokesperson depends on the outcome of the debate between libertarian and other forms of economics. Stossel certainly isn't one to take part in that--he's more a propagandist and popularizer.

To say he is the most economically literate person on TV is to assume--wrongly--that the debate about libertarianism has been resolved. It hasn't. In addition, economics is a field that analyzes tradeoffs. There is no best economics--not in any quantitative or ontological sense. Values--e.g. how one defines initial allocation of property, or solves the initial allocation problem--will always find their way into economics.

Les writes:

I'd like to thank ardyan and SydB for so promptly and so convincingly proving my point that some comments are superficial.

RL writes:

It's an economic blog, Les. Have you considered offering to pay for deeper comments?

dana writes:

Peter Thiel was right, there is no longer any point in attempting to promote libertarian or economic ideas. it's always entertaining to see my ideas on tv but i've completely lost hope with regards to putting them into action. single women are a huge influential voting bloc and women will not be swayed by them. traditional conservatism and libertarianism have exactly zero to offer women and minorities and lack even a language in which to speak to them on economic issues. that's why the consensus on economics is approaching socialism as we fight over abortion and gay marriage. it's quite obvious these are issues of concern only to women. in this way women have destroyed the republican party and wholly marginalized capitalism. i say this AS a woman. there is nothing we can do. this comment probably doesn't belong here but i was actually filled with despair after watching the special rather than hope. take the woman to whom he was trying to explain farming as a conservation tool. she was constitutionally incapable of grasping his point. i give up

Richard writes:


I hope you're wrong, fear you're right. But why do you say that libertarianism has exactly zero to offer women and minorities? Don't they benefit as much from economic growth as white men like me do? Indeed, don't they arguably benefit even more? I mean, where would women's rights be if the industrial revoluation didn't make brains rather than brawn a worker's most important asset?

David R. Henderson writes:

Dear Dana,
You've given me a challenge. In the next few days and weeks, I'll post about various ways that freedom helps women and minorities. I look forward to it.
Also, I don't think you can judge anything by whether Stossel is able to convince someone whose whole livelihood depends on not being convinced. If she were the median voter, I would despair too. But she's not. Maybe one reason I have hope is that I'm in the classroom a few times a week and I see how people get these ideas when they are explained. Although, I do admit that almost all my students are men.

Les writes:

RL writes:

"It's an economic blog, Les. Have you considered offering to pay for deeper comments?"

Les writes:

Thanks for your suggestion, RL. Actually I have considered this and in fact have done so. As you correctly surmise, the comments on pay sites are of much better quality. I would recommend the same policy to authors of superficial comments.

Jesse writes:

But why do you say that libertarianism has exactly zero to offer women and minorities? Don't they benefit as much from economic growth as white men like me do?

Does something like mandating that companies provide maternity leave help or hinder economic growth? Did the Civil Rights Act help or hinder economic growth?

I actually don't know the answer to these questions. It does strike me that the simple equivalence of "freedom" and "freedom from government interfering with the so-called 'natural state'" is a bit simple-minded. So is saying that mere economic literacy is sufficient to know the answer to these questions.

SydB writes:

Funny. In his quest to identify and highlight the most superficial of comments, Les produced them. Meta-comments. Comments about comments. Comments that demonstrated nothing.

I stand by by statement that libertarian economic does not equate to "most economically literate."

scott clark writes:

I don't think dana's point is that libertarianism can't make a woman's life better. It could and it would. I think her point is more about how women behave, how women gain status in the eyes of other women, how women show their fitness, and libertarianism does not speak to that, its a way of thinking that is anathema to their natures. Women are group oriented, they are consensus and coalition building, they gain status among their peers by expending resources showing that they care, by providing aid and comfort farther and wider. Thus, socialism is a much more natural fit with their instincts and their experience.
the coordination that emerges from a market is hard to grasp, for men and women. Most people are just not willing to wait for the market to sort things out, especially when those people are conceited enough to believe they can design a system that could do it better. Even when their system breaks a few eggs.
I look forward to DRH's posts to rise to the challenge, but if they don't include or address the natural communal impulses of people, they might not hit their mark.

Jesse writes:

Women are group oriented, they are consensus and coalition building, they gain status among their peers by expending resources showing that they care, by providing aid and comfort farther and wider.

