Why I’d Rather Be Blogging

You guys—with your thoughtful, witty and relevant comments—have made me thankful I took up blogging. My (considerable) experience with the mainstream media suggests that you meet a much lower class of people there. Let me give you an example.

Once upon a time I wrote a Forbes column drawing an analogy between protectionism (which discriminates on the basis of national origin) and racism (which discriminates, of course, on the basis of race). (Of course the analogy isn’t perfect. For example, racism can be a solitary hobby, whereas protectionism by its nature forces other people to discriminate as well.) There were many responses, of which my favorite was Pat Buchanan’s screed containing both some hilariously misguided economics and a paragraph I’ve had posted on my office door ever since:

Now I do not know what parents pay to send their kids to the University of Rochester. But if the philosophical imbecility of Landsburg is representative of the faculty, it is too much.

Shortly afterward, I was scheduled to appear on John Gibson’s program on Fox News, where the following exchange took place:

This, in turn, led to a flurry of email. To give you the full flavor, and so as not to bias the sample, I am appending every single email I received on this subject, excepting only one relatively positive note from my mother.

Am watching you on Fox They are really scraping the bottom of the barrel now.

Seen you on FOX, once again I see just one more brain dead liberal asshole. You are so full of shit it is amazing you can fit in your skin. You want to talk racism you are the biggest racist by trying to spin this bull. It is a complete shame that our educators in this country has gotten so stupid and full of bull! YOU ARE JUST A PLAIN FUCKING IDIOT – DON’T LIKE THE LANGUAGE? THEY ARE THE ONLY WORDS STRONG ENOUGH TO DESCRIBE YOUR BULLSHIT!

Mr. Landsburg,

I watched your intview on Foxnews today. Other than appalled by your comparison of buying ‘American’ to racism, I was intrigued.

I was listening to your argument and I tried to understand your point. I have one question. Do you hate America?

Although it is a simple idea, as I am a simpleton, I can honestly say that I love America. I love the land, the people, and the fundamental ideas on which it was founded.

I would like you hear you say it. I bet you cannot. And I understand your point.

“Professor”: Just watched your performance on Fox News. Your theory that “protectionists” who support buying American products are racially biased is ludicrous…..so much so that I had a really good laugh. Don’t you liberal eggheads have anything better to do than dream up stupid ideas just to get published, protect your tenure, and get “face time” on television? It makes me sick to know that people like you are poisoning the minds of impressionable young adults. The time is coming when financial support will dry up for “institutions of higher learning” like Rochester and you will be out of a job. Then you can move to Juarez and take a job away from one of your fellow Americans.

Dear Mr. Landsburg,

I could see by the zealot’s flame reflected in your eyes that you believed every word you said on Fox news Friday.

Would you have any compunction to feel a bit racist if, all of a sudden, the University administration ‘off-shored’ your tenured position based solely on the theory of protectionism / racism you put forth? There are plenty of people not of these shores who may be interested to know that you would step aside and yield to them in the spirit of fair play.

Kurt Vonnegut had theories as well.

I am occasionally amazed at the lengths to which people will go for recognition. For some it’s poking holes in unusual place around the body. For others, they provide a canvas of bad art. In academics, it is making absurd statements and arriving at outlandish conclusions. This has become so mundane surprises are few. However, sir, you have exceeded all expectations with you Buy America theory. That must have taken an entire semester of idleness and mind wandering. Congratulations, you are a credit to what
passes for education.

May I recommend an excellent book? Basic Economics by Dr. Thomas Sowell will provide an excellent starting foundation for understanding the issues. The contact list indicates you are a visiting professor. I have written recommending your invitation be revoked until you can display a modicum of knowledge about the subject. One can only hope you are never offered tenure.
I suspect, sadly, you are the perfect can candidate.

P.S. Now I am simple beside myself. The irony of someone concerned about “Economic Racism having a “whitelist” in order to avoid spam is just too much. I almost wish I lived in Rochester so as to experience the theater of the absurd you classes must be.

Dear Dr. Landsburg,

I caught the end of your discussion with Mr. Gibson on Fox News this afternoon I’m still not all together sure whether it is immoral for me to buy American made goods or whether it is immoral for me to refuse to buy goods made in other countries or whether it matters at all. In any event I think this argument is long over. I think it is fairly clear that everyone is going to buy the cheapest one wherever it is made.

I will admit my economic paradigm is still stuck in the “if it says ‘made it Japan’ it is junk and countries gain wealth by manufacturing
goods from raw materials.” I don’t know how long we can last selling things to each other but I’ll admit if the Chery is any good I’ll
probably buy one whether it’s made by Chinese slave labor or not. That little moral conundrum won’t bother me at all. After all, the fact that my clothing is made by children chained to their cutting and sewing tables doesn’t bother me now.

