Bryan Caplan  

Guest Post by Yoram Bauman

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Yoram Bauman, author of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, asks some questions in the comments.  Consider the following his guest post.  I'll respond soon.


On second thought, I miss arguing with you, Bryan, so I'll pick some bones:

1) What did you think of the page on public choice (p82)? Buchanan got his own Nobel Prize joke, and I thought that was pretty good!

2) Regarding Chapter 9 ("Complications"), you write that it "bends over backwards to consider objections to free trade, but ultimately grants them very little." Do you really see it as that simple? When you read articles about foreign countries and child labor or unsafe working conditions or human rights or environmental pollution, do you just shrug and say (as the character does on p112) "as long as we can buy bread from them cheap, who cares?!"

3) #2 above also makes me curious about your take on the history of labor laws in the USA. When you read about, say, the 1911 Triangle Fire, do you really just get a hop in your step from thinking about the joys of an unregulated market? If you could go back in time and eliminate laws in the U.S. about child labor and workplace safety &etc, would you?



COMMENTS (8 to date)
andy writes:

When you read articles about foreign countries and child labor or unsafe working conditions or human rights or environmental pollution, do you just shrug and say (as the character does on p112) "as long as we can buy bread from them cheap, who cares?!"

I usually think: the person writing this has zero knowledge of economics and zero knowledge of local conditions. And I'm usually right....

Ad 3) I think this is lines up very closely with Bryan's 'leftist bias' theory; even if you knew that eliminating program X wouldn't matter in the long run, it's psychologically much harder to say 'let the market sort it out'. We are hardwired to think that things must come out better when 'directed' than when let to the whims of free market.
What if I said "yes, I would drop the regulation because I believe that in slightly longer run the market would come to the same conclusion in a significantly more effective way; but I have no idea which way".

We know that saying this is generally correct; yet in any particular case it's very hard to convince anybody, because you can always find many 'good reasons', why a free market wouldn't work. To name a few: agricultural markets don't work as it takes a long time to produce and farmers are subject to weather changes. Electricity markets won't work because of infrastructure, long-term decisions etc.

A. writes:

I'd expect a little better from an economist than the caricature of free trade advocates: "as long as we can buy bread from them cheap, who cares?!"

How about making those workers better off than their next best alternative, instead of wishing they can work in air-conditioned offices at $10 an hour?

John writes:
When you read articles about foreign countries and child labor or unsafe working conditions or human rights or environmental pollution, do you just shrug and say (as the character does on p112) "as long as we can buy bread from them cheap, who cares?!"
When you read about, say, the 1911 Triangle Fire, do you really just get a hop in your step from thinking about the joys of an unregulated market? If you could go back in time and eliminate laws in the U.S. about child labor and workplace safety &etc, would you?

Ooh, this is a fun game! I'll try a couple:

When you hear that over 700 children a year drown in swimming pools, do you really just shrug it off and say "as long as I still have the 'right' to lounge around in my luxurious pool, who cares?!"

When you read about, say, the 2 year old killed in a drive-by shooting in New Orleans yesterday, do you really get a hop in your step from thinking about the joys of our system, which doesn't allow police to just arrest and imprison suspected gang members without a trial?!

joeftansey writes:

"When you read about, say, the 1911 Triangle Fire, do you really just get a hop in your step from thinking about the joys of an unregulated market? "

Free market economists take the good with the bad, and think it is still the net best.

Statist economists take only the good and say they don't support the bad. So do 3 year olds.

John Thacker writes:

As far as #2 goes, I generally think (assuming it's not a real slave country like North Korea) "wow, their other alternatives must be even worse if they'd prefer to work there," since most reports show that international factory jobs are highly sought after in comparison to other things.

This does occasionally motivate me to donate to charity, but unless you're doing that, you really have no room to tell someone to make poor people even worse off.

libfree writes:

Can I outsource my answer to Paul Krugman?

James writes:

Re: the 1911 fire,

Why would anyone draw a conclusion about unregulated markets from a fire in a factory which was subject to many regulations? The bulk of the evidence suggests that regulation did absolutely no good and possibly some harm by defining a standard of safety that was just good enough to comply with code but not good enough to actually keep anyone safe. Fortunately for the victims, the court system was available when regulation clearly failed. See here for more.

My guess is that if I tried to get Bauman to quit eating meat by citing a case of a vegetarian who died of a stroke, Bauman would instantly see the incoherence. His own comments are just as much a non-sequitur.

Silas Barta writes:

I think the real tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is that, even 90 years later, the evil corporate mentality of sacrificing worker safety for profits persisted to the point that thousands of people could die in a fire -- some leaping to their deaths -- that was easily preventable with simple installation of anti-aircraft artillery and a basic radar monitoring system on the buildings in question. [/offensive but technically true]

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