Debate with Ian Fletcher, Part Deux
By David Henderson
I appreciate a number of the comments people made on my previous post on my debate with Ian Fletcher, both the tone and the content. On tone, I want to highlight Tom West, whose tone I always appreciate. On content, I thought Brandon Berg made the most important point and it’s where I was planning to go with the next step in the debate.
To recap, I argued that people should be free to make their own decisions even if that means that they consume more and save less than Ian Fletcher would like them to. Ian Fletcher argued that they shouldn’t be free to do that. You might think, “Big deal; we knew all along that Fletcher doesn’t think people should be free to make their own decisions.” I thought I knew it too. But if you read the original article in HuffPo that I was commenting on, he never comes out and says it. Now he has. I asked, “Which choices of people that are causing it [the “wrong,” in his mind, ratio of saving to consumption] to happen would you not allow?” He answered, “I propose to manipulate matters at the systemic level through tariffs, not intervene in specific individual choices.”
In my opinion, getting him to reveal what he hides in the HuffPo article–that he wants the government to interfere in people’s lives at what he calls “a systemic level”–is a victory.
Now to my next two points and, to their credit, commenters made them both. Brandon Berg made this first point; here’s how I put it in my article in The Freeman:
But Fletcher doesn’t want to take this low rate of saving as given. He wants a higher rate. Fine. There are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to reduce the budget deficits of the U.S. federal, state, and local governments. In 2009 they totaled a whopping $1.272 trillion, which exceeded net private saving (personal and corporate) of $945 billion. The result: a negative saving rate for the economy as a whole. Have the government spend less, and the net saving rate would probably increase. It’s still not clear, though, that we would manufacture more.
Fletcher’s solution, tariffs, by contrast, would reduce U.S. wealth. So this person who holds himself up as someone who doesn’t want economic decline, is actually advocating that, Americans be, on average, poorer than they would otherwise choose to be.
Second, Ian Fletcher seems to think that “systemic” solutions don’t imply intervention in specific individual choices. I was going to challenge this but commenter Curtis put it better than I would have. Curtis wrote:
I never understood this sort of logic. Systematic tariffs do intervene in individual choices: Slapping everybody in the face means I get slapped in the face individually.