Arnold Kling  

Deirdre McCloskey Throws Down the Gauntlet

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She writes,

The master narrative of High Liberalism is mistaken factually. Externalities do not imply that a government can do better. Publicity does better than inspectors in restraining the alleged desire of businesspeople to poison their customers. Efficiency is not the chief merit of a market economy: innovation is. Rules arose in merchant courts and Quaker fixed prices long before governments started enforcing them.

Pointer from Don Boudreaux, who views her post as a classic. Read the whole thing and decide for yourself.

I think she makes a valid point that historical narrative matters, and that the mainstream narrative is excruciatingly statist. Should one be concerned if, from a Leo Strauss/Tyler Cowen/Rodney King perspective, McCloskey's post does not help?

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

It was an excellent post (and I think I'm one of the people that's not supposed to have thought that).

The trouble is, the people you think she "throws down the gauntlet" at probably won't recognize it as throwing down the gauntlet at them, because they mostly agree with her (except they probably think she overstates a point here or there, or ignores critical nuances or competing concerns, etc.).

The people who actually think the things she (rightly) criticizes are few and far between, I think. There is a lot to legitimately argue about in the details, of course, but that's never nearly as triumphant.

This is a constant problem with libertarians, I find. They furnish you with the position that they want you to defend, not realizing that a lot of people don't actually hold that position.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I recently made a very similar point about Peter Boettke here:

Peter and Deirdre are nothing short of brilliant and I consistently enjoy reading what both of them write. That's not the issue at all.

Or maybe I'm just whitewashing the travesty that is the great unwashed non-libertarian masses. I've been told that too.

Graham Asher writes:

"In the 19th and 20th centuries ordinary Europeans were hurt, not helped, by their colonial empires." On the contrary there is a good case (not an overwhelming one, but it's worth arguing) that the British Empire benefited Europeans and others by creating freer markets and freer trade than the regimes it replaced.

Thomas DeMeo writes:

While I would agree that publicity works better than inspectors, I would think there is a threshold where that channel simply can't handle the traffic.

Ken B writes:

It is a wonderful post. But I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may need an editor!

I am part way through her book Bourgeois Virtue. It is partly wonderful, partly a cringe-inducing mess. I cannot recommend it to my scientific friends as they will pack it in when they get to her mish-mash of sociolbiology, or her digression on religion. But much of it is so marvelous!

John David Galt writes:

She fails to mention that yes, governments do get regularly corrupted. In fact, I doubt that Congress has enacted a law in the last 100 years that was not bought and paid for by a lobbyist, or that any regulatory agency has adopted a regulation not written by the big players in the industry they were supposedly regulating.

Joe Cushing writes:

Hey, I already read Cafe Hayek. I wouldn't say anything but I view that blog and this one as related since that one has Russ Roberts who also does Econ Talk on this web site.

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