For more than three decades I’ve written letters-to-the-editor on an almost daily basis. The number of such letters that I’ve written over this time is, I estimate, close to 9,000.
Writing such letters is an effective means of making important points sharply, and with a much higher prospect – compared to writing a full Op-ed – of being published in prominent venues such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The Economist. Most of my letters identify flaws in economic reasoning or faulty understandings of the current state of the world or of history.
In 2012, thanks to the generosity of my friends Ed Barr and the late Bob Chitester – and with the amazing editorial assistance of Jim Tusty – the Free To Choose Network collected 111 of my letters into a book (the title of which I’ve come to regret for its unnecessary snark and inappropriate, if unintended, arrogance). I’m pleased that many people have since asked me when another collection of my letters will be published. As of now, no plans exist for a second collection. But I share below a tiny sample of some of my favorites of the letters that I’ve written since the book was published. (None of these letters ran in the journals to which I submitted them, but each is posted at my blog, Café Hayek.)
To TheAtlantic.com (January 31, 2013):
Emily Matchar correctly insists that the demise in home cooking was caused by industrialization and not by feminism (“Betty Friedan Did Not Kill Home Cooking,” Jan 25). This point is important and it extends beyond the kitchen stove. By raising women’s market wages – and by creating affordable automatic clothes washers, wrinkle-free fabrics, disposable diapers, and other such products that dramatically lessen the time required for housework – women today are better able than ever to choose to work outside of the home. (Families increasingly enjoy, therefore, all the material benefits formerly produced by full-time housewives plus the extra goods and services that can be bought with incomes earned by working women.)
A comment of a young woman (born circa 1969) in the 1999 BBC reality show 1900 House is germane. Hired to work as a housemaid in a house fitted out to be like one that was typical for middle-class Londoners in 1900, this late-20th-century woman soon became frustrated by the ceaseless and arduous work required to keep the 1900 house clean. She remarked in surprise to the show’s producers and audience that she now realizes that the actual source of women’s liberation wasn’t so much political activism as it was “the carpet sweeper and domestic appliances that gave women their liberty because it saves so much time at working.”
To NPR’s Marketplace (May 27, 2014):
Ms. Jules Pieri is absolutely sure that venture capitalists discriminate against women (“Fixing the VC gender gap,” May 27). She proposes to solve this problem by denying certain tax deductions to venture capitalists who lend ‘too little’ to women.
Given Ms. Pieri’s beliefs about venture capitalists, her proposal is mysterious.
On one hand, she insists that VCs are so indifferent to their bottom lines that they willingly forgo the extra profits that they would earn by extending more loans to women. Yet on the other hand, Ms. Pieri argues that VCs are so sensitive to their bottom lines that all that is needed to prompt them to extend more loans to women is a tweaking of the tax code.
VCs either care about making as much money as possible or they are willing to sacrifice some profits in order to indulge their prejudices against women. It cannot – contrary to Ms. Pieri’s apparent supposition – be both.
To the New York Times (September 29, 2014):
In his New York Times blog on Wednesday – in a post entitled “Having It and Flaunting It” – Paul Krugman complained that America’s rich are obsessed with exhibiting their wealth in the form of “ostentatious” consumption. Indeed, Mr. Krugman asserted that “for many of the rich flaunting is what it’s all about…. [I]t’s largely about display.” And this display, Mr. Krugman alleged, “imposes negative externalities on the rest of the population.”
A mere five days later, in his New York Times column today – a column entitled “Our Invisible Rich” – Mr. Krugman gripes that the reason more Americans aren’t infuriated by today’s great income inequality is that “the truly rich are so removed from ordinary people’s lives that we never see what they have.”
Mr. Krugman is here ostentatiously inconsistent!
To the New York Times (October 11, 2014):
Paul Krugman complains that budget “deficit scolds” ignore two important facts: first, any net harm to human well-being generated by government deficits are “uncertain”; second, even if such harm does materialize, it won’t do so for many years (“Secret Deficit Lovers,” Oct. 10).
Whether or not Mr. Krugman is correct in his fiscal analysis, it’s striking that in other of his writings he sides aggressively with those who we might call “carbon scolds” – people who ignore two important facts: first, any net harm to human well-being generated by climate change is uncertain; second, even if such harm does materialize, it won’t do so for many years.
Perhaps it’s true that the concern over deficit spending really isn’t justified while the concern over climate change really is. But the similarity between these two concerns ought at least to temper the scorn that Mr. Krugman infamously pours on those who assess the risks of both deficit spending and of climate change differently than he assesses these risks.
To the Wall Street Journal (November 17, 2014):
It’s very good that you (with help from my colleagues Bryan Caplan and David Levy) draw readers’ attention to the late University of Virginia economist and Defense Department official Warren Nutter (“Notable & Quotable,” Nov. 17). Nutter was a fountain of profound insight and wisdom before his early death in 1979; sadly, today he is largely forgotten.
My favorite example of Nutter’s acumen – and of his wit – is his observation (relayed here) that “in the academic world, you think now and decide never; and in the government, it’s just exactly the other way around.”
To BloombergView (November 23, 2015):
Noah Smith speculates that raising the minimum wage might be good for low-skilled workers over time because a higher minimum wage prompts firms to invest in technologies that increase worker productivity (“Want Innovation? Try Raising Minimum Wages,” Nov. 23). Key to his case is his observation that “[i]n the past, when companies implemented labor-saving technology – whether assembly lines or computers – their workers didn’t simply go on the unemployment rolls. They became more productive than before and commanded higher wages.” While this observation is largely accurate, by using it to justify minimum wages Mr. Smith confuses cause and effect.
Higher wages do not cause higher worker productivity; instead, higher worker productivity causes higher wages. When industry X is expanding and its workers are becoming more productive, companies in X bid for more workers by raising the wages paid in X. Higher wages in industry X attract workers from industry Y, thus prompting companies in industry Y to implement labor-saving technology. The implementation of labor-saving technology in industry Y causes no unemployment because it is industry Y’s response to industry’s X’s increased demand for workers – an increased demand for workers that, again, is the result of a rise in worker productivity in X.
In contrast, if wages are forced up by diktat rather than competed up in response to rising worker productivity, wages for some workers will exceed the value of their productivity. These workers will become unemployed. And in addition to losing current income, these workers will be denied on-the-job experience – a denial that thwarts improvements in their productivity (that is, in their “human capital”). The economy and workers as a group will over time become less, not more, productive.
To the Washington Post (September 11, 2016):
The top headline this morning at WashingtonPost.com reads “How Donald Trump retooled his charity to spend other people’s money.”
Give the man credit, for he’s preparing himself in advance to excel at one of the chief missions of the successful politician: spending other people’s money.
Donald J. Boudreaux
This article, Letters to the Editor, was originally published by the American Institute for Economic Research and appears here with permission. Please support their efforts.