Economics in One Letter

Almost every morning when I wake up, one thing I can count on in my e-mail inbox is a letter written by Don Boudreaux earlier that morning in which he takes on this or that economic fallacy. I know I could get virtually all the letters by going to the blog Cafe Hayek, but there’s something special about having it come right to me.

Don, an economics professor at George Mason University, has mastered the art of writing letters to the editor. This is quite a skill. You first have to tell the reader enough about what you’re responding to and then quickly say what you object to. (In maybe one out of four or five letters, he agrees with the person he’s responding to but is writing to amplify or extend.) And you have to do all this in, typically, under 200 words.

The unifying theme in virtually everything he writes is why markets and freedom generally work so well, why government generally destroys things, and how people have such a double standard when it comes to judging behavior in the government sector versus the voluntary sector. And he does it marvelously.

His favorite bête noires tend to be: the idea that trade is a failure if you end up getting lots of imports, the idea that when a country runs a surplus on the current account it necessarily increases its indebtedness, and the idea that there’s something noble about people coercively imposing their values on others.

One little bonus is that about once every eight times, he references some academic literature that buttresses his point. About half of those times, it’s literature I hadn’t known about.

In a future post, I’ll tell how, in 1977, Don accidentally got hooked on economics. I tell this story when I teach price ceilings.