Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

38 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. Kim Beazley has laid out his plans for Labor’s economic program and it seems to be more of the same: tax cuts for middle- and high-income earners, removing “disincentives” for welfare recipients to get back to work, and a general pitch to the middle class. It’s remarkable how in nine years, having started off with Beazley, then hapless, hopeless Simon Crean, then the “class warrior” [ha!] Mark Latham, now back to Beazley again, how Labor’s policies haven’t changed much.

  2. I’ve developed an interest in cognitive biases and especially confirmation bias and it makes me wonder how does one know when one is under such a bias?

    In the global warming debate I see one side the human induced global warming advocates backing the mainstream scientific community both the majority of the worlds climatologists and most of the leading scientific associations like the Royal Society and their equivalents, on the other, a minority of climatologists, or fringe science, and those outside the field either lay, academic or with science backgrounds who feel they are justified in dismissing the work of these scientists.

    Some do so on technical grounds others that there is some sort of ulterior motive either ideological, they are anti-capitalist or self-interest to promote their careers.

    One could counter the same of these groups many are linked with industry lobby groups or with groups with similar ideological positions like the Libertarians. But not only do these individuals question the climatologists but also the work by environmental scientists when ever they claim that humans are adversely impacting on the worlds ecosystems and environment.

    Can a scientific consensus position be questioned by those without the necessary qualifications and how likely could it be that they are right and the leading scientists in that field are wrong?

    Being a lay individual on this matter I go with the mainstream. This because of their authority and the years I’ve spent reading and watching respected reputable science journalism and journals which have consistently given a picture of the cross disciplinary nature of science and that humans are in fact having and adverse impact on the planet.

    The problem is that I could as easily question or dismiss the work of a scientific field under certain circumstances. I noticed that in the field of psychiatry that there has been an explosion of what is consider child mental disorders of what could be considered really mundane instances like a child’s tantrum. I also came across a community mental health webpage that stated what I would consider ordinary sexual fetishes like foot or bondage were mental disorders. Some psychologists still think homosexuality is a metal disease.

    Now if these positions became mainstream I would as a unqualified outsider dismiss their work as some sort of social/institutional bias along the lines that happened in Victorian England with the non-sexual female and masturbation as a symptom of mental disease, or in the 1920’s with race and eugenics.

    So how different am I to those on global warming skeptics when I would do the same under different circumstances, since we do know that there have been times that the scientific mainstream have arguably been under some sort of social/institutional bias?

    I have only just learnt about bounded rationality and also wonder if theses are in fact biases but instead linked to the fact our rationality is limited and we use mental short cuts that can often be a hit and miss affair given the limitations on time and available information.

  3. The heroism of ordinary Iraqi’s who turned out to vote despite appalling intimidation needs to be commentated on and contrast with the treachery of many so-called left liberals* and so-called liberal minded Europeans who not only expressed concern with what might be achieved with intervention but actually sided with Islamic extremists. For example, a number of friends (with widespread support from those present) recently quoted with approval a rather famous supposedly moderate European Muslim writer (whose name now escapes me) that the problem with the resistance in Iraq was that in addition to justifiably targeting the invading forces they were also killing civilians. This of course ignores the fact that the so-called resistance in Iraq is a combination of the two most illiberal sections of Islamic societies (religious fundamentalists plus remnants of the Baathist party) who are a war not simply with the so called foreign invaders but more liberal elements of their own societies and liberalism and modernism in general.

    Given that many left liberals now side with the forces of reaction and (under the influence of cultural relativism and post-modernist philosophies) are obsessively concerned with protection traditional cultures and values, I look forward to them joining campaigns with the religious right in the United States to protect their traditional values – opposing abortion, making pyayer compulsory in schoos, etc. After all why should they be left out.

    Although, rather than spend ones time protecting all these religious crazies one could simply spend ones time supporting the real moderates in the Muslim world such as lesbian writer Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a Dutch politician originally from Somalia) who are both living in fear of being murdered for daring to criticism Islam for its treatment of women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s friend Theo van Gogh has already been stabbed to death on a public street. Yet, much of the criticism of the behaviour of Islamic extremism in this regard often comes from the more conservative sections of society and not the liberal left. This is also true of criticism of the British governments’ recent capitulation to Sikh extremists in the UK who threatened to bomb a theatre if a certain play containing sex and death in a Sikh temple went ahead. For many so-called liberals spending time criticising such illiberalism and intolerance would be time not spent criticising the real enemies Bush, Howard, and Blair etc.