Be that as it may I am getting quite tired of references to Southern sheriffs and Southern politicians and Southerners in general trampling over the rights of black people in the past. That requires a distinction between de facto and de jure racial segregation that the Warren Court was able to make with a straight face but no one with a moral compass could argue before the Lord Almighty.

Might I remind you that in 1967 and 1968 all the race riots took place outside the South. That would tend to indicate that all was not well west of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio. Whatever the problems down here might have been they seem to have been on their way toward resolution by that time and still ignored in more enlightened parts of the country.

Also I’d like to point out that Brown was a Kansas case. Kansas – bleeding Kansas – is not a Southern state though it was from about 1855 on the site of pitched battles between armies from bands of men from Mississippi and New England over a nonexistent slave. The black population – the Exodusters – came in after the Civil War and were treated much as they had been in the old Confederacy. As second class citizens who should have gone somewhere else.

Bigotry is not confined to people who talk funny. Even New Yorkers.

Mr. Landsburg,

I watch FOX from time to time just to see if any of the guest they have stand up to the host. I applaud you. Its funny how certain people tend to distort the Bible or the Declaration of Independence in an attempt to make people think a certain way (I’m a Sergeant in the Army so I know what it’s like not to be a free thinker). I don’t think the day will ever come when United States will ever be United, I went to Iraq and I witnessed first hand how the Iraqis live, it’s no better then any ghetto we have here in the States. I have deployed to other countries as well and saw the same thing. We bomb and kill then turn around a give the country we destroyed reparations.

My only question to you is, if we can’t take care of our needy here in the US how is it possible to share our so called wealth with the rest of the nation?

Again thanks for making my day, and be safe you may have made some enemies.

Professor -

With all due respect, it is my personal opinion that you are anti-American pond scum. But you have a right to your opinion. This
notwithstanding, I will pledge $100 for a one way ticket for you to leave this horrible, dispicable country that you hate so much. As long as you promise not to come back.

Mr. Steven Landsburg:

Your recent anti-American naive remarks published in Forbes propaganda journal and clarified by The American Conservative have prompted many Americans, including myself, to form a coalition with the goal of having you fired and replaced by a slant-eyed chink from Asia or a dot-head from India. The object being to cut off your paycheck.

As the famous saying has it: “You preach it, you practice it. Either put up or shut up.” We intend to make sure you practice what you preach by having you fired so that your paycheck is cutoff and that you are replaced by a slant-eye or dot-head. We have no intentions of joining your Communist manure pile. We intend to shovel it out.

To begin, we are now looking for any scandals that may be associated with you. Scandals sell newpapers.

All in all, I’d rather be blogging.

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60 Responses to “Why I’d Rather Be Blogging”


  1. 1 1 Harold

    Are you often refered to as a Communist?

  2. 2 2 Sprobert

    Wow…that was quite the reaction. I’ll bet you could have been lauded instead of vilified by Fox News watchers if you’d opted to argue that protectionism is a violation of our _freedoms_.

  3. 3 3 Colin

    Wait.. I am Canadian so help me out: aren’t Fox watchers supposed to be conservative? If they are conservative, aren’t they supposed to be all about free trade and against government intervention? The invisible hand and all that jazz? Shouldn’t they agree with you? It seems like they are getting their own ideology wrong.

  4. 4 4 dave

    im sorry doc. i had to quit after the Vonnegut bashing/threat?

    in my experience, a seemingingly large majority of comments that support fox skews appear to be written by willfully ignorant monkeys.

  5. 5 5 David

    It’s amazing that these people made the jump from not discriminating based on location of birth to America hating. Unfortunately, this seems to be the response that gets drilled into the head of anyone who uncritically listens to many elements of the “mainstream media”. The anti-intellectualism on display is saddening.

  6. 6 6 Sprobert

    @Colin
    Yes, Fox News viewers are almost stereotypically conservative. I think the problem for them was that Dr. Landsburg was opposing the idea of protectionism not on grounds of individual freedom or economic efficiency, but based on the fundamental, inherent (im)morality of protectionism. Somehow, for them, that translates into hating America and Americans because you care about all strangers equally, regardless of where national boundaries happen to fall.