All this stuff is true of men as well. In fact, from your description you would think that all groups and organizations would naturally be led by women.

scott clark writes:


all that stuff is true of men, and we all know there are plenty of men who demand more socialism. But that doesn't mean that groups and orgs would more often be led by women. Firms are not necessarily functioning because they build consensus, lots of times someone is just making a decision, and having the group fall in line, or a firm can de one decision maker and the rest just paid to do as they are told, leading or becoming the leader sometimes means stepping out of the pack and pointing the way, which a man is more likely to do then a woman, in general, by their nature.

dana writes:

Scott clark, thank you for expanding on and clarifying my point. of
COURSE libertarianism TECHNICALLY has all the wonders it offers to men
to offer to women--liberty, wealth, invidualism, freedom of thought etc.
it's just that women have revealed not only no desire for these things
but in fact a virulent kneejerk antipathy towards them. the only way i
can imagine libertarianism appealing to women is if they could be made
to see (on the subconscious level they store the truth in, not on the
uppermost level of lies and fantasy they routinely inhabit and
express)that libertarianism would likely generate more wealthy males for
them to glom onto and suck resources out of. however, without the state
to enforce draconian and psychotic child support laws when they get
tired of those men after 4 years and want to trade up, they would be
trapped in marriages to those now icky men or risk losing those
resources--so again, under "freedom" this parasite class basically loses.

that's it--i guess thats what i'm getting at--there IS a "parasite"
class of women, certain minorities and the holders of certain ideologies
for whom actual constitutional liberty would mean the end of their way
of life. how then to speak to THOSE people. until conservatives and
libertarians can magically craft a philosophy that explains why giving
the hosts liberty is in the self interest of the parasites they will
continue to promote their bizarre and destructive cult of killing the
goose that laid the golden eggs, i.e. "mixed economy" socialism lite

Richard writes:


Your last comment makes me want to ask, why do some women (like you, as well as Ayn Rand -- whom you seem to be channeling here) manage to break free of this parasitic mindset you describe? Is it because you are a member of the highly productive class, and thus are a victim of the high tax rates that are a necessary component of the welfare state?

joecanuck writes:


I am curious, why do you feel single women are inherently more anti-libertarian than any other arbitrary group of individuals (including most white men)?

Young, single women seem to be politically concerned with two issues.

1) birth control/abortion.

most libertarians seem to support the pro-choice movement (or at least, they support the idea that government shouldn't have any say when it comes to reproductive decisions), so I don't know what would make women anti-libertarian when it comes to this issue.

2) pay equality ect.

If libertarians want to bring women on side they need to point out that sexism is mostly dead, and that most businesses would still offer equal pay for equal work if the laws were repealed. Since equality would most likely be emergeant at this point, libertarians have little to gain even bothering with this issue. (ditto goes for scrapping civil rights legislation).

scott clark writes:

I'll let dana do the heavy lifting here, but I think another thing contributing to this debacle is that women in general have a harder time than men on average accepting the existence of tradeoffs. Women really actually do literally want it all. They want to have it be this way, and simultaneously be another way. And libertarianism forces people to acknowledge tradeoffs, it makes you reckon with the fact that you have to pay for your preferences. Libertarianism also is pretty strict about what actions have what consequences and that actors are responsible for the consequences of their actions, and I find women are less interested in being responsible for the consequences of their actions.

I would also like to point out one area where women are act against the generalities I have been listing. Women do show a higher degree of rationality and a higher degree of independence and a willingness to stick to their guns, and give up things they value less to get things they value more, etc. And that area is when it comes to dealing with issues that have to deal with their children. It seems that a woman's cognitive process shapes up real quick when that woman's child needs something.

dana writes:

joecanuck, the problem is when women do promote a policy compatible with libertarianism it never arises from libertarian fundamental 1st premises. consequently they are highly inconsistent. civilization requires consistent rule of law and unassailable private property rights above all things. women fundamentally oppose these two things.

abortion--the female rhetoric of "choice" has nothing to do with some libertarian theory of the role of government. it is hilariously shallow and i can prove it. simply ask a rabidly pro "choice" woman whether a man should have the "choice" to voluntarily terminate his parental rights and responsibilities regarding a child she "chooses" to have and not abort. you will find there a women prepared to bring down not only the full power of the state upon the hapless man, but also the power of an entire cultures disdain and disapproval. "dead beat" dads!!! oh my! she has no concern for keeping the government out of the man's wallet, only her own uterus. she has no concern for your choice NOT to be taxed to support the products of her "choice", only her own freedom to terminate a pregnancy.