  4. Here’s a joke inspired by the abortion debate.

    Q: Why do Tony Abbott, Ron Boswell, John Anderson, Alan Cadman, George Pell and Peter Carnley object to using condoms?

    A: Because they’d die of asphyxiation if they put one on.

  5. Something lifted from my recent blog. Hope it will interest.
    The abortion issue has come to the fore again lately, with the usual suspects manoeuvring for position. It’s also a live topic in the US, with the old Rowe v Wade decision apparently in some danger of being overturned. The debate has long been polarised, and the issues are usually argued along religious lines. So is it the case that atheists, who don’t have much truck with the sacredness-of-life idea, should necessarily be ‘pro-choice’ (others call this position ‘pro-termination’)? Considering that in a recent Religion Report on Radio National we heard from a spokeswoman for pro-choice Catholics, we shouldn’t assume too much.
    Probably, atheists tend to take a pragmatic view on these matters. Others might argue that they’re just being expedient, leaning towards the ‘rights’ of mothers or prospective mothers since they’re a noisier and more belligerent special interest group than unborn kids. Of course the defenders of unborn kids have become increasingly noisy too in recent years, but since they usually argue, or shout, from a sacredness-of-life perspective, atheists are not likely to feel sympathetic.
    Rejecting sacredness-of-life claims, though, still leaves us with the question of the fairness or validity of destroying an entity which certainly has life and the potentiality of a rich and fulfilling life etc. Bringing in potentiality of course is always tricky, but probably unavoidable in the issue of abortion. If you could excise the concept of potential from the debate, it might be easier to argue that a human entity, a few weeks our from conception hasn’t had much of a life, in terms of its past experiences up to its present. It could hardly be said to have developed a consciousness, and possibly doesn’t even feel pain in the sense that we know about it. Yet it has all the chromosomal ingredients, and given the ‘normal’ level of nurturing, it could develop into a healthy and active human capable of as much constructiveness and destructiveness as we regularly practice.
    So it could be argued that, in spite of all the agonising and the heartache that it can cause, abortion is really one of the ultimate acts of power against the more or less completely powerless. In fact much of the agonising may involve a realisation of just this fact, that we’re destroying a voiceless, defenceless life, to make our own lives easier. No wonder we find the issue a moral minefield, even without the sacredness-of-life overlay.
    Yet I think it should be recognised that these sorts of decisions have been made throughout human history, not always consciously. They’re constantly made in the animal world too, and we shouldn’t forget that we’re animals, though burdened with a more developed conscience. Decisions about the optimum number of offspring to ensure the survival, or the better thriving, of the ‘family’ or of larger groups, are being made all the time, with greater or lesser degrees of self-consciousness, by humans on down to things that creepy-crawl over the earth.
    In humans the continuing success of individualism has sharpened our focus on the ‘rights’ of individuals, including the unborn, and religious groups in particular have taken advantage of this focus. This has increased the burden of guilt on women, who are faced with very difficult choices. Of course the choices are very different in different parts of the world – a married woman in the leafy eastern suburbs of Adelaide would have a vastly different view of what better thriving is than a single girl in a Moombai slum, and there are still parts of the world where the ‘rights’ of the unborn are a luxury that just can’t be afforded.
    We don’t live in that part of the world however – though of course the luxury of such rights are far from evenly spread in our society – and so the abortion issue could well become as vociferous here as it is in the US. The key, I think is to balance rights against rights in individual cases, to avoid absolutism, and, dare I say, to step back from individualism to look at the costs and benefits for families and society as a whole of a practice which, in any case, is going to continue. To do on the conscious level what in any case we and our animal relatives have always done unconsciously to ensure our best survival. A suitably evolutionary and atheistic note on which to close.