  7. 7 7 thedifferentphil

    Colin: American conservatives are a big tent that includes small government, free market types, as well as socially conservative nationalists. The latter, who constitute the majority of Fox viewers, used to be democrats, but as republicans they have adopted some of the former’s rhetoric, but it is never consistent. The liberals and the democrats here don’t really have a consistent logic either, but that is what we have in this country. Fox loves to do these short clips where they use a series of preselected, out-of-context quotes and slogans to do hatchet jobs on guests. Notice how the interviewer seemed unable to distinguish between “a lot like racism” and “racism,” ditto the viewers who emailed in. Then the interviewer twisted a logic implied by Landsburg that foreign workers ought to have the right to compete and produce goods for us to something like that a Thai worker has more of a right to produce than Americans, which is not what Landsburg was implying.

  8. 8 8 sconzey

    You should have titled this post “Why Democracy doesn’t work”

    Those people, vitrolic and imbecillic though their opinions be, will nevertheless behave as perfectly rational market actors; optimising price and quality, expressing time preference in their saving and borrowing decisions, selecting the highest paid job, etc.

    However wrong they are when they come to make calls (and worse: votes) about macroeconomics and public morality, they will behave cunningly and correctly when it comes to playing the game to reduce their taxes, get their kids into a good school, or buy their wife a birthday present.

    If only there were a way to structure a system of government, so that it utilised the rational self-interest, rather than it irrational “altruism”… You know, where laws, and their enforcement were private goods, selected from an open market

  9. 9 9 XiXiDu

    Awesome :-)

  10. 10 10 Ken Braithwaite

    Buy American is a foolish policy but SL’s underlying argument is still wrong. It just is not true that we owe equal obligations to all persons in all places and (as mooted in another thread) at all times. According to SL’s argument giving to the local food clinic is akin to racism because there might be somebody in greater need in Guatemala.

  11. 11 11 EricK

    The problem seems to be that people just don’t understand analogies.

  12. 12 12 Kelly Smith

    There’s definitely a self-selection bias going on here. If I thought you were a communist or any other offensive moniker then I would likely not subscribe to the RSS feed of your blog. People watching cable news are looking for something different than folksy-and-clever-econ-and-math-based-observations. They want something to be mad about. And there are more of them than of us, which is why you you don’t have your own tv show and also why I am glad there is the internet.

    By the way, when I look close at my thoughts on this, I have a hard time with the “un-American” classification. I appreciate the history and the principles and the sacrifice and the high standard of living and the freedom, so I think I am pro-American. But I also could have been born on the other side of the border and would like to have the same opportunities if that had been the case. I see the lines drawn by humans on maps as somewhat arbitrary and not sufficient grounds to entitle one person over another. Does that make me un-American? (I know I am preaching to the choir – my real question is if I just abandoned any future chance to run for public office by typing this paragraph on the internet.)

  13. 13 13 Scott F

    I is student at the Universities of Rochester, is I paying too much to listen to Prof. “plain fucking idiot” Mr. Buchanan?

    Is it just me or are comments with blatantly incorrect grammar and more than four insults involving “curse-words” hard to take seriously?

    As far as the interview goes, I believe it was on par with Jon Stewart’s tirade on Crossfire based on the criteria of making hosts look like dicks.

    In summary thank you for poisoning my impressionable-young-adult-mind and changing my life forever (for the better).

  14. 14 14 Dave

    I saw this a few years ago and have used the “if the Japanese decided to give us all free cars would we be better or worse off?” argument many times when debating the benefits of free trade. To me that was the most relevant take away. Came in especially useful in a recent discussion with someone who said that the government should shut down the internet because it’s destroying the economy (local stores closing down because internet undercuts them).

    He took the point that if we got everything for free it would be good for us but then said if everything cost $1, we wouldn’t be able to afford anything because we would be unemployed and broke.

  15. 15 15 Dave

    Sprobert:

    “Somehow, for them, that translates into hating America and Americans because you care about all strangers equally, regardless of where national boundaries happen to fall.”

    Stab in the dark but given that they hate foreigners, is it possible that they take the whole “caring about all strangers equally” thing to mean that we should hate Americans as much as they hate foreigners and hating Americans is anti American?

  16. 16 16 Neil

    Amusing, but disturbing. It was good, at least, to see the word “liberal” used, unwittingly, in its original sense of describing someone who defends and promotes individual liberties and equal rights.

  17. 17 17 Neil

    PS Steve–when I click on the link to Buchanan’s screed, I get your screed.

  18. 18 18 Mauro

    I believe Mr Landsburg’s thoughts are far more advanced than the average Fox News viewer.
    What disturbes me more is not the reduced capacity of understanding, but that closed-mind attitude shown by the Fox News’ host and commentaries from viewers.
    Just keep blogging and contributing with all your interesting ideas to people that really appreciate it.

