Not-So-Random Thoughts (VII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

UPDATED 07/14/13

In “The Reality of the Wartime Economy,” Steven Horwitz and Michael J. McPhillips bang the drum for Robert Higgs’s account of the role of World War II in ending the Great Depression. Horwitz and McPhillips conclude:

The debate over World War II’s role in ending the Great Depression has enormous relevance in connection with the current anemic recovery from the Great Recession. We have offered evidence to support Robert Higgs’s argument that the wartime macroeconomic data significantly overstated the degree of genuine economic recovery. Higgs’s evidence rests on his reinterpretation of several traditional macroeconomic indicators to compensate for the distinct features of a wartime economy. We show that if one digs below the aggregates and looks at how American households lived during the war, as shown in the media, letters, and journals, Higgs’s case appears to be even stronger. Whatever the war’s effects on seemingly booming conventional macroeconomic aggregates, it entailed a retrogression in the average American’s living standards, and that disconnect should alert us to those aggregates’ limitations. Whenever government commands resources, those who finance this acquisition, whether through taxation or purchase of government bonds, incur opportunity costs. Whether the diverted resources go toward building tanks and guns or toward repairing bridges and roads does not alter this fact. As we continue to debate the effectiveness of large-scale government expenditure to speed recovery from the Great Recession, we should not be looking at the wartime experience of the 1940s as a guide.

I quite agree with the bottom line. (See especially my posts “A Keynesian Fantasy Land” and “The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty.”) But there is reason to believe that the glut of saving during World War II helped to fuel the post-war recovery. (See my posts “How the Great Depression Ended” and “Does ‘Pent Up’ Demand Explain the Post-War Recovery?“)

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Highly recommended: “What Difference Would Banning Guns Make?” at Political Calculations. The answer is “not much, if any.” Violence will out, especially when the demographics are right (or wrong, if you will). Which leads to my post “Crime, Explained.”

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A Bipartisan Nation of Beneficiaries” (The Pew Report, December 18, 2012) suggests (unsurprisingly) that

a majority of Americans (55%) have received government benefits from at least one of the six best-known federal entitlement programs.

The survey also finds that most Democrats (60%) and Republicans (52%) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives. So have nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57%), liberals (53%) and moderates (53%).

What choice is there when the state (a) robs us blind and (b) penalizes initiative and success? In those conditions, most of us respond as one would expect — by feeding at the public trough. See, for example, “The Interest-Group Paradox.”

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An increasingly regulated economy, that’s what we have, according to “Counting All the U.S. Government’s Regulations” (Political Calculations, October 18, 2012). And a heavy price we pay for it, as I’ve documented in “The Price of Government, Once More,” and the many posts linked to therein.

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Rich Lowry of National Review, famous mainly for having fired John Derbyshire, continues his attack on what Timothy Sandefur calls “Doughface libertarians”:

… Lincoln said, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races.” How could he say such a thing? Well, he said it in his debates with Stephen Douglas, when he was playing defense…. (“The Rancid Abraham Lincoln-Haters of the Libertarian Right,” The Daily Beast, June 17, 2013)

Not so fast, Mr. Lowry. Lincoln wasn’t just playing defense. See “The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” wherein Lincoln’s plan for the colonization of blacks is discussed.

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From Michael Ruse’s “Does Life Have a Purpose?” (Aeon, June 24, 2013):

… Today’s scientists are pretty certain that the problem of teleology at the individual organism level has been licked. Darwin really was right. Natural selection explains the design-like nature of organisms and their characteristics, without any need to talk about final causes. On the other hand, no natural selection lies behind mountains and rivers and whole planets. They are not design-like. That is why teleological talk is inappropriate….

This reminds me of Sandefur’s post, “Teleology without God,” which I addressed in “Evolution, Human Nature, and ‘Natural Rights’” and “More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology.”