  6. A short notice of “Steadfast Knight: A life of Sir Hal Colebatch” by his son.
    This account would be regarded as somewhat far-fetched if it was depicted as a work of fiction. Fortunately most of the life is a matter of public record so errors can be quickly identified.
    It is hard to say which is the most remarkable aspect of Sir Hal, his physical durability, surviving near-death experiences several times and endured diabtes to live an active life beyond the age of 80; his clarity of vision to see what was required to avert worldwide disaster in the 1930s; his strength of character to beat against the tide of public opinion for several decades; his ability to maintain friendly relations with bitter opponents and to work effectively with them when the opportunity arose.
    Hal Colebatch was a living thread, maintaining continuity in the free trade tradition through the wilderness decades until Bert Kelly and his helpers appeared to sponsors the Liberal “back bench dries” of the 1970s. Among the others were Stan Kelly (father of Bert), A H Lewis of the Commonwealth Barnk, Ed Shann, Keith Hancock and Brian Penton who helped to prepare an English tranlation of Mises “On Socialsm” when he was in London in the 1920s.
    One of the misfortunes of old Hal was to live before the internet. With his capacity to dash off leading articles on world events for the family newspaper and his renown as a public speaker he would have been a world champion blogger. The Sir Hal blog would have reached around the world, educating and inspired countless people in far flung lands. It is probably not fanciful to suggest that the internet would have saved classical liberalism from the wilderness decades and Hal Colebatch would have been one of the most effective users of it.
    The book itself is a beautiful example of the bookmakers craft, congratulations to the Freemantle Arts Centre Press for superb design and production.

  7. Simon, I find that this lecture by Michael Crichton on the relationship between politics and science tackles some of your comments. Specifically the “scientific consensus” part.

  8. Michael, you strike me as being a very unhappy person. It’s one thing to have diagreements on this or that issue, no matter how strongly felt, but you seem to be taking it personally. Has one of these left-liberals that agitate you so much done something to you?

  9. Dr.K + Simon –
    The US currently burns 380 million gallons of gasoline a day, give or take a few hundred thousand. Since that accounts for almost half the worldwide consumption, it’s a safe bet that the world is burning, or rather the human race is burning, over 600 million gallons of gasoline.
    Every single day.
    Even imagining the best for Crichton and his retentive legion – that there is no climatological effect from that astonishing daily fire, is it really possible to pretend that that much combustion of anything just…dissipates? Leaving the world no worse for the experience?
    600 million gallons a day.
    4 billion(US) gallons a week.
    Over 200 billion gallons of gasoline a year.
    C’mon there fellas. 200 billion gallons of petroleum distillates, in the form of gasoline, each year, and no adverse effects whatsoever?

  10. Is Peter Costello’s statement that he wishes the ABC would drop news and current affairs in favour of sport (particularly live coverage of the Ashes) final confirmation that sport is the new opiate of the masses?

  11. I’d like to know what John Qs recomendation for best introductory text on economics is. I’d prefer one that outlines a variety of views, but am of the “left”. What are other people’s suggestions?

  12. Aidan, sport has long been a drug of the masses. Unfortunately the watching part is on the increase, not the participation.

    As to abortion, in the long term, “abortion on demand” supporters will become a smaller section of the community, as they will tend to kill their own offspring (who were thus more likely to have that belief also).

    Why not have a referendum on abortion? We are a democracy, after all.

  13. I thought Referendums applied to constitutional matters. Non-constitutional matters are addressed by plebicites. Am I correct?

  14. Aidan,

    Is Peter Costello’s statement that he wishes the ABC would drop news and current affairs in favour of sport

    Pinochet paid more in bribes to the media than judges. Every government attacks that which stands in its way of wielding absolute power. With the Senate tucked away the biggest obstruction is the media. Costello couched it in populist terms, but he is really trying to silence the ABC.

  15. Tom, Hugh Stretton had a book out a few years ago, which aimed at doing what you want. I’ll think about other recommendations.

  16. John —

    This week’s Economist has an article on a recent paper in Yale Law Journal by open source proponent Yochai Benkler of Yale Law School on social sharing, which he claims is a third mode of organizing economic production different to both markets and state-owned production.

    The paper is available here:


  17. Cameron, in fact Pinochet did not need to bribe the media. Having absolute power to kill you, destroy your career or shut down your media outlet why would I bother with a bribe?

  18. The Great Depression: Market Failure or Government Failure?
    A few weeks ago I offered some altarnative views on the role of trade unions and especially the right to strike. How about an alternative view of the Great Depression and the New Deal in the US?
    The Great Depression is usually regarded as a sign of the terminal illness of the free enterprise system, the final and most convincing demonstration that unfettered markets cannot function smoothly but instead generate ruinous cycles of boom and bust.
    This would be more convincing if someone can identify the countries that were actually practicing unfettered free enterprise during the 1920s.
    Check out the logic here: If an illness is attributed to factor A, then cases with the illness must have been exposed to that factor. Of course there may be multiple causes in which case the other causes would need to be present as well. If a major cause of the great depression was free trade and unfettered markets, which countries enjoyed free trade and unfettered markets? Which countries did not have import controls of various kinds such as tariffs and quotas? Which did not have either statutory minimum wages or strong trade unions that refused to permit downward movements in wages?