    Greetings

  19. 19 19 Dan

    While obviously some of those replies just have no place in a civil debate (like calling you pond scum), I think that the people reading your blog are going to tend to agree with you a little more than is healthy (Most of the people that strongly disagree with your general outlook probably couldn’t stomach or wouldn’t enjoy reading your blog). While I do lots of interesting discussion in the comments and occasional points of contention, I think a better discussion could be gotten by bringing in a wider viewing audience.

    I can definitely understand why reading these comments are much more enjoyable though.

  20. 20 20 Bob

    My dear Professor, I am disappointed that you chose not to enlighten us on the most important point: is your philosophical imbecility indeed representative of the Rochester faculty?

    On the plus side, I am pleasantly surprised that there were (seemingly) no Landsburg = Jew comments. (I bet you sunk the Titanic!)

  21. 21 21 Bob

    Well Colin, can you explain to me why in Canada, it is the Liberal party that has traditionally supported free trade and which passed the North American Free Trade Agreement? (Notwithstanding the 1988 FTA.)

    Oh, and if any of you think that these kind of responses are exclusive to the Fox News crowd, I suggest you broaden your experience.

  22. 22 22 jrod

    I would love to see a lot those emailers do an inventory of all American made goods in there house vs, non-american made goods. I bet the result would point towards hypocrisy of words vs. actions. They can start with the computer they typed them on.

  23. 23 23 Ken

    Who would have thought that preaching to the choir would be easier than converting the heathen?

    What you seem to be forgetting is that the readers of this blog are made up of people who largely agree with you and are used to thinking at least somewhat like an economist. Then you wrap yourself is a smug arrogance of moral and intellectual superiority by implying those that don’t agree with you, some vehemently, are inferior to the mighty brain of Steven Landsberg.

    The other thing you seem to be forgetting is that these people you’re busy throwing under the bus are the ones you should be targeting. You go on TV, make some inflamatory remarks conflating nationalism and racism, then ask for my sympathy when you are rather predictably spit on for pointing out other people’s flaws? It doesn’t matter that you are correct; you should be wise enough to recognize the pissy way you delivered your argument was specifically designed to get under people’s skin. Toughen up and deal with the criticism and don’t cry to me when you get angry emails after being a shitass. And do you think that talking smack about people who are wrong will change their minds? More likely it will harden their opposition.

    Now why don’t you come down off your high horse and recognize that you should work on your delivery and, you know, actually teach people. After all you are a tenured professor and should be good at this.

    Regards,
    Ken

  24. 24 24 Nichlemn

    I watched this interview before and while I agree with your argument, I don’t think you presented it very well here. To expose inconsistency, you need to goad your target into saying something clearly inconsistent. I believe the best way is hypothetical questions. If you had asked “Why is racism bad?” you could used his answer to work through a number of questions that eventually lead to equating racism and protectionism and made it difficult to justify supporting one and not the other.

  25. 25 25 Sean

    C’mon, we all know you moderate out all the comments pointing out how un-American you are, that these number in the thousands, and frankly, I think that’s pretty damned un-American of you.

    To be fair, these people . . . naw I’m not going to even go there, but I do agree that selection bias could be a major factor. People are less likely to write in to say, “I found your arguments compelling despite the bombastic distortions of the host.”

  26. 26 26 Tal F

    Prof. Landsburg,

    As Sprobert alludes to, the problem with your argument on Fox News is that the typical Fox News viewer actually has no problem being a racist. Now I am typically sympathetic to Fox news and agree with them whenever their point of view adheres to principles such as individual liberty and free markets, but I, too, get rather upset when occasionally they decide to defend racist immigration or trade policies. These occasions make it clear that the Fox News ideology does not extend the same rights of freedom and liberty to non-Americans, whether they be foreign terrorists (which I agree with) or Mexicans (which I disagree with). To convince the FN crowd, you will have to appeal to (one of many) arguments for free trade that assign a zero weight to the utility of foreigners.

    By the way, have you tried using this argument on MSNBC? I’d be very curious to see how their viewers would respond, as they too are often protectionist but for totally different reasons.

    In any case, please don’t give up on the broader public. Your fans and followers on this blog may be more pleasant to deal with, but in order to have an impact you will have to engage the masses.

  27. 27 27 Steve Landsburg

    Neil:

    PS Steve–when I click on the link to Buchanan’s screed, I get your screed.

    Thanks for catching this. It’s fixed.

  28. 28 28 Snorri Godhi

    A few random remarks:

    * Did anybody else (in addition to emailer #5) notice “the zealot’s flame reflected” in Steve’s eyes? because I did not.