pay equity--you are wrong in saying women want equal pay for equal work. they explicitly do not, they want equal pay for less work. go explain to a woman that women choose lower paying careers, take more time out of the work force, work less hours and demand various and sundry flextime and maternity leave schemes so they can keep jobs AND have kids--and that THESE are the true bases for any pay "inequality". go explain to them that a woman who works 60 hours a week and shirks all other aspects of life for 20 years like a similarly situated man often does makes the same if not MORE than a man. they will not only deny this fact right to your face, they will tell you they don't CARE because it's not "fair" that women can't have kids AND have exactly the same perks and success of someone devoted to their career above all.

therefore we see, woman cannot be swayed by libertarian arguments even if you identify some area they appear sympathetic to a libertarian idea.

dana writes:

Richard, in my opinion ayn rand, i and the few women like us are biological outliers on the bell curve of our sex's character and can't be replicated. i am an ashkenazi jew, an INTJ on the myers-briggs, have a high iq, come from a successful family of merchants on one side--rabbis and academics on the other and have an asperger's-like mind that has almost no concern for individual humans, only for systems of thought and objects. I have no interest in children home and hearth and never have. this is not normal and i do not WANT other women to be like this.

women are vital and play an enormous role in any healthy society, but there is a reason they have never been given political power before. once i read carol gilligan's "in a different voice" for the sole purpose of hating it because it was feminist nonsense-turns out she was right. men and women have thoughtways that are alien to each other. men are concerned with building large shallow networks of other men who share a mutual interest in maintaining the larger infrastructures of a complex civilization. they are concerned with bright line rules, procedural justice vs social, punishment of crime vs therapy or understanding, the preservation of liberty because they are more likely to be maverick, etc.

women have very fluid concepts of justice, property, "rules", etc. this is prominently displayed in sandra day o'connor's consistent drive to apply almost farcically extraconstitutional concepts of "substantive" due process to issues on a case by case basis rather than developing the sorts of predictable, bright line rules courts established in the past. this works out very well on the small scale, the home, family, the neighborhood--where maintaining relationships, preserving warm feelings and soothing ruffled feathers are more important than that any rule was broken or injustice occured.

Richard writes:


I don't agree that the pro-choice movement is inherently more libertarian than the pro-life. Libertarianism holds that the government should intervene to prevent force or fraud. Abortion certainly involves force -- namely, the destruction of the fetus. Therefore, if the fetus deserves protection as a human, then the libertarian position should be anti-abortion. And whether or not the fetus is human, or deserves protection as a human, is a question upon which libertarian principles provide no answers. Thus, both pro-life and pro-choice are consistent with libertarianism.

Jesse writes:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner," Smith wrote, "but from regard to their self-interest."

Just a minute. It is not usually the butcher, the brewer, or the baker who fixes dinner, but his wife or mother. Does she act out of self-interest too?

-Nancy Folbre, "The Invisible Heart"

dana writes:


yes, she acts out of self interest--she married a man with the expectation that in return for performing the duties of a wife he would devote his resources to her and any children she has by him.

Jesse writes:

If a mother cooking dinner for her child can be understood as an act of self-interest, then I don't see why Adam Smith even bothered to distinguish between self-interest and benevolence in his quote.

The_Cupboard_Is_Bare writes:


I agree with most of what you say about woman and their lack of interest in libertarian philosophy. I live in a "blue" state where entitlement mentalities abound. But I believe that something else contributes to the fact that there are very few libertarian females.

At times it is difficult to get along with libertarians.

To demonstrate what I'm talking about from a humorous point of view...a libertarian I know was having a backyard barbeque. Someone asked him how many people were attending. He replied, "Oh, about 40." The person then jokingly asked, "So, I assume you'll have to set up 40 tables?"

I have been around many libertarians, and in general I find that they want to have things their own way and can become very belligerent when they don't. There's no such thing as having a peaceful evening, unless, of course, you are willing to defer to them. I end up taking a pass on those gatherings when I'm either not up for a fight or don't have the stomach for massaging someone's ego.

I recall an occasion when a woman who came to a meeting to find out what libertarian philosophy was all about and was pretty annoyed when a libertarian woman who was drunk kept hassling the speaker. No one dared to tell the woman to be quiet. Why? Because she can get very nasty. Needless to say, I never saw our visitor again.