    Moving on to the New Deal, introduced under the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
    How many people know that Roosevelt campaigned in 1932 on a program of economic rationalism that he claimed was required to curb the excesses of the Hoover administration? Hoover tirelessly jawboned the business community to keep wages high. He initiated massive public works programs (the Hoover Dam).
    In contrast, Roosevelt promised to cut federal spending, balance the budget, maintain a sound currency, stop bureaucratic centralization in Washington. Of course the program that he implemented was the opposite of his campaign promises, surely the most spectacular backflip in modern times. The result is history. The US remained stuck in depression until World War II.

    On The Mythology of Roosevelt and the New Deal

    What if the Depression was not caused by free trade? Should we rethink the refrain of the ratbaggish rightwingers who rally with a rousing refrain on the rights of economic rationalism? What if the New Deal was a mistake?

  19. Doctor K, keeping the press on side is a variant of the licensing process as it originally worked. It means you have someone on your side where the action is, to police hostile outbreaks and call in your support when you wouldn’t otherwise no to give it. Their quid pro quo is what they get from you, often in the form of a barrier to entry to make their own lives easier. Press lobbies work like “good bacteria”.

    There’s also the tactical use of the carrot and the stick, combination of arms, but analysing how wider patronage works is a whole other story.

  20. At my blog, in response to comment #2 by simon, I have posted a summary of the ideas regarding scepticism and science that have been the topic of the philosphy of science in the last 100 years. Hopefully, my comments provide some relevant input into the current debate about climate sceptics.

  21. Rafe, before working on the Great Depression, you might want to look at the depressions of the 1820s, 1840s and 1890s. If you want to avoid the inference that depressions are endemic in free enterprise systems, I suspect that you will come to the Ayn Rand conclusion that capitalism is “the unknown ideal”. If so, it is the mixed economy that is responsible for all the depressions of the past two centuries, but also, of course, for all the economic progress.

  22. Additionally Rafe, successive FDR administrations didn’t run significant federal deficits until US entry into WWII.

    The rest of your contribution is based upon an enormous false premise that will probably continue to launch a thousand neo-classical counterfactuals long after you have tired of this argument, or have died, whichever happens first.

    In fact, most of the NRA program was never put into action, and the provisions that were supposed to make it mandatory were later declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

    So if you continue to believe that FDR deserves denunciation for the hypothetical effects of a non-operational program, you’ll be joining a long conga line of neo-classical polemicists who can’t get over the myth of a man who’s been dead for almost 60 years.

  23. On another matter, the ongoing count after the recent election in Iraq appears to be a relatively trouble-free exercise in recognition of the principle of majoritarianism.

    And the major contribution to this triumph? Paper ballots makred with pencil.

    I imagine that if pen and paper had been used in the US Presidential election, President Gore would have been no less supportive of this practice in other countries than Bush Junior.

  24. Michael Burgess, what addles thee?

    The heroism of ordinary Iraqi’s who turned out to vote despite appalling intimidation needs to be commentated on

    They wanted a government able to tell the US when to leave. They must have wanted it badly.

    the treachery of many so-called left liberals* and so-called liberal minded Europeans who not only expressed concern with what might be achieved with intervention but actually sided with Islamic extremists

    Since when were there only two sides to the issue? Oh yes, since Bush and Zarqawi claimed there were.

    I look forward to them joining campaigns with the religious right in the United States to protect their traditional values – opposing abortion, making pyayer compulsory in schoos, etc. After all why should they be left out.

    For many so-called liberals spending time criticising such illiberalism and intolerance would be time not spent criticising the real enemies Bush, Howard, and Blair etc.

    Almost got me there, Michael. Recent events do commend a view that attempting to change the minds of Bush, Howard and Blair is as quixotic as attempting to change the minds of middle-eastern islamic fundamentalists and western pseudo-Christian crazies. But I don’t quite buy it. Shades of grey persist; not in my relatively clear mind so much as in a messy world.

  25. A diversion: kyangadac – Congratulations and welcome to the blogosphere. Two suggestions: click the button so unregistered commenters can reply and every time you put up a comment yourself, add your URL. I’ve been hanging out for you to hang out a shingle and I am sure I am not alone. Now, back to normal transmission..