    * The emailers clamoring for Steve’s job to be outsourced, are presumably unaware of the openness of American universities to hiring foreign faculty.

    * If Thomas Sowell reads this post, he’ll be embarrassed by the implication that his economics textbook rationalizes protectionism.

    * I have a soft spot for emailer #3, because [s]he admits to being a simpleton. An appropriate answer to his question would be: Of course I love America; that is why I want America to be true to “the fundamental ideas on which it was founded” and reject the trade policies of communist Albania. (A mention of fascist autarky could also be fitted in.)

  29. 29 29 Snorri Godhi

    Tal F:
    By the way, have you tried using this argument on MSNBC? I’d be very curious to see how their viewers would respond, as they too are often protectionist but for totally different reasons.

    Actually, one of the emailers, a Fox News watcher (presumably) and a proud Southerner (by the content of his/her email) seems to accept the “MSNBC narrative”:
    I don’t know how long we can last selling things to each other but I’ll admit if the Chery is any good I’ll
    probably buy one whether it’s made by Chinese slave labor or not. That little moral conundrum won’t bother me at all. After all, the fact that my clothing is made by children chained to their cutting and sewing tables doesn’t bother me now.

    I am not sure to what extent that is meant to be sarcastic, but I think we can safely attribute to the emailer the belief that Chinese cars, as well as his/her clothes, are made by slave labor.

  30. 30 30 Diggle

    Although you argue we should treat strangers in Detroit and Jaurez equally in allowing them to compete, quite frankly, I care more about the strangers in Juarez more than those in Detroit. They make the goods without feeling that they (and their posterity) have a right to that job.

  31. 31 31 Bob

    “you wrap yourself is [sic] a smug arrogance of moral and intellectual superiority by implying those that don’t agree with you, some vehemently, are inferior to the mighty brain of Steven Landsberg.”

    Yeah? Well f— you!

    “don’t cry to me when you get angry emails after being a shitass. And do you think that talking smack about people who are wrong will change their minds?”

    Oops.

  32. 32 32 bart.mitchell

    I know it’s frustrating, but thanks for going into the lions den to try to bring rationality.

    Unfortunately, most news outlets are out to sell a brand. The desire to just put out news seems to be a dwindling goal of the news companies. I also liked how he ran down all of your personal information, just to make sure the crazy letter writers in his audience would send off overly capitalized screeds to have you removed from your job.

  33. 33 33 Nick

    I was notified of the John Gibson interview shortly after it aired, the same day I attended Landsburg’s macroeconomics lecture. I’ll never forget the moment Landsburg uttered “I haven’t said it’s racist, I’ve said it’s a lot like racism,” only for the FOX title card to prompt “PATRIOT RACISTS.” Pure comedy.

  34. 34 34 jambarama

    This is just the sort of delightfully contrarian, yet logically persuasive, argument I enjoy from your books so much. Great exchange with whoever that host was that couldn’t think clearly.

    This type of patriotism had bothered me, but I never put my finger on why until I heard your argument. Bravo for making these things clear with good, if unpopular, arguments.

  35. 35 35 Tom Dougherty

    I think your argument linking protectionism with racism is a bridge too far, but I liked how the commenters suggested that those who believe in free trade, like you, are liberal. I thought conservatives favored free trade and the liberals, supported by their union thug buddies, favored protectionism.

  36. 36 36 Aaron

    Hah! Cheers, professor, on your well-reasoned argument and hilarious appearance on Fox News.

  37. 37 37 Harold

    I think the emails speak for themselves. The Buchanan response keeps the personal insults on a more civil level and has apparently been thought about, so is more revealing. I particularly like “An icy indifference as to whether one’s countrymen are winning—be it in a competition for jobs or Olympic medals—is moral treason and the mark of a dead soul.”

    The original post and the response to it separate issues, but I will make a quick comment about the original post. If we take Steve’s view that “it is plain ugly to care more about a stranger in Detroit than a stranger in Juarez”, then I think most of us actual do display ugly behaviour. I think in our minds we have a sort of heirarchy of importance – self, family, friends, neighbours, town, county, state, country, common language, similar culture, proximity, skin colour etc. (not necessarily in that exact order). After county, pretty much everyone is a stranger, and according to the above we should care equally about them, but we don’t. If we did, our newspapers would have two sections, local and rest of the world. A car crash in Detroit would be no more likely to get covered than a car crash in Delhi. We all know this is not the case. Which would get more coverage, an Earthquake in China that kills a few people, or an Earthquake in LA causing property damage? I think the one in LA. How about 1 million children in Africa dying of diarrhea, or 10 children in Paris? So we do not actually care equally about all strangers, but should we?