So, my continued desire to learn more about libertarian philosophy is not due to, but in spite of, a lot of the libertarians I've met. I can't allow the arrogance of some libertarians to dissuade me from believing in what's right. I do suspect, however, that most woman are not willing to put up with it.

scott clark writes:


You wrote,
"And whether or not the fetus is human, or deserves protection as a human, is a question upon which libertarian principles provide no answers."

libertarian principles absolutely provide answers on this point. they are not happy answers and many libertarians might not be comfortable with the answers, and it is the kind of answer that makes libertarians look like complete asshats, but there are answers none the less.

Property rights don't change and you have an absolute right to your person and property but no one has any right to anybody else's. And you can intend to do something with your property and you can change your mind about what you intend, and this might disturb other peoples plans but that is just too bad. A woman owns her body and allows the fetus to live there or not. If she no longer wants the fetus to live there, she can evict it. Since we have no way to do that and keep the fetus alive yet, the fetus will die. If we could evict the fetus and keep it alive in artificial gestation, that may be done with the equipment paid for on a charitible basis, or on the basis of billing the fetus later when it has achieved adulthood and can earn a living and it may actually be happy that it got the chance to be alive. But if not it will die. It is not a violation of the non-aggresion axiom to evict a squatter even if the squatter dies in the eviction attempt and even if the squatter is now out in the cold and dies of exposure, and it is not a violation of the non-aggression axiom to evict a fetus. It is a terrible, awful thing, but libertarianism doesn't promise to stop all terrible outcomes, just to stop terrible government outcomes.
Note to that the same principal applies to children. They are future adults and have some rights as future adults, but as long as they are living at the expense of someone else, namely their parents or guardians, they can have their rights abridged to a large extent, the only right that they will retain inviolate is the right to leave their parents' or guardians' household. But if a 14 year old can make a software product and sell it for $20 million, he no longer needs to listen to his parents and should be able to go out and buy a house or rent a property or buy a gun or drive a car or smoke tobacco or drugs or drink alcohol. And similarly if an 8 year old runs away and can't make a living, he may have to survive on charity or might die from exposure or starvation, or some other equally terrible things might happen.

Now having said that, the above would be incredibly rare, as rare as it is in today's world, which may be not as rare as we would like it, but as we get wealthier it becomes more rare. Most parents will not let things get like this with their own kids, and many more would stand up to provide assistance and charity to prevent the worst of the outcomes. But to say libertarian priciples can't answer this question is wrong, the principles still apply, its just that people can be reluctant to accept the conclusion.

Richard writes:

Scott Clark,

Your analogy of a fetus to a squatter only works in the case of rape. If the sex was consensual, then the mother assumed the risk, and the fetus is there with consent. And at that point, the whole analysis changes.

Imagine you invite me onto your boat, and we go out to sea. Halfway through the cruise, while out in the middle of the ocean, you decide you don't want me on your property (the boat) anymore. Can you evict me? Of course not. You are responsible for returning me safely to shore. That's what morality says, and that's also what the law says.

You might argue back that an accidental pregnancy is not the same thing as consent. I don't agree, but it doesn't mater. Even if you left your boat unattended in the presence of children, and one climbed aboard, you'd be disabled from evicting the child while at sea. It's the doctrine of attractive nuisance. And it's perfectly libertarian. Just like we are responsible for the consequences of our choices, we also are responsible for the consequences of our negligence.

scott clark writes:


I like the idea of a woman's reproductive system as an attractive nuisance. Your analogy doesn't quite match the situation, either. I agree that we are responsible for the consequences of our negligence, but what can you do about it? If a women aborts a fetus, who is left to bring a tort? The father? He could have paid the woman to carry the baby to term. Other members of the woman's family or the rest of society? Same thing. Maybe she would have kept it secret anyway. If she finds a doctor to perform it, its done. Maybe you're right, maybe its immoral. But libertarian principles should tilt towards maximum freedom and minimum of interference so anyway you slice it, abortion is legit in a libertarian society. You can try to persuade people to exercise alternatives, but your gonna have to accept that it will continue.

SydB writes:

Ok, so Stossel was on Fox (Beck the raving lunatic's show) discussing how we should eat endangered species because "there is no shortage of chickens."

Maybe he should start a chimp farm?

This argument of his, for whatever it is worth (not much), is indicative of the extreme libertarian position: it's not an argument, it's comedy. Hence people don't take it seriously. Libertarians will continue to be on the fringe if people like Stossel are their public spokespersons--similar to the way the GOP is becoming a fringe party with Fox News, Dick Cheney, and Rush Limbaugh as their public relations department.

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