  26. As a first time comment, and as a sort of weekend reflection, I’m wondering what happened to the level of economic debate in this country. If we cast our mind back to late 1980s and 1990s, high level discussions and debate occured on a variety of economic indicators – such as inflation, unemployment, foreign debt, current account deficit, trade balance, exchange rate, r&d investment, elaborately transformed manufactures, import replacement, infrastructure spending (to name a few) – which were considered a central part of our national policy debates and current affairs analysis. Those days seem to have disappeared, which is very convenient for the Howard Government, as while there has been a strong performance in some areas, namely unemployment, (public sector) debt reduction and inflation – all of which are important – there is the flip side: our growing indebtedness and soaring current account deficits. These seem to have barely rated a mention in the press, or seriously dented the halo of ‘sound economic management’ the Coalition likes to so brazenly flaunt. I thought a visit to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s website might be in order, just to see what’s been happening with our economy (nb: I’m no economist, so pardon gross generalisations or leaps of judgment).

    Just a few things caught my eye:

    #Credit / Loans: outstanding credit card balances have grown from $6.649bn in March 1996 to $28.624bn in November 2004; whilst our overall credit limit has increased by a jaw dropping $55.857bn over the same period. A total of $400m in purchases were not covered by repayments (and hence subject to interest and other credit charges) in November 2004. There’s a similar story with personal loans – excluding housing – which have more than doubled, from $46bn to $113bn between March 1996 and November 2004. In the same period, housing loans (incl securitisations) have more than trebled, jumping from $176.9bn to $613.2bn. This seems a lot, but I’m prepared to accept that it depends a great deal on what you’re borrowing the money for – latest gadgets vs bricks & mortar – but it seems we’ve sunk a great deal into housing all the same, and where ‘credit’ has become more important just to survive.

    #Current a/c deficit: This seems to be in a state of intensive care, with the difference between exports and imports, totalling a heart-stopping $81.078bn cumulative deficit between March 1996 and November 2004. Yes folks, that’s a lot of red ink. In fact, over the period of the Coalition’s economic stewardship – a total of 104 months – all but 23 of these have been negative, with November’s number – $2.402bn – being the 36th consecutive monthly deficit on the current account (nb: we’ve just posted the 37th). We’ve been down $1bn a month since October 2002, while the differences within our Merchandise Trade figures, has seen the ratio between Consumables and Capital related imports, roughly even under the Hawke-Keating Govts, slip more towards the Consumables side of the ledger under Howard. Is there any reason to worry about this? Is having an industry plan / policy important?

    #Liabilities: Not entirely sure I’m reading the figures accurately, but it looks like Total Gross Foreign Liabilities – the amount we owe the world – has risen from $461,798,000,000 in March 1996 to $1,094,467,000,000 in September 2004. Once we factor in the overseas held assets, I think net foreign debt stands at a stroke-inducing $406,221,000,000 in September 2004, up from $193,238,000,000 in March 1996. In layman’s terms, this seems to indicate a doubling of our net foreign debt in just eight years – or am I reading this wrong? I was a little shocked by these figures, and while the Treasurer keeps telling us that our economy is so much bigger (hence our ability to comfortably service these liabilities), are we more vulnerable to external shocks / credit bubbles / unproductive investments (my MP3 player among them) than we were when the Coalition was elected?

    I guess what I’m asking is what’s happened to the informed analysis, as while the Government likes to tell us everything is fantastic, are there things we should be: (a) talking about as citizens; and (b) worrying about as a nation? Is it time to hitch-up the ’96 Debt Truck for another tour?

  27. Responding to John on the performance of the US economy in previous cycles, I dont have the figures at hand but the most helpful comparison is probably with 1920-21 where the spike of unemployment was lower and the hiccup was over in 12 to 18 months. Contrast this with the decade of depression in the 1930s, courtesy of Hoover et al.

    On the points raised by Katz, it seems from the accounts that I have read that quite enough was done in the way of tariffs, increased taxation, cartelisation of industry, the initiation of the farm support programs that persist to the present day, etc etc to flatten the economy for the decade.

    Is someone going to deny that there were massive constraints on free trade both before and during the Depression? The programs that were defeated in court represented a small fraction of the total package.

  28. No Rafe, the defeat of the NRA destroyed FDR’s hope to enforce real wage increases to stimulate demand by the mass of the US workforce. This was envisaged as the centrepiece of the so-called First New Deal.

    You’re correct that tariffs minimised international free trade during this era. However, the most important of these was the notorious Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which Hoover signed into law in 1931.