    We could have several responses, of which 3 are:

    1) Accept the premise that we should care equally about all strangers as a moral absolute and try to modify our behaviour accordingly. Then we should reject protectionism, read foreign newspapers, give up supporting the national team and have rather different charity giving patterns. Locking up foreigners indefinately without trial might have be off the agenda too.

    2) Accept that we do actually care about our fellow countrymen more than others and it is OK, in which case protectionism is back on the agenda, along with parochial reporting and olympic fever. We might still reject protectionism, but cannot use this argument.

    3) Fudge the issue to allow differences in caring in some situations but not others. Perhaps we could allow difference in feeling but not action, but it would be very hard to be completely consistent.

    I disagree with protectionism, but want to cheer my team – can I do both with a clear conscience and without fudging? Have I missed a dsitinction here?

  38. 38 38 Josh

    At around 3:00, he puts words in Steven’s mouth by saying that Steven said that people SHOULD buy from foreigners. Steven never said any such thing that I’m aware of. Rather, he says buy from whom you please and don’t castigate others for choosing to buy foreign if it’s a better deal.

  39. 39 39 Josh

    Steven,

    Regarding your remarks towards the end of the video… You mentioned that it would be very hard to argue that it would make us worse off if we were sent free cars, and follow with the fact that cheap cars aren’t as good but still pretty good.

    Could government subsidies to the auto industry (in either or both countries) make you change your conclusion that this on balance would be a good thing for the world?

  40. 40 40 Josh

    Ken said, “Now why don’t you come down off your high horse and recognize that you should work on your delivery and, you know, actually teach people. After all you are a tenured professor and should be good at this.”

    Funny, I watched the video and thought Landsburg came across clearly and concisely. He was also polite, though confident. As I said in an earlier post, the interview puts words in his mouth around 3:00 – 3:30 or so and Landsburg didn’t even call him on it. I’m honestly not sure how Landsburg could have done a better job, Ken.

  41. 41 41 Neil

    Even if we accept that we care more about strangers in the US than strangers abroad, it doesn’t follow that we should buy more costly goods from them. Perhaps we are more likely to donate to them or pay taxes for welfare for them than to foreign strangers, but why would we want to benefit them by encouraging them to waste their time doing things that foreigners can do for us more cheaply? I love my mother, but I don’t think the best way to show it is to pay her to clean my home rather than hiring a service.

  42. 42 42 Josh

    Neil,

    Landsburg can of course speak for himself on his own blog, but I don’t think he was saying that it does logically follow. However, given that some people are saying it’s not good to hire foreign vs hire local, it does (at least likely) follow that whoever is saying this is caring more about local workers vs foreign ones, at least the way I see it.

  43. 43 43 Colin

    @Tom

    “Tom Dougherty
    April 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm
    I think your argument linking protectionism with racism is a bridge too far, but I liked how the commenters suggested that those who believe in free trade, like you, are liberal. I thought conservatives favored free trade and the liberals, supported by their union thug buddies, favored protectionism.”

    First, I’m glad you agree with me that it’s weird for the fox news crowd to be against free trade (except that it’s not weird because they, as far as I am able to observe from all the way up here in Canada, seem wildly uninformed about the issues about which they profess to be passionate.)

    Second, how is linking protectionism to racism “a bridge too far”? I think it is a great analogy. Protectionism is apparently upheld with the intention of making our fellow countrymen better off (it doesn’t) at the expense of workers in other nations. Why should we care more about strangers in the same country more than we care about strangers in another country? As far as I can tell, in each case one group is being discriminated against for reasons beyond their control.

  44. 44 44 Bob

    Colin:

    I’m glad you agree with me that it’s weird for the fox news crowd to be against free trade (except that it’s not weird because they, as far as I am able to observe from all the way up here in Canada, seem wildly uninformed about the issues about which they profess to be passionate.)

    Do you think that this reaction of yours might be due to the somewhat simplistic stereotype you seem to have of that “crowd?” Not that I blame you for being uninformed, isolated as you are all the way up there in Canada.

  45. 45 45 Nick

    A discussion of morality misses the point. You can’t argue that rational agents should not show bias when it comes to nationality (or even race) as the basis of employment (among other things), however ugly. It’s like going against the laws of physics. Lower prices are offset by probabilistic corrections that you or someone you care about is rendered redundant, most prominently when your cause can be costlessly lobbied or your brand of labor is highly specialized.

