Don Boudreaux is the master of the letter to the editor. It is my understanding (though I have never confirmed this with him) that this particular talent of his was cultivated by a personal challenge from John Stossel to Don when Don was the President of FEE. You will not impact public opinion, Stossel said, until you can explain economics is a few sentences of clear writing. Or something to that effect. A similar challenge was put to Walter Williams by Milton Friedman twenty or more years early --- as the story goes Milton told Walter you never know that you really have mastered economics until you can effectively explain economic concepts to the average person in less than 800 words. Williams took the challenge and became one of the most widely circulated op-ed writers in the US. Boudreaux took the challenge and has emerged as perhaps the most active letter to the editor writer in the US.
In today's letter --- to Newsweek --- in response to a column by Robert Samuelson, Don sums up the nature of democratic government and the dilemma it represents for sound economic policy.
29 August 2008
Robert Samuelson is correct: regardless of which party wins the White House or Congress, Uncle Sam is unlikely to get his fiscal affairs in order ("The Rise of Fantasy Politics," September 1).
In principle, government's core responsibility is to prevent Jones from benefiting by his imposing costs on Smith without Smith's consent. In practice, government acts as Jones's agent in securing benefits for Jones by imposing costs on Smith.
Government's modus operandi today is to bestow goodies on politically powerful interest groups, and to pay for these goodies by taxing politically unpopular groups (e.g., oil companies) and politically impotent groups (most notably, future taxpayers). The bottom line is that, through government, Jones imposes costs on Smith without Smith's consent.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Chairman, Department of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
After listening this week to promise after promise to fix health, education and human welfare in general (which all relied on expanding the scope and scale of government) only to be followed by the same speaker claiming they will also balance the budget and make government more 'efficient' -- as was said last night you cannot expect to address 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy. Line by line will be examined candidate Obama promised and programs will be cut that are no longer relevant, and those that remain will work better and at a lower cost. How exactly that will be achieved remains a question of faith. I am sure candidate McCain and the speakers over the next few days will make similar promises about bigger, better, more effective government that will do more to meet public demands for "health, happiness, and security" and cost you less than any government ever did before.
There is a rhetoric of politics and a reality of politics. Boudreaux has captured the reality of politics in the above letter as well as anyone, and it is a reality that was described by philosophers such David Hume and Adam Smith; founding fathers like Madison; economic journalists like Bastiat and Hazlitt; and economists like Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan and Tullock.