    FDR, on the other hand pressed for and achieved the Trade Agreements Act (1934), an omnibus measure which authorised the president to enter into agreements without specific congressional ratification, so long as the agreements were based on the principle of “most-favoured nation”.

    This represents a massive increase in executive power, but I’m sure that even neo-classical polemicists would have to agree that it was to be used for “good”, not “evil”.

    Needless to say, before WWII few other countries were willing to negotiate with the US, as wedded as most were to the practice of “beggar thy neighbour”. However, that wasn’t for want of trying by the Congress and the Executive Branch.

  29. Katz
    let’s not take the name of neoclassical economists in vain, shall we? i’m not sure which respected neoclassical economists you’re thinking of who believe the Great Depression was caused by FDR or tariffs? (note Paul Krugman would be classified as a neoclassical). while Friedman and Schwartz made a reasonably documented case that part of the problem was bad monetary policy, i’d doubt even they would be taking the position which Rafe, my blogmate is taking, as I think he is excessively influenced by some of the more cultish Austrians. For what it’s worth I think business cycles are an inevitable part of a *monetary* capitalist economy – keynes’ reflections on money in his GT are his most thought-provoking discoveries and where he was fundamentally right

  30. I used the word “polemicists” after rejecting the use of the word “economists”.

    I take your point though Jason. Those wacky Austrians, always exporting troublemakers.

  31. thanks kyangadac I would have hoped i would have got futher feedback but you were it. So I take it
    that the academics around here are immune to the sort of social/institutional bias that happened in Victorian England and the eugenics science of the 1920’s?

  32. Simon, I normally leave this thread to run on its own. But I’ll keep the topic in mind for future posts. In the meantime, if you search the blog for Kyoto or warming, you’ll find plenty of relevant discussion.

  33. Hello Katz, accordingn to my information (click signature for link) the NRA was in place for two years before it was knocked down. In the first six months of operation industrial production fell by 25%. Later came the Wagner Act.

    Did FDR lower the tariffs which were hiked under Hoover? Did he honour his pre-election undertaking to reverse the economic irrationalism of Hoover?
    What do you think of his farm programs and the tax increases?
    Adam Smith wrote that there is a power of ruin in a country, indeed the economy showed some signs of recovery at different times during the thirties, then FDR found some new scheme to throw it off balance again.

    Of course I did not attribute the onset of the depression to the New Deal policies, merely its duration and intensity.

    I assume that the onset was a matter of tariffs and maladroit monetary policy by the Fed, aggravated by Hoover’s big spending and jawboning of business to keep wages up as a sign of national virility.

  34. Rafe, beware of post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments.

    The NRA was voluntary in its operation even before the Supreme Court knocked it down. Employers and labour unions agreed to come under its aegis. I’m not defending the policy here, merely pointing to the important decision-makers. Because, self-evidently, in an economy as everywhere else, its the decisionmakers who make the decisions. In fact, the NRA operated as a cartelising force where unions and big corporations used it as a mechanism to maintain profitability and unions used it as a way of imposing closed shops.

    No, FDR didn’t lower tariffs, but not for want of trying. FDR was constrained by two factors: a small thing called the US Constitution which limited his ability to do what he wanted, and the self-interest of US trading partners. As I thought I pointed out above, FDR augmented executive power in foreign trade negotiations, thus bending the Constitution as far as was politically possible in the cause of freeing up international trade. But foreign trading partners remained intransigent.

    Folks who see the world entirely through economic spectacles are likely to miss the bigger picture. In fact, by the 1936 political season, FDR was under severe threat from the Left. Huey P. Long of Louisiana was running a powerful populist campaign that promised swingeing changes in the order of things in the US. (“Every home a castle, every man a king”) FDR found himself in a bidding war to blunt this threat, a threat which was alleviated eventually by a convenient assassin’s bullet. (No I not claiming FDR did it.)

    Sometimes it necessary to lob even beloved infants into the jaws of demos.

  35. Tom (the chap looking for introductory economics books):

    Just in case you’re still around, I recently stumbled across this on-line textbook. I haven’t looked at it too closely, but it may serve your purpose and it’s cheap.

    Introductory textbooks are all pretty similar and are usually too dry for the general reader. There’s actually not much around that explains and applies technical concepts in an engaging way. I would recommend anything by Robert Heilbroner, though. Paul Krugman’s The Return of Depression Economics is quite good as an troduction to macroeconomics, but it’s focued on events of the eighties and early nineties.

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