    The best you could argue is that the resulting surpluses would more than compensate for this risk of loss. This is the typical knee-jerk assumption invoked by free trade advocates, and one that easily appeals to our humanitarian side — that knocking down trade barriers is somehow synonymous with championing tolerance and multiculturalism — but is often distinct from the unvarnished truth.

    First, it assumes that people aren’t terribly risk averse. Suppose I earn $100K / year and I’m willing to forgo $25K in perpetuity to secure my job. A single foreign worker is being considered to replace me, who would accept the job for $25K / year. In this case, I could very well pay off the foreigner and no one’s worse off. It’s true that I’m depriving society of the $75K / year balance, but the suffering endured from losing my entire income (rather than just $25K / year) is arguably greater than the comparative profits I’m depriving society at large from divvying up.

    Second, we must buy into the notion that outsourced labor can deliver at least as much value as homegrown labor (e.g. no sacrifices to innovation, goodwill, investment in human capital). I could point to at least a few real-life examples where employing cheap labor actually eroded the value of firms whose managers were mistaking cost savings for merely selling off assets in the form of human capital. You could very well fire your entire US-domiciled staff, replace them with substitute American workers willing to earn less, and distribute the proceeds to shareholders, destroying value in the process. Going along with this, any number of market frictions (e.g. asset specificity, spillovers) might stand in the way of an overseas value proposition. The name of the game is strategic management; outsourcing in and of itself is not cause for celebration, even as a consumer, unless you’re a fan of Dell’s customer service.

    There is a fine distinction between positive and normative economics. The bottom line is that if you belong to Group X, you are more likely make choices guided to protect the ultimate economic interest of Group X, to the extent that is (arbitrarily) deemed morally acceptable. Group X could be a race or a nationality or a set of beliefs, but we are all programmed to hunt in packs and we do it constantly (including right now). It is precisely this evolutionary trait that has made some countries richer than others, independent of the author’s moral clarity. And while we may have evolved from looting and pillaging, the battle for free trade must still be won on economic grounds, not moral ones.

  46. 46 46 GregS

    I’m surprised that anyone could have actually read “Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell and not picked up that the author is in favor of essentially unfettered free trade. Actually, I’m not sure how you could read that book and not become a free trader yourself. Sowell is actually one of my strongest libertarian influences. I’m baffled by that person’s e-mail.
    I highly recommend reading “Basic Economics” if anyone hasn’t, by the way. I learned economic theory chiefly from Professor Landsburg’s writings, but I learned economic history mostly from Sowell’s writings. It’s very rich.

  47. 47 47 Super-Fly

    But with youtube, you get the enlightening ALL CAPS ANSWERS!!!1!

    “Yelling: The next best thing to being right” –Demetri Martin

  48. 48 48 Stumbo

    “the interview[er] puts words in his mouth around 3:00 – 3:30 or so and Landsburg didn’t even call him on it. I’m honestly not sure how Landsburg could have done a better job”

    By, oh, I don’t know… Maybe calling him on it?

  49. 49 49 Owinok

    Interesting. I wonder whether the interviewer realizes that he is defending the views of John Kerry and Ralph Nader on Fox News.

  50. 50 50 Tom Dougherty

    Colin,

    I don’t think it is that weird for (some or most? on) Fox News to be against free trade because many seem to be neo-conservatives and not conservatives. Neo-conservatives are more like liberals with aggressive foreign policy. But many people have a hard enough time trying to understand the problems with protectionism without having to also understand the analogy with racism.

  51. 51 51 Tal F

    Harold,

    I think it is rational to care more about the news coming from your city vs. state, state vs. country, etc. Here are a few reasons:

    1) You share legislators and government bureaucrats with the driver in Detroit, so the crash in Detroit is more likely to effect your life due to changes in the law which will effect you ultimately.

    2) You are most likely to be in the earthquake zone in CA than in China (for business trip, vacation, whatever), so next time you may be caught in the CA earthquake but it is highly unlikely you will ever be caught in a China earthquake. Also, given that you are more likely to visit CA, it’d be nice to know how their local authorities cope with such emergencies.

    3) You are more likely to die from whatever is causing a diarrhea outbreak in Paris (possibly some dangerous new disease or contaminated food supply) than a diarrhea outbreak in Africa (probably just poor sanitation).

    It’s not that I don’t care about earthquake victims in China or diarrhea in Africa, it’s just that it matters less to my life, and seeing how world events will impact my life is a big part of why I read the news.

    Note that you didn’t provide (probably because there are few cases except in racist media) an example published in a mainly white town about someone white across the country that wouldn’t be published if the guy was black.

