David R. Henderson  

A Badly Misleading Title

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I'm back from my 18-day trip to my cottage in Canada and so, once again, I will be posting almost daily.

I hate many things: one of them is price controls and another is badly misleading titles.

Three Felonies a Day is a case in point. Written by Harvey A. Silverglate, with a Foreword by Alan M. Dershowitz, it's actually an excellent book. But Silverglate doesn't even attempt to justify the title. He tells blood-curdling stories about out-of-control federal prosecutors who go after people whom most readers of this blog and, indeed, most people, would think of as innocent people. A prime example is on pp. 45-56 where he tells of the Dr. Hurwitz Oxycontin case. But nowhere in the book does Silverglate say why he thinks that the average American commits three felonies a day. My own guess is that over half of adult Americans are felons who don't know it but that their number of felonies is closer to three a year than to three a day.

Why does it matter? Here's why. I see people on Facebook discussions, and not dumb or uninformed people but smart, generally informed people, saying that Silverglate has shown that the average American commits three felonies a day. Besides signaling that they haven't read the book, they then pass on bad information to other people who repeat it, etc.

Another reason it matters is that some people who might be sympathetic to Silverglate's message are less sympathetic and, indeed, might feel cheated.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
danyzn writes:

Yeah I was misled for years by some guy named Hayek into believing that socialism would inevitably result in everyone becoming a medieval peasant bound to the land after being driven through a time machine in the form of a road.

AGJ writes:

danyzn -

Mises argued that socialism was impossible because of the inability to engage in economic calculation. So there is a difference between socialism (which is impossible) and "really existing socialism", which was a termed coined by socialist dissidents in the 20th century.

Hayek argued in the Road to Serfdom that individual freedom will suffer if governments centrally plan their economy along socialist margins or plan against competition. He did not argue that small reaches of government would "result in everyone becoming a medieval peasant bound to the land".

David R. Henderson writes:

@AGJ,
You make a cogent point, but in doing so, illustrated danzyn’s point: if I hadn’t known better when a friend gave me Hayek’s Road to Serfdom as a Christmas present, I could easily have imagined it being about "a medieval peasant bound to the land.” It’s not as bad a mistitling as Silverqlate’s, but it does mislead.

AGJ writes:

@Dave -

I see your point, but I'm not sure if his misunderstanding of Hayek's argument is attributed to a misleading title or something else. Regardless, just wanted to clear that up.

Thanks.

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