    Caring more about news events in close proximity (or even language, since I am more likely to visit England than Germany mostly b/c of language issues) is perfectly rational. Caring more about whether people in close proximity have better paying jobs (especially when their gain is my loss, as in overpriced American goods) is not.

  52. 52 52 Harold

    Whether we care about one set of strangers over another set is a moral point. We (I hope) consider it wrong to value the welfare of whites over blacks. In a free market, I don’t think there is anything that would cause you to value whites over blacks, so there is no conflict. Morals and economics both point in the same direction.

    With protectionism, Steve argues that protectionism does not help Americans (or whatever Nationals). We should also value foreigners as highly as National strangers, and so protectionism is also moraly wrong, so again there is no conflict, morality and economics again point in the same direction.

    The problems arise if there is a perceived ar real economic benefit for Nationals in protectionism. In order to obtain the perceived benefits, you must resolve the conflict somehow. You can reject the “value all strangers equally” premise. You are then free to harm foreigners to help Nationals. I think this is where patriotism can be abused – it allows morally questionable behaviour. Or you can abandon protectionism and forego the perceived benefits on moral grounds. If you were from a relatively poor country, you may feel morally justified in harming those from wealthy countries a bit to help your Nationals proportionally more, so you can have it both ways.

    What has happened here is Steve has used a moral argument and economic argument together, and they have got mixed up. Hence Nick’s comment that morality misses the point – it misses one point when making another.

    Buchannan’s point of view seems to be that it is both morally wrong to value foreigners as much as Americans, and that protectionism will help Americans. Believing the former allows him to believe the latter with a clear conscience.

    The real interest comes if there is a conflict between economic theory and morality.

  53. 53 53 Harold

    TalF – I take your point, there are some justifications. I cannot quantify the effect, but I suspect the reasons you give are not proportional to the amount you care. I could be wrong, but I think there is in most of us a part that values those similar to ourselves, or we perceive as similar, more than those who are different. I think this is an application of strategies evolved in very different circumstances to life in the modern world. I believe that it is our duty to challenge this feeling within ourselves.

  54. 54 54 Tal F

    Harold,

    Others may be prejudiced or racist or whatever, and the general news media likely responds to those prejudices. We the enlightened followers of Landsburgism may reject such notions, but I have no intention and see no great moral requirement to start paying more attention to diarrhea in Africa or earthquakes in China and less attention to similar events in Paris or CA.

    There are two separate issues here: (1) understanding why others behave the way they do, and (2) modifying our own behavior to be both moral and logically consistent. Your earlier post centered more on #2, while your later post only addresses #1. My comments are only targeted at #2.

  55. 55 55 Harold

    You also have a point that the news media available to each of us does not offer a complete choice to select from. I think understanding why others behave as they do helps me understand why I behave as I do. We don’t know if we are living up to our ideals unless we ask the questions of ourselves. I am quite sure that I do not live my life as if every life on Earth was of equal value to me. I also do not feel a great moral requirement to change my life in a dramatic way. I am content to live with some inconsistency.

  56. 56 56 RL

    Well, Steven, it’s not exactly the complete work of Shakespeare, but it IS amazing what Fox News can generate with enough monkeys at typewriters…

  57. 57 57 David Grayson

    I don’t like this style of interview because the interviewer barely gave you a chance to tell your side of the story at all, he basically took your ideas, misinterpreted them, confronted you with the mangled version, and asked you to justify it. You didn’t have the time to correct all the mistakes he was making.

    But, I enjoyed that video, Steven, because it makes me think you’re going to keep standing up for what you know is right, even if a bunch of morons tell you you’re wrong.

    I think that generally people in our society have more sympathy for a small number of people getting hurt greatly, rather than a large number of people getting hurt a little bit. For example, it’s easier for us to decry 1000 workers losing their jobs than it is for us to decry 300,000,000 people having to spend a few hundred more dollars on their purchases.

    This problem manifests itself in many ways: in protectionism, in the thought that teachers make more of an impact on people than corporate executives do, in farm subsidies, and in the fact that most people would find it morally wrong to kill one person to cure a billion headache sufferers.

  58. 58 58 x

    Keep on

  59. 59 59 Harold

    David Grayson’s point is illustrated in the film “I Robot” with Will Smith. He hates robots because he was saved by one, who “calculated” it was better to try to save him than a child in another car, because his chances were higher. He claims that “A human would have known to try to save the child”, or something similar. I don’t know if the audience is supposed to sympathise with his view, but I thought the robot got it right.

  60. 60 60 Sierra Black

    I love that one of them called you a liberal asshole. Clearly, Fox viewers and I have a very different sense of what ‘liberal’